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last updated: Thu, 27 Apr 2017 04:47:21 -0400

ACLU defends Coulter after Berkeley speech cancellation

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last updated: Thu, 27 Apr 2017 06:58:51 -0400

ACLU defends Coulter after Berkeley speech cancellation

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last updated: Thu, 27 Apr 2017 16:27:00 -0400

ACLU defends Coulter after Berkeley speech cancellation

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Otto Warmbier Has Been a Prisoner of North Korea Since the Start of 2016. Has America Forgotten Him?
The 22-year-old's best hope lies in his usefulness as a bargaining chip. But Kim Jong Un is in no mood for negotiations

There are five flights a week from Pyongyang to Beijing by Air Koryo, North Korea’s state airline, and the earliest leaves at 8:20 on Saturday mornings. If you’re one of the several hundred American tourists who defy their State Department’s official warning and travel to the authoritarian hermit state each year, this will easily get you to the Chinese capital in time for one of several afternoon flights stateside.

The morning of Jan. 2, 2016, was foggy and cold. The night before, a meteorologist on the state-controlled Korean Central Television said that temperatures the following afternoon might climb to the mid-40s (around 7°C)—a balmy respite after a bitter, snowy week—but at dawn, when Otto Warmbier was heading from the Yanggakdo International Hotel to Sunan International Airport, 18 miles north, thermostats in the capital hovered just above freezing.

Warmbier, who had turned 21 three weeks prior, was a junior at the University of Virginia (UVA). He was one of 20 foreigners on a trip organized by Young Pioneer Tours, a travel company based in China and staffed by a coterie of chummy Brits and Aussies who arrange, in their words, tours to “destinations your mother would rather you stayed away from.” They offer package tours to Afghanistan and Turkmenistan, but really, folks come for the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), as the North is formally called. The totalitarian hermit kingdom exists in the imagination of many as inscrutable and thrillingly dangerous.

Warmbier’s junket was billed as the “New Year’s Party Tour”: a five-day itinerary, devised and closely monitored by state-sponsored tour guides. The travelers met soldiers in the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ), the 2.5-mile-wide buffer zone that has separated North Korea from the prosperity and liberty of South Korea since 1953; they posed for photos beneath the two 72-foot-high statues of North Korea’s founder, Kim Il Sung, and his son and heir Kim Jong Il, at Pyongyang’s Grand Monument. At night, they drank, slamming vodka and North Korean beer until the early hours of the morning in the closely watched hotel.

And now they were going home. For Warmbier—an affable, somewhat eccentric young man with aspirations of working in finance—this firstly meant a trip to Hong Kong, for a week-long finance course trip sponsored by UVA. Then, he would fly back to back to Wyoming, Ohio—a Cincinnati suburb of 8,000 people, where his family lived.

The Yanggakdo hotel, Taedong river and the Pyongyang city skyline on Nov. 28, 2016.
Ed Jones—AFP/Getty ImagesThe Yanggakdo hotel, Taedong river and the Pyongyang city skyline on Nov. 28, 2016.

“Otto wasn’t problematic or politically outspoken,” one member of his tour says. “He acted like a normal 21-year-old on holiday. He was a pleasant guy, and to be honest, if I had to pick a tourist in that group to be involved in an incident, he would have been at the bottom of the list.”

It takes about 40 minutes to reach Pyongyang’s airport from the hotel aboard a government tour bus. Tour guides return the passports that visitors have surrendered upon arrival, but once travelers arrive at the airport, immigration is more or less the same as it is anywhere: baggage is checked in; boarding passes are issued; immigration formalities are completed.

A Young Pioneer representative will go through the process last, to make sure the group has gone through smoothly. Warmbier was the last of his group to check in, and thus there was only one non-Korean witness to what happened next: 24-year-old Briton Charlotte Guttridge. When she noticed that he was taking longer than usual, she began to walk over to him, only to be told by an insistent airport official that she had to pass through immigration immediately.

Once on the other side of passport control, she looked and saw that was Warmbier was being led away by two uniformed officers. “Otto!” she yelled. He looked at her, and then was led into a room off to the right of the immigration desks. His calmness initially put her at ease—she suspected, then, that the officers were simply inspecting his luggage or electronics, which happens. “He was not dragged away and he wasn’t yelled at,” Guttridge later told Reuters. She stayed in the terminal until the final call for boarding, and then somewhat anxiously took her seat aboard the Air Koryo Tupolev Tu-214, a Soviet-era jet.

Minutes passed. As the cabin crew began to prepare for departure, word spread that Warmbier hadn’t boarded. “One or two were saying that they’d been drinking the night before and he was probably hungover in his hotel,” one tourist traveling with a different group remembers. Others ventured, half-jokingly, that he may have defected.

The plane was about to push back from the terminal when an official came aboard and approached Guttridge. “Otto is very sick and has been taken to the hospital,” the official told her.

She asked when he would be released.

“Tomorrow,” the official said. “Maybe next week.”

Jon Chol Jin—AP Otto Warmbier is escorted at the Supreme Court in Pyongyang on March 16, 2016. North Korea’s highest court sentenced Warmbier, a 21-year-old University of Virginia undergraduate student, to 15 years in prison with hard labor for subversion.

The Most Doomed Man in the World

That was 16 months ago. Three weeks later, the Korean Central News Agency, Pyongyang’s official mouthpiece, reported that Warmbier had been arrested while “perpetrating a hostile act against the DPRK.” He intended, apparently, to bring down “the foundation of its single-minded unity [with] the tacit connivance of the U.S. government and under its manipulation.”

The reports did not elaborate on the nature of his wrongdoing, but six weeks after that, Warmbier appeared before state television news cameras, sallow and dressed in a light jacket and navy-colored slacks. In a fanciful and apparently forced confession that began in level tones but ended in histrionics, he revealed his “crime.”

