The Alec Baldwin ‘Rust’ Tragedy

Yesterday morning, I awoke to news that the actor Alec Baldwin had fatally shot cinematographer Halyna Hutchins and wounded director Joel Souza with a prop gun while filming a low-budget film. Aside from the pain this would cause the people involved, my main thoughts were how this could possibly happen. Why would live ammunition be used without multiple safeguards in place?

The preliminary investigation points to multiple people simply being unqualified for the job.

WSJ (“Alec Baldwin Told Prop Was ‘Cold Gun’ Before Fatal Shooting, Affidavit Says“):

It was early Thursday afternoon on the set of the Western movie “Rust” at a bucolic ranch outside of town when, according to authorities, the assistant director grabbed one of three prop guns laid out on a rolling cart and handed it to Alec Baldwin to film a scene.

“Cold Gun” the assistant director yelled, indicating the gun didn’t have live rounds, according to a search warrant affidavit prepared by a detective with the Santa Fe County Sheriff’s Office.

But something went wrong.

Mr. Baldwin, the star of the movie being filmed near Santa Fe, took the gun and fired, the affidavit said. Halyna Hutchins, a 42-year-old cinematographer born in Ukraine, suffered a fatal gunshot wound to the chest, according to the affidavit and the Sheriff’s Office. Joel Souza, the director, 48, was behind Ms. Hutchins on the set and shot in the shoulder, according to the affidavit and the authorities. Mr. Baldwin’s Old West-style costume was stained with what appeared to be blood, according to the affidavit.

A spokesman for the Santa Fe County Sheriff’s Office said late Friday that investigators were still trying to figure out what type of projectile was shot out of the gun and how a day of filming turned deadly.

No charges have been filed in the shooting, according to officials. Interviews with people familiar with the set said the production was hampered by poor working conditions and a walkout this week by camera operators. It couldn’t be determined if the disruptions contributed to the shooting incident Thursday.

The detective who prepared the affidavit said he learned that Dave Halls, the assistant director, “did not know live rounds were in the prop-gun” when he gave it to Mr. Baldwin, the affidavit said. Mr. Halls didn’t respond to requests for comment.

The affidavit identified the armorer on set as Hannah Gutierrez, also identified as Hannah Gutierrez Reed in a set call sheet for the film reviewed by The Wall Street Journal.

Armorers are in charge of handling the safety and use of prop guns on a set. They are also tasked with ensuring there are no projectiles in the prop firearms among other safety precautions, said people familiar with the job.

Ms. Gutierrez Reed had arranged the guns on the cart, the affidavit said. After the incident, she took the gun back and removed a spent casing before handing it to sheriff’s deputies who had arrived at the scene, the affidavit said.

Ms. Gutierrez Reed, 24 years old, didn’t respond to a request for comment.

Ms. Gutierrez Reed had recently completed her first film as head armorer on “The Old Way” starring Nicolas Cage, according to a podcast interview she gave last month. She said in the interview with the “Voices of the West” podcast that she almost didn’t take the job because she was nervous, but the filming ended up going well.

Ms. Gutierrez Reed is the daughter of the famous armorer and movie gun consultant Thell Reed, who she said trained her. When reached on a cellphone of Mr. Reed’s, a man who answered said he didn’t know about the accident and wasn’t there.

Deputies were also searching for video from the set that might have captured the incident and for documents that show who owned the guns, among other items, according to the affidavit.

Mr. Baldwin, who changed out of his costume after the shooting, according to the affidavit, was later questioned by law enforcement. A photo from the Santa Fe New Mexican shows a distraught Mr. Baldwin hunched over in the parking lot of the Santa Fe Sheriff’s Office following the shooting.

In a Twitter statement, Mr. Baldwin said he was cooperating with the investigation. “There are no words to convey my shock and sadness regarding the tragic accident that took the life of Halyna Hutchins, a wife, mother and deeply admired colleague of ours,” he said.

[…]

Professionals on movie sets are trained to follow heightened safety protocols around weapons, said Stephen Lighthill, president of the American Society of Cinematographers.

“What it means is that somebody was tired, somebody didn’t follow protocol, someone didn’t hire the right person,” said Mr. Lighthill, speaking generally. “It’s not an accident, it’s a preventable incident. We’re all well schooled in how to avoid those problems,” he said.

That Gutierrez Reed is only 24 is not dispositive. While that sounds young to be the lead armorer on a movie, she’d done it before and was presumably well trained by her father. While not exactly the same, I had ran multiple live-fire ranges as an Army lieutenant by that age. But even with trained soldiers, there are multiple layers of safeguards built into non-combat situations any time ammunition, whether live or blank, is issued. Clearly, they were not being followed on this set.

Accidental fatal gunshots on Hollywood sets are rare but have occurred before. Brandon Lee, the son of Bruce and Linda Lee, was killed in 1993 by an accidental gunshot wound on “The Crow” set.

At least 43 people have died on film sets in the U.S. since 1990, according to an Associated Press investigation from 2016, while more than 150 suffered life-altering injuries.

A NYT report (“Recent Accidents on TV and Movie Sets“) details several of these incidents. In most cases, protocols were loosely followed but no criminal or civil liability was found.

An LAT report (“‘Rust’ crew describes on-set gun safety issues and misfires days before fatal shooting“) is rather damning, however.

Hours before actor Alec Baldwin fatally shot a cinematographer on the New Mexico set of “Rust” with a prop gun, a half-dozen camera crew workers walked off the set to protest working conditions.

The camera operators and their assistants were frustrated by the conditions surrounding the low-budget film, including complaints about long hours, long commutes and waiting for their paychecks, according to three people familiar with the matter who were not authorized to comment.

Safety protocols standard in the industry, including gun inspections, were not strictly followed on the “Rust” set near Santa Fe, the sources said. They said at least one of the camera operators complained last weekend to a production manager about gun safety on the set.

Three crew members who were present at the Bonanza Creek Ranch set on Saturday said they were particularly concerned about two accidental prop gun discharges.

Baldwin’s stunt double accidentally fired two rounds Saturday after being told that the gun was “cold” — lingo for a weapon that doesn’t have any ammunition, including blanks — two crew members who witnessed the episode told the Los Angeles Times.

