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Far-right combat sports: A dangerous training ground for violence

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Europe’s largest far-right combat sports event will be held online this year because of the coronavirus pandemic.

“Kampf der Nibelungen” or “Battle of the Nibelungs,” a reference to old Germanic and Norse legends, is beloved by white supremacists from across Europe and beyond – who are both fans and fighters.

With German authorities keeping a close eye on them after banning their previous event in 2019, organisers are planning to stream their far-right fight-night of boxing, kickboxing and mixed martial arts (MMA) online this Saturday.

Observers warn Al Jazeera that Europe’s far-right groups are using combat sports to recruit young men and train them for literal battle in the streets.

“They are violent neo-Nazis training for physical violence,” said Robert Claus, a German journalist and author of a new book on combat sports and the European far right.

The individuals behind Kampf der Nibelungen are violent and “dangerous”, he added.

There is “a very long list of racist attacks which comes out of the network of Kampf der Nibelungen”.

Moreover, Claus is concerned about the longer-term consequences if Kampf der Nibelungen goes ahead as planned.

“They’re showing a middle finger to German authorities,” he said. “If they manage to go ahead and broadcast this event in defiance of German authorities, it undermines the state’s monopoly on violence and the authority of the state.”

A representative for Kampf der Nibelungen told Al Jazeera that all of the fights, including those with a number of international participants, have already taken place and that they will be streamed on October 10.

Some of those who had announced several months ago that they would fight at this year’s Kampf der Nibelungen include members of the American Rise Above Movement (RAM), a group who currently has three members serving prison terms for violent assaults at the August 2017 “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia – a now-famous event because of the killing of anti-racist counter-protester Heather Heyer.

Rundo and other members of RAM participated in one of Kampf der Nibelungen’s 2018 events.

RAM’s leader, Robert Rundo, refused to answer Al Jazeera’s emailed questions about whether RAM members would still take part in Kampf der Nibelungen, instead accusing this reporter of “collaborating with law enforcement” to “silence dissidents”.

However, there is a possibility the event will not go ahead as planned at all.

German authorities have begun casting an ever-closer eye on the activities of far-right sympathisers. In late September, police raided a motorcycle club about 160 kilometres (99 miles) southwest of Berlin. Inside they found a martial arts ring and about 90 participants and others, filming fights ahead of time which were to be broadcast on October 10.

Kampf der Nibelungen organisers told Al Jazeera that their show would go on.

Formerly organised in secret from its inception in 2013, by 2018 the event became much more open, taking place twice that year. According to German authorities, the last Kampf der Nibelungen event in October 2018 attracted 850 fighters and spectators from across Europe.

The 2019 event was banned by a local German court, aided by the backing of the country’s domestic intelligence agency, which considered the event to be a threat to public safety.

Despite this, Kampf der Nibelungen organisers told Al Jazeera that there is nothing “extreme” or illegal about their event, and said that they are appealing the 2019 ban to Germany’s highest court.

“We paid every tax, fulfilled every legal aspect and just demand the same rights [as] every German citizen,” a representative for Kampf der Nibelungen told Al Jazeera.

In July 2020, German interior minister Horst Seehofer identified right-wing hardline ideology as the biggest security threat in the country.

There has been a spate of extreme right-wing attacks recently in Germany, from the murder of pro-refugee politician Walter Luebcke in June 2019 to attacks in the cities of Halle in October 2019 and Hanau in February 2020 that killed a total of 11 people.

Far-right combat sports scenes eschew any links to far-right violence – Ukraine-based Russian neo-Nazi Denis Kapustin, a longtime organiser of far-right combat sports events, derided the Halle attack in a September 2020 interview as a “dead-end … the silliest thing to do.”

But the links of the scenes to violence is clear, according to Pavel Klymenko, head of policy at the FARE network, a global monitoring and human rights organisation.

“The far right is training and professionalising their violence,” said Klymenko, who monitors and researches discrimination and violence in football and related fan scenes. “They’re open about it and that they want to exercise it against minorities and their ideological opponents.”

It’s no surprise that the far right has involved itself in combat sports, says an expert in far-right ideology, Cynthia Miller-Idriss.

“It’s an environment to groom, to inculcate young men in far-right extremist ideology,” said Miller-Idriss, a professor at the American University and author of a 2017 book on far-right fashion and youth scenes in Germany.

“It’s an intersection of hyper-masculinity and ideas about being a warrior, being a fighter and defending the nation,” Miller-Idriss said. “It’s an intersection that’s ripe for recruitment.”

But tackling the problem of the far right and combat sports requires a much more coordinated, international approach, Claus told Al Jazeera.

“We need a pan-European strategy on discrimination and far-right violence,” Claus said.

He warned that without this, far-right combat sports events can avoid a ban in one country by just moving their events to another.

For Klymenko, mainstream combat sports venues need to be involved in efforts to stamp out the far right, including raising awareness and introducing regulations that would prevent them from being exploited for far-right recruitment.

Klymenko also argues that openly far-right venues and gyms that cater to those audiences need to be closed.

“Those need to be treated basically as criminal organisations,” said Klymenko.

Still, Kampf der Nibelungen organisers continue to strike a defiant tone. With social media posts in the past week with hashtags translating to “KdN remains stable” and “The press is lying” – and with organisers reminding their fans time to buy their tickets is running out – the show may yet go on.

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Twitter and Facebook bosses ordered to testify by GOP senators

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The GOP push against Facebook and Twitter accelerated on Thursday after Republican senators threatened the CEOs of the social media companies with subpoenas to force them to address accusations of censorship in the closing weeks of the presidential campaign.

With Democrats boycotting the hearing, the Republican-controlled Senate Judiciary Committee voted to authorise the legal orders if Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and Twitter’s Jack Dorsey did not agree to testify voluntarily.

The committee wants to hear from them about “the suppression and/or censorship of two news articles from the New York Post,” according to the subpoena document. Senators also want information from the executives about their companies’ policies for moderating content “that may interfere” with federal elections.

A Facebook spokesperson declined to comment. Twitter representatives did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Facebook and Twitter acted last week to limit the online dissemination and sharing of an unverified political story from the conservative-leaning New York Post that targeted Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden. The story, which other publications have not confirmed, cited unverified emails from Biden’s son Hunter that were reportedly disclosed by President Donald Trump’s allies.

One email purported to show a top adviser for Burisma, the Ukraine gas company where Hunter Biden held a board seat, thanking Biden for giving him an opportunity to meet the elder Biden, who was vice president at the time.

Trump’s campaign seized on the report, though the account raised more questions than answers, including whether emails at the centre of the story were hacked or fabricated.

It was the first time in recent memory that the two social media platforms enforced rules against misinformation on a story from a mainstream media publication.

With the November 3 election looming, Facebook and Twitter have scrambled to stem the tide of material seen as potentially inciting violence and spreading disinformation and baseless conspiracy theories. Facebook has expanded its restrictions on political advertising, including new bans on messages claiming widespread voter fraud.

Trump has raised the prospect of mass fraud in the vote-by-mail process.

U.S. President Donald Trump speaks during a campaign rally in Gastonia, North Carolina, on October 21, 2020 [REUTERS/Tom Brenner]

The companies also have wrestled with how strongly they should intervene in speech on their platforms.

With Trump leading the way, conservatives have stepped up their claims that Facebook, Twitter and Google, which owns YouTube, are biased, charging without evidence that Silicon Valley’s social media platforms are deliberately suppressing conservative views.

The Justice Department has asked Congress to roll back long-held legal protections for online platforms. The proposed changes would strip some of the bedrock protections that have generally shielded the companies from legal responsibility for what people post on their platforms.

Trump signed an executive order this year challenging the protections from lawsuits under a 1996 telecommunications law that has served as the foundation for unfettered speech on the internet.

The Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, on a bipartisan vote, recently authorised subpoenas for Zuckerberg, Dorsey and Google CEO Sundar Pichai. The three have agreed to testify for a hearing planned for next week.

Google CEO Sundar Pichai speaks on stage during a Google event in Delhi, India in 2017 [Cathal McNaughton/Reuters]

Democrats have focused their criticism of social media mainly on hate speech, misinformation and other content that they say can incite violence or keep people from voting. They have criticised the CEOs for failing to police content, focusing on the platforms’ role in hate crimes and the rise of white nationalism in the US.

In 2017, following deadly violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, tech giants began banning hardline groups and individuals espousing white supremacist views and support for violence. Facebook extended the ban to white nationalists.

From both political parties, the companies have come under increasing scrutiny in Washington and from state attorney-generals over issues of competition, consumer privacy and hate speech.

On Tuesday, the Justice Department filed a landmark antitrust case against Google, accusing it of abusing its dominance in online search and advertising to boost profits. It was the government’s most significant attempt to protect competition since a groundbreaking case against Microsoft more than 20 years ago.

Facebook, Amazon and Apple also have been targets of antitrust investigations by the Justice Department and the Federal Trade Commission.

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The best under-$20 skin care on Amazon, according to derms

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(CNN) —  

Unlike fashion, the beauty industry relies on a mix of marketing, trends and actual science to keep you looking your best. And while it can feel really luxurious to drop a lot of money on a fancy skin care product in the name of self-care, sometimes the best product for the job isn’t the one with the highest price tag.

“It’s not necessary to spend a lot of money on skin care products,” confirms Dr. Elyse M. Love, who notes that most dermatologists use drugstore products in their own skin care routines. Still, the reasons behind triple-digit costs vary widely: “Sometimes it’s because an ingredient is difficult to formulate, sometimes it’s because the product has undergone thorough clinical