Warmbier said that a day before his departure, he had attempted to steal propaganda signage from a staff-only area at his hotel, in a scheme implausibly devised by a Methodist church in his hometown, a secret society at the University of Virginia, and the United States government.

“Please, people in the government of the DPR Korea, I beg that you see how I was used and manipulated,” he said, his voice breaking into sobs. “I have made the single worst decision of my life. But I am only human. I beg that you find it in your hearts to allow me to return home to my family.” He also praised North Korea’s “humanitarian treatment of severe criminals” like himself and in the course of his 35-minute address described Pyongyang as “an Eastern Jerusalem.”

Two and a half weeks later, following a trial that lasted less than an hour, Warmbier was sentenced to 15 years of hard labor. Since then, he has been held at an undisclosed location.

It remains unclear if he did anything at all. The North Korean government’s primary piece of evidence against him is a grainy surveillance video showing a nondescript figure attempting to remove something from a wall. But, if the figure depicted was Warmbier, then “What he did was the equivalent of a poorly planned college prank that should have earned a verbal admonishment, or at most a fine, not a political show trial in Pyongyang,” Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director for Human Rights Watch, says. “North Korea is blatantly violating his rights by holding him as a political hostage to be traded in a future dialogue with the U.S. that looks nowhere close to starting.”

The world seems to have forgotten about Warmbier. Americans who have preceded him in North Korean custody spent an average of 206 days in detention before the U.S. successfully negotiated their release. Kenneth Bae, the Korean-American missionary, was held for 735 days; as of April 28, Warmbier has been captive for 482. (There are two other Americans also in North Korean captivity: Tony Kim, an academic visiting a North Korean university detained last week; and a Korean-American businessman named Kim Dong-chul.) One recent headline in the Daily Star, a sensational British tabloid, asked if Warmbier was the most “doomed man in the world” and speculated, in capitalized fascination, that the “North Korea student may NEVER be released.”

That isn’t the unanimous belief in Washington. “The United States government continues to actively work to secure his earliest possible release,” Mark Toner, the U.S. State Department’s acting spokesperson, tells TIME. But he doesn’t specify how it is doing so.

A North Korean flag hangs inside the interior of Pyongyang’s Supreme Court in March 2013.
APA North Korean flag hangs inside the interior of Pyongyang’s Supreme Court in March 2013.

The First Victim

Today, geopolitical tensions on the Korean Peninsula are at one of their highest points since the 1950-53 Korean War. This can be partly chalked up to a new dichotomy in power: in Pyongyang, there is Kim Jong Un, who has proven more aggressive than his father, Kim Jong Il, when it comes to pursuing the country’s nuclear ambitions; in Washington, Donald Trump, who delights in truculence when dealing with America’s adversaries. During the weekend of April 15, speculation that the North was preparing to test an atomic weapon—which the U.S. would have considered an act of war—had the world at a standstill. Major news organizations are quietly, and preemptively, dispatching their staffers to Seoul, which, lying just 35 miles from the DMZ, will be virtually the front line in the event of hostilities.

Experts hope that a diplomatic solution is still possible. “We are not at a point yet where the military option is the only one,” says Scott Snyder, who directs the Council on Foreign Relations program on U.S.-Korea policy. But, he adds, “with Kim Jong Un, the U.S. doesn’t have the formula, whereas before everything kind of worked according to a predictable pattern.”

Warmbier’s fate now hangs in the balance of these complex and unpredictable machinations. Some experts believe North Korea will use him as a pawn in negotiations with the U.S., if and when talks begin; others say that they will hold onto him, using him as a “human shield” to dissuade the U.S. from attacking the country.

“The previous M.O. was to wait six or nine months, wait for the North Koreans to demand a very high hotel bill, then the person in question will be released,” Snyder says. “The North Koreans are now less open to doing these kinds of trades.”

Evans Revere, a former high-ranking U.S. diplomat in East Asia who is now a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, says Warmbier’s detention is a symptom of Pyongyang’s pathological determination to defy Washington and the world. “Some time ago, North Korea decided it was necessary to send the strongest possible message that it would not tolerate violations of its laws and its sovereignty by outsiders. Unfortunately, Otto Warmbier turned out to be the first victim.”

His family members and many of his peers have generally refused to speak on the record to the media; they mostly keep a low profile out of an extreme fear of saying or doing something to incite Warmbier’s captors and make his incarceration even worse. But friends who are willing to open up about him say that Warmbier was never known for his recklessness. In the wake of his arrest, their prevailing response was abject shock.

An exceptional student and a varsity soccer player, he was the last person to exhibit the kind of impulsive behavior that would have him locked up in a foreign jail on even a misdemeanor let alone charges of sedition. The oldest of three, Warmbier grew up in a leafy suburb that has produced Olympians (the swimmer Deana Deerdurff, the hurdler David Payne), an eminent illustrator (Robert McGinnis, who created the movie posters for Breakfast at Tiffany’s and several James Bond films), a general, a federal judge and a world authority on stroke rehabilitation. Warmbier’s father, Fred, runs a small metal finishing company.

Wyoming High School is one of the country’s best and most competitive public schools—a staggering 90% of students take Advanced Placement courses—and in 2013, Warmbier graduated as its salutatorian. “He was off-the-charts brilliant,” Trey Lonnerman, who played club soccer with Warmbier through middle and high school, says. When Warmbier was a senior, it was rumored among his classmates that he had received a perfect or near-perfect score on the ACT, the college entrance exam.

North Korea Warmbier
Gary Landers—AP The Warmbier family home in Wyoming, Ohio, on Jan. 22, 2016.

