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(NEW YORK) -- A pandemic of the novel coronavirus has now killed more than 972,000 people worldwide.

Over 31.6 million people across the globe have been diagnosed with COVID-19, the disease caused by the new respiratory virus, according to data compiled by the Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins University. The criteria for diagnosis -- through clinical means or a lab test -- has varied from country-to-country. Still, the actual numbers are believed to be much higher due to testing shortages, many unreported cases and suspicions that some national governments are hiding or downplaying the scope of their outbreaks.

Since the first cases were detected in China in December, the virus has rapidly spread to every continent except Antarctica.

The United States is the worst-affected country, with more than 6.9 million diagnosed cases and at least 201,204 deaths.

California has the most cases of any U.S. state, with more than 793,000 people diagnosed, according to Johns Hopkins data. California is followed by Texas and Florida, with over 741,000 cases and over 690,000 cases, respectively.

Nearly 170 vaccine candidates for COVID-19 are being tracked by the World Health Organization, at least six of which are in crucial phase three trials.

Here's how the news is developing Wednesday. All times Eastern:

Sep 23, 5:12 pm
Missouri governor tests positive

Missouri Gov. Mike Parson and his wife Teresa tested positive for COVID-19 on Wednesday, his office said.

They were tested because Teresa had "minor symptoms," his office said. Gov. Parson has no symptoms.

"All official and campaign events have been canceled until further notice," the office said, adding that the governor's staff has been tested.

"Governor Parson continues to conduct and fulfill all roles of businesses of the state of Missouri from the Governor's Mansion," Parson's office said.

ABC News' Will Gretsky contributed to this report.

Sep 23, 4:50 pm
Indiana to lift nearly all restrictions

Indiana will move to Stage 5, its final phase of reopening, on Saturday, Gov. Eric Holcomb has announced.

Retail stores, malls, restaurants, bars and nightclubs can operate at full capacity under the Stage 5 rules.

There will be no restrictions at gyms and large events like sports, fairs and festivals can resume.

Restrictions will also be lifted at amusement parks and water parks, though people are advised to maintain social distancing.

Masks will still be required.

ABC News' Will Gretsky contributed to this report.

Sep 23, 3:54 pm
France announces new restrictions as cases rise

New restrictions are coming in France as the nation deals with the highest increase of COVID-19 cases in Europe since May.

French Health Minister Olivier Véran announced a set of targeted restrictions Wednesday to be implemented in various cities for two weeks.

Starting Saturday, in Paris and seven other major cities, parties will be prohibited, with outdoor gatherings limited to 10 people.

Bars must shut their doors at 10 p.m., gyms will be closed and sporting events will be limited to 1,000 spectators.

Meanwhile, Marseille and Guadeloupe are enacting stricter rules; starting Monday all bars and restaurants will be closed.

French officials reported 13,072 new cases on Wednesday, just short of the highest daily record of 13,215. France now has over 481,000 COVID-19 cases and at least 31,459 fatalities.

ABC News' Ibtissem Guenfoud and Christine Theodorou contributed to this report.

Sep 23, 3:32 pm
20 times more likely to catch COVID-19 indoors than outdoors: Study

Dr. Blythe Adamson, a former member of the White House coronavirus task force, told "GMA3" on Wednesday, "One of things that we just learned recently -- and published in a new study today in Clinical and Infectious Diseases -- is that being indoors, you're 20 times more likely to catch COVID from an infectious person than if you were around them outdoors."

Adamson is now adviser to Testing for America, a nonprofit established to help solve the testing crisis.

Adamson stressed that the U.S. must "be flexible and adapt, so as we learn more about the science, we're willing to change our public policies so that they match the best science."

"There's a lot of work for us to continue to do over the next couple of months. As we move forward into flu season, it's even more important that we're able to distinguish between a viral infection that's from influenza or coronavirus," she said.

Sep 23, 1:02 pm
Redfield stands by his timeline that most Americans will be vaccinated by summer 2021

While testifying at a Senate hearing Wednesday, Robert Redfield stood by his timeline on when most Americans would be vaccinated. He said the expectation is that millions of doses will be ready by April and that it could take until summer 2021 to get the vaccine to most Americans.

“I think that’s going to take us to April, May, June, possibly July to get the entire American public completely vaccinated," said Redfield, director of the CDC.

When Dr. Anthony Fauci testified he said that about 50 million doses of all the viable vaccine candidates will be available in November, and more in December, and that those doses will be prioritized to health care providers and vulnerable populations.

ABC News' Stephanie Ebbs contributed to this report.

Sep 23, 11:11 am
Fauci: 'Disturbing number' of COVID-19 patients have heart inflammation

At a Senate hearing on COVID-19, Dr. Anthony Fauci on Wednesday addressed some lesser-publicized side effects seen among some COVID-19 "long-haulers": heart inflammation and cognitive abnormalities.

"A disturbing number of individuals" who have recovered from COVID-19 and "apparently are asymptomatic," "when they have sensitive imaging technologies such as magnetic resonance imaging or MRI," they're found to "have inflammation of the heart," Fauci said.

Fauci also said a symptom among COVID-19 "long-haulers" is "cognitive abnormalities," like the inability to concentrate.

"These are the kinds of things that tell us we must be humbled that we do not completely understand the nature of this illness,” stressed Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), also testified Wednesday, noting that young people -- 18 to 25 year olds -- are making up 26% of new infections.

ABC News' Anne Flaherty contributed to this report.

Sep 23, 6:54 am
Navajo Nation reinstates stay-at-home order

As COVID-19 cases rise, the Navajo Nation is re-issuing a strict stay-at-home order and a 57-hour weekend lockdown. The increase in cases is in the Sage Memorial Hospital service area in Arizona and in satellite chapters in the Eastern Navajo Agency.

Many of these new cases are a result of family gatherings and people traveling to areas outside of the Navajo Nation and returning with the virus, Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez said in a statement.

"These new cluster cases are very troubling because we do not yet know the extent to which these individuals came into contact with people in the general public,” Nez said Tuesday.

The lockdown begins at 8 p.m. on Sept 25 and ends at 5 a.m. on Sept 28. There is also a daily curfew from 9 p.m. to 5 a.m. on weekdays.

The Navajo Nation previously implemented public health emergency orders that restricted in-person gatherings and traveling off the Nation.

“We have told our people repeatedly that there remains substantial risk if you choose to travel off the Nation and hold family gatherings. Cities and towns near the Navajo Nation continue to see large increases in daily COVID-19 cases. It only takes a few positive cases to lead to another surge and we all know that our health care system cannot handle another large surge," Nez said.

As of Sept. 22, there have been more than 10,000 COVID-19 cases in the Navajo Nation, with at least 548 deaths.

Sep 23, 5:10 am
Six New York City neighborhoods see increase in cases

In the city that was hit hardest by the coronavirus pandemic, cases of COVID-19 are on the rise in six New York City neighborhoods, according to local health officials.

Due to an uptick in the Borough Park, Kew Gardens, Midwood, Edgemere-Far Rockaway, Flatbush, Bensonhurst and Williamsburg communities, the city announced a targeted response to slow the spread in these areas as part of its "Get Test Tuesday" initiative.

The Midwood, Borough Park and Bensonhurst neighborhoods saw a 4.71% increase in COVID-19 cases from the week ending Aug. 1 to the week ending Sept. 19. In that same period, Far Rockaway saw a 3.69% increase, Kew Gardens a 2.24% increase and Williamsburg a 2% increase.

The increases in these areas make up 20% of all cases citywide.

"At this point in time, these increases could potentially evolve into more widespread community transmission and spread to other neighborhoods unless action is taken," the city said in a statement.

To help combat the rising cases in these areas, Dave Chokshi, commissioner of health of the City of New York, said the city would increase its presence, communication and add testing in these neighborhoods.

"... we'll launch robocalls and WhatsApp messages, communications with houses of worship, core-four palm cards to businesses, distribution of masks, gloves, and hand sanitizer. We'll place additional ads in community newspapers and we'll offer new point-of-care testing resources in these six neighborhoods at both Urgent Care and community provider offices," Chokshi said at a press conference Tuesday. "We aim to be seen and heard, so sound trucks will broadcast core four messages in these neighborhoods as well."

Since the beginning of the pandemic, New York City has had more than 23,000 coronavirus-related deaths and 236,000 cases.

Mayor Bill de Blasio said with these upticks, combined with cooler weather, it's important for New Yorkers to continue to avoid large indoor gatherings.

"There are clear rules from the state on this," de Blasio said at a press conference Tuesday. "Large gatherings are still a problem both legally and in terms of the health problem they create. So, we need people to avoid that."

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


iStock/ffrannyBY: AARON KATERSKY, ABC News

(NEW YORK) -- After largely controlling the coronavirus through the summer, New York City health officials warned Wednesday of troubling spikes in cases in six neighborhoods across Brooklyn and Queens that they said “are cause for significant concern.”

The neighborhoods include Kew Gardens and Far Rockaway in Queens, Williamsburg in Brooklyn and a separate section of Brooklyn including Midwood, Borough Park and Bensonhurst that health officials are calling the “Ocean Parkway Cluster.”

The six neighborhoods make up 20% of all COVID-19 cases citywide as of Sept. 19 and the health department fears the increases could potentially evolve into more widespread transmission.

“I’m so distressed by the large increase in COVID in these four neighborhoods, including the Ocean Parkway area, which is where I grew up, went to synagogue, where my brother currently lives,” said Dr. Mitchell Katz, the CEO of NYC Health Hospitals.

Katz said the city was moving to immediately address the increase with leaders of Orthodox Jewish communities in each neighborhood, including automated calls in Yiddish and English, trucks driving through the neighborhoods blaring messages and distribution of masks, gloves and hand sanitizer.

"This virus doesn’t follow religious or political lines,” said Dr. John Brownstein, an epidemiologist at Boston Children’s Hospital and an ABC News medical contributor. “Whenever you bring people together for events that don’t involve masks and social distancing you will have cases. We have seen these situations occur in many different sub-populations that are not following the science.”

Mayor Bill de Blasio, who earlier in the pandemic faced accusations by Hasidic Jews that he was unfairly singling them out, said the aim is not to point fingers but to teach an important lesson for the public as the nation moves toward a season when outdoor activities and social distancing become more difficult.

