The Red Ants are a South African private security company specialising in clearing “illegal invaders” from properties. Two, sometimes three times a week, a convoy of trucks drives out of the gates of a sprawling farm in Gauteng province, carrying hundreds of men and led by “officers” armed with shotguns and handguns.
The company is rarely out of the headlines in South Africa and has been repeatedly accused of crimes ranging from theft to murder. It is fiercely criticised by human rights campaigners. But the attitude of the general public is more ambivalent – and the Red Ants themselves are fiercely loyal to each other and their employers. “We are a family. We look after each other … We have built a community,” says Johan Bosch, the farmer who founded and owns the company.
Johannesburg’s crumbling buildings
A lack of adequate housing is one of the most toxic legacies of the apartheid regime that governed South Africa for nearly 50 years. Families, migrant workers, students and homeless people pay middlemen for plots on wasteland around Pretoria and Johannesburg or in derelict buildings in the cities’ centres. Local authorities show little sympathy and say they have to enforce the law. Their chosen enforcers are the police and, to provide the manpower for evictions, the Red Ants.
Fattis Mansions was once a fashionable 1930s block of flats in the heart of the banking and legal district in Johannesburg. Wealthy, mainly white, residents fled Johannesburg’s centre during the late 1980s and early 1990s, leaving hundreds of buildings to be taken over by poor migrants from rural areas. Four hundred people shared three taps. There were no toilets or electricity. The city authorities have been clearing these “hijacked buildings” one at a time for years – often using the Red Ants.
The operation, involving 600 Red Ants, begins in the early morning, without warning. Wailing police sirens fill narrow streets. The Red Ants pour through an entrance, then proceed on rusting iron stairways and down filthy corridors. There is no resistance. The pushers, gang leaders and the rent extorters have gone. Rubbish, furniture, mattresses pile on the roadway outside.
The singing starts, low and purposeful, as the Red Ants work. Children are carried out, followed by distressed mothers clutching salvaged belongings in plastic bags. Most adults knew this would happen one day. For those too young to understand, the sky has fallen in.
Who are the men in the red overalls? They come from impoverished small former mining towns, from distant provincial villages in parched mountains, from Soweto, from hardscrabble neighbourhoods half hidden amid the urban sprawl of Johannesburg. Most are young. Many are without basic educational qualifications. Some have criminal records. A few are former convicts. All are poor. They are paid the equivalent of $10 (£7.50) a day, plus some food. Many are squatters themselves.
One left neighbouring Mozambique to work on building sites but has struggled to find employment. “My wife said get a job … so I did,” he says, shrugging narrow shoulders. Another says he has siblings to feed and clothe and send to school: “No one likes doing this … But I go to church every Sunday and pray for my soul and I know my Lord is watching over me, even here.” All say they feel sorry for the squatters but “work is work”.
In charge are older men whose own life stories are intimately intertwined with the complex, troubled history of their nation. One fought in the 80s in the South African defence forces in cold war battles in Angola. Another, a former police officer from Soweto whose family was deeply involved in the struggle against apartheid, say his career ended when he denounced corruption. He says his work reminds him of his time in the police. He now suffers from chronic insomnia.
Demolishing shack settlements
First you see the smoke, above the dry hills and the scattered corrugated iron homes. Then you hear the noise. If the operation is going well, it is that of a work site: hammers rhythmically striking metal, straining diesel engines, work songs, radios, and shouted orders. If the operation is going badly, the noise is of a battle: shattering glass, rocks striking plastic shields, stamping feet, shots, sirens and screamed abuse.
Sikhumbuzo Dlamini, a Red Ant leader, watches 650 men, equipped with crowbars and shields, and all dressed in identical red overalls and helmets, move through an illegal squatter camp on the ragged outskirts of Pretoria, the administrative capital of South Africa. “We always win. We have to win … we are on enemy territory. We are a long way from home,” Dlamini says.
One incident prompts a slew of new allegations. The Red Ants are hired to clear squatters from land where a shopping complex is due to be built in Lanesia, on the southern outskirts of Johannesburg. The operation starts in the early morning. But the squatters are ready and fight the Red Ants with machetes, rocks and staves.
Comment: In 2017 police spokesperson Kay Makhubele said of the Lanesia incident:
“Someone was shot dead and another was beaten to death’ allegedly by the Red Ants'”…
The police are investigating two cases of murder and numerous assault cases’ but “the charges might change to attempted murder because some people have been taken to the hospital”.