“But really, he was just a good, funny dude. When this happened, no one was surprised that he had gone to North Korea—he was one of the most intellectually curious kids that I’ve met,” Lonnerman says. “We were more shocked that he’d gotten into trouble.”

Warmbier’s admission to UVA in Charlottesville, about seven hours over the Appalachian Mountains from home, was itself a feat of certain intellectual prestige—UVA is one of the best public universities in the country and accepts only one in five out-of-state applicants. But Warmbier went one better and was chosen as an Echols Scholar, as members of the undergraduate honors program are known.

By all accounts, he did well. UVA is what one might call the Platonic ideal of the American university: neoclassical red brick buildings and wide, verdant lawns; admirably well-rounded students who pull all-nighters in the library and drink beer from red Solo cups and cheer for their lacrosse team in equal fervor; a town beyond the gates tinted, as college towns are, with the cultural runoff of lefty academia.

It is also an institution that has been plagued by an unfortunate string of public relations crises in recent years. In March 2015, amid a national discourse over racial inequity in America, an African-American student was beaten and bloodied by police outside an off-campus bar over a fake ID. It was UVA that served as the setting of the sensational—and sensationally inaccurate—November 2014 Rolling Stone article “A Rape on Campus,” a story of a fraternity party sexual assault and allegedly a damning indictment of the university’s established Greek culture. (Rolling Stone retracted the story five months later, in the spring of Warmbier’s freshman year, when it came to light that the incident was fabricated by its supposed victim.)

Warmbier himself participated in the Greek scene, joining the Theta Chi fraternity as a freshman—a fact that has been a trope of the news coverage of his arrest, underpinning a string of bloviated think-pieces about the “frat bro” and his white privilege. The truth is that Theta Chi is regarded on campus as a group of “kind of nerdy dudes,” as one student put it.

Warmbier himself fit that mold. Peers regarded him as intelligent but also a bit eccentric, and deeply earnest, especially when it came to pursuing a career in finance. This is not especially surprising—UVA ranks among the country’s top 10 programs in business and finance, according to U.S. News and World Report, and draws droves of students accordingly—but those who knew Warmbier said his ambitions were betrayed by a certain guilelessness. “[He was] heading into investment banking, but he was definitely not from that whole world,” one student says.

Still, his résumé was impressive. He took on a rigorous course load, including one advanced econometrics course at the London School of Economics, and participated in a prestigious student investment group. Following his North Korea tour, he was scheduled to travel from Beijing to Hong Kong and Singapore, where he would participate in a 10-day tour of the two Asian financial capitals sponsored by the university’s McIntire School of Commerce.

He was supposed to land in Beijing late in the morning on Jan. 2. His parents were home in Ohio, waiting for their son to return to the grid. But he didn’t surface on the phone, or on social media.

“We knew he was in North Korea,” said Warmbier’s father, Fred. “And of course, a mother figures these things out: ‘He hasn’t called me. He should be in China now.’”

Warmbier was speaking to Tucker Carlson on Fox News earlier this month, sitting next to his wife, Cindy, who looked somber. (It was the Warmbiers’ first major media appearance since their son’s arrest. Those acquainted with their situation suggest that their agreeing to sit down Tucker Carlson wasn’t a fluke: they believed that Fox News was the channel most likely to be watched by President Donald Trump and members of his administration. The Warmbiers have declined repeated requests from TIME)

When Warmbier didn’t call, his parents decided to wait 24 hours. Then the phone rang. It was an official at the U.S. State Department.

“They said: does Otto take medicine?” Fred Warmbier recalled to Carlson. “They don’t say anything about detainment, but of course we bring it up. And they say, ‘yeah, he’s being detained.’”

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un visits the Kumsusan Palace of the Sun on the 62nd anniversary of the Korean War armistice on July 27, 2015.
Xinhua/KCNA/Getty ImagesNorth Korean leader Kim Jong Un visits the Kumsusan Palace of the Sun on the 62nd anniversary of the Korean War armistice on July 27, 2015.

The Last Exotic Place on Earth

In May of 1972, 19 years after the end of the Korean War, three American journalists landed in Pyongyang. They were the first to be allowed inside the secretive nation since the conflict two decades prior, which began when the Soviet-backed North invaded the American-backed South.

The Korean Peninsula had for centuries been home to an isolationist kingdom, and an inward-looking mentality perfectly suited the needs of a socialist state practicing its own ideology of Juche, or revolutionary self-reliance. Amid a culture of fear buttressed by surveillance, a state monopoly on information, and all the police apparatus of repression, a personality cult grew around the head of state, Kim Il Sung, the pudgy soldier chosen by the Soviets to lead the communist North.

The dispatches filed by the American reporters were glowing. Harrison E. Salisbury, a legendary foreign correspondent for the New York Times, described a “large, imposing capital… built almost from scratch” out of the rubble of the war, a land of “bright May sunshine with pink azaleas and yellow primroses blazing in the Pyongyang parks.” The capital—and the fact that these foreign correspondents were allowed in it—was “visible evidence that even on this remote East Asian littoral the tides of change are at work.”

The tides of change were doing no such thing. In fact, North Korea grew stagnant. As the journalist Barbara Demick notes in her book Nothing to Envy, the country initially depended on its Soviet allies for electricity, food and trade. Then the Soviets left. Capitalist South Korea was in the throes of its economic golden age. In the North, there was only deprivation, hunger and struggle.

“North Korea can’t change,” Robert Kelly, a political scientist at Busan National University, says. “They can’t open up like China or Vietnam, because then it just becomes a poorer version of South Korea. It won’t be the Cambodia of Northeast Asia—it has to maintain a distinctly different ideological system to justify its existence compared to the happier, wealthier Korea.”