“What we know works is a lot of communications, making it easy for people to wear masks by distributing for free, leaders of the community setting a good example, and many leaders are doing that,” de Blasio said. “If some people don’t want to be helpful to their neighbors then we will take stronger action.”

Dr. Katz, who said his father-in-law died of coronavirus in Israel earlier this week, made a personal appeal to Orthodox Jews.

“In the absence of doing the right thing, we will have to be in a lockdown situation like they have in Israel,” Katz said. “We don’t want that. We want people to wear masks. We want them to stay apart, to not have large gatherings."

He added, “There are easier ways for us to go on with our lives.”

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


iStock/FrankvandenBerghBY: KARMA ALLEN, ABC News

(NEW YORK) -- A New York state firefighter filed a discrimination lawsuit against the North Tonawanda Fire Department, saying he was bullied for his disability and harassed for making safety complaints against the department.

North Tonawanda firefighter Michael Zellner filed a complaint with the New York Division of Human Rights accusing Fire Chief Joseph Sikora and now-retired Assistant Chief Glenn Richau of bullying him because of his documented disabilities, according to court filings.

According to the complaint, Zellner has a documented disability related to anxiety and depression, and he tried to voice concerns about safety within the department, but he claimed he was harassed in return. He said he also has physical injuries to his back and knee stemming from incidents on the job

He also detailed several alleged incidents in which he felt punished and harassed after speaking up, accusing leaders of unfairly reprimanding him for petty infractions that did not earn co-workers the same punishment.

According to the complaint Sikora and Richau called him a "p----" at least once when he notified them about broken equipment. Zellner, who joined the department in 2006, also claimed he witnessed multiple instances of anti-Black racism from management.

In one instance, Zellner claims he heard Richau bragging about pulling over "two stupid f------ n------." In a separate incident, Zellner said he heard Richau say, "Do we even have to worry about Black people?" during a February 2019 training that referenced a Black victim and hospital patient. In the answer to the complaint, the city specifically denies these allegations.

The alleged racist comments were captured on audio recordings, Zellner said, and a co-worker told Division of Human Rights investigators that he also witnessed the training incident and recalled Richau saying something along the lines of "who cares? He's Black. Let him die."

An investigator with the Division of Human Rights confirmed the existence of recordings in connection with the case, according to Buffalo ABC affiliate WKBW, which said the n-word could be heard at least four times on audio, although it is unclear who made the statement.

"Unfortunately, I can't see the stuff that's been happening, happen and just look the other way," Zellner told WKBW. "But, I mean, it's costing me tremendously in a lot of ways."

"These guys are not good people. ... These guys are bad, evil guys," he added.

City attorney Luke Brown denied the allegations levied against the city and said it was first made aware of the firefighter's alleged disability when he filed the complaint, according to court documents filed with the Division of Human Rights. The city also rejected any claims that it violated New York State human rights laws and requested the matter to be heard in court if necessary, according to the filing. It has motioned for the case to be dismissed.

"As this is an ongoing legal and personnel matter, the City does not have any further comment then the Answer that was filed with the court, other than to note that the firefighter alleged to have made the comments no longer works for the City," Brown told ABC News in a statement Wednesday.

Furthermore, he said the city had not been provided with the recordings of the alleged racists comments "despite repeated attempts to obtain them from the claimant, his attorney and the Division of Human Rights."

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(LOUISVILLE) -- People in Louisville and across the country are unleashing their anger after a Kentucky grand jury on Wednesday indicted one officer for allegedly endangering the neighbors of Breonna Taylor during the police shooting that killed her.

Officer Brett Hankison, who has been fired, was indicted on three counts of first-degree wanton endangerment for allegedly endangering Taylor's neighbors when he fired into the apartment complex.

The neighboring apartment had three people inside, thus the three charges against Hankinson, said Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron. The other officers involved in Taylor's death were not charged.

Taylor family attorney Ben Crump tweeted Wednesday, "NOTHING for the murder of Breonna Taylor. This is outrageous and offensive!"

"If Brett Hankison's behavior was wanton endangerment to people in neighboring apartments, then it should have been wanton endangerment in Breonna Taylor's apartment too. In fact, it should have been ruled wanton murder!" he wrote.

Taylor's sister, Ju'Niyah Palmer, posted to Instagram, "Sister I am so sorry."

In an Instagram story, Palmer said Taylor, who had previously worked as an EMT for the city, was "failed by a system" she "worked hard for."

On the streets of Louisville, after the sole indictment was announced, some wept, some chanted and some marched.

Women in tears after the charges are announced. Three counts of Wanton endangerment in the first degree, a class D felony in Kentucky carrying 1-5 years in prison, plus potential monetary fines #Louisville #BreonnaTaylor

— Brendan Gutenschwager (@BGOnTheScene) September 23, 2020

Maj. Stephen Martin, a spokesman for the Kentucky National Guard, told ABC News that Gov. Andy Beshear authorized the deployment of a portion of the Kentucky National Guard to Louisville.

"We will be engaged in limited and specific missions, protecting critical infrastructure. Our Guard leadership has been directed to retain command and control at all times while working with the Louisville Metro Police Department," he said in a statement.

Beshear was scheduled to hold a news conference at 4 p.m. Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer said there will be a 72-hour curfew starting Wednesday night.

Taylor, a 26-year-old Black woman, was shot dead by police while in her Louisville home on March 13. Taylor and her boyfriend, Kenneth Walker, were asleep when three Louisville Metro Police Department officers, including Hankinson, tried to execute a "no-knock" search warrant. The officers were investigating a suspected drug operation linked to Taylor's ex-boyfriend.

Hankinson was fired and the other officers involved were placed on administrative duty.

Taylor's death sparked months of nationwide protests against police violence and calls for the officers to be charged.

Across the country, people turned to social media Wednesday to voice their frustration and anger.

Chanelle Helm, an organizer of Black Lives Matter Louisville, said, "We shouldn't be too surprised at what's happening."

"What is frustrating is that white supremacy, this government and its elected officials continue to deny us healing and any taste of what real justice looks like. Justice in this country is nonexistent," Helm said in a statement. "This country hasn't changed. This country hasn't come to the realization that fascism was its only goal. We move every day for capitalism and not for humanity. Instead of bringing in paths for healing, we keep bringing in more law enforcement, more military and more representations of the systems we desperately need to dismantle."

The ACLU of Kentucky called this "the latest miscarriage of justice in our nation's long history of denying that Black lives matter."

"We join the Taylor family and the community in protesting and mourning the Commonwealth's choice to deny justice for Breonna," the ACLU said in a statement. "Breonna Taylor was killed when plainclothes officers used a no-knock warrant to enter her home in the middle of the night. They did not even perform life-saving measures as she took her last breaths after they shot her five times. Throughout this tragic series of events, including today, the police and prosecutors continuously have failed Breonna Taylor, her family, and Black Kentuckians.

"This outcome shows us that true police accountability does not exist in Kentucky," the ACLU said. "The results of this investigation reflect insufficient standards for police use of force, government-sanctioned violence and terror in communities of color, and a need to completely rebuild our justice system."

Derrick Johnson, president and CEO of the NAACP, tweeted, "Breonna Taylor deserves justice. This was not justice. 1 of the 3 officers was indicted for wanton endangerment. No one was charged for her murder."

"We must take this anger to the polls, and vote this November like we've never voted before," he said. "Black Lives Matter."

Cameron said federal prosecutors are looking into potential civil rights charges.

ABC News' Matthew Seyler contributed to this report.


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(LOUISVILLE, Ky.) -- A Kentucky grand jury indicted former Louisville police officer Brett Hankison on three counts of wanton endangerment in the first degree in a shooting in March that killed Breonna Taylor, but neither he nor the other two officers involved in the fatal encounter were charged in her death.

Louisville Metro Police Department officers Myles Cosgrove, Sgt. Jonathan Mattingly and Hankison are the three officers who unleashed a barrage of shots into Taylor's apartment while serving a warrant in March.

The charges against Hankison, who fired 10 shots into Taylor's apartment, stem from the errant bullets that penetrated a wall of the residence and entered a neighboring apartment occupied by a child, a man and a pregnant woman, Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron said at a news conference following the grand jury's announcement.

Cameron said that none of the shots fired by Hankison struck Taylor.

The three charges against Hankison specifically state that "under circumstances manifesting extreme indifference to human life, he wantonly shot a gun into the apartment" occupied by Taylor's neighbors, according to Jefferson County Circuit Judge Annie O'Connell, who read the indictment in court.

Cameron said that since there was no surveillance video or police body camera video available, the sequence of events on the fateful morning had to be pieced together through ballistic evidence, 911 calls, police radio traffic and interviews.

Cameron said Taylor was shot six times, contradicting statements from lawyers for Taylor's family that she was shot eight times. He said ballistic evidence examined by the FBI showed that only one shot that hit Taylor was fatal, .40-caliber bullet that was fired by Cosgrove.

The Attorney General said Cosgrove fired 16 times into Taylor's apartment and that Mattingly fired six shots after they were fired on by Taylor's boyfriend, Kenneth Walker.

"Our investigation found that Mattingly and Cosgrove were justified in their use of force after having been fired upon by Kenneth Walker," Cameron said.

Cameron said he spoke with Taylor's mother, Tamika Palmer, on Wednesday prior to the announcement of the grand jury's decision.

"Every day this family wakes up to the realization that someone they loved is no longer with them. There's nothing I can offer today to take away the grief and heartache this family is experiencing as a result of losing a child, a niece, a sister and a friend," said Cameron, who was appointed in as a special prosecutor to investigate the case by Gov. Andy Beshear.

"The decision before my office as the special prosecutor in this case was not to decide if the loss of Ms. Taylor's life was a tragedy. The answer to that question is unequivocally yes," Cameron said. "There's no doubt that this is a gut wrenching emotional case and the pain that many people are feeling is understandable."

Lawyers for Taylor's family reacted to the grand jury's decision with disappointment that none of the officers were charged in Taylor's death.