The eviction stalls and the Red Ants withdraw. Two squatters lie on the ground. One is dying from head injuries, the other is dead. Under a tree, huddled in a plastic chair salvaged from her makeshift hut, a widow sobs. The violence prompts investigation by private security industry regulators. The Red Ants deny wrongdoing.
Losing one of their own
Red Ants are injured, sometimes even killed. Kervin Woods died when land invaders opened fire in Lenasia South. The Red Ants said community members stabbed him, some using screwdrivers, after he fell to the ground. Preparations were made to set fire to his body when Red Ants started shooting, dispersing the crowd.
Woods’s funeral takes place in Soweto. The dead man’s aunt weeps, comforted by a handful of family members and neighbours. But this is primarily a Red Ants funeral. Senior leaders salute the coffin and deliver short eulogies before the rank and file sing hymns as the coffin is closed. Then, as a guard of honour, they follow a hearse to a cemetery where they sing as each takes a turn with a shovel to pour dry soil into the grave.
Handguns and shotguns are fired into the air in a final salute before the Red Ants return to their buses and their base for a memorial meal. Within days, they are out on another clearance operation.
South Africa is a fractured land. It is optimistically known as the Rainbow Nation, a reference to the diversity of its communities. But in a rainbow, the colours remain separate. The most striking divide in South Africa is economic. The Red Ants are on the frontlines of a conflict between those with land and those without, the haves and the have-nots, the winners and the losers in one of the most unequal countries in the world. During their 12-hour days, they are on one side. But when their work is done, they return to the other.
Last week, The Free Thought Project reported that a celebrity sex cult backed by billionaires has been accused of trafficking children. The leaders of the organization, Keith Raniere and Smallville actress Allison Mack were arrested and charged with child sex trafficking and slavery.
Now that Raniere is in jail and Mack is on bail and ordered not to have any contact with other cult members, Clare Bronfman has taken on the role of leader within the organization. Bronfman and her sister, Sarah, are the primary backers of the cult, funding the organization with hundreds of millions of dollars. The Bronfman sisters are among multiple heirs to the Seagrams liquor fortune.
One of the main whistleblowers in the case is Frank Parlato, a former NXIVM publicist who has been leaking verifiable information to the press through his blog Frank Report. In a new post this week, Parlato provided evidence of another interesting connection in this case—Billionaire entrepreneur Richard Branson.
According to Parlato, the organization hosted multiple events on Branson’s private island, Necker Island. Although Branson denies any connection with the group and claims that he was not present at the events on the island, he is quoted in an endorsement on one of Raniere’s websites, and there are photos of him with NXIVM members.
“The tools you have for compassionately dealing with complex ethical and global issues are not only unique but also extremely valuable. This, along with a program of coordinated, organized resources, makes for an innovative approach to transforming our society. I think your founding event will be extraordinary and potentially world-changing!” Branson said of Raniere.
Parlato says that this quote was given in connection to one of Raniere’s events on Necker Island, which was also attended by Allison Mack, and the Bronfman sisters. Parlato also provided photos of Branson with NXIVM members on the island, including Sara Bronfman.
However, before this evidence surfaced, Branson vehemently denied any connection with the organization. Many news sources initially reported on the events at Necker Island, but Branson forced multiple outlets to retract the information.
After removing mentions of Branson, many sources published his statement, which read:
“There is no association between Keith Raniere and Sir Richard Branson and Sir Richard has no recollection of ever taking part in a seminar hosted by NXIVM. Clare and Sara Bronfman did hire Necker Island several years ago and we understand they hosted a gathering for team members of NXIVM. The island is available for hire by the public and this was one of many gatherings held on the island over the years by various groups from across the world. Sir Richard was not aware of any of the allegations against NXIVM or its leader whatsoever and did not himself host any intensive courses for the group.”
According to Parlato, Nancy Salzman was at one of the events and saw Branson there.
“Nancy said she did the teaching by day. But she said he became increasingly restless and hosted really crazy parties that started earlier and earlier. The classes started at 7 a.m. and were supposed to run to 9 p.m. or 10 p.m. but everyone was up late at night and no one wanted to show up on time. Salzman said that at Sir Richard’s parties some of the women gave pole dancing performances,” he said.
Parlato also said that the Bronfman sisters were hoping to recruit Branson into the organization.
“Part of the reason they staged NXIVM seminars on Necker was NXIVM hoped to recruit Branson into the organization. Branson would have been the biggest score they ever had—a billionaire businessman. Several group members, including co-founder Nancy Salzman, Allison Mack, Kristin Kreuk, Emiliano Salinas and others went to Necker for two seminars in 2007 and 2010. They partied hard with Branson too,” Parlato said.
