A Hub For Extremists, Biden's Vaccine Push, 10-Hour Freestyle Rap

Published June 4, 2021 at 1:57 PM EDT
A person's clenched fist displays a yellow sticker reading "I got my COVID-19 vaccine."
Joe Raedle
Getty Images
The Biden administration has set a goal of getting 70% of eligible adults at least one shot by July Fourth.

Good morning,

It's been a short week filled with lots of news. To help you catch up, we've gathered some stories from this week that feel worth spending time with this weekend.

Enjoy scanning, reading and listening.

- The Morning Edition crew


This Online Hub For Paramilitary Groups Keeps Growing, Despite Calls For Its Removal

Posted June 4, 2021 at 2:21 PM EDT

Some of the digital spaces where far-right extremists gather went dark after rioters stormed the U.S. Capitol in January. Others keep attracting new members, even as they are criticized by activists and are dropped by advertisers.

One of those growing spaces is MyMilitia, a site that helps users browse, join and form unlawful paramilitary groups. It's been compared to the dating app Tinder and currently counts some 30,000 users.

"It used to be that if you wanted to join a militia, it was a difficult process ... You had to actually really work for it. And now, with a matter of a few clicks, you can be linked up with people in your area who share the same mentality. And MyMilitia's really led that explosion."
Alex Friedfeld, investigative researcher for the Anti-Defamation League

While some of these groups call themselves a militia, constitutional experts argue that the only legal militia in the U.S. is the National Guard.

Most of the people who stormed the Capitol were not part of such groups, but some are associated with far-right organizations like the Proud Boys and Oath Keepers.

A crowd of people, as seen from behind, wave Trump and American flags on the grounds of the U.S. Capitol.
Joseph Prezioso
AFP via Getty Images
The website MyMilitia helps users find and join far-right paramilitary groups, which have been the subject of renewed scrutiny since the Jan. 6 riot.

An NPR investigation found that 16% of the more than 450 individuals facing criminal charges have ties to "extremist or fringe groups or ideas."

Joshua Ellis, who owns MyMilitia, characterizes the site as a forum for free speech and says no one charged over the insurrection has any connection to it.

MyMilitia has faced some consequences: Google stopped placing ads on its site, and it's been dropped by payment services like Venmo and PayPal.

But activists on the left say those steps don't go far enough, especially since falsehoods about the 2020 election keep circulating on the site.

Read the full story, or take a listen:

From The Science Desk

For Athletes, Mental Health Is Just As Important As Physical Health

Posted June 4, 2021 at 2:22 PM EDT
 Japan's Naomi Osaka celebrates after winning against Romania's Patricia Maria Tig during their women's singles first round tennis match on Day 1 of The Roland Garros 2021 French Open tennis tournament in Paris on May 30, 2021.
Martin Bureau
AFP via Getty Images
Japan's Naomi Osaka on Day 1 of The Roland Garros 2021 French Open tennis tournament in Paris on May 30, 2021.

When Naomi Osaka withdrew from the French Open earlier this week, she said the post-match news conferences were contributing to her depression and anxiety.

Some elite tennis players were supportive. Others said the press events are just another part of the job.

So we reached out to sports psychologist Kanyali Ilako, who works with Kenya's Summer Olympics team.

It's more than the game

She says the anxiety and nervousness an athlete might feel isn't just about winning.

"A lot of the time we forget that athletes are humans, too," Ilako says. "They have lives outside their sports, [and] it could be the thing that's bringing them that pressure or anxiety to perform."

Struggling with stress?

Ilako suggests finding balance by engaging your five senses: Focus on five things you can see, four things you can hear, three things you can smell, two things you can touch and one thing you can taste.

She says the practice helps her athletes "get out of their heads."

More from our conversation with Ilako

Ilako isn't the only one encouraging athletes (professional or not) to find balance.

Osaka was fined $15,000 forskipping a news conference beforewithdrawing from the tournament, prompting the meditation app, Calm, to match the fine (and any future fines for athletes at the French Open who skip a news conference for mental health reasons) with a donation to the Laureus Sports for Good project.