Civil rights attorney, Benjamin Crump, who is representing the Taylor family, posted a message on Twitter saying, "Jefferson County Grand Jury indicts former ofc. Brett Hankson with 3 counts of Wanton Endangerment in 1st Degree for bullets that went into other apartments but NOTHING for the Murder of Breonna Taylor. This is outrageous and offensive!."

Attorney Sam Aguiar, who is also representing Taylor's loved ones, posted a reaction on Facebook, writing, "Way to really rub it in."

"Three counts for the shots into the apartment of the white neighbors, but no counts for the shots into the apartment of the Black neighbors upstairs above Breonna's. Let alone everything else you got wrong," Aguiar wrote.

Cameron said the investigation showed the officers were advised by their superiors to knock on Taylor's door in the early morning hours of March 13 and announced themselves. He said Cosgrove, Mattingly and Hankison had no involvement in the investigation nor getting the warrant that led them to Taylor's apartment.

Cameron said an independent witness corroborated that the officers knocked on the door and announced themselves. "In other words, the warrant was not served as a 'no-knock' warrant," he said dispelling earlier reports that it was.

When no one answered, the officers breached the door.

"Sgt. Mattingly was the first and only officer to enter the residence. Sgt. Mattingly identified two individuals standing beside one another at the end of the hall, a male and a female," Cameron said. "In his statement, he said the male was holding a gun, arms extended in a shooting stance. Sgt. Mattingly saw the man's gun fire, heard a boom and immediately knew he was shot as a result of feeling heat in his upper thigh."

He said Taylor's boyfriend, Kenneth Walker, fired the shot that hit Mattingly.

"There is no evidence to support that Sgt. Mattingly was hit by friendly fire from other officers," Cameron said, refuting a claim made in a civil suit filed by Walker. "Mr. Walker admitted that he fired one and was the first to shoot."

He said all of the officers had .40-caliber handguns and Mattingly was stuck by a 9mm bullet matching the gun Walker was armed with.

Cameron said that in a "matter of seconds" Mattingly and Cosgrove, still standing in the doorway, returned fire. He said Hankison was posted outside a patio sliding glass door and fired multiple times.

The announcement was made more than six months after 26-year-old Taylor's death prompted nationwide protests with demonstrators coast-to-coast repeating her name and celebrities and professional athletes wearing clothes bearing her likeness.

The grand jury's announcement followed a $12 million settlement Taylor's family reached last week with the City of Louisville in a wrongful-death lawsuit Taylor's mother, Tamika Palmer filed in April.

Taylor's family had called for criminal charges to be filed against the three officers involved in the shooting.

Palmer said at last week's news conference that while "significant," the settlement was "only the beginning of getting full justice for Breonna,'' who was a certified emergency medical technician.

"We must not lose focus on what the real job is. And with that being said, it's time to move forward with the criminal charges because she deserves that and much more," Palmer said. "Her beautiful spirit and personality is working with all of us on the ground, so please continue to say her name.''

The settlement, which lawyers for the Taylor family say is the largest ever paid out for a Black woman killed in an alleged police misconduct case, also includes an agreement from the city to implement major reforms in the police department in hopes of preventing a similar tragedy from occurring.

The reforms include requiring the police department to overhaul how search warrants are obtained, and to create an Office of Inspector General to oversee an "early-warning system" that tracks use-of-force incidents and citizens' complaints in an attempt to weed out bad officers.

Det. Joshua Jaynes filed a request for a search warrant of Taylor's home on March 12 after investigating the activities of Taylor's ex-boyfriend, who police say was known to them as a drug trafficker, according to the warrant. Police alleged that Taylor's ex-boyfriend was using her address to mail drugs through the post office.

The warrant required the police to verify with postal inspectors that the ex-boyfriend was receiving packages at Taylor's address.

But lawyers for Taylor's family allege the affidavit used to secure the warrant contained lies and that the Louisville Postal Inspector denied that his office inspected packages sent to Taylor's home as part of a drug-trafficking investigation.

No drugs were found in Taylor's apartment, officials said.

Cameron said his investigation did not look into how the warrant was obtained. He said federal authorities are investigating that aspect of the probe.

Federal officials are also investigating if there were any civil rights violations stemming from the shooting.

Prior to the grand jury's announcement, many downtown Louisville business owners boarded up their windows and police beefed up their presence in the area. Police Chief Robert J. Schroeder issued a state of emergency for his department on Monday canceling time off and vacations for officers in anticipation of an update on the state investigation.

Mayor Greg Fischer also signed two executive orders to prepare the city for Cameron's announcement, including a state of emergency order due to the potential of civil unrest that allows him to impose a curfew, ban on-street parking in the downtown area and restrict access to five downtown parking garages. The order also allows him to hire or contract services to boost security in and round Jefferson Square Park in the downtown area.

"Our goal is ensuring space and opportunity for potential protesters to gather and express their First Amendment rights after the announcement," Fischer said in a statement. "At the same time, we are preparing for any eventuality to keep everyone safe."

Mattingly, Hankison, Cosgrove and Jaynes were placed on administrative reassignment pending the results of an investigation.

Hankison was later fired for his role in the incident. According to his termination letter that was shared with local reporters, Hankison violated police department procedure when he fired 10 rounds into Taylor's apartment while executing the warrant.

The investigation found that Hankison fired through a patio window that had the blinds drawn.

Louisville Metro Police Department told ABC News that the actions of a total of six officers involved in the Taylor case are being reviewed as part of an internal investigation.

The department's Professional Standards Unit has begun its probe into Cosgrove, Mattingly, and Jaynes, as well as detectives Tony James, Michael Campbell and Michael Nobles, according to Sgt. Lamont Washington, a spokesperson for the agency.

On Monday night, Mattingly sent an email to his police department colleagues expressing support for them having to work in these difficult times.

"These next few days are going to be tough. They are going to be long, they are going to be frustrating. They will put a tremendous amount of stress on your families," Mattingly wrote in the email obtained by ABC affiliate WHAS-TV in Louisville and confirmed to ABC News by Mattingly's attorney, Kent Wicker.

He added, in part, that regardless the outcome of the grand jury hearing, "I know we did the legal, moral and ethical thing that night."

"It's sad how the good guys are demonized, and criminals are canonized. Put that aside for a while, keep your focus and do your jobs that you are trained and capable of doing. I'll be praying for your safety," Mattingly wrote. "Remember you are just a pawn in the Mayor's political game. I'm proof they do not care about you or your family and you are replaceable."

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Adam Höglund/iStockBy JULIA JACOBO, ABC News

(FRESNO, Calif.) -- The Creek Fire has now become the largest single fire in California history.

The fire has already destroyed 286,519 acres in Fresno and Madera Counties since it first ignited on Sept. 4. It is only 32% contained so far, according to Cal Fire.

At least 926 structures have been damaged or destroyed, and another 6,723 are threatened.

California is experiencing its worst fire year since the Great Fire of 1910 tore through more than 3 million acres.

The August Complex Fire has burned through more than 851,000 acres in Mendocino and Humboldt Counties, and the Bobcat Fire has burned through more than 105,000 acres, making it one of the largest fires ever in Los Angeles County.

More than 50 major fires were burning along the West Coast this week, according to the U.S. Fire, Weather & Avalanche Center.

The smoke from the fires is so thick that it is blocking the sun, cooling what was supposed to be record-high temperatures for the month of April by about 10 degrees, climate scientists told ABC News.

The smoke even traveled 5,000 miles to Europe.

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(NEW YORK) -- Beta has drenched Houston with nearly 15 inches of rain, causing major flooding in the city.

While the rain has stopped Wednesday morning, authorities are still urging residents to be mindful of wet and flooded roadways.

The flooding rain is now moving east. A flash flood watch has been issued from eastern Texas to most of southern Louisiana including Lake Charles and Alexandria.

The heaviest rain on Wednesday afternoon will be in Louisiana as Beta remnants move into the state. Flash flooding will be possible from Alexandria to New Orleans.

By Thursday morning, the heaviest rain and flooding threat moves into Mississippi where rainfall rates could be up to 1 to 2 inches per hour.

Heavy rain will move into Birmingham, Alabama, later Thursday morning and into the afternoon.

Six inches of rain is possible in parts of Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama.

By Friday morning, Beta's heavy rain will reach northern Georgia, North Carolina, Virginia and West Virginia. Flash flooding is possible.

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Anaheim Police DepartmentBy JON HAWORTH, ABC News

(ANAHEIM, Calif.) -- A man was run over and killed by his own van as he tried to stop a thief from stealing it.

The incident occurred at approximately 6:20 a.m. on Sept. 22 in Anaheim, California, when a man, identified as Jose DeJesus Berrelleza, 33, by ABC News’ Los Angeles station KABC-TV, heard sounds outside of his home before confronting a suspect who was allegedly attempting to steal his vehicle.

During the encounter the suspect managed to get into the van and subsequently run over Berrelleza with the vehicle before fleeing the scene of the crime.

Berrelleza died at the scene as a result of his injuries, according to the Anaheim Police Department.

“The stolen vehicle was later recovered in Anaheim and multiple subjects have been detained,” the Anaheim Police Department said in a statement.

Authorities are now trying to determine who was behind the wheel of the van when Berrelleza was killed but, according to KABC, police believe the suspect did not know the victim.

Even though several people have been detained and questioned, no arrests have been made and the investigation is ongoing.

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


KenCanning/iStockBy JON HAWORTH, ABC News

(NEW YORK) -- A grizzly bear mauled and killed a hunter in a first-of-its-kind attack at a national park in Alaska.

The incident happened on Sept. 20 in the Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve, a 13.2-million-acre area located in southeast Alaska, while the hunter was on a 10-day moose hunt with a friend near the Chisana River drainage at the time of the mauling.

The death of the hunter is the first known bear mauling fatality recorded at Wrangell-St. Elias -- which is the same size as Yellowstone National Park, Yosemite National Park, and Switzerland combined -- since the park was established 40 years ago in 1980, according to the United States National Park Service.

The exact injuries the hunter suffered were not disclosed and nobody else was injured in the attack.

“Visitors are encouraged to be Bear Aware when traveling in the backcountry and take precautions such as carrying bear spray and using Bear Resistant Food Containers,” said NPS in a statement following the incident.