Branson’s island is a popular vacation destination for politicians and celebrities. Just last week, Kanye West talked about hanging out with Barack Obama on the island. Sara Bronfman reportedly paid $250,000 per visit for use of the entire island.
While it is possible that Branson had no clue about the group’s illegal activities, it is interesting that he was so quick to deny any connection to the group and its members when he was obviously a present participant in at least one of these events at Necker Island.
Since the grim details of the cult have come to light, more high-level connections, both big and small, continue to be revealed. Last week it was reported that former Trump adviser Roger Stone worked as a lobbyist for the group for two months in 2007, however, Stone claims that he broke from the group after refusing to take a class.
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Edward Kovari was arrested in Winchester, Virginia, in 2016 on suspicion of stealing a car in Houston. While his charges were later dropped, a lawsuit filed in Virginia alleges that Kovari suffered inhumane conditions while en route to Houston, a violation of his 14th Amendment rights, reported the Washington Post.
The van, operated by Prisoner Transportation Services, stopped several times in seven states to pick up more prisoners. The normally 20-hour journey took 18 days.
Kovari was shackled tightly in chains, and denied his prescription medication for hypertension. When the van arrived in Houston, Kovari was unable to walk and his blood pressure was above 200, the lawsuit alleges.
Throughout the journey, cramped conditions meant that Kovari could not sleep for days on end. Water was rationed and detainees were occasionally fed fast food. In lieu of bathroom breaks, the prisoners were instructed to urinate in bottles or defecate in their clothes.
Kovari’s calls for medical attention were ignored, and he was threatened with tasing for causing a disturbance, the suit alleges.
Prisoner Transportation Services is America’s largest for-profit extradition company. Picking up as many prisoners in the same journey allows companies like this to maximize profits. Tens of thousands of prisoners are packed into vans every year, and multiple deaths and injuries have occured in these “mobile jails.”
More than 1,000 bank accounts have been frozen in 19 banks and 105 people arrested for illegal currency trading. 90% of the accounts belong to private bank Banesco.
Venezuelan authorities have launched a probe into Colombian private bank Banesco as part of an operation targeting currency exchange and speculation networks on the border with Colombia.
In recent days, police have arrested 105 suspects and frozen about US$4 million in bank deposits as part of the ongoing investigation.
Venezuelan Vice President Tareck El Aissami announced that 1,133 bank accounts had been frozen in 19 banks, belonging to people linked with the illegal trade in bolivares – Venezuela’s national currency – who buy and sell on the border with Colombia.
Banesco, Venezuela’s biggest private bank, held about 90 percent of this money and is now the subject of a formal investigation by authorities into their potential complicity in illicit currency exchange networks.
El Aissami also accused Colombia’s government of protecting the “mafia” organizations trafficking bolivares, which affects the availability of cash within the country, in an attempt to “destabilize and boycott the Venezuelan economy” in order to topple President Nicolas Maduro.
“All these corruption networks linked to the exchange mafias have – and we denounce it as it is – the support and protection of Juan Manuel Santos’ Colombian government,” El Aissami said on state television.
As part of the so-called Paper Hands Operation, the vice president also reported that 595 firms had been investigated, with 22 vehicles and properties seized by anti-corruption police. A further 112 arrest warrants have been issued.
Venezuela has suffered from chronic cash shortages in its banking system in recent months and plans to re-launch its national currency in June, removing three zeros from its denominations.
Venezuela has for years been battling the money mafias which operate along the border in order to circumvent exchange controls established by the Bolivarian government, demanding the Colombian government cooperate in controlling the illegal operations but with little success.
Among those arrested are several Colombian citizens, at least 31 of whom are linked to Carlos Colmenares, who was arrested on Thursday on suspicion of running websites artificially setting the price of the “black dollar”, allegedly causing speculation and financial disruption. According to El Aissami, such websites aim to secure “the imposition of criminal rates of the speculative dollar.”
Authorities claim portals price currencies up to 12 times above Venezuela’s official quota, contributing to the artificial devaluation of the national currency and high inflation levels. El Aissami added that the alleged criminal groups arrested during this operation were centered in the states of Zulia, Tachira, Merida and Apure, all on or close to the Colombia border.
So far, neither Colombian authorities nor Banesco have issued public statements regarding the accusations.