Laureus Sports recently named Osaka their World Sportswoman of 2021.

Pride Month

Check Out This Helpful Guide To Gender Identity Terms 🏳️‍🌈

Posted June 4, 2021 at 2:22 PM EDT
Illustration of three people talking. Each wears a sticker on their shirt with their pronouns written on it.
Kaz Fantone for NPR

It's Pride Month, and issues of equality and acceptance of transgender and nonbinary people have become major topics.

So it's a good time to check in on yourself (and others!) about what words you use to talk about gender identity. Are you choosing inclusive language? Are the terms you use accurate? Do you know what to do if you mistakenly misgender someone?

Answering those questions might involve some self-reflection and research, especially if some of these words, ideas or identities are new to you. NPR's Laurel Wamsley created a thorough glossary and guide that can help.

Click here to read the guide, and if you're confused about pronouns, make sure to scroll to the bottom for some questions and answers.

But be aware that this isn't an exhaustive list! Plus, it's Western and U.S.-centric, so expect that other cultures may have different terms and conceptions of gender. Another thing to remember: language evolves. As the guide notes, the most important part here is respecting and recognizing people as individuals.

Looking to learn more? You could keep going by checking out this episode from NPR's Life Kit on queer-inclusive sex education.

From The Science Desk
COVID-19 Vaccines

The Fourth Of July Is A Month Away. Can The U.S. Meet Biden's Vaccination Goal?

Posted June 4, 2021 at 2:31 PM EDT

At the start of May, President Biden shared a goal: Get 70% of U.S. adults at least one vaccine shot by July Fourth.

The incentive? We'd be able to safely gather in small groups for the holiday.

With less than a month to go and vaccination numbers declining, Biden's calling for a national month of action to reach that goal.

"We need you. We need you to get your friends, family, neighbors and co-workers vaccinated. Help them find an appointment. Drive them to the site. Talk to them about why you made the choice for yourself."
— President Biden on Wednesday

The administration is working with pharmacies to extend their hours and with child care providers like the YMCA to give parents free kid-watching while they get their vaccines.

They've also partnered with dating apps to encourage users to make sure they're vaccinated and make it easier for vaccinated singles to find one another.

According to NPR's vaccination tracker, 50.9% of the eligible population has received at least one dose as of June 4.


Welcome To Froggyland. A Museum Full Of Stuffed Frogs

Posted June 4, 2021 at 2:36 PM EDT
Frogs dance, drink, smoke and play cards in a scene created at the Froggyland museum
Rob Schmitz
Frogs dance, drink, smoke and play cards in a scene created at the Froggyland museum

Stuffed frogs, 507 of them. And they’ve been dead for more than a century. They’re all arranged in imaginative exhibitions where they’re acting out human situations.

There’s one scene where a froggy teacher is trying to restore order in a classroom. Then there’s a ballroom scene, with frogs dancing, drinking, smoking and playing cards.

Sound bizarre? This is Froggyland, a museum in the coastal city of Split in Croatia.

Over the years, it’s gotten a lot of attention from tourists. The museum has more than 600 reviews on TripAdvisor. Most are five stars:

Froggytastic! Probably the best stuffed frog museum I have ever visited.
Martin, Froggyland Visitor

Putting Martin’s stellar tongue-in-cheek review to the side, the museum also has its critics:

Yes, let’s kill thousands of frogs for art and ask people ‘did you have fun at the end of it. Go if you have no soul.
Poker G, Froggyland Visitor

Froggyland's owner Ivan Medvesek stands in front of a circus scene
Rob Schmitz
Froggyland's owner Ivan Medvesek stands in front of a circus scene

NPR’s Rob Schmitz had a chance to visit Froggyland and meet the museum’s owner Ivan Medvesek, known to his employees as “Boss Itzo”.

Boss Itzo talks about the positive and negative buzz behind Froggyland and how the pandemic’s impact on Croatia’s tourism industry has forced him to sell the museum to American investors.

He says he’s hopeful that a museum that began with his parents finding these frogs in an abandoned attic in Serbia 50 years ago might be headed to the United States.