“There should have been an investigation into what happened,” a crew member said. “There were no safety meetings. There was no assurance that it wouldn’t happen again. All they wanted to do was rush, rush, rush.”

A colleague was so alarmed by the prop gun misfires that he sent a text message to the unit production manager. “We’ve now had 3 accidental discharges. This is super unsafe,” according to a copy of the message reviewed by The Times.

Filming began 12 days before the fatal incident and there had been three prior accidental discharges? That just seems outrageously incompetent.

“The safety of our cast and crew is the top priority of Rust Productions and everyone associated with the company, ” Rust Movie Productions said in a statement. “Though we were not made aware of any official complaints concerning weapon or prop safety on set, we will be conducting an internal review of our procedures while production is shut down. We will continue to cooperate with the Santa Fe authorities in their investigation and offer mental health services to the cast and crew during this tragic time.”

The tragedy occurred Thursday afternoon during filming of a gunfight that began in a church that is part of the old Western town at the ranch. Baldwin’s character was supposed to back out of the church, according to production notes obtained by The Times. It was the 12th day of a 21-day shoot.

Cinematographer Halyna Hutchins was huddled around a monitor lining up her next camera shot when she was accidentally killed by the prop gun fired by Baldwin.

The actor was preparing to film a scene in which he pulls a gun out of a holster, according to a source close to the production. Crew members had already shouted “cold gun” on the set. The filmmaking team was lining up its camera angles and had yet to retreat to the video village, an on-set area where the crew gathers to watch filming from a distance via a monitor.

Instead, the B-camera operator was on a dolly with a monitor, checking out the potential shots. Hutchins was also looking at the monitor from over the operator’s shoulder, as was the movie’s director, Joel Souza, who was crouching just behind her.

Baldwin removed the gun from its holster once without incident, but the second time he did so, ammunition flew toward the trio around the monitor. The projectile whizzed by the camera operator but penetrated Hutchins near her shoulder, then continued through to Souza. Hutchins immediately fell to the ground as crew members applied pressure to her wound in an attempt to stop the bleeding.

Late Friday, the Associated Press reported that Baldwin was handed a loaded weapon by an assistant director who indicated it was safe to use in the moments before the actor fired it, according to court records. The assistant director did not know the prop gun was loaded with live rounds, according to a search warrant filed in a Santa Fe County court.

It’s not known how live ammunition was in the weapon Baldwin fired. Or, hell, on the set at all. But a “cold gun” is one with no ammunition at all. Not even blanks. On what basis were multiple people shouting “cold gun” when it was in fact loaded? Surely, it was someone’s job to ensure the gun was cold before handing it to Baldwin, let alone before yelling “cold gun” and allowing a (one presumes) barely-trained-on-firearms actor to play fast draw with it?

Aside from sheer incompetence, it appears that people were sleep-deprived as well:

Labor trouble had been brewing for days on the dusty set at the Bonanza Creek Ranch near Santa Fe.

Shooting began on Oct. 6 and members of the low-budget film said they had been promised the production would pay for their hotel rooms in Santa Fe.

But after filming began, the crews were told they instead would be required to make the 50-mile drive from Albuquerque each day, rather than stay overnight in nearby Santa Fe. That rankled crew members who worried that they might have an accident after spending 12 to 13 hours on the set.

Hutchins had been advocating for safer conditions for her team and was tearful when the camera crew left, said one crew member who was on the set.

“She said, ‘I feel like I’m losing my best friends,’” recalled one of the workers.

As the camera crew — members of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees — spent about an hour assembling their gear at the Bonanza Creek Ranch, several nonunion crew members showed up to replace them, two of the knowledgeable people said.

One of the producers ordered the union members to leave the set and threatened to call security to remove them if they didn’t leave voluntarily.

“Corners were being cut — and they brought in nonunion people so they could continue shooting,” the knowledgeable person said.

The shooting occurred about six hours after the union camera crew left.

Given that it was surely not the camera crew’s responsibility to oversee firearms safety on set, I don’t think the use of non-union people factored into the incident. Still, while a mindset that getting the film done fast and cheap is likely a hallmark of the business, especially on the low-budget end, the sheer disdain for the well-being of the people working on the movie certainly speaks to a huge leadership problem. Regardless of budget issues, one simply can’t demand people drive 50 miles each way to their beds on top of a 12-13 hour workday and expect them to function at their best.

I’d really like to hear from people, notably @EddieInCA and @wr, with deep experience in the industry. From an outside perspective, this simply shouldn’t have happened. I’m old enough to remember when Vic Morrow and two child actors were killed filming the “Twilight Zone” movie almost forty years ago. It was a freak accident in a situation that was inherently dangerous. But firearms safety is simply too easy to maintain for accidental shootings to happen on a movie set.

The post The Alec Baldwin ‘Rust’ Tragedy first appeared on Outside the Beltway.

Mort Saul, 1927-2021

WaPo (“Mort Sahl, whose political comedy set the bar for future humorists, dies at 94“):

Mort Sahl, the comic whose caustic and fearlessly observant routines about Cold War politics in the button-down 1950s transformed American comedy and paved the way for generations of acid-witted humorists, not least Jon Stewart and Bill Maher, died Oct. 26 at his home in Mill Valley, Calif. He was 94.

[…]

Before Mr. Sahl, wisecracks about government and Washington were little more than glib asides with no attempt at the jugular. For the most part, comedians avoided topics that might alienate escapist-minded radio, TV and nightclub audiences and stuck to safer material about mothers-in-law or nagging spouses.

By contrast, Mr. Sahl dove headfirst into the divisive politics and tumult of his time — from the nuclear arms race to segregation — with erudite outrage, a finely tuned sense of the absurd and a high tolerance for risk. Referring to his more genial comic forebear, Time magazine described him in a 1960 cover story as “Will Rogers with fangs.”

Mr. Sahl developed a trademark look — a V-neck sweater and loafers, befitting a graduate student — and he carried onstage the rolled-up newspapers whose headlines he had plundered for inspiration. Having honed his style in seedy San Francisco bars and coffeehouses, he riffed in knowing argot about presidential politics, Cold War paranoia, institutionalized religion and neurotic relationships between the sexes.