Some are uncertain how long this can last. In the Internet age, the once hermetic North Korean state has become penetrable. “There’s word-of-mouth, USB sticks, South Korean television dramas,” Snyder, at the Council on Foreign Relations, says. “The sheen has come off. In the 1990s, there was a popular song called ‘My Country Is The Best Country In The World,’ and it was entirely plausible that the people who sang it believed it. I’d bet the majority of them don’t anymore.”

Still, North Korea’s isolation has given it a peculiar luster to foreigners; indeed, it drives tourism to the country. During the Cold War, there were many countries closed to travelers. The American backpackers who today spill their beers in the streets of Hanoi or Prague might not realize that until just two decades ago or so, it was difficult if not impossible to travel to such places as tourists. These days, even Cuba is open. That leaves North Korea—the totalitarian dystopia of Stalinist boulevards and morning sirens—as the last resort of jaded travelers in search of fresh bragging rights.

Pyongyang is fully aware of it. Tourism’s ability to bring in much needed foreign currency became especially valued after the imposition of international sanctions that followed Kim Jong Il’s 2006 announcement of his country’s nuclear ambitions.

“After the Iron Curtain fell, there were fewer and fewer ‘exotic’ places,” explains Snyder. “North Korea rose in prominence as one of them.”

Ed Jones—AFP/Getty Images A foreign competitor poses for a photo prior to the start of the Pyongyang Marathon at Kim Il-Sung stadium in Pyongyang on April 9, 2017. Hundreds of foreigners lined up in Pyongyang’s Kim Il-Sung Stadium on April 9 for the city’s annual marathon, the highlight of the tourism calendar in isolated North Korea.

Today, around 100,000 tourists travel to North Korea annually—the vast majority Chinese but the figure includes around 5,000 Westerners—collectively injecting around $43.6 million into the country’s economy each year. They do so under the aegis of one of the handful of tour companies that have been approved by North Korean authorities to conduct trips to the country, which are constantly chaperoned by state-appointed minders and guides. The oldest, largest and most reputable company catering to Western visitors is Koryo Tours, founded in 1992 by two British expats in Beijing. In the beginning, they were doing a few tours a year, leading groups of around only 10 or so travelers, most of them British. Today, they see between 2,000 and 2,500 clients a year.

Around a quarter of those are Americans. Of the 1,000 foreign amateurs who competed in the Pyongyang Marathon on April 9, 104 of them were from the U.S. This is a relatively new development. American tourists have only been regularly allowed into North Korea only since late 2005, when Koryo was permitted to lead a tour centered around the Arirang Festival, the annual mass games that inform the Western vision of North Korea: thousands of smiling dancers performing in lockstep before a stadium of dazzlingly synchronized workers moving colored boards in giant tidal waves to depict scenes of socialist rapture.

Today, there are several agencies Americans can choose from. Warmbier went with Young Pioneer Tours, a nine-year-old company that renders its name in faux Cyrillic font and has as its logo a figure holding a hammer-and-sickle flag. Its competitive edge is price. On its website, its describes itself as “the first company to offer budget tours” to North Korea. Its all-inclusive “ultra budget” weekend trips to Pyongyang from Beijing cost about $570, less than half the price of Koryo’s trip of similar duration.

Any American traveling to North Korea does so in direct contravention of their government’s advice. The U.S. State Department “strongly urges” citizens to avoid any travel to the country; Warmbier’s case, spokesman Mark Toner says, “underscores the very real risks associated with travel to North Korea.”

This is unlikely to dissuade the adventure-seeker who has “been everywhere else but wants that stamp in their passport,” as one veteran of the North Korean tourism industry put it. Tour companies also dismiss it as undue scaremongering. Americans who have traveled to North Korea with Koryo or Young Pioneer vouch for the ability of both companies to prepare clients for the occupational hazards of entering the world’s most totalitarian state. Before the tourists depart for Pyongyang, they are briefed for several hours on rules and etiquette, most of which concern respecting North Korea and the godly hegemony of the Kim dynasty. (For instance: One must fold a newspaper with caution, lest one leaves a crease in the face of a photograph of Kim Jong Un.)

“They tell you not to be an idiot, not to criticize the system—they’re very explicit about what you’re getting into,” the political scientist Kelly says. “People know what North Korea is.”

This is why North Korea watchers have tended to be somewhat unsympathetic about Warmbier, or at least about his arrest. To them, it’s not an act of injustice; it’s justice according to a deeply peculiar set of rules. “I genuinely think he did it,” Kelly says. “People go to North Korea and think they’re on a regular tour. They go off and do stupid stuff; they drink too much and get in trouble.”

But, he says, “I’m kind of surprised this poor kid has been held for so long.”

Euna Lee, left, and Laura Ling, are greeted by their husbands after their arrival at Bob Hope Airport in Burbank, Calif., on Aug. 5, 2009. The two American journalists had been arrested that March after allegedly crossing into North Korea from China.
Jae C. Hong—AP Euna Lee, left, and Laura Ling, are greeted by their husbands after their arrival at Bob Hope Airport in Burbank, Calif., on Aug. 5, 2009. The two American journalists had been arrested that March after allegedly crossing into North Korea from China.

Guesswork and Consternation

If Warmbier is being treated like any other of the 120,000 prisoners in North Korea’s gulags, he will be suffering horribly: Malnutrition is endemic in prison camps, and prisoners are literally worked to death—“usually for 12 hours a day or more, while being berated, harassed, and physically beaten by guards,” Robertson of Human Rights Watch says. The camps are up in the mountains, where in winter the temperature drops well below freezing.

The obvious hope is that Pyongyang sees Warmbier as an asset worth keeping alive—if not in comfort then at least not at the point of starvation and death. But nobody knows. “No one’s reached out to us,” Fred Warmbier said in his Fox News interview. “Look: we let our son go there. But I would have hoped that at this point, someone would have reached out and given us some reassurances. That doesn’t happen in our world.”