The conservative media firebrand, who has been in talks to sell his right-leaning media site The Blaze, has put his private jet on the market.
Glenn Beck, then enigmatic conservative media firebrand, appears to be selling off his assets as his media enterprise downsizes.
Earlier this year, Beck engaged in conversations with popular right-wing pundit Ben Shapiro to buy or partner with Beck’s right-leaning news network The Blaze, which has been hit with several rounds of massive layoffs over the past three years.
Now, he’s getting rid of his plane.
According to Federal Aviation Administration records and a listing on Controller, a site that sells used aircraft, Beck recently put his 1966 DC9-15, up for sale. The jet for sale on Controller has the registration number N8860. The FAA’s website shows that that registration number is assigned to an aircraft that belongs to Mercury Radio Arts, Beck’s radio production company. The asking price for the plane is not listed.
The listing for the two engine plane that’s ferried Beck from his home in Texas to New York boasts of “2014 custom paint,” and “2014 airframe and engine inspections,” among other features.
Beck’s opulent spending habits have been a source of consternation at his media empire. Employees at The Blaze previously lamented that Beck bought a Maybach sedan and kept his jet—which was expensive to operate and maintain—amid massive layoffs at the company in 2015. The jet was purchased by Beck’s radio company, Mercury Radio Arts, that same year from right-wing billionaire Richard Mellon Scaife for a million dollars. It had once been adorned with a skull-and-crossbones on the tail.
Beck did not return a request for comment.
The hatred for Donald Trump that is excreted from leftists within Washington D.C. and the mainstream media on a daily basis is quickly approaching a point where it’s just embarrassing. As they continue to contradict themselves in their attempt to discredit (and ultimately impeach) the president of the United States, millions of Americans across the country are laughing at them.
One example of this blatant hypocrisy has to do with the current controversy surrounding Facebook and the UK data firm Cambridge Analytica, whereby the personal information of roughly 50 million American users of the social network was collected and, according to Mark Zuckerberg, used to help the Trump campaign get inside of people’s heads to ultimately win the presidential election.
It’s worth noting that while there are some legitimate concerns over privacy rights, what Cambridge Analytica did was not illegal; as a matter of fact, this sort of social media data collection has become quite common, and is used to help businesses and politicians alike. This doesn’t make it completely ethical, necessarily, but from a legal perspective, nothing criminal took place here – but that hasn’t stopped those on the left from using it as a tool to damage President Trump’s presidency.
Zero Hedge reported yesterday that Christopher Wylie, the whistleblower behind the Facebook and Cambridge Analytica controversy, told a group of UK lawmakers that Trump’s election is ultimately what compelled him to speak out on the matter. “I wouldn’t say it was just because of Donald Trump, but Donald Trump makes it click in your head that this actually has a much wider impact,” Wylie said. “I don’t think that military-style information operations is conducive for any democratic process.” (Related: A former Facebook executive says that social media is ripping society apart.)
Well thank you, Christopher Wylie, for looking out for the American people and for being so concerned about what you consider to be “military-style information operations.” By the way, were you equally as concerned about this sort of social media information gathering when Barack Obama was doing it during the 2012 presidential campaign?
The Daily Caller put together a fantastic collection of instances when the liberal mainstream media praised Barack Obama for using Facebook data to further his 2012 presidential campaign. “So far in the presidential election of 2012,” CNN said at the time, “there is only one campaign that is doing cutting-edge work with data.” Of course, they were referring to Barack Obama.
“The Romney team used a far less sophisticated version of the technology,” Time wrote. The left-wing publication Politico also threw in their two cents: “The depth and breadth of the Obama campaign’s 2012 digital operation makes the president’s much-heralded 2008 social media juggernaut… look like cavemen with stone tablets.”
There was even an entire book published on this “secret science” written by liberal journalist Sasha Issenberg, who also wrote a number of articles on “how Democrats became the party of effective campaigning – and why the GOP isn’t catching up anytime soon.”
Well, it’s fair to say that the GOP certainly caught up by 2016, when Donald Trump crushed Hillary Clinton in the presidential election. Hillary ran a horrific campaign, and it also didn’t help that she had been surrounded by scandals and political corruption for years leading up to that point.
Why were the liberals okay with this sort of social media data collection and analysis when Barack Obama was doing it in the 2012 presidential campaign, but yet are infuriated that President Trump and his team used many of the same tactics? The reason, as you probably already know, is because the modern day Democrat Party and the mainstream media are as partisan as it gets, and want to bring down Donald Trump more than anything else.