During the height of Sen. Joseph McCarthy’s anti-communist witch hunts, which ensnared numerous entertainment figures, among other targets, Mr. Sahl took the position that “McCarthy doesn’t question what you say as much as your right to say it.”

He painted President Dwight D. Eisenhower as a blandly avuncular, distracted, golf-obsessed leader. Amid the 1957 racial integration showdown in Little Rock, Mr. Sahl joked that Eisenhower considered walking a Black girl to school but could not decide “whether or not to use an overlapping grip.”

He mocked talk of the “missile gap” during the 1960 presidential campaign, wryly jesting, “Maybe the Russians will steal all our secrets, then they’ll be three years behind.” And he spoke facetiously in favor of capital punishment, observing, “You’ve got to execute people. How else are they gonna learn?”

With more sophistication than a string of staccato one-liners, his jokes formed a free-flowing narrative punctuated by references to political and diplomatic leaders including Secretary of State Christian A. Herter, Cold War hot spots such as Malta and Pakistan, and legislation such as the Taft-Hartley Act.

[…]

Behind Mr. Sahl’s humor lay a deep concern for American democracy, and his onstage probing was the antithesis of the cheap laugh. He sometimes warmed up crowds for his friend Dave Brubeck, but the jazz pianist complained that “he demands so much of an audience that it hasn’t the strength for anyone else.”

His high-minded material itself invited satire. In the early 1970s, Carlin portrayed a manic Mr. Sahl uncorking a ludicrous rant about the Arab League, student riots in Japan, Eisenhower watching a movie in Manila and the role of Asian religions in ecclesiastical history.

By then, Mr. Sahl’s career had fallen into decline, a development owed almost wholly to his nonstop ribbing of President John F. Kennedy and his obsession with his assassination in 1963.

Mr. Sahl had admired Kennedy and even contributed one-liners to his 1960 campaign speeches. But, fiercely independent and vowing to make any White House occupant the butt of his humor, he let loose when Kennedy won. He joked about Kennedy’s wealthy father influencing the election outcome (“You’re not allowed one more cent than you need to buy a landslide”), the Kennedy preoccupation with communist Cuba, and the new president’s rumored mafia connections.

He incurred the wrath of Kennedy intimates and said his livelihood was threatened. Many nightclubs, fearing tax audits, stopped booking him. Some liberals in his fan base, having grown accustomed to gibes about Eisenhower and Nixon, abandoned him.

[…]

Invitations to appear on TV shows and in clubs dried up. In his 1976 memoir, “Heartland,” Mr. Sahl wrote that his earnings fell from $1 million a year to “about nothing.” But he made a comeback after Watergate, when his searing skepticism and dark view of American leadership better matched the national mood.

“The harvest of what we found came out repeatedly afterward in Watergate, the Iran-contra affair, the whole idea of shadow government and of people who think they know better what’s good for Americans,” Mr. Sahl told the makers of a public television documentary about him in 1989.

NYT (“Mort Sahl, Whose Biting Commentary Redefined Stand-Up, Dies at 94“):

Mort Sahl, who confronted Eisenhower-era cultural complacency with acid stage monologues, delivering biting social commentary in the guise of a stand-up comedian and thus changing the nature of both stand-up comedy and social commentary, died on Tuesday at his home in Mill Valley, Calif., near San Francisco. He was 94.

[…]

Gregarious and contentious — he was once described as “a very likable guy who makes ex-friends easily” — Mr. Sahl had a long, up-and-down career. He faded out of popularity in the mid-1960s, when he devoted his time to ridiculing the Warren Commission report on the assassination of President John F. Kennedy; then, over the following decades, he occasionally faded back in. But before that he was a star and a cult hero of the intelligentsia.

He had regular club dates in New York, Chicago and San Francisco, with audiences full of celebrities. He recorded what the Library of Congress has cited as “the earliest example of modern stand-up comedy on record,” the album “At Sunset.” (Though recorded in 1955, it was not released until 1958, shortly after the release of his official first album, “The Future Lies Ahead.”) By 1960, he had starred in a Broadway revue, written jokes for Kennedy’s presidential campaign, hosted the Academy Awards, appeared on the cover of Time and been cast in two movies (he would later make a handful of others).

An inveterate contrarian and a wide-ranging skeptic, Mr. Sahl was a self-appointed warrior against hypocrisy who cast a jaundiced eye on social trends, gender relations and conventional wisdom of all sorts. Conformity infuriated him: In one early routine he declared that Brooks Brothers stores didn’t have mirrors; customers just stood in front of one another to see how they looked. Sanctimony infuriated him: “Liberals are people who do the right things for the wrong reasons so they can feel good for 10 minutes.”

But more than anything else, it was politicians who were the fuel for his anger. For that reason he was often compared to Will Rogers, whose death in 1935 had left the field of political humor essentially barren, though Mr. Sahl had none of Rogers’s homeyness and detested the comparison.

“I never met a man I didn’t like until I met Will Rogers,” he once said, turning the famous Rogers line against him, despite never having met him. He described Rogers as a man who pretended to be “a yokel criticizing the intellectuals who ran the government,” whereas Mr. Sahl himself pretended to be “an intellectual making fun of the yokels running the government.”

In December 1953, when Mr. Sahl first took the stage at the hungry i — the hip nightclub in San Francisco that he helped make hip, where he would routinely be introduced as “the next president of the United States” — American comedy was largely defined by an unadventurous joke-book mentality. Bob Hope, Milton Berle and Henny Youngman may have been indisputably funny, but the rimshot gag was the prevailing form, the punch line was king, and mother-in-law insults were legion. It was humor for a self-satisfied postwar society.

“Nobody saw Mort Sahl coming,” Gerald Nachman wrote in “Seriously Funny,” his book-length 2003 study of comedy in the 1950s and ’60s. “When he arrived, the revolution had not yet begun. Sahl was the revolution.”