The last official foreign interaction with Warmbier took place on March 2, 2016, two months he was arrested and two weeks before he was sentenced, when he met with diplomatic representatives from Sweden. Only 24 countries have embassies in Pyongyang—compare this to 110 in Seoul—and since 1995, the Swedes have served as Washington’s representatives there, offering limited consular services to Americans in the country. The Swedish ambassador, Torkel Stiernlöf, lives with his wife and nine-year-old daughter in a compound that used to house the East German embassy; water and electricity cuts are common, but Stiernlöf notes that the compound has a nice garden.

“For several years there have almost always been one or two Americans in North Korean custody for a shorter or longer period,” Stiernlöf tells TIME. “These cases are time consuming [but are] a priority for this embassy. They tend to never leave your mind simply because of the obvious human aspect.”

Stiernlöf refused to elaborate on the meetings with Warmbier, though acting U.S. State Department spokesperson Mark Toner says that Washington is “in regular, close coordination with the Swedes.”

However, nobody has been more publicly involved in working to free Warmbier than Bill Richardson, the affable former New Mexico governor and congressman who served as Secretary of Energy and U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations under President Bill Clinton. Since exiting public life, he has helmed the nonprofit Richardson Center for Global Engagement, which acts as an intermediary between the U.S. and nations with which its relations are strained, especially when it comes to negotiating the release of prisoners and hostages.

Richardson has traveled to North Korea eight times; he has connections with high-ranking North Korean diplomats. He first became involved in Warmbier’s case not long after the arrest, when he got a call from Ohio Governor John Kasich. In September 2016, amid diplomatic tensions over North Korea’s nuclear bomb test that month, his center sent a delegation to the country to meet with North Korean officials.

“The reason this has taken longer is that Kim Jong Un is very unpredictable,” Richardson says of efforts to secure Warmbier’s release. “In the past, under Kim Jong Il these types of political prisoners were used as bargaining chips. One was able to make deals with the [North Korean] leadership—basically for the release of Americans you’d get humanitarian aid or a high-level visit.”

But unlike his father, Kim has little interest in bargaining. Compounding this is a new president across the Pacific about whom many say the same.

“The recent tension is very serious—the worst I’ve seen in the Korean Peninsula, mostly because of Kim Jong Un’s militaristic behavior and President Trump’s similarly unpredictable policies,” Richardson says. He adds that there could be a deal for Warmbier. “Eventually.”

Richardson and other experts say that it is too early to discern precisely what the Trump administration’s approach will be when it comes to handling North Korea, though many believe fears of a preemptive military strike are exaggerated. “He thrives on uncertainty, so I’d be foolish to give any statement that definitively states what he might do,” Snyder says. But so far “it’s the Trump playbook: suggest a willingness to take dramatic action, but with no details about what the action means. Most of what it says leaves him with the option to pursue diplomacy if he wants.”

Ultimately, though, it is guesswork and consternation that shroud Warmbier’s case, because it is guesswork and consternation that shroud the future of U.S. relations with North Korea. “As long as North Korea refuses to accept even the theoretical possibility of negotiations about its nuclear weapons program, it’s hard to see how bilateral or multilateral negotiations might resume,” Revere, the former diplomat, says.

And if there are no negotiations, there are no bargaining chips. If only Otto Warmbier could be a pawn; for now, he isn’t even that.

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FBI Agent Shot in Atlanta While Serving Warrant
Another person has died, authorities said

An FBI agent was shot and injured while trying to serve a warrant in Atlanta, authorities said on Friday.

The agent was shot trying to serve an arrest warrant at a home, FBI Special Agent Stephen Emmett told the Associated Press. The agent suffered non-life-threatening injuries and was taken to a hospital for treatment.

According to Emmet, another individual who was at the scene was killed. The person was not part of law enforcement.

Further details were not immediately available. The FBI and Atlanta police did not immediately respond to request for comment.

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Canadian Ringleader of $18.7 Million Maple Syrup Heist Sentenced to Prison
He was fined about $9.4 million

A Canadian man who led the 2012 heist of millions of dollars worth of maple syrup received an eight-year prison sentence and multi-million dollar fine on Friday.

Richard Vallières was fined $9.4 million, and will have to serve six additional years in prison if he does not pay it, for the theft of $18.7 million worth of maple syrup, the CBC reports. The 2012 theft involved taking 3,000 tons of maple syrup from a warehouse that belonged to the Federation of Quebec Maple Syrup Producers, which regulates the syrup trade.

Officials realized the maple syrup was missing in July 2012 when they found dozens of barrels filled with water instead of syrup. Twenty-six people were arrested in an investigation into the missing syrup.

Vallières was found guilty of theft, fraud and trafficking stolen goods. His father, Raymond, and syrup reseller Etienne St-Pierre, have also been found guilty for taking part in the heist. The three men will appeal their convictions, according to the CBC.

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Watch Live: President Trump Holds a Rally in Pennsylvania
It falls on the same night of the White House Correspondents' Dinner

President Trump will hold a rally in Pennsylvania on Saturday night.

Trump will mark the first 100 days of his presidency with a rally in Harrisburg. He announced the “BIG rally” on Twitter earlier this month.

The President’s trip to Harrisburg happens to fall on the same night of the White House Correspondents’ Dinner, an annual night of comedy that typically brings together the White House staff and the press. Trump said he would not attend the event, following several months of speculation about his attendance at the dinner, which has hosted every sitting president since Calvin Coolidge at least once since its founding in 1921.

Watch the rally, which kicks off at 7:30 p.m., above.

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Watch Live: The 2017 White House Correspondents’ Dinner
President Trump will not attend

The annual White House Correspondents’ Dinner will take place Saturday night.