Designated as a World Heritage Site with Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve, the Canadian neighbors Kluane National Park & Reserve and Tatshenshini-Alsek Provincial Park, Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve is the largest of all U.S. national parks, the world’s largest international protected wilderness area, and has nine of the 16 highest peaks in the United States.

The identity of the deceased hunter is being withheld pending investigation, according to the National Park Service.

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.



(NEW YORK) -- A pandemic of the novel coronavirus has now killed more than 968,000 people worldwide.

Over 31.4 million people across the globe have been diagnosed with COVID-19, the disease caused by the new respiratory virus, according to data compiled by the Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins University. The criteria for diagnosis -- through clinical means or a lab test -- has varied from country-to-country. Still, the actual numbers are believed to be much higher due to testing shortages, many unreported cases and suspicions that some national governments are hiding or downplaying the scope of their outbreaks.

Since the first cases were detected in China in December, the virus has rapidly spread to every continent except Antarctica.

The United States is the worst-affected country, with more than 6.8 million diagnosed cases and at least 200,768 deaths.

California has the most cases of any U.S. state, with more than 791,000 people diagnosed, according to Johns Hopkins data. California is followed by Texas and Florida, with over 735,000 cases and over 687,000 cases, respectively.

Nearly 170 vaccine candidates for COVID-19 are being tracked by the World Health Organization, at least six of which are in crucial phase three trials.

Here's how the news developed Tuesday. All times Eastern:

Sep 22, 9:00 pm
COVID-19 cases up 15%, according to FEMA  

New COVID-19 cases increased nationally over the last week, according to an internal FEMA memo obtained by ABC News.

In the last seven days, new cases went up 15.1% compared to the previous seven days, the memo said.

Cases are going up in 22 states and territories, with Colorado in particular seeing a "sharp uptick" in cases last week "primarily related to institutions of higher education," the memo noted. Within Colorado, the counties of Denver, Adams and Boulder had the highest number of new cases over the last three weeks, according to the memo. Boulder County -- home to the University of Colorado-Boulder -- reported the largest number of cases last week, it said.

Wisconsin is also seeing a surge in cases tied to college campuses. Over 80% of all counties in the state have moderate or high levels of community transmission, according to the memo, and a large proportion of the localities with the fastest-growing epidemics have a University of Wisconsin campus. Last week, the University of Wisconsin-Madison reported more than 700 cases, the memo said. Eighteen- to 24-year-olds have a case rate five times higher than any other age group in the state, FEMA found.

Deaths due to COVID-19 were stagnant nationally, according to the memo. In the last week, there was a 0.6% decrease in recorded deaths over the previous week. Virginia had its second-worst week of reported deaths last week, with 238, including the first COVID-19 death in a child in the state, the memo said.

The national test-positivity rate ticked downward slightly in the past seven days, to 4.4%, said the memo. It was 4.6% for the prior seven-day period.

Sep 22, 2:52 pm
North Carolina outdoor event venues can soon open at very limited capacity

In North Carolina, larger outdoor event venues can reopen at 7% capacity on Oct. 2., Gov. Roy Cooper said Tuesday.

The state's positive test percentage has been dropping and is now between 5 and 6%, state officials said.

Meanwhile, North Carolina's Department of Health and Human Services announced a new contact tracing app called "SlowCOVIDNC."

The app will alert people "when they may have been exposed to someone who has tested positive for COVID-19," the Department of Health and Human Services said Tuesday. "It is completely anonymous and does not collect, store or share personal information or location data."

Sep 22, 12:30 pm
Wisconsin declares public health emergency due to 'surge' among young people

Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers declared a public health emergency on Tuesday due to a "recent surge in cases among young people."

Eighteen to 24 year olds have a COVID-19 case rate five times higher than any other age group, according to the governor.

"We are seeing an alarming increase in cases across our state, especially on campus," Evers said in a statement. "We need folks to start taking this seriously, and young people especially—please stay home as much as you are able, skip heading to the bars, and wear a mask whenever you go out."

Wisconsin is "experiencing unprecedented, near-exponential growth of the COVID-19 pandemic," the governor's office said.

On Aug. 31, the number of new daily cases reported in the state was at 678. On Monday, the number of daily cases reported was 1,791.

Evers on Tuesday also issued a new face covering order requiring residents ages 5 and older to wear a mask indoors.

Sep 22, 12:12 pm
US coronavirus death toll tops 200,000

The novel coronavirus has now killed 200,000 people in the United States, just eight months after the nation's first confirmed case.

The U.S. death toll from COVID-19 currently stands at 200,005, according to a real-time count kept by Johns Hopkins University.

The first case of the novel coronavirus in the United States was reported in a patient in Washington state on Jan. 20, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Four months later, on May 27, the U.S. death toll reached 100,000.

The novel coronavirus has now killed nearly twice as many Americans as the 116,516 who died in World War I, the third-deadliest conflict in the nation's history. More than 400,000 Americans died in World War II, while an estimated 655,000 died in the Civil War.

ABC News' Marc Nathanson contributed to this report.

Sep 22, 11:25 am
Analysis shows cases rising in at least 33 US states

An ABC News analysis of COVID-19 trends across all 50 U.S. states as well as Washington, D.C. and Puerto Rico found there were increases in confirmed cases over the past two weeks in 33 states, the nation's capital and the U.S. island territory in the Caribbean.

The analysis also found increases in the daily positivity rate of COVID-19 tests in 16 states and Washington, D.C., increases in COVID-19 hospitalizations in 17 states as well as in D.C. and Puerto Rico, and increases in daily COVID-19 death tolls in 15 states as well as in Puerto Rico.

The trends were all analyzed from data collected and published by the COVID Tracking Project over the past two weeks, using the linear regression trend line of the seven-day moving average.

The nationwide rise in COVID-19 cases may be correlated to several factors. Although the increase may be partially related to Labor Day festivities, it may also be tied to the virus spreading to communities from outbreaks on college campuses.

Moreover, the rise in new cases may be related to increasing mobility across states and communities. Several states, such as Idaho, North Dakota, South Dakota, Wisconsin and Utah, have seen a rise in mobility, according to a tracking tool created by Apple.

ABC News' Benjamin Bell, Brian Hartman, Soorin Kim and Arielle Mitropolous contributed to this report.

Sep 22, 10:28 am
Trump falsely claims COVID-19 'affects virtually nobody'

As the U.S. death toll from COVID-19 approaches the 200,000 mark, President Donald Trump has falsely claimed that the novel coronavirus "affects virtually nobody."

He made the comments to a crowd of supporters Tuesday night during a campaign rally in Swanton, Ohio.

"We now know the disease. We didn't know it, now we know it. It affects elderly people -- elderly people with heart problems and other problems. If they have other problems, that's what it really affects -- that's it," Trump claimed.

"You know, in some states, [it affects] thousands of people -- nobody young. Below the age of 18, like, nobody," he continued. "They have a strong immune system, who knows. Take your hat off to the young because they have a hell of an immune system. But it affects virtually nobody. It’s an amazing thing."

Sep 22, 8:49 am
UK prime minister says tough new restrictions could stay for six months

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Tuesday unveiled a slew of tough new measures to curb the spread of COVID-19 in England, which he said may need to stay in force for six months.

"I fervently want to avoid taking this step, as do the devolved administrations, but we will only be able to avoid it if our new measures work and our behavior changes," Johnson told members of Parliament in the House of Commons. "We will spare no effort in developing vaccines, treatments, new forms of mass-testing. But unless we palpably make progress, we should assume that the restrictions that I have announced will remain in place for perhaps six months."

Johnson announced a 10 p.m. curfew for all hospitality venues in England starting Thursday. He said pubs, bars and restaurants throughout the country must also operate a table service only, except for takeaways.

Meanwhile, the use of face coverings will be extended to include all users of taxis and private-hire vehicles, all staff in retail, and all employees and customers at indoor hospitality venues except when seated at a table to eat or drink. The prime minister warned that businesses could be fined if they break the new rules.

Johnson also announced that, from Monday, there will be a 15-person limit on the number of attendees allowed at wedding ceremonies and receptions in England, as well as a 30-person cap for all funerals held in the country.

While Johnson said that people who can work from home should again do so, he stressed that his government "will do everything in our power" to keep schools open and children in classrooms.

The prime minister noted that the three other devolved governments of the United Kingdom -- Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales -- would adopt similar measures.

"For the time being, this virus is a fact of our lives," he said, "and I must tell the House and the country that our fight against it will continue."

Sep 22, 7:44 am
Former acting CDC director: 'When you lose trust you lose lives'

The former acting director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Tuesday that the agency is losing the public's trust by walking back its COVID-19 guidance.

"The problem is, there have been so many instances where there's been political fingerprints on CDC documents, and CDC hasn't been able to be out front to explain what's going on. It leads to an undermining of trust and when you lose trust, you lose lives," Dr. Richard Besser, who is now the president and CEO of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, told ABC News chief anchor George Stephanopoulos during an interview on Good Morning America.

The CDC recently issued and later removed updated guidance on its official website to address growing evidence of limited airborne transmission of the virus that causes COVID-19. The agency said Monday that posting the new information was done in error.

"The CDC should be out there every day explaining what they're learning, explaining why guidance is changing," Besser said. "I talked to a leader at CDC and I expect very soon there will be guidance out that talks about other routes of transmission, like aerosols, and what can be done to reduce the risk of transmission as well."

As the U.S. death toll from COVID-19 edges closer to 200,000, Besser described the pandemic as the worst public health crisis in his lifetime and discussed the danger of downplaying the situation.

"When you think about this loss of trust and loss of lives, you know, every community is affected but not equally. Black Americans, Latino Americans, Native Americans, low-income Americans are being hit the hardest," he said. "So when people downplay the significance of this, there are certain groups that are really paying the price."

Besser warned that coronavirus-related restrictions may need to be rolled out again this winter as people spend more time indoors, increasing the risk of catching respiratory viruses.

"Viruses do better in the winter," he said. "That's something people should anticipate."

Sep 22, 6:54 am
UK prime minister to announce new restrictions for England

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is expected Tuesday to announce new measures in England to curb an alarming rise in COVID-19 infections.