Mr. Sahl was a shock to the comedy system. Other groundbreaking comedians — Lenny Bruce, Dick Gregory, Woody Allen, Jonathan Winters, Joan Rivers, George Carlin and Richard Pryor among them — would pour into his wake, seizing on the awareness that audiences were hungry for challenge rather than palliation. And for social commentators who took to the airwaves in the half-century after he began to speak his mind — from Dick Cavett to Don Imus, Rush Limbaugh, Bill Maher and Jon Stewart — Mr. Sahl was their flag bearer as well.

(If a younger generation of comedians considered Mr. Sahl an inspiration, he did not return their love. He said in a 2010 interview that he found their comedy “kind of soft” and urged them to “take more chances.”)

[…]

His own political leanings were difficult to track. The left wanted to claim him, especially early in his career, but they couldn’t quite do so. Among other things, he could be crudely sexist and, though he supported civil rights, he was acerbic in confrontation with knee-jerk liberal dogma on the subject. Over the course of his life he kept company with politicians of varying stripes, from Stevenson, Kennedy and Eugene McCarthy to Alexander Haig and Ronald and Nancy Reagan. He said he had voted for Ross Perot; he praised Ron Paul and defended Sarah Palin; he cast a skeptical eye on Barack Obama’s presidency and was as scathing about Hillary Clinton as he was about Donald Trump.

“Are there any groups I haven’t offended?” he was wont to ask from the stage. If nothing else he was a pure iconoclast.

“If you were the only person left on the planet, I would have to attack you,” he once said. “That’s my job.”

NY Post (“Mort Sahl, legendary comedian, dead at 94“):

Stand-up comedian Mort Sahl has died on Tuesday at his home in Mill Valley, CA. He was 94.

The legendary comic was known for his bold social commentary on current events and scathing stand-up routines targeting political heavyweights, including former presidents Dwight D. Eisenhower, Barack Obama and Donald Trump.

“One tentative way of describing Mr. Sahl might be to call him a kind of Will Rogers of the beat generation,” wrote Richard Watts Jr. in an April 1958 edition of The Post. Watts watched Sahl perform in person during a show called “The Next President” at the Bijou Theater.

“Carrying a newspaper and with his shirt open at the neck, his vocabulary bristling with the lore of the up-to-date young intellectual, he chats with the audience freely brightly and pungently,” Watts explained, “giving without fear or favor his views of the contemporary world and the people running it from the standpoint of the uninhibited and untamed political liberal.”

The satarist died “peacefully” of “old age’ according to friend Lucy Mercer whom confirmed his death to the Associated Press. He paved the way for countless future comics such as Lenny Bruce, Richard Pryor, David Chapelle and George Carlin.

“I would never have been a cabaret comedian at all, if it hadn’t been for him,” director Woody Allen wrote in his 1994 book, “Woody Allen on Woody Allen: In Conversation With Stig Bjorkman” adding that before Sahl, “All these comedians were very, very formula.”

The “Annie Hall” filmmaker continued, “They’d all come out in a tuxedo and would say, ‘Good evening, ladies and gentlemen,’ and there was no sincerity to any of it. And they would do silly little jokes. … They would do golf jokes, because the president played golf. And suddenly, in this small cabaret, this comedian comes along, Mort Sahl. He was a nice-looking guy in a certain way, very intelligent. And highly, highly energetic, like hypermanic. And a spectacular phrasemaker, but of an intellectual type.”

[…]

He made history again in 1960 when he became the first comedian to appear on the cover of Time magazine and later that year, he released the record “Mort Sahl at the Hungry I” which it reached No. 22 on the Billboard 200. His 1973 disc, “Sing a Song of Watergate” came at No. 145.

Aside from taking the stage as a comic, Sahl showed off his acting chops in many films. He appeared in the 1958 Robert Wagner film “In Love and War” as well as “All the Young Men” (1960), “Johnny Cool” (1963) and “Don’t Make Waves” (1967). On television, Sahl lit up the screen with guest roles on programs such as “Pursuit,” “Playhouse 90,” “Ironside,” and “Love American Style.”

A quintessential host to many nationally televised ceremonies such as the Grammys and the Academy Awards, Sahl ruled the stage at the 31st annual Oscars in 1959 and was the first host ever to emcee the Grammys that same year.

“He was absolutely like nothing anybody had ever seen before. And he was so natural that other comedians became jealous,” Allen wrote in his book. “They used to say, ‘Why do people like him? He just talks. He isn’t really performing.’ But his jokes came out as stream of consciousness, in a kind of jazz rhythm.”

He also performed on late-night shows hosted by iconic figures like Dick Cavett, Mike Douglas, Dinah Shore, Merv Griffin and David Frost. Sahl even lent his comedic chops to the Dean Martin celebrity roasts of the mid-1970s and also appeared multiple times on “The Ed Sullivan Show.”

Sahl is one of those guys who seems to have been around forever but, I must confess, I had no idea how influential he’d been. I was born a decade after he became a star and by the time I was aware of him, in the early 1970s, he was not only past his peak but the style of stand-up he pioneered simply was stand-up. Indeed, I had always thought Lenny Bruce was the first of this breed.

I’m sure I saw Sahl in some of his acting stints—certainly, “Ironside” and “Love American Style” were shows we watched when I was a kid—but he seemed ubiquitous on the talk show circuit.

The post Mort Saul, 1927-2021 first appeared on Outside the Beltway.

Kyle Rittenhouse Judge Allows Those He Killed to be Called ‘Rioters’ Not ‘Victims’

Kyle Rittenhouse,, accused of shooting three people during a protest against police brutality in Wisconsin last year, waits for a motion hearing, Tuesday, Oct. 5, 2021, in Kenosha, Wis. (Mark Hertzberg/Pool Photo via AP)

Chicago Tribune (“Men shot by Rittenhouse can be described as ‘rioters’ and ‘looters’ but not ‘victims,’ judge rules ahead of trial“):

Kyle Rittenhouse’s lawyers can refer to the men he shot as “rioters” and “looters,” but prosecutors still may not call them “victims” at any time during the teen’s upcoming murder trial, a judge ruled Monday.

Circuit Judge Bruce Schroeder cautioned the defense team against using pejorative terms during opening statements, but he said they could use them in their closing arguments if the evidence suggested the men engaged in criminal acts.