President Trump and the White House staff will skip the dinner this year, following repeated criticisms from Trump of the press as “fake news.” Comedian Hasan Minhaj will host the event, and said it is important to honor the First Amendment “now more than ever.”

The White House Correspondents’ Dinner typically brings together the press corps, celebrities and politicians together to celebrate the First Amendment. Trump attended the dinner in 2011, where he was famously skewered for falsely asserting that then-President Barack Obama was not born in the United States.

Watch the event, which begins at 9 p.m. Eastern, live above.

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North Korean Ballistic Missile Test Fails Yet Again
It broke up a couple minutes after the launch

(SEOUL, South Korea) — North Korea test-fired a mid-range ballistic missile from the western part of its country Saturday, but the launch apparently failed, South Korea and the United States said.

The test will be condemned by outsiders as yet another step in the North’s push for a nuclear-tipped missile that can strike the U.S. mainland.

South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said in a statement that the North fired the unidentified missile from around Pukchang, which is near the capital Pyongyang, but provided no other details.

A U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive matters, said the missile was likely a medium-range KN-17 ballistic missile. It broke up a couple minutes after the launch and the pieces fell into the Sea of Japan.

A South Korean military official also said without elaborating that the launch was believed to be a failure. He didn’t want to be named, citing office rules. The official couldn’t immediately confirm how far the missile flew or whether it had exploded shortly after launch.

North Korea routinely test-fires a variety of ballistic missiles, despite United Nations prohibitions, as part of its weapons development. While shorter-range missiles are somewhat routine, there is strong outside worry about each longer-range North Korean ballistic test.

Saturday’s launch comes at a point of particularly high tension. U.S. President Donald Trump took an initial hard line with Pyongyang and sent a U.S. aircraft supercarrier to Korean waters. His diplomats are now taking a softer tone.

On Friday, the United States and China offered starkly different strategies for addressing North Korea’s escalating nuclear threat as Trump’s top diplomat demanded full enforcement of economic sanctions on Pyongyang and urged new penalties. Stepping back from suggestions of U. S. military action, he even offered aid to North Korea if it ends its nuclear weapons program.

The range of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s suggestions, which over a span of 24 hours also included restarting negotiations, reflected America’s failure to halt North Korea’s nuclear advances despite decades of U.S.-led sanctions, military threats and stop-and-go rounds of diplomatic engagement. As the North approaches the capability to hit the U.S. mainland with a nuclear-tipped missile, the Trump administration feels it is running out of time.

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Dear White People Creator Justin Simien on ‘Navigating Other People’s Guilt’
"I had to answer for myself in ways that [white artists] never had to."

“Dear White People” began as a Twitter account that writer Justin Simien used to satirize issues about race. Simien used the account to mine ideas for a screenplay about an ambitious student named Samantha White who drops divisive truth bombs about race on her radio show at an overwhelmingly white Ivy League School. Racial tensions on campus reach a tipping point when a frat-like group on campus decides to host a black face party, a trend that Simien had observed at universities around the country.

The Dear White People movie premiered at Sundance in 2014. Critics lauded the film for goading its audience into considering uncomfortable truths. Simien decided to return to his fictional Winchester University in a Netflix series, premiering April 28, to see how his students would deal with the cultural shifts of the last three years, including the rise of the Black Lives Matter and the election of Donald Trump.

The first trailer for the show, which examines how students negotiate issues of race, sexuality, gender, class and religion, was accused of “reverse racism” by some on social media. Simien says that the reaction reinforced the notion that black artists have to defend themselves in ways that white artists ever have to. Simien spoke to TIME about racial politics, the reaction to the trailer and upending stereotypes.

How has the political environment changed between the movie and the show?

We’re in a time where this is part of the national conversation: Racists are a lot more emboldened to speak out. The Black Lives Matter movement has spawned all kinds of activism. In many ways, the culture has given us permission to have this conversation in a way that it really hadn’t when I was writing the movie.

One of my big regrets with the movie is I didn’t really anticipate Black Lives Matter. I felt like the movie didn’t touch upon activism, really. You have Sam’s revolutionaries, but her arc is really more about what versions of herself to be at certain times. So I really wanted to get into that.

So what does activism look like right now to the college students in the show?

It’s difficult. I had to work through catharsis about what it feels like to be active and not always get the result you want right away, to realize it’s going to take a little bit longer. That was on my mind when I made the show in a way it wasn’t when I made the movie because Black Lives Matter didn’t exist. There was no real national, viral movement happening when I wrote the movie.

Some people on Twitter called the trailer for the TV show “racist.” What was your reaction?

There was a deep sadness that as a black person I will never be able to navigate this world without being imprinted upon by the majority culture. There were all kinds of claims, from the idea that I was trying to start a white genocide to the idea that the show was reverse racist. People both saying, “We don’t need the show. Racism is over,” and then calling me a “nigger” and that I should go back to Africa.

I don’t know that I was personally hurt by the things because I’d gone through it already [with the movie], and there’s been a bit of a callus built. But there is a sadness to just knowing that being a black person and daring to open my mouth and say something, I have to navigate all this bullshit.

I have to navigate all these other people’s guilt. I have to deal with the psychological baggage of slavery, frankly, from the oppressive class. And that is just the reality of being a marginalized person in this country: you have to deal with the psychological impact of your oppressor — whether that’s being a woman dealing with men or gay people dealing with straight people or trans people dealing with everybody else. You do have to take on their shit because they’re in control of the narrative. I don’t just get a movie and make a statement and not have to deal with it.

And that spurred you to write an article about the experience.

I got a lot of publicity out of it. I got to be on everyone’s Facebook feed and make sure everyone was aware that this was a show coming out April 28. I was able to flip it to my advantage. But what I was left with was a sadness that we have to go through this every single time.