Michael Gove, a senior member of Johnson's cabinet, told Sky News that the clampdown will include ordering pubs and restaurants throughout England to close by 10 p.m. as well as restricting the entire hospitality sector to table service only. The government will also be encouraging people who can work from home to do so, reversing a push to get people back to the office, according to Gove.

It's unknown whether the new restrictions would ultimately be extended U.K.-wide, with coronavirus-related policy responsibilities delegated to the devolved administrations in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales.

"They are reluctant steps that we're taking," Gove told Sky News in an interview Tuesday morning. "But they're absolutely necessary because, as we were reminded yesterday and as you've been reporting, the rate of infection is increasing, the number of people going to hospital is increasing, therefore we need to act."

The move comes a day after the government's chief scientific officer, Sir Patrick Vallance, warned that the United Kingdom could see about 50,000 new COVID-19 cases a day by mid-October if the current rate of infection is not curbed.

Sep 22, 6:52 am
23 US states and territories in an upward trend of new cases

An internal memo from the Federal Emergency Management Agency obtained by ABC News on Monday night shows that the number of new cases and the number of new deaths recorded in the United States are both increasing in week-over-week comparisons.

Twenty-three U.S. states and territories are in an upward trajectory of COVID-19 infections, while 14 jurisdictions are at plateau and 19 others are in a downward trend, the memo said.

There were 283,332 new cases confirmed across the nation during the period of Sept 14-20, a 17.2% jump from the previous week. Meanwhile, 5,319 coronavirus-related deaths were recorded during that same period, a 2.4% increase compared with the seven days prior, according to the memo.

The national positivity rate for COVID-19 tests ticked downward slightly to 4.4%, compared with 4.6% for the previous week, the memo said.

Alabama recorded a 46.5% increase in the state's seven-day death rate during the period of Sept. 9-15, compared with the week prior. Meanwhile, the Alabama Hospital Association confirmed a statewide shortage of nurses in both hospitals and universities due to a lack of faculty, facilities and funds, according to the memo.

In Florida's Alachua County, 90% of recently reported cases are among individuals between the ages of 15 and 25, and 70% of those cases are college students, according to the memo.

Meanwhile, a recent increase in new cases in Kentucky's Hardin County is attributable to roughly 75% of students returning to school for in-person instruction, the memo said.

New Jersey's positivity rate for COVID-19 tests rose from 3% to 7% among 14-18 year-olds and from 2.7% to 7.1% among 19-24 year-olds. Nearly 20% of the state's confirmed cases are individuals below the age of 30, according to the memo.

Pennsylvania's Centre County, home to Pennsylvania State University, remains a COVID-19 hotspot, reporting a 291.3% relative increase in new cases during the period of Sept. 9-15 compared with the previous week. The county's hospitals are under strain, with inpatient beds at 88% capacity and intensive care unit beds at 81% capacity, the memo said.

South Dakota reported its highest single-day death toll of eight coronavirus-related fatalities on Sept. 16. The state saw a 21% increase in COVID-19 hospitalizations, setting a record high on Sept. 15. A major outbreak in the state's capital, Pierre, has led to at least 105 cases among inmates at a minimum-security women's prison as well as rising cases among community members, according to the memo.

Sep 22, 4:50 am
US death toll less than 200 away from hitting 200,000 mark

An additional 356 coronavirus-related fatalities were recorded in the United States on Monday, bringing the country's death toll even closer to the 200,000 mark, according to a real-time count kept by Johns Hopkins University.

Monday's tally of COVID-19 deaths is well under the country's record set on April 17, when there were 2,666 new fatalities in a 24-hour reporting period.

There were also 52,070 new cases of COVID-19 confirmed across the nation on Sunday, down from a peak of 77,255 new cases reported on July 16.

A total of 6,857,967 people in the United States have been diagnosed with COVID-19 since the pandemic began, and at least 199,884 of them have died, according to Johns Hopkins. The cases include people from all 50 U.S. states, Washington, D.C. and other U.S. territories as well as repatriated citizens.

By May 20, all U.S. states had begun lifting stay-at-home orders and other restrictions put in place to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus. The day-to-day increase in the country's cases then hovered around 20,000 for a couple of weeks before shooting back up and crossing 70,000 for the first time in mid-July. The daily tally of new cases has gradually come down since then.

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


RichLegg/iStockBy ENJOLI FRANCIS, ABC News

(NEW YORK) -- This report is part of "Turning Point," a groundbreaking month-long series by ABC News examining the racial reckoning sweeping the United States and exploring whether it can lead to lasting reconciliation.

New York City, with the largest public school system in the U.S., started inviting some students back into the classroom this week -- but, amid the COVID-19 pandemic, others remain confined to their homes, taking virtual classes.

Parents and community leaders across the country shared their struggles with remote learning and the "digital divide" with ABC News.

According to a June 2020 report from Common Sense Media and the Boston Consulting Group, 50 million public school students are getting their education from home -- but 9 million are without the adequate technology or Internet access to learn effectively.

Many of these kids, who lack the appropriate technology, are people of color, or live in rural areas.

The way schooling has changed due to the pandemic has made it clearer than ever that there is a huge educational gap tied to race and economic standing.

An analysis this month of four major U.S. cities showed that nearly half of Native American or Latino households with kids reported problems with their internet connection, or reported that they had no access to the internet at all. More than one in three Black households reported the same.

These are some organizations making efforts to bridge the digital gap to ensure students are getting the education they deserve this fall.

Kajeet is sending wifi-enabled buses to neighborhoods that lack Wi-Fi.

zSpace is delivering laptops with built-in 3D capabilities so students can perform lab experiments from home. is a nonprofit that connects low-income families to affordable internet service and computers.

The free app CloudCheck helps you find the strongest signal in your home. offers special discounts for students on laptops from brands like Apple, Lenovo, HP and Dell.

Comcast launched Internet Essentials offering broadband internet service at $9.95 per month with the option to purchase a heavily subsidized computer for low-income students. First-time users also get 60 days free. Verizon, AT&T and Cox are also offering discounts for students needing to access the internet from home. is a coalition of tech employees, educators and nonprofits working to provide laptops and WiFi to students in need.

Google launched its distance learning alleviation efforts to support educational organizations worldwide, particularly in under-served communities.

Some YMCAs are providing Wi-Fi-stable workspaces for kids without access.

The California Association for Bilingual Education (CABE) formed in 1975, is a leading organization in California that focuses on the needs of English learners and biliteracy programs. CABE strategically provides professional development for teachers and administrators, leadership training for parents and families, and advocacy and policy support at the state and national level.

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


lucentius/iStockBy MEREDITH DELISO, ABC News

(LOS ANGELES) -- The University of California "unfairly admitted" dozens of well-connected applicants at several campuses, according to a state audit released Tuesday.

The state auditor looked at four of the system's 10 campuses from the academic years 2013-14 through 2018-19 and determined that UCLA, UC Berkeley, UC San Diego and UC Santa Barbara admitted 64 applicants based on what the audit said was "their families' donations to campuses or their connections to campus staff, leadership, and donors."

Twenty-two applicants were admitted through the campuses' student-athlete admissions processes, "even though the students did not have the athletic qualifications to compete at the university," California State Auditor Elaine M. Howle said in the report.

"Campus staff falsely designated 22 of these applicants as student‑athlete recruits because of donations from or as favors to well‑connected families," the report said.

UC Berkeley admitted the remaining 42 students, "most of whom were referred to the admissions office because of their families' histories as donors or because they were related or connected to university staff, even though their records did not demonstrate competitive qualifications for admission," Howle said.

The 64 applicants included the child of a major donor, the child of a prominent alumnus, and someone whose family promised a large donation, according to the report.

"By admitting 64 noncompetitive applicants, the university undermined the fairness and integrity of its admissions process and deprived more qualified students of the opportunity for admission," Howle said.

In a statement, UC President Michael V. Drake said he took the state auditor's findings "very seriously" and promised that he "will do all I can to prevent inappropriate admissions at UC."

"I have zero tolerance in matters of compromised integrity," he said.

In total, UC schools admitted 119,054 freshmen and 28,074 transfer students this year, according to the school system.

The report found a lack of "adequate oversight" from the office of the president in the campuses' admissions processes and advised that stronger standards and oversight are needed to prevent "inappropriate admissions decisions."

By the 2021-22 admissions cycle, the state auditor recommends that UC require that schools "verify their athletic talents and review donation records for indicators of inappropriate activity"; "establish and follow predetermined criteria for how they will select the applicants they admit"; and "establish proficiency standards for application reviewers and monitor those reviewers' ratings for consistency," among other recommendations.

Drake said UC will "swiftly" address the auditor's concerns and discipline those who behaved improperly.

"Our entire organization is committed to a level playing field for every applicant," he said. "Unethical means to gain admission, as rare as they may be, run contrary to our longstanding values of equity and fairness."

The state auditor's report joins a nearly year-long internal audit of UC admissions processes in the wake of a nationwide college admissions scandal dubbed "Operation Varsity Blues." Criminal charges were filed against more than 50 people, including Hollywood actresses Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin, making it the largest college cheating scam ever prosecuted by the U.S. Department of Justice.

As a result of the investigation, a former men's soccer coach at UCLA pleaded guilty in July to accepting $200,000 in bribes in exchange for helping two students get into the school, one of whom was admitted. Investigators also alleged that a student was admitted to UC Berkeley using fraudulent standardized test scores. The student's father was sentenced in July, the Associated Press reported.

The 64 applicants cited by the California state auditor were in addition to the two admissions identified in the federal investigation, the report said.

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Center for Strategic and International StudiesBY: CHRIS FRANCESCANI, ABC News

(WASHINGTON) -- Experts who track extremist ideologies and movements as well as domestic terrorism in the U.S. say QAnon is a unique and unpredictable new strain of extremism in America's far-right political landscape.

The conspiracy theory imagines that President Donald Trump is secretly battling a global network of evil elites, Democrats, celebrities and their "deep state" bureaucratic counterparts -- a dizzying conspiratorial alliance of thousands of American citizens who, behind closed doors, are believed to be closeted Satan-worshipping pedophiles who traffic, abuse and sacrifice children, and their enablers.