“He can demonize them if he wants, if he thinks it will win points with the jury,” Schroeder said.

Rittenhouse has pleaded not guilty to the charges and says he acted in self-defense when he fatally shot Joseph Rosenbaum and Anthony Huber and wounded Gaige Grosskreutz in August 2020.

Then 17 and living in Antioch, Rittenhouse fired the shots while patrolling downtown Kenosha with an AR-15-style rifle amid the turmoil surrounding the shooting of Jacob Blake, a Black man, by a white police officer. Despite not being old enough to openly carry a gun, Rittenhouse volunteered as an armed security guard after businesses had been burned and vandalized during demonstrations held the previous night.

Schroeder earlier had ruled the three men cannot be referred to as “victims” during the trial because it would be prejudicial to Rittenhouse. Such rulings are not uncommon in self-defense cases where there is a dispute over who bears responsibility.

In allowing the defense to describe the people Rittenhouse shot in pejorative terms, the judge stressed that he had not changed his mind about calling them victims.

“The word victim is a loaded, loaded word,” Schroeder said.

The ruling — among the last issued by Schroeder before jury selection begins Nov. 1 — clearly frustrated prosecutors, who suggested the judge was creating a double standard by allowing Rosenbaum and Huber to be disparaged when they could not defend themselves.

“The terms that I’m identifying here such as rioter, looter and arsonist are as loaded, if not more loaded, than the term victim,” Assistant District Attorney Thomas Binger said.

This seems at first blush to be a stacking of the deck, allowing the defense to use inflammatory, prejudicial language while the prosecution has to avoid perfectly natural descriptions of people shot by a provocateur illegally brandishing an assault rifle. Then again, given that the state seeks to take away Rittenhouse’s liberty, it’s not unreasonable that they have to play by more restrictive rules.

Further, given that there is no dispute over whether Rittenhouse killed the men but rather whether he was justified by the self-defense doctrine, there’s some logic to allowing his attorneys greater latitude.

The defense intends to argue that Rosenbaum, in particular, posed a danger that night as he threatened to kill people and engaged in arson. None of the acts, however, occurred in the moments immediately preceding the shooting.

“The behavior of many people there was lawless,” defense attorney Mark Richards said. “Mr. Rosenbaum was at the top of that list.”

Schroeder indicated he would allow evidence of bad behavior that night by the men Rittenhouse shot because it could speak to how dangerous they would have seemed to the teen. Prosecutors failed to convince the judge that the defense wanted to sully Rosenbaum’s reputation so the jury could more easily justify the shooting.

“This is an attempt to tell the jury that Mr. Rosenbaum was a bad guy who deserved to die,” Binger said. “That’s really what’s going on here, your honor.”

Oftentimes, “rioter” and “looter” have racial connotations but that’s not the case here. While Rosenbaum and Huber were participating in Black Lives Matter protests, they were White.

Nor was this the defense’s only win in the pre-trial phase:

Schroeder also rejected the prosecution’s request to block any evidence that local law enforcement provided water to vigilantes the night of the shooting and thanked them for their presence. In video taken before Rittenhouse fired his gun, officers in an armored vehicle tossed bottles of water to him and other armed civilians who were clearly violating the city’s 8 p.m. curfew.

One officer can be heard on the recording expressing his gratitude to the group.

“We appreciate you guys,” the officer said. “We really do.”

“I’m concerned this is going to be turned into a trial over what law enforcement should or shouldn’t have done that night,” Binger said. “And I don’t think that’s what this court or this trial should be deciding.”

In opting to allow the evidence, Schroeder said he wouldn’t permit the defense to argue the encouraging words reflected the police department’s overall opinion. It could, however, help explain Rittenhouse’s mindset that night.

“I would not let it be used to prove that the entire police presence on that evening appreciated Mr. Rittenhouse’s behavior or his presence,” he said. “Relevance is another matter.”

This strikes me as reasonable. It’s legitimately part of the narrative that unfolded that night and speaks to Rittenhouse’s state of mind. And it’s also noteworthy that Gaige Grosskreutz, the man wounded by Rittenhouse but survived, has filed a civil suit against the Kenosha police arguing that they effectively “deputized” Rittenhouse and other armed vigilantes.

While I am not a lawyer, I fully expect Rittenhouse to win here. First, the charges are simply absurdly high: first-degree intentional homicide, first-degree reckless homicide, and attempted first-degree intentional reckless homicide are simply not going to stick when there is any question as to whether he feared for his life.

Under Wisconsin law,

939.48  Self-defense and defense of others.
(1)  A person is privileged to threaten or intentionally use force against another for the purpose of preventing or terminating what the person reasonably believes to be an unlawful interference with his or her person by such other person. The actor may intentionally use only such force or threat thereof as the actor reasonably believes is necessary to prevent or terminate the interference. The actor may not intentionally use force which is intended or likely to cause death or great bodily harm unless the actor reasonably believes that such force is necessary to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself.

But there’s a huge caveat:

(2) Provocation affects the privilege of self-defense as follows:
(a) A person who engages in unlawful conduct of a type likely to provoke others to attack him or her and thereby does provoke an attack is not entitled to claim the privilege of self-defense against such attack, except when the attack which ensues is of a type causing the person engaging in the unlawful conduct to reasonably believe that he or she is in imminent danger of death or great bodily harm. In such a case, the person engaging in the unlawful conduct is privileged to act in self-defense, but the person is not privileged to resort to the use of force intended or likely to cause death to the person’s assailant unless the person reasonably believes he or she has exhausted every other reasonable means to escape from or otherwise avoid death or great bodily harm at the hands of his or her assailant.
(b) The privilege lost by provocation may be regained if the actor in good faith withdraws from the fight and gives adequate notice thereof to his or her assailant.
(c) A person who provokes an attack, whether by lawful or unlawful conduct, with intent to use such an attack as an excuse to cause death or great bodily harm to his or her assailant is not entitled to claim the privilege of self-defense.