You look at the reviews of Do the Right Thing, and these people should be embarrassed about what they said about that movie when it came out. And then you turn around and wonder why a person like Spike Lee is so confrontational. Well, maybe it’s because he’s constantly having to confront your bullshit every time he dares to make a statement.

I had to answer for myself in ways that the guy who wrote Stuff White People Like or David Letterman or Quentin Tarantino — who made a literal black revenge fantasy movie — never had to, and they were far more successful and made far more money than I ever did. And that’s not fair. I hope talking about it people will see what black people are talking about when we say we’re still oppressed and that oppression is different than having hurt feelings.

Dear White People
Rick Proctor—Netflix

Why did you decide to film the show from the perspectives of many different characters?

I had that in my head since the beginning. What I wanted to do initially with the film was make almost a Robert Altman kind of movie, like a two and a half hour collection of shorts that are intertwined, where each character really gets their own movie. And I thought that if we could land the show on something like a Netflix where the whole thing airs at once, wouldn’t that be an interesting way to approach? I really wanted to stretch the medium.

Was there a particular character you most identify with and were excited to delve deeper into?

I feel that way about all the characters. I suppose Lionel comes immediately to mind because I am black and gay, and I’ve been at that intersection my whole life. I’ve always felt weird navigating the cultural landscape. I talk about being a “what” to people. Like, being gay in mainstream society is a different kind of “what” than being black. They don’t always jive. It’s confusing and leads to these really awkward personal stories that have just been in me for awhile. So getting to flesh out that character was really satisfying.

But there’s also like Joelle. She exists in the movie. She’s never named, but that character has been yapping in my head forever. Al is another one of those characters. Rashid. These are characters that have been talking in my head for so long.

What’s the difference between making a movie and a show on the same subject?

The thing about TV is you kind of have an endless canvass. You can always keep going. So I can relax a little bit and get into the themes and the dirt under the fingernails. With a movie you really have to lead everything to a single insight, a single moment in the theater where you go, “Oh,” and it really hits you. Everything in the movie leads toward that one moment; that one thematic statement.

With a show, you can ponder something for an entire season. Like episode five was inspired by a scene that was cut from the movie. The characters are wandering around looking for a party, and the fact that they’re black, of course, affects the way that they can have a good time in a way that it doesn’t really affect their white peers. I didn’t think as a first-time filmmaker I could put that in a movie. On the show, I got to slow down as a storyteller and investigate the little things.

You said that in the movie you had to build up to one thematic point. What was the main point you wanted to make with the film?

I felt like the blackface party was an opportunity for those who hadn’t experienced what it felt like to be thought of as a monolithic idea to experience that in a very visceral way.

But really I wanted it to hit people just how human these characters were because they’re all presented so broadly in the early parts of the film. I wanted you to realize you were probably wrong about who these people are, that there’s a depth to them that you maybe haven’t considered. And when say “you,” I mean black people, white people, anybody who saw the movie. I wanted them to say, “Wow what a shame it is that everyone, including myself, put these characters in this box. And what a shame it is that they’re oppressed by the fact that they don’t get to be many things.” That was really a moment of emotional impact.

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6-Year-Old Boy Receives Outstanding Citizen Award After Turning in $2,000 He Found
Jasper Dopman and his father were given the Outstanding Citizen Award

(ARLINGTON, Mass.) — A 6-year-old Massachusetts boy who turned in $2,000 in cash he found in a bank bag lost by a restaurant employee has received an Outstanding Citizen Award.

Arlington resident Jasper Dopman was walking with his father, Erik Dopman, on April 18 when he spotted a cloth bag on the ground near a school. The bag contained cash and deposit slips.

Erik Dopman called the Arlington police and turned in the bag. An investigation determined the money belonged to Tenoch Mexican Food Corp. Police located an employee at the company’s Medford restaurant who said she had lost the bag earlier.

The money was returned to the family-owned restaurant.

Father and son each received an Outstanding Citizen Award from police and gifts from the Mexican food company.

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The First 100 Days of President Trump’s Critics Went Surprisingly Well
"Those wins show people that what they're doing matters"

President Trump’s first 100 days have gotten mixed reviews. But his political opponents think their first 100 days have gone surprisingly well.

In fact, among leaders of the so-called “resistance” movement, there is widespread disagreement about what exactly was their biggest triumph. Some cite the enthusiasm for protests on inauguration weekend. Others think it was their rapid response to the two travel bans. And still others highlight the legislative failure of the bill to repeal the Affordable Care Act.

For the opposition groups, Trump’s first 100 days have been marked with a string of unexpected victories, such as Trump’s legal setbacks, and a few defeats, such as the confirmation of Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch, which they anticipated. Overall, they say they’re doing better than they had hoped while avoiding what they feared.

Protestors Rally At JFK Airport Against Muslim Immigration Ban
Stephanie Keith—Getty ImagesProtesters rally during a demonstration against the Muslim immigration ban at JFK International Airport on Jan. 28, 2017, in New York City

“There were three threats,” says activist and pundit Van Jones. “First was that psychologically, people would just adapt themselves to Trump. Second was that the courts would prove to be an ineffective barrier. Third was that with Republicans in control of the House and Senate, there would be no way to stop him legislatively.” So far, he said the opposition has avoided all three.

The anti-Trump forces have also coalesced quickly. Groups that didn’t exist six months ago have now become the center of a left-wing activist machine. The Women’s March, which started as a Facebook group and drew roughly 4 million people the day after Trump’s election, now controls a network of 480 local organizers in all 50 states, tapping into more than 5,600 small groups of activists called “huddles.” Indivisible, which started as an online Google doc put together by former congressional staffers, now has two groups in each Congressional district. Organizers say those Indivisible groups mobilized roughly 400,000 people to participate in at least 600 town halls to pressure their representatives on everything from immigration to Obamacare repeal.