Past and present far-right extremist movements in the U.S. are "much more anti-government in their perspective," said Donald Haider-Markel, a University of Kansas political science professor who studies domestic extremism.

"What's weird about today is that if they are anti-government like QAnon, it's about a 'deep state,' this second government," he said. "Typically, on the far right, they're wildly opposed to a strong federal government. But this doesn't look like that. This is, in fact, a defense of what they see as their government."

Haider-Markel and other experts said QAnon's penetration of mainstream American culture and politics is unprecedented in the modern political era for a far-right extremist conspiracy theory.

"The closest thing I could compare it to is [that] this is the way anti-Communism spread," he said. "Certainly, many people wouldn't call that extremism, but that brand developed its own extremism, whether it be the John Birch Society or the tactics of McCarthyism in the U.S. Senate. But that... all-or-nothing anti-Communism in the context of the Cold War really is the closest thing to compare this to."

At the start of the Cold War in the 1950s, Wisconsin Sen. Joseph McCarthy and the John Birch Society were both at the forefront of a hunt for Soviet spies and Communist-sympathizers in America which verged on paranoia, a period scholars describe as the nation’s second “Red scare” of the 20th century.

Brian Friedberg, a senior researcher at Harvard University's Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Affairs, who studies the impact of political disinformation from alternative media and anonymous groups, agreed that QAnon is unique among far-right extremists.

"I jokingly call this authoritarian libertarianism -- where there's a libertarian streak of personal freedom and individuality that runs through these communities... exemplified by anonymous postings [and] the whole freedom of speech without consequences," he said. "But they're pining for this authoritarian figure who can do no wrong."

"A lot of these people before [QAnon] used to be just racist libertarians," Friedberg added.

'Fighters for Trump'

Like other researchers who spoke with ABC News, Friedberg said he has observed a growing and emboldened militancy among some of QAnon's followers as the phenomenon has spread and expanded throughout Trump's first term -- especially this year, as QAnon has invaded mainstream American culture and politics.

"One of the most disturbing things I noticed was QAnon folks marching with the Proud Boys," he said, referring to a far-right white identity group that has clashed frequently with Black Lives Matter demonstrators across the nation this year. "That, to me, is the future."

"Previously in the alt right era -- [from] 2016 up until [the 2017] Charlottesville [neo-Nazi protests] -- you had the Trumpian kids on [the website] 4chan, who were called Kekistan... who would march with the colors and symbols they have... their fake flag, their fake nation. They would march with alt-right groups and militia groups at various protests around the country. It was largely considered dumb, larky," he said.

"They were made fun of by the right and the left. You know, 'Go back to your mom's basement,' that kind of stuff," Friedberg said. "But then [recently], I saw one guy in particular with one of these [QAnon slogan] shields [symbolically] painted green that had nails coming out of it."

Last year, a declassified FBI field office internal memo declared conspiracy theory movements like QAnon potential domestic terror threats, and last month, the Combating Terror Center at the U.S. Military Academy in West Point, published a research paper which asserts that QAnon "represents a militant and anti-establishment ideology [which] finds resonance with other far-right extremist movements."

'Some extremists may use violence'

The spread of QAnon parallels a dramatic increase in recent years in far-right domestic terror plots and attacks, according to a June analysis by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) of nearly 900 domestic terrorism incidents and plots over the past 25 years.

The CSIS analysis concluded that right-wing extremists perpetrated two-thirds of the attacks and plots in the U.S. in 2019, and more than 90% between Jan. 1 and May 8, 2020.

The report -- which, according to its lead author, will be updated in September to cover the summer months -- suggests that Trump losing the election in November could trigger far-right violence.

"As U.S. Department of Justice documents have highlighted, some far-right extremists have referred to themselves as 'Trumpenkriegers' -- or 'fighters for Trump,'" it said. "If President Trump loses the election, some extremists may use violence because they believe -- however incorrectly -- that there was fraud or that the election of Democratic candidate Joe Biden will undermine their extremist objectives."

Haider-Markel said that the CSIS analysis is consistent with decades of studies on the rise of far-right violence in modern America.

"General right-wing terrorism is responsible for more attacks in the United States since 9/11 than any other group, movement or ideology... whether you compare it to jihadis or the left wing," he said, adding that the past two years represent "the biggest growth of extremist group activity since the 9/11 attacks."

It's the same conclusion QAnon experts have reached after looking at legions of QAnon Trump supporters and their actions.

"If Trump loses, there is a massive crisis within Q[Anon] when that happens," said Fredrick Brennan, the creator of 8chan -- the anonymous imageboard site where "Q drops" first appeared in 2017.

Brennan relinquished control of the site several years ago, disillusioned by the growing rhetorical violence and hate speech on the site's board. He is now an active critic of QAnon, who tracks the spread of the movement. He contends that a loss for Trump in November could have significant ramifications for the QAnon movement.

"If Trump loses, I think that how a lot of people are going to view it is: the deep state has won. Trump has lost. Our god, essentially, has been crucified," he said. Because, "Trump is -- for many of them -- a god, and they are going to punish Democrats on the other side with political violence. That's what I see happening."

'Bottom up'

Like all forms of domestic extremism in the digital age, QAnon poses a raft of challenges to law enforcement and homeland security agencies.

"Here's the big issue: QAnon is symptomatic of what is a very decentralized domestic extremist landscape in the U.S.," said Seth Jones, the CSIS analysis' lead author and a former director of the International Security and Defense Policy Center at RAND Corporation.

"It's going to be very difficult for the U.S. government over the foreseeable future to get its hands on this, because it's not like killing Osama bin Laden or Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi," he said, referring to the former leader of al Qaeda and the former leader of the Islamic State, both whom were killed by U.S. forces.

"There's no head to chop off," he said. "This is a bottom-up, not a top-down movement."

Both Jones and Haider-Markel agreed that the gun rights movements that took root in the 1990s has intensified both the nature and the visibility of the far-right extremist threat.

"In one form or another, [the] open carry [law] is legal in most states now, so that people can show up at events with firearms in many places," Haider-Markel said.

A separate report that CSIS released in July reported that despite a 50% drop in terrorism globally between 2014 and 2019, U.S. domestic terrorism rose 141% during that period. Citing data from the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS), the July report concluded that the number of firearm background checks for gun purchases in the U.S. has spiked to its highest level ever in 2020, reaching nearly 4 million in June 2020.

One leading QAnon researcher said his greatest fear is that QAnon's relentless momentum combined with a Trump reelection could normalize QAnon's outrageous far-right extremist conspiracy theories.

Like some prominent QAnon critics who have faced severe harassment online, this researcher asked to be identified only by his Twitter handle, @dappergander, and his region, New England.

"With all these people running for Congress who say they believe in QAnon, my real fear is the moment when someone says, 'Do you think we really could arrest all the Democrats? We already have a built-in base of support for that that's terminally online,'" the researcher said.

"And I don't think we're going to get there... but even that conversation happening behind closed doors is really dangerous," he said. "And if, God forbid, in 2022 even more QAnon people run for office to the point where it's going to be like the Tea Party, and there's now a QAnon caucus in Washington?"

At least 24 candidates who have "endorsed or given credence to the conspiracy theory or promoted QAnon content" -- 22 Republicans and two independents -- having secured a spot on the ballot in the 2020 congressional elections, according to the media watchdog Media Matters, although it’s unclear how many actually have a chance to win their elections. Last month, one candidate who pollsters say is almost certain to win her heavily GOP district in Georgia, Marjorie Taylor Greene, appeared to rescind her previous support for QAnon, telling Fox News that "once I started finding misinformation, I decided that I would choose another path."

Earlier this month, the former chief of intelligence at the Department of Homeland Security filed a whistleblower complaint alleging that the Trump administration sought to "censor or manipulate" intelligence for political purposes, including downplaying the threats of Russian meddling in the 2020 election, and the threat of violence from far-right extremism.

ABC News' Nicholas Tucker contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.



(WASHINGTON) -- For nearly three years, QAnon followers have been feverishly deciphering thousands of cryptic clues and predictions posted online by the shadowy persona of "Q" at the center of a metastasizing movement that experts say is the first far-right extremist conspiracy theory in the modern era to penetrate mainstream American culture and Washington politics.

Yet, a consensus of leading researchers and critics who study and debunk QAnon disinformation told ABC News that a key to identifying "Q" has been hiding in plain sight for years -- on a pig farm south of Manila in the Philippines -- at least until recently.

The rapid online growth of QAnon since early spring -- and a series of trolling incidents that surged through Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and TikTok before those platforms began banning QAnon groups and hashtags this summer -- has sharpened focus on the forces behind this alternative reality game-like phenomenon.

At least 24 candidates who have "endorsed or given credence to the conspiracy theory or promoted QAnon content" -- 22 Republicans and two independents -- have secured a spot on the ballot in the 2020 congressional elections, according to the media watchdog Media Matters, though it remains unclear how many could actually win their races. Last month, one candidate who pollsters say is almost certain to win her heavily GOP district in Georgia, Marjorie Taylor Greene, appeared to rescind her previous support for QAnon, telling Fox News that "once I started finding misinformation, I decided that I would choose another path."

People who believe in QAnon conspiracies have also been associated with a number of strange and disconcerting real-life incidents in recent years, including a man using an armored truck to block traffic on the Hoover Dam in 2018, and another man accused of fatally shooting alleged New York Gambino mob boss Francesco "Franky Boy" Cali last year because, according to court records, he believed Cali that was part of the "deep state." In June, a New York judge found the suspect mentally unfit for trial and transferred to a mental health facility for further evaluation, the Staten Island Advance reported.

QAnon clothing and posters have turned up regularly at President Donald Trump's campaign rallies since at least 2018.

Trump, his children and several White House staffers have repeatedly retweeted QAnon-linked content online, according to researchers who track the spread of QAnon. As of late August, Trump alone had amplified social media accounts promoting QAnon content at least 216 times, Media Matters reported.

Last month, Trump made his most extensive comments to date when asked about QAnon during a press briefing at the White House.

"Well I don't know much about the movement, other than I understand they like me very much -- which I appreciate," he said, adding, "I've heard these are people that love our country."