Wandering around the scene of a protest brandishing an AR-15 is surely provocative. And, since Rittenhouse was a minor at the time, it was illegal under both Wisconsin (where he committed the act) and Illinois (where he lived). And, since he crossed state lines to do it, it was likely a Federal crime as well.

But Rittenhouse almost certainly regained his privilege of self-defense given the sequence of events. Here’s Tribune columnist Eric Zorn‘s summary:

According to prosecutors, video from the scene and witness accounts, the legally relevant portion of the story picked up a little before midnight: For unknown reasons, Joseph Rosenbaum, 36, of Kenosha, who had earlier been yelling angrily at the armed men who had come to the protests, was at a run, chasing Rittenhouse along Sheridan Road and into the parking lot of a used-car dealer.

When Rosenbaum, who was unarmed, finally cornered Rittenhouse, he grabbed for the teenager’s gun. Multiple shots rang out, and Rosenbaum fell, mortally wounded.

Did Rittenhouse have a reasonable belief under the circumstances that if Rosenbaum got his gun he would suffer death or great bodily harm? Jurors in Wisconsin are instructed that “reasonable” means “what a person of ordinary intelligence and prudence would have believed … under the circumstances that existed at the time.”

Tensions were high late into the protests against the police shooting of Jacob Blake two days earlier. Gunshots from other weapons were heard immediately before and after the shots that killed Rosenbaum. Whether you think Rittenhouse is a hero for helping guard against a repeat of the vandalism the night before, or if you think he’s a reckless wannabe cop who had no business in Kenosha, you’ve got to concede that, at that moment, he was probably terrified.

Rittenhouse hustled away. Soon a group of people began chasing him up Sheridan Road, shouting “Beat him up!” “Get him! Get that dude!” and “Get his ass!” according to the prosecution’s summary. One of the pursuers took a swing at Rittenhouse and knocked his ball cap off.

Were those running after him simply trying to effect a citizen’s arrest in the belief that Rittenhouse had just committed a crime and might be a danger to others?

“Whether or not the people chasing him thought they had the right to chase him is irrelevant,” said Richard Kling, a veteran Chicago defense attorney who teaches evidence and forensic science at Chicago-Kent College of Law.

Rittenhouse stumbled and fell as he ran. One of his pursuers took a flying kick at his head and missed as Rittenhouse fired two errant shots from the ground. A second pursuer, Anthony Huber, 26, of Silver Lake, Wisconsin, swung a skateboard at Rittenhouse, hitting him on the shoulder, and grabbed and tried to hang onto Rittenhouse’s rifle. Rittenhouse shot Huber in the chest during that struggle, prosecutors said, killing him.

A third victim, Gaige Grosskreutz, 26, of West Allis, Wisconsin, who survived, first held up his hands in a gesture of surrender at a distance of a few feet. In one of his hands, he held a gun. But when he “moved toward” Rittenhouse, prosecutors said, Rittenhouse fired, striking him in the arm.

That final shooting “will be the most serious problem” for Rittenhouse at trial, Kling said. “The guy did have a gun in his hand. But he wasn’t pointing it at or threatening Rittenhouse.”

What about the context, though? The confrontational, high-adrenaline interactions that led up to the tragic deaths. The night air punctuated by gunshots. Danger all around.

Police should have arrested Rittenhouse long before it got to this. But, with an angry horde chasing him, yelling at him, and taking swings at him, he was almost certainly in fear for his safety. I just can’t imagine a jury convicting him of homicide, let alone first-degree murder, under these circumstances.

The post Kyle Rittenhouse Judge Allows Those He Killed to be Called ‘Rioters’ Not ‘Victims’ first appeared on Outside the Beltway.

Quote of the Week, Electoral Fraud Edition

“Mike Lindell” by Gage Skidmore is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

MyPillow CEO and electoral fraud conspiracy promoter, Mike Lindell, has come back to Alabama. Why, you ask?

“Just because Donald Trump won overwhelmingly, it’s overwhelmingly Republican in Alabama, what if it was over-overwhelmingly? You know what I mean?”

Well, I know that that is a bizarre position to take and that no one should be taking this individual seriously. Setting aside the rather salient fact that Lindell has zero expertise in this arena, his track record on this topic is beyond horendous. As such, no one should take him seriously or feed his nonsense, right?

Well….

Lindell met with Secretary of State John Merrill to address questions he has about the state’s election methods. Lindell said this is part of a nationwide investigation into the 2020 presidential election.

[…]

Merrill confirmed he and Lindell had a follow-up meeting Wednesday. The two previously met last month. Merrill said that earlier meeting was also to answer Lindell’s questions about the state’s election process. The secretary of state said Lindell praised Alabama’s voting process then too.

Merrill has confirmed Lindell purchased state voter rolls after the September meeting. This information is available for public purchase.

“He’s publicly stated before and I know he confirms that Alabama is the number one state in the union for election integrity,” Merrill said.

Merrill said Alabama has been recognized by Lindell and other entities for high election standards in 2020. He said the goal is to make Alabama “recognized around the nation as the most efficient, effective and secure election system in the United States.”

“He has some questions about things related to certain aspects of our voter rolls, he has some questions related to certain aspects of election equipment that’s used in other states and how we use that election equipment in the state of Alabama,” Merrill said. “And so as we continue to respond to his inquiries we want to make sure that his questions are answered to his satisfaction.”

On the one hand, yes, Lindell is popular in certain conservative circles, and so Merrill may get some political points from meeting with him and then trying to pretend he just wants to say nice things about Alabama’s electoral processes (and Merrill needs all the points he can get).

Still, all this does it give Lindell more street cred, and it is overwhelmingly irresponsible of Merrill.

Or, dare I say, over-overwhelmingly.

This is just an GOP official sowing more distrust in democracy to the nation’s detriment.

The post Quote of the Week, Electoral Fraud Edition first appeared on Outside the Beltway.

Manchin in a Nutshell

An ABC News report on Joe Manchin’s negotiations within the Democratic Party leads with this “aw shucks” observation that could read as a barely-disguised threat:

“I don’t know where in the hell I belong,” Sen. Joe Manchin, the West Virginia Democrat, said Tuesday when asked about possibly switching parties amid his stubborn bargaining with frustrated fellow Democrats and President Joe Biden.