5 Years On: David Gilkey and Zabihullah Tamanna

Posted June 4, 2021 at 2:36 PM EDT
Zabihullah Tamanna (left) and David Gilkey in Afghanistan on June 2, 2016, when they were on assignment for NPR traveling with an Afghan army unit.
Monika Evstatieva
Zabihullah Tamanna (left) and David Gilkey in Afghanistan on June 2, 2016, when they were on assignment for NPR traveling with an Afghan army unit. On June 5, they were in an armored Humvee driven by a soldier of the Afghan National Army when the vehicle was attacked. All three were killed in the apparent ambush.

Today marks five years since David Gilkey and Zabihullah Tamanna were killed while on assignment for NPR in Afghanistan. We remember them as colleagues, as professionals and as friends.

If you have a moment, take time to revisit their work and remember all that they brought to NPR, their families and the world.

Here are just a few of the many remembrances that have been published over the years from friends and colleagues:

We Hold These Truths

A Vote To Rename Schools Honoring Confederate Leaders In Jacksonville Divided Alumni

Posted June 4, 2021 at 2:37 PM EDT
Julie Moore and Rob Lawrence are alumni of Robert E. Lee High School in Jacksonville, Florida. The local school board voted this week to rename the school to Riverside High School.
Bob Self for NPR
Julie Moore and Rob Lawrence are alumni of Robert E. Lee High School in Jacksonville, Florida. The local school board voted this week to rename the school to Riverside High School.

A school district in Jacksonville, Fla., voted this week to rename six schools that are named for members of the Confederacy. The decision from the Duval County Public Schools Board came after a year of intense public debate.

One school was at the center of the debate.

The Robert E. Lee High School, which will now be named Riverside High School. It’s been around since 1927 and was all-white for decades. The school was fully integrated in 1971. More than 70% of the students today are Black and many wanted the school’s name changed.

The biggest division has been among white alumni.

Julie Moore and Rob Lawrence both went to the school some 30 years ago. They have very different opinions.

Julie had been pushing for the school to be renamed. There’s one memory that sticks in her mind:

We had a teacher who would come to school dressed in a confederate uniform when he taught the civil war movement. And he called it the 'War of Northern Aggression.' And he mumbled the N-word under his mouth. I think about that now and I think about how that wouldn’t fly today. But we didn’t have the tools then to stand up to him or say anything.
Julie Moore

Rob says his position against renaming the school was based on practical grounds:

Changing the name of the school is not going to improve academic performance. It’s not going to decrease truancy. It’s not going to create racial harmony. If you do change the name, the alumni will disappear. Their support will disappear. You won’t have any of those programs anymore.
Rob Lawrence

Both Julie and Rob went to the town halls before the vote to speak up.

As part of NPR’s series on democracy "‘We Hold These Truths" we brought them together to work through their differences. You can listen to that conversation, which happened before the vote took place, here:


Rapper Harry Mack Freestyles For 10 Hours Straight

Posted June 4, 2021 at 2:38 PM EDT

Freestyle rapper Harry Mack spent a lot of time during the pandemic video chatting with strangers. They'd suggest words, and he'd come up with verses on the spot — often leaving them speechless, and building up his fanbase in the process.

In fact, he recently reached 1 million subscribers on YouTube. So to celebrate, he took things to the next level ... by live-streaming 10 hours of improvised rap:

"It's a pretty insane thing to do," Mack admitted earlier in the week.

But performing is in his nature: he's been freestyle rapping since age 12, studied jazz in college and is also a drummer. He says the energy he gets from people lifts him up and makes him feel like he's living out his purpose.

Mack even dropped a few verses during his interview withMorning Edition. If you've ever wanted to hear a rap about NPR, now's your chance:

Harry Mack Freestyle


What Happens When Law Enforcement Investigates Itself? 'On Our Watch' Finds Out

Posted June 4, 2021 at 2:42 PM EDT
Graphic by Luke Medina
Luke Medina for NPR
Graphic by Luke Medina

With each new scandal, horrific video of misconduct, evidence of assault or act of fatal negligence involving law enforcement, police officials tell the public: "We're investigating."