A reporter pressed him about "this belief that you are secretly saving the world from this satanic cult of pedophiles and cannibals -- does that sound like something you are behind or a believer in?"

"Well, I haven't ... heard that," Trump replied. "But is that supposed to be a bad thing or a good thing? I mean, you know, if I can help save the world from problems, I'm willing to do it. I'm willing to put myself out there."

Puzzles, prophesies and 'Q drops'

In its broadest outlines, the QAnon conspiracy theory rests on the baseless belief that Trump is secretly battling a global network of billionaire pedophiles, devil-worshipping Democrats and baby-eating Hollywood stars and their "deep state" counterparts embedded in the U.S. federal government's sprawling bureaucracy.

Numerous top Democrats, party supporters, Hollywood stars and other Trump critics have been dragged into QAnon's web and slandered with false and heinous allegations. Last week, Trump fanned these flames when he retweeted a video clip of Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden that falsely suggested the former U.S. vice president is a pedophile.

Party affiliation is no shield. After Vice President Mike Pence told CBS News on Aug. 21 that he "doesn't know anything about" QAnon, and "dismisses it out of hand," he was accused by many QAnon adherents of being a "deep state" agent. Earlier this month, Pence canceled a campaign fundraiser after an Associated Press (AP) report revealed that the couple hosting the event had publicly expressed support for QAnon.

QAnon's messaging is laced with religious allegory, prophesies, puzzle-solving and an emboldening sense of belonging to the right side of an epic battle of good versus evil.

The user "Q Clearance Patriot," known to followers as "Q," purports to be a high-level military intelligence official who leaves clues about the secret battle behind the scenes with "Q drops" -- messages first posted in late 2017 on the anonymous imageboard 4chan, and later on 8chan and its successor, 8kun.

The "chans," as they are known -- where the messages are posted -- are low-trafficked anonymous imageboards populated largely with hate speech, pornography and rhetorical violence.

Instead of registering users, the sites issue users a tripcode -- a unique sequence of code that allows a user's identity to be recognized without storing personal data, a practice that researchers say protects free speech but fuels the spread of disinformation.

It's "Q"'s unique tripcode that allows followers to verify the messages are coming from the same user account -- even as "Q" has migrated from one imageboard to the next.

The "Q drops" are then swiftly interpreted by so-called "Q influencers," archived in searchable databases and disseminated to a much wider audience on aggregator websites like QMap -- which went offline earlier this month after the site's developer was identified as an IT expert living in New Jersey.

From there, the QAnon message spreads into the wider social media ecosystem. In August, the Guardian newspaper tracked 4.5 million aggregate QAnon followers worldwide on Facebook and Instagram alone, though the paper also acknowledged “likely significant overlap among these groups and accounts.”

It remains unknown whether the “Q drops” are authored by one or several people or whether they live within or outside the U.S., burnishing the mystique at the heart of the phenomenon.

In 2018, NBC News disinformation beat reporters tracked the initial spread of the QAnon phenomenon to a handful of conspiracy theorists from YouTube and 4chan who banded together and used social media to amplify an obscure thread of political conspiracy to a far larger audience.

What began in 2017 as a political conspiracy theory has since morphed into a meta-conspiracy movement that in sum aims to account for much of the evil in the world, sweetened by the promise of evil's swift demise with "The Storm" -- the perpetually imminent arrest of tens of thousands of "enemy" Americans -- and "The Great Awakening" -- the subsequent, Rapture-like new beginning for the world where believers' faith is recognized and rewarded.

Who is Q?

The two Americans most clearly associated with the author of thousands of "Q drops" dating back to October 2017 are James Arthur Watkins, 56, who gained control in 2015 of the controversial anonymous message board 8chan, and his son, Ronald Watkins, former 8chan administrator and current administrator of its successor, the Watkins-owned 8kun.

Since 2001, Watkins has been living in the Philippines, according to Philippines immigration records obtained by ABC News.

"If he's not 'Q' himself, he can find out who 'Q' is at any time," said Fredrick Brennan, the creator of 8chan and Watkins' former business partner.

"And he's pretty much the only person in the world that can have private contact with 'Q.' He's the only person that -- through the board that 'Q' started on 8chan – can send 'Q' a direct message and get into private contact with basically the leader of this political cult that everybody wants to hear from right now."

Brennan created 8chan in 2013 when he was living in New York City, he said, after dreaming up the idea during a trip on psychedelic mushrooms.

He moved to Manila in 2014 to work with James and Ron Watkins and in 2015 he cut a deal that turned over ownership of the site to the elder Watkins. He continued to work on other Watkins projects until 2018 before splitting entirely and to date remains embroiled in a bitter personal dispute with the family.

Watkins and his son, Ron, who have previously denied being "Q," declined repeated ABC News interview requests and did not reply to a subsequent list of questions from ABC News submitted through his U.S. attorney and in letters delivered to his home and businesses in Manila.

A day after the letters were delivered in Manila and ABC News spoke briefly with Watkins' brother-in-law, an ABC News reporter was blocked from accessing Watkins' primary Twitter account.

'This is not a drill’

Brennan has been actively tracking Watkins-connected or owned businesses and -- when he finds them -- urging internet service providers to deny Watkins a platform.

Late last month, Brennan caused a stir among QAnon researchers when he posted an image of an IP address in a tweet that he said proved that Watkins’ 8kun was sharing the same IP address with QMap, one of the largest dissemination websites on the internet for "Q drops," with 10 million visitors a month in recent months, according to the web analytics site SimilarWeb Ltd.

"Oh my God," Brennan declared in an Aug. 23 tweet. "This is not a drill, people. Jim Watkins is the owner of"

Brennan told ABC News that the image suggested for the first time that Watkins is profiting from both "Q"'s original posts on 8kun, as well as from QMap.

"These were previously thought to be two separate entities," Brennan said.

Earlier this month, the fact-checking website Logically identified QMap’s developer, or operator, as an IT expert living in New Jersey. The IT executive denied any association with Watkins to Daily Dot, a tech-centric website.

Until it went offline, QMap was hosted by the same content delivery network (CDN) service as 8kun. The CDN only hosts two other domains: Watkins' domains and The Daily Stormer, a neo-Nazi website.

The host service company “was started right … at the end of October, 2019,” Brennan said. 8kun launched weeks later.

Numerous QAnon researchers interviewed by ABC News said that Brennan's evidence is a compelling new twist and a further indication of long-suspected ties between Watkins and "Q."

They stressed that it was the access to "Q" -- not the authorship of the posts -- that most interests them about Watkins' role in the QAnon phenomenon.

"Regardless of whether he is doing any direct posting, or encouraging what the content is, the Watkins family and the 8kun crew have a remarkable amount of control over what's turning into an international movement," said Brian Friedberg, a senior researcher at Harvard University's Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Affairs, who studies the impact of political disinformation from alternative media and anonymous groups.

Friedberg said that in recent months he has devoted nearly all his time to the QAnon movement, because it has become a "major amplifier of both political and medical disinformation."

Researcher Mike Rains said he has long believed that Watkins is at least in direct contact with "Q" and said that Brennan's tweet appears to be yet another indication of the degree to which the Watkins family controls the QAnon posts dispatched on 8kun.

"It doesn't really matter who is writing the 'Q drops,'" said Rains, a Massachusetts-based researcher who posts frequent critiques of QAnon conspiracies and hosts the podcast "Poker and Politics." "Watkins is the publisher. He is the only source of information that is allowed to get out there."


Brennan, 26, said that he moved from New York City to Manila in 2014 at Watkins' invitation to build out 8chan from the Southeast Asian island nation and the two formed a partnership.

The Watkins had learned about him from an Al Jazeera documentary about the challenges Brennan faced living in New York City with osteogenesis imperfecta, also known as brittle bone disease, which has confined him to a wheelchair for most of his life, he said. Brennan said he relinquished his role as 8chan's administrator in 2016 and fully broke with the Watkins family two years later, disillusioned, he said, over personal disputes with the family and the increasingly violent and subversive content on 8chan's boards.

In a series of recent interviews, Brennan said that last year's trio of mass shootings -- at an El Paso, Texas, Walmart; two New Zealand mosques; and a San Diego synagogue -- perpetrated by alleged 8chan users finally forced him to reckon with the real-world consequences of anonymous online hate.

Since then, he has been a vocal online critic of the 8chan culture, which he acknowledges that he helped spawn, particularly the growth of QAnon — which he said is dominating the larger far-right extremist landscape online.

"We're seeing [8kun] kind of morphing away from white supremacy and neo-Nazism and into QAnonism," Brennan told ABC News this week. "And Watkins fully endorses that. He has totally backed the 'Q' movement."

Brennan said that a loss for Trump in November could have significant ramifications for the QAnon movement.

"If Trump loses, I think that how a lot of people are going to view it is: the deep state has won. Trump has lost. Our god, essentially, has been crucified," he said. Because, "Trump is -- for many of them -- a god, and they are going to punish Democrats on the other side with political violence. That's what I see happening."

Brennan said that QAnon followers believe a second term for Trump will trigger “The Storm,” followed by the “Great Awakening.”

"Even if 99% of them can come up with a new narrative and still think 'Q' is true, I think it's very likely that much more than 1% are going to feel betrayed, duped and deceived by not only Watkins but everyone involved in Q[Anon]."

‘Absolutely crazy’

In August, 2019, 8chan went offline after the site's hosting platform withdrew services in the wake of the El Paso mass shooting. Watkins was called to testify before Congress.

Brennan publicly called on Watkins to shut down 8chan once and for all. Watkins refused, and continued to defend himself and 8chan on his social media accounts and in interviews.

Brennan went on to repeatedly describe Watkins on social media as "senile,” and in October, 2019, Watkins filed cyber-libel complaint against Brennan in the Philippines, according to Philippines court records provided by Brennan.

Ultimately, an arrest warrant was issued for Brennan, forcing him to flee the country, leaving his Filipino wife behind, to avoid being jailed in Manila.

"With my [medical] condition, I wouldn't survive in the jail they would send me to there," he said.