Manchin said people approach him “every day” about doing so, and that it would be an easy decision. But he insisted he won’t, speaking out in a revealing interview with Economic Club for Growth Chairman David Rubenstein.

“Is that the purpose of being involved in public service? Because it’s easy?” Manchin asked. “Do you think by having a “D” or an “R” or an “I” is going to change who I am?” he said, adding he didn’t believe Republicans would be any more pleased with him than Democrats are right now.

But this nugget from later in the piece strikes me as more revealing:

He called being the only statewide Democratic public official in his home state “very lonely,” but said he understands why his constituents mostly vote for Republicans.

“My little state has never complained. We’ve done all the heavy lifting — we’ve done the mining, we’ve made the steel, we’ve done everything it took for this country to be a the superpower of the world,” Manchin said. “And all of a sudden they took a breath and looked back and we’re not good enough, we’re not clean enough, we’re not green enough, we’re not smart enough, so to hell with you. So, they said, ‘Well, to hell with you, too.’”

Aside from vastly overstating West Virginia’s role in mining coal and producing steel—they’ve historically been pretty far down both lists—the sense of being downtrodden and despised is thick. Then again, it’s certainly true that they’ve been the target of federal regulation for unsafe practices. The state’s coal mining practices were notoriously the worst in the industry and they’re the site of the worst disaster in US coal mining history. Indeed, the Bureau of Mines was created in response to that disaster.

Regardless, this sense that the poorest, least productive, least educated parts of society are what makes it great combined with a resentment that it’s looked down upon explains a lot about the state of American politics.

The post Manchin in a Nutshell first appeared on Outside the Beltway.

Dave Chappelle’s Weak Response to Critics

Earlier this month, I discussed Dave Chappelle’s last Netflix special, “The Closer,” and the criticism it faced over allegedly transphobic humor. While I can see where his critics are coming from, I see the work as both further evidence of his brilliance as a comedic craftsman and yet something more. Like most of the greats in the stand-up game, he blends serious commentary in a way that makes it difficult, indeed, to separate the jokes from the man.

But, I noted, in response to a critic’s charge that Chappelle is awfully defensive about a man who claims not to care what people think,

Because, like most of us, there is sometimes a dichotomy between what we think and what we feel. Chappelle is a superstar with more money than he can ever spend and doesn’t need to give a shit about what some rando on Twitter—or even critics at NPR, the Daily Beast, or Vulture—think of him. And, yet, of course, he does. He thinks he’s a good dude and wants people to like him. Especially when he thinks the animosity results from people reading a couple of setup lines in a long bit as a representation of the whole act and, therefore, of him.

This comes out again in his latest bit, which he posted to his Instagram account:

NPR’s Jonathan Franklin provides a partial transcription:

It’s been said in the press that I was invited to speak to the transgender employees of Netflix and I refused. That is not true — if they had invited me I would have accepted it, although I am confused about what we would be speaking about. I said what I said, and boy, I heard what you said. My God, how could I not? You said you want a safe working environment at Netflix. It seems like I’m the only one who can’t go to the office.”

“I want everyone in this audience to know that even though the media frames it that it’s me versus that community, that’s not what it is. Do not blame the LGBTQ community for any of this. It’s about corporate interests, and what I can say, and what I cannot say. For the record, and I need you to know this, everyone I know from that community has been loving and supportive, so I don’t know what this nonsense is about.”

“This film that I made was invited to every film festival in the United States. Some of those invitations I accepted. When this controversy came out about ‘The Closer’, they began disinviting me from these film festivals. And now, today, not a film company, not a movie studio, not a film festival, nobody will touch this film. Thank God for Ted Sarandos and Netflix, he’s the only one that didn’t cancel me yet.”

“To the transgender community, I am more than willing to give you an audience, but you will not summon me. I am not bending to anyone’s demands. And if you want to meet with me, I am more than willing to, but I have some conditions. First of all, you cannot come if you have not watched my special from beginning to end. You must come to a place of my choosing at a time of my choosing, and thirdly, you must admit that Hannah Gadsby is not funny.”

While this has the desired effect of putting the attention back on his message rather than that of his critics, I don’t see how it helps his cause any.

First, while I not only think he has every right to express his views on these issues but differ only at the margins from them, it’s simply silly to say that this is somehow about “corporate interests” and not “the LGBTQ community.” While it may well be that everyone Dave knows from said community has been supportive, there are clearly a number of people who find his comments hurtful.

I think he’s genuine in not wanting to be hurtful and believe him when he says that he sees transgender individuals as full human beings deserving of love and respect. Yet there’s simply no way to argue that transwomen aren’t truly women—and make cutting jokes in support of that position—without insulting them.

His views on this are almost certainly mainstream. A decade or so ago, they were almost universal. But, coming from a very powerful cisgender man with a huge platform, these jokes are absolutely “punching down.” The fact that he’s Black doesn’t change that. He is laughing at them, not with them. That’s true even if the late Daphne Dorman and other transwomen Dave knows personally found them hysterically funny.

Second, the notion that Chappelle, who has been paid tens of millions by Netflix to produce these comedy specials, has been “canceled” is just silly. He’s making jokes that are simultaneously in alignment with what most people think and that are taboo in the part of polite society where he happens to make a living. So, the creatives at Netflix—who are almost certainly disproportionately more LGBTQ and younger (and thus more LGBTQ-friendly) than the society at large—are naturally up in arms. But the “corporate interests”—in the person of heaven-sent CEO Ted Sarandos—are aligned with the side of profit—and thus Chappelle—rather than said creatives.

Still, I don’t think it would be tenable for Netflix, HBO, or any other big corporation to distribute and promote future Chappelle specials that continue down this path. Not only will the backlash not be worth it but we’re fast approaching the point where continued jokes about the anatomy of transgender people simply won’t be funny to the most coveted demographics the networks are trying to court.

The post Dave Chappelle’s Weak Response to Critics first appeared on Outside the Beltway.

Was the ‘Rust’ Tragedy Inevitable?