And three months after the record-breaking Women’s March, there is so much anti-Trump energy that organizers can’t find enough weekends to schedule protests. In April, nationwide protests were scheduled on three consecutive weekends (the Tax March, the March for Science and the People’s Climate March.) There are so many people marching that some are even buying T-shirts with the slogan “protesting is the new brunch.”

The movement has even activated reticent liberals in deep-red states. “When I first moved to this area, I thought ‘Oh, am I the only person who thinks the way I think?'” says Kathleen Peterson, 71, a retired health worker who helped organize the local Women’s March in Cheyenne, Wyo. “Because of our marches and our group, people are feeling ‘Oh, there are other people who feel the way I do.'” She says she expected double-digit turnout for a Tax March she organized in deep-red Cheyenne, but nearly 200 people showed up to demand Trump’s tax returns and they were met by supportive honks from passing truck drivers.

But organizers say they are most encouraged by the legal and legislative victories that have stymied two of Trump’s most ambitious goals: immigration restrictions and health care reform. After thousands of protesters flooded the nation’s airports to protest Trump’s travel bans, ACLU lawyers challenged his two executive orders on immigration and won. Trump repeatedly promised to repeal Obamacare, but Congressional efforts to repeal and replace the law have been thwarted in part by moderate Republicans who were confronted at town halls by furious constituents.

Activists argue that kind of momentum feeds on itself. “If we hadn’t had these legal victories, or the Women’s March, or our win against Trumpcare, I think a lot of people would be suffering more severe fatigue,” says Indivisible co-founder Sarah Dohl. “Those wins show people that what they’re doing matters.”

As Trump approached his 100th day in office, he criticized it as an unreasonable standard, with some justification. But those three months have been an indication for how things may play out, for the president as well as his opponents. Activists are proud of the apparatus they’ve built, but the decentralized authority and the anger powering it could become liabilities down the road.

Science educator Bill Nye joins tens of thousands of protestors walking along Constitution Avenue for the March for Science in Washington, D.C., on April 22, 2017.
Jim Lo Scalzo—EPAScience educator Bill Nye joins tens of thousands of protestors walking along Constitution Avenue for the March for Science in Washington, D.C., on April 22, 2017.

For one thing, the left does not have a deep bench of high-profile candidates for the House and Senate in 2018, much less an obvious frontrunner to challenge Trump in 2020. Though organizers like to repeat that the movement is “leaderful, not leaderless,” that could lead to infighting when it comes time to decide who to rally behind. Meantime, the anti-Trump fervor among many activists can be off-putting when it comes time to welcome his erstwhile supporters.

“They’ve framed these arguments in a way that makes it harder for Trump voters to cross the street,” warns Jones. “It’s not about whether Trump is a bad president, it’s about whether you were a bad person to support him.”

And the movement is still hobbled by deep divisions between far-left supporters of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and the more moderate Hillary Clinton supporters, a mutual mistrust that will be difficult to mend. “We have to take self-righteous politics, moral purity, and put it to the side, because there are people in our communities who are actively in danger,” says Linda Sarsour, a co-chair of the Women’s March and a vocal Sanders supporter. “The progressive left has no choice but to organize with people they may not have organized with, for the main purpose of protecting the most marginalized.”

Even if they can get over their internal divisions, the Trump White House may become more difficult to thwart. Some of the biggest wins for the resistance movement have come from unforced errors made by an inexperienced new Administration, like mistakes in the travel ban that made it easier to challenge in court. “Can we count on them to continue to be as incompetent as they are?” asks Faiz Shakir, political director of the ACLU. “I’m not sure that we can.”

Still, all are in agreement that even if the Trump resistance was born as a protest movement, it must quickly mature into an electoral machine. To that end, the Women’s March has recently registered as a political advocacy organization with 501(c)(4) status, while maintaining a nonprofit, nonpartisan entity. They are cultivating their network of millions of emails, grooming local organizers, and strengthening their network of “huddles,” many in conservative areas. “If there’s any time for the resistance to get on the same page, it has to be on electoral politics,” says Sarsour. She says the Women’s March plans to launch massive voter registration and engagement efforts, but that the DNC has not yet asked them for help.

Regardless of the challenges, the anti-Trump organizers insist they have an infinite supply of motivation. “A comedian came to town and said, ‘There’s no way these women can stay mad for four yeasr,'” says Kathleen Peterson. “I said ‘You just watch us. Women can stay mad forever.'”

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Bernie Sanders Calls Barack Obama’s $400,000 Wall Street Speech ‘Distasteful’
"I just think it does not look good"

Bernie Sanders is not too happy that former President Barack Obama has accepted $400,000 to speak at a conference sponsored by a Wall Street investment bank.

“I just think it does not look good,” Sanders told CNN’s Suzanne Malveaux, joining several people who have criticized Obama for taking the money. “I just think it is distasteful — not a good idea that he did that.”

Sanders frequently railed against Hillary Clinton for accepting money for giving speeches to Wall Street banks while he campaigned for the Democratic presidential nomination last year. His comments about Obama echoed Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who said on Thursday that she was “troubled” by the former president’s decision.

Sanders also aired his disapproval of Obama’s decision in an interview with CBS’s This Morning.

“I think at a time when people are so frustrated with the power of Wall Street and the big-money interests, I think it is unfortunate that President Obama is doing this,” he said. “Wall Street has incredible power, and I would have hoped that the president would not have given a speech like this.”

Obama’s spokesperson Eric Schultz defended the former president’s speaking fee on Wednesday, saying he implemented tough reforms on Wall Street during his presidency.

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