Experts in Philippines law told ABC News that cyber-libel cases are rare in the Philippines, with only 15 or 20 cases brought annually. In June, public prosecutors used the same statute to convict Maria Ressa, a prominent Filipino investigative reporter whose news website had been critical of Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte's administration.

"It was absolutely crazy," Brennan said. "I had to drop everything and leave everything, and I only escaped with a few hours to spare."

Brennan said he is currently living on the U.S. West Coast as he fights the Manila charges.

A month after filing the cyber-libel complaint that would drive Brennan back to the U.S., Watkins relaunched 8chan as 8kun.

'Disarm the Deep State'

Watkins and his son have long denied any direct association with "Q."

“Nobody from our team has had private contact with Q,” Ron Watkins told via Twitter direct message in March.

Yet according to researchers, including Brennan, the elder Watkins has been teasing out his association with "Q" -- and profiting from it -- with a growing insouciance in the past year.

Last fall, Watkins arrived to testify before a closed-door session of the House Homeland Security Committee wearing a "Q" pin on his lapel.

He peddles his own "Q" merchandise online and cross-promotes a shape-shifting core group of QAnon influencers who profit through books, videos and other QAnon merchandising, while assisting the wider spectrum of followers in deciphering the posts.

In March, Watkins registered a super PAC in Mississippi called "Disarm the Deep State," which pledges in its mission statement "to educate citizens across the country about the dangers of the Deep State, produce effective campaigns against politicians in the pockets of the Deep State, and support candidates and legislators that will work with us to end the Deep State."

To date, the PAC has raised less than $4,000 and spent less than $500.

Watkins has vigorously defended his imageboards in the past. Prior to his testimony in the House, Watkins released a lengthy statement outlining his defense of 8chan.

Watkins contended that "8chan is the only [online] platform featuring a full commitment to free speech -- a one-of-a-kind discussion board where anonymous users shared tactics about French democracy protests, how to circumvent censorship in repressive regimes, and the best way to beat a classic video game. In this hodgepodge of discussion, down-home recipes are traded, sorrows lifted, and a small minority of users post hateful and ignorant views."

Watkins said in the statement that "moderation is mostly done by volunteers."

"There are no algorithms for content moderation in place. All 8chan moderation relies on human volunteers and one automated 'bot' account ... to remove illegal content or spam, automated or human, based only on keywords," he wrote.

Watkins said that by the fall of 2019, when his statement was composed, 8chan had banned nearly 48,000 users, deleted more than 132,000 posts and 92 discussion boards -- which organize discussion topics by subject matter. The letter also noted that 8chan had complied with 56 U.S. law enforcement requests at that point in 2019.


James Watkins was born in November 1963 in Dayton, Washington, according to public records.

He grew up on a family farm north of Seattle, the son of a mother who worked for the aerospace giant Boeing and a father who worked for the local phone company, according to an interview he and one of his executives gave in 2016 to news site Splinter, then a Fusion Media Group website.

Watkins joined the U.S. Army at 18, serving in the Army Reserve from 1982 to 1985 and the U.S. Army from 1985 to 1999, according to military records. He first worked as a helicopter mechanic and later as a recruiter. He was promoted to sergeant first class in 1994.

Watkins told Splinter that the Army sent him in 1987 to computer training school in Virginia, and while still working for the Army in the 1990s he launched what a fellow executive described in the interview as a pioneering Asian porn website.

Watkins noted in the interview that he informed the U.S. Army at the time that he was launching a website but did not specify what kind.

Business filings show that N.T. Technology Inc. was founded by 1998 in Washington state by Watkins and two Japanese men, Yoshihiro and Yumiko Nakao. The firm initially sold advertising and later expanded into web hosting. The corporation lapsed in 2003 and business filings for the company appeared again in Nevada in 2005, where the company is currently headquartered. He launched a second company, Race Queen Inc., in Manila in 2005, according to corporation filings.

Tom Riedel, N.T. Technology Inc.'s current president, told the digital site Splinter in a 2016 email that Watkins was a porn pioneer, who "figured out a loophole in Japanese censorship rules," according to Splinter. "Adult material in Japan has to be censored, but ... Japanese people could access content that resides outside of Japan. Bingo."

Riedel and other N.T. Technology executives did not respond to ABC News requests for comment.

An Army spokesperson did not dispute that Watkins was sent to computer training school -- but said that no immediate record was available.

Philippines immigration records obtained by ABC News indicate that Watkins arrived in Manila in October 2001, weeks after the Sept. 11 attacks and has lived there ever since.

In the wake of growing controversy last fall surrounding the El Paso mass shooting, the Philippines National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) and the Philippines National Police (PNP) both launched investigations into Watkins, as first reported last year by WIRED magazine.

An NBI official told ABC News last week that the bureau's investigation into Watkins was closed, and the findings turned over to the PNP. Philippines police officials said their investigation into Watkins remains open but has not to date resulted in any criminal charges.

Yet, in a previously unreported development in January, the Philippines Bureau of Immigration's (BI) Investigations Division determined that James Watkins was a risk to the public interest, a designation called an "undesirable alien," according to Philippines immigration records obtained by ABC News.

Watkins "is the owner and operator of 8chan, a hate filled forum/website which hosts trolling and serves as go-to resource for violent extremists and white supremacists," the bureau of immigration's charging sheet states.

The designation is administrative, not criminal and "it basically means you're deportable," said Jathneil Shao, an Ohio-based immigration attorney with an office in Manila.

"Being deemed undesirable by the [Philippines] Bureau of Immigration is not uncommon," Shao said. "Even if you do something stupid when you're drunk or get in a fight with the wrong people, anyone can file a claim with the BI about any alien. It's the BI commissioners' discretion whether to pursue further action."

Immigration documents show that Watkins sought authorization to return to the U.S. and was given a travel window of Aug. 27, 2020, through Jan. 31, 2021, before he is expected to return to appeal the undesirable alien designation. He departed for the U.S. on Sept. 4, though it's unclear where he is currently living. Benjamin Barr, Watkins' U.S. attorney, did not reply to an ABC News email last week requesting information about Watkins' current whereabouts.

Reached earlier this month at Watkins' home in a gated community in the Pasig City section of Manila, a man who identified himself as Watkins' brother-in-law confirmed to ABC News that Watkins had returned to the U.S., following his son Ron's earlier return stateside. The brother-in-law also said that in June, Watkins sold the pig farm south of Manila where he'd been living with his family for years.

While officials with the bureau of immigration declined to specify what prompted the Watkins investigation, Brennan told ABC News last week he thinks he knows what happened.

"Wow, it worked," Brennan said, when notified recently of Watkins' immigration designation.

He went on to explain that after Watkins filed a cyber-libel complaint against him last fall, Brennan hired a local Manila attorney to accompany Brennan's wife to repeatedly complain in person about Watkins to one of a handful of commissioners at the bureau of immigration's Manila headquarters, arguing that Watkins' history of web hosting Asian pornography and anonymous forums like 8chan from the Philippines should compel his designation as an undesirable alien.

"We were basically playing his own game back at him, because he chased me out of the country first," Brennan said.

Brennan said he bets Watkins stays in the U.S.

"I would be shocked if he really ever returns now that this immigration case is going," Brennan said.

"If you're a foreigner there you really have to prove you're not undesirable," he said. "The bureau of immigration can deport anyone for any reason or no reason and the only person who can overturn it is Duterte."

"And that'll never happen."

Immigration records show that Watkins must return by Jan. 31, or he would be placed on a blacklist and barred from reentry to the Philippines.

ABC News' Nicholas Tucker contributed reporting from New York and Luis Martinez contributed reporting from Washington, D.C.

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


iStock/sshepardBY: MEREDITH DELISO, ABC News

(MADISON, Wisc.) -- Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers declared a new public health emergency Tuesday amid an "alarming" increase in COVID-19 cases since college campuses reopened.

"We continue to learn more about this virus, but what we do know is that we are facing a new and dangerous phase of the COVID-19 pandemic here in Wisconsin," Evers said in a statement. "We are seeing an alarming increase in cases across our state, especially on campus. We need folks to start taking this seriously, and young people especially."

Due to the increase in cases, the governor also extended a statewide mask mandate, which was set to expire next week, through Nov. 21.

We are facing a new and dangerous phase of the COVID-19 pandemic here in Wisconsin. We are seeing an alarming increase in cases across our state, especially on campuses. This is serious and we need your help.

— Governor Tony Evers (@GovEvers) September 22, 2020

New cases have had "unprecedented, near-exponential growth," Evers' statement said, noting that from Aug. 31 to Sept. 21, the number of daily new cases rose from 678 to 1,791 -- a 2.6-fold increase in three weeks. Within the past month, 18- to 24-year-olds have had a case rate five times higher than any other age group in the state, officials said, with the increase apparently driven by social gatherings.

The governor's office pointed to the state university system, whose 13 universities have all reopened for in-person learning this fall, as a driver in the increasing numbers. Last week, six out of eight Wisconsin cities listed among the top 20 cities in the U.S. where COVID-19 cases were rising fastest are home to University of Wisconsin System campuses, officials said.

Tensions have been escalating in Dane County, home to the flagship campus UW-Madison. Earlier this week, Dane County Executive Joe Parisi called on the university to go virtual amid rising cases in the county.

"Today, as our state surpasses the 100,000 case mark, we find ourselves in the midst of an unprecedented surge in COVID-19 cases fueled largely by the University System’s decision to return to in-person classes," Parisi said in a statement, which noted that the rate of infection in the county was 3.5 times higher on Sunday than two weeks prior.

"COVID-19 is here, it's spreading, and barring a major course correction this region and state are in store for countless tales of unnecessary human suffering," he said.

Since Aug. 24, more than 2,650 confirmed cases of COVID-19 have been tied to the campus, according to data on UW-Madison's website.

The university, which shifted to virtual learning for two weeks on Sept. 10 and quarantined two dorms amid rising cases on campus, responded by asking the county to partner with them in enforcing safe behavior off-campus.

"We know these gatherings can lead to the spread of COVID-19 but UW-Madison does not have jurisdiction to shut down gatherings in off campus areas," Chancellor Rebecca Blank said in a statement. "Until those agencies with enforcement authority take additional action, we shouldn’t expect to see a rapid decline in cases in Dane County."

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


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