An interesting report at Variety (“‘Rust’ Tragedy Reflects Troubling Trends on Movie and TV Sets: ‘We Did This to Ourselves’“) sheds some light on the conditions that led to the accidental shooting death of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins at the hands of Alec Baldwin. While there were clear mistakes made by multiple people on the “Rust” set that contributed to the tragedy, some think it was inevitable.

[K]nowledgeable sources pointed to a number of concerning industry trends that are reflected in the behind-the-scenes story of the low-budget independent Western.

Inexperience among crew members: The huge spike in the demand for content during the past decade has stretched below-the-line talent beyond its breaking point. “In some places you can’t find qualified people for these jobs so you are taking (crew) with very little experience,” said a veteran producer.

Inexperience among producers: The low barrier to entry in producing for streamers who pay production costs upfront has allowed smaller companies and startups to attempt large-scale productions without adequate staff, skills or equipment. Among the seven production entities listed as backing “Rust” was Streamline Global, a company founded in 2017 to use films produced with production tax incentives as vehicles to create tax breaks for wealthy investors. Streamline Global co-founders Emily Hunter Salveson and Ryan Donnell Smith serve as executive producer and producer, respectively, on “Rust.” Industry sources cite inherent problems that can occur when goals and incentives among producers are not aligned.

“We have developed new financial models to attract capital that would otherwise be unavailable to the film industry,” Salveson told Variety in 2017. “Films are the byproduct of the comprehensive tax planning strategies we employ for our clients.”

Complacency: Many producers and crew members have been working at the kind of high volume and pace that can breed a sense of complacency and over-confidence in key positions.

Attorney Jeff Harris, who represented the family of Sarah Jones, the camera assistant killed in 2014 in a horrific accident on the set of indie movie “Midnight Rider,” said that in his experience accidents are often the result of complacency about requirements to follow safety bulletins and protocols for dangerous activities.

“You live in this fantasy land where you’re fake shooting people and blowing things up,” says Harris, of Atlanta-based Harris Lowry Manton, who also represented the family of “The Walking Dead” stuntman who died of a head injury on set in 2017. “It’s easy to get into a false sense of complacency of ‘Oh we’ve done this a million times.’ “

Producers were quick to blame the Peak TV phenomenon for stretching the talent pool for below-the-line, craft and technical crew positions well beyond the breaking point.

The strain at every level created by the spike in the number of original scripted TV series is reverberating throughout the creative community. The pace of production has more than doubled in a decade, rising from 216 scripted series airing across broadcast and cable networks in 2010 to 532 across broadcast, cable and streaming in 2020, according to research by FX Networks.

The biggest evidence of the tension caused by the windfall of so much work was the strike drama that gripped Hollywood this month. IATSE, the union representing most production workers, threatened to walk out over quality of life issues in volatile contract talks that may yet be influenced by the jolt of Hutchins’ death.

Producers and other industry veterans spoke to Variety with both anger and anguish about the turmoil surrounding production workers that is reflected in larger IATSE labor conflict. And now the “Rust” death puts a giant spotlight on an problems that sources say are all too common on sets these days. As a picture emerges of an allegedly chaotic low-budget film set, the only certainty is that an accident took the life of a 42-year-old cinematographer, wife and mother of a 9-year-old son.

“As an industry, in Peak TV times, we did this to ourselves,” said a producer.

Multiple sources pointed to the importance of having experienced skilled technicians on set when weapons are involved. The details of “Rust” situation are not clear, but industry veterans noted that Westerns typically involve a number of firearms for multiple actors.

“On some shoots you might have a truck full of (firearms) and somebody has to keep track of every one of them and how they’re being used,” the producer said.

The armorer on set typically “spends a lot of time coaching people how to handle a gun safely,” the producer said. “In between takes that person is always standing around coaching.”

The producer added that there can often be problems with actors not taking the gun safety training seriously – that’s another reason for having experts on the set and maintaining safety protocols down to the letter. “This protects people from themselves,” the producer said.

Attorney Harris noted that the use of firearms on a set involves extra layers of disclosure and planning for insurance purposes. Harris and other industry veterans said producers are usually required to submit their plans for using firearms on set for review by insurance officials as part of the overall bond for the production.

Harris emphasized that he has no information about the “Rust” case. But if it turns out that safety protocols were skipped, that would be a big problem for the film’s insurer.

Evidence that corners were cut could lead to “a coverage fight with the (insurance) carrier who will say, ‘You told me you were doing this but instead you did this,’ ” Harris said.

Experienced producers and one veteran on-set safety expert who spoke to Variety emphasized the fundamental importance of having crew members with proper training and experience. That’s traditionally been one of the perks of hiring union workers. But in recent years, there’s been so much demand for crew positions that key jobs with big responsibilities have gone to younger members who haven’t had as much chance to learn from seasoned mentors on set.

Reports that “Rust” producers allegedly allowed multiple non-union workers to come into the production at some point were also confounding to industry veterans. Multiple sources with decades of production experience confirmed that the only way a union production is authorized to bring in non-union workers is if there are no union employees available for the job. In that scenario, IATSE or the relevant union has a formal vetting process for the non-union employee and has to grant a waiver to the production for the hire, sometimes on a day-to-day basis.

Those of us who have sat through the end credits of a Marvel movie waiting for the short trailer giving clues as to upcoming movies are amazed at just how many people are involved in bringing a motion picture to us. While MCU pictures, with their elaborate stunts and CGI, are surely at the upper end of that—and presumably use some of the best talent in the business—even relatively low-budget affairs like “Rust” are just a dude with a camera that starts shooting when the director yells “Action!”

It stands to reason that, in an era where a seemingly endless supply of networks and streaming services are competing to produce original content, that there simply isn’t enough experienced talent to go around.

Still, even a day after the tragedy, it was clear that the atmosphere on the set of “Rust” was especially problematic. Multiple safety mishaps had already happened before Hutchins was killed. The producer was clearly more worried about shooting fast to stay under budget than about the safety of the crew. If that was compounded by a slew of people who simply didn’t know what the hell they were doing, it’s not at all surprising that it led to tragedy.

The post Was the ‘Rust’ Tragedy Inevitable? first appeared on Outside the Beltway.