But then what? For decades, the process for how police actually police themselves has been inconsistent, if not opaque. So member station KQED in San Francisco and NPR went looking for answers.

The result is a new podcast — On Our Watch — that brings you into the rooms where officers are interrogated and witnesses are questioned to find out who this shadow system of police accountability really serves, and who it protects.

Listen to the first episode, about a woman named Katheryn Jenks who called 911 for help and ended up injured, inside a jail cell and facing serious charges.


Are You Team Donut Or Team Doughnut?

Posted June 4, 2021 at 2:35 PM EDT
A variety of donuts, some glazed with pink and brown icing, some chocolate-covered without holes, sit in three rows in a box.
Scott Olson/Getty Images
Getty Images North America
"Doughnut" predates "donut," but both spellings are still used widely today.

Hopefully you celebrated National Donut Day yesterday — a milestone both delicious and, apparently, controversial.

It got some of us thinking (read: fighting about): What's the proper spelling of these goodies, and does anyone actually still go with "doughnut?"

NPR's Vanessa Romo did some digging to get to the bottom — or should we say, center — of it.

As it turns out, "doughnut" came first (along with some other short-lived variations, like "downut") in the late 18th century, but there's been a near-even split in how most American cookbooks have spelled the word since.

Get the full story here.


Hiring Picked Up In May, But Those 'Help Wanted' Signs Aren't Going Anywhere

Posted June 4, 2021 at 2:45 PM EDT

Many aspects of daily life in the U.S. are looking increasingly like they did before the pandemic.

But recovery doesn't happen overnight, and that's especially true for the economy.

NPR journalists spoke to economists, experts and everyday people to make sense of the latest numbers. Here's what they learned:

Hiring picked up last month

U.S. employers added 559,000 jobs in May. That's about twice as many as were added in April, but considerably less than the 770,000 created in March.

More on the May jobs report here.

Unemployment dropped from 6.1% to 5.8% — in part because people found work, and in part because some 53,000 people dropped out of the workforce.

Many women are unable to rejoin the workforce

There are about 1.8 million fewer women in the labor force now than before the pandemic. Many lost their jobs in the past year and have yet to return to work full time.

Labor and workplace correspondent Andrea Hsu spoke to two of them: Valerie Mekki and Katherine Gaines.

A woman wearing a white long-sleeved shirt stands half-smiling in front of a yellow house.
Andrea Hsu/NPR
Katherine Gaines stands in front of her childhood home in Washington, D.C. She moved back in two years ago to help care for her mother, who has Alzheimer's disease.

Mekki worked in fashion merchandising for nearly two decades. She says she hid from her children for nearly an hour on the day she lost her job last April.

She began blogging during the pandemic, and is now hoping to find a job as a writer, even though it will pay less.

Gaines, a longtime legal assistant, couldn't job hunt during the worst of the pandemic because she was living with her mother, who has Alzheimer's disease.

"I knew I couldn't work in retail, because I couldn't be exposed and bring it home to my mother," Gaines says.

Read or listen to their stories here.

There are several reasons people may not be returning to work yet

More than 15 million Americans are out of work, yet many employers say they are struggling to find people to hire.

NPR's chief economics correspondent Scott Horsley points to three main reasons: health concerns, caretaking responsibilities and enhanced unemployment benefits that could make low-wage jobs unattractive.

Neel Kashkari, the president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis, says those factors should improve in the next few months as schools reopen, infection rates decline and federal unemployment benefits end.

He stressed that it's important to put people back to work as soon as possible but that the process is complicated and it's important to be patient. Hear more.

Unemployment benefits are one piece of the puzzle

Many Republican lawmakers say that enhanced unemployment benefits are dissuading people from returning to work, and governors in some two dozen states are moving to end them early.

State and federal unemployment benefits average out to about $750 a week across the country, says Dan Alpert, a senior fellow in macroeconomics and finance at Cornell Law School.

Employers in low-wage sectors may struggle to bring people back to work if they pay less than that, he explains.

Alpert worries that cutting unemployment benefits early could actually hurt the economy by reducing spending. For more, catch the full interview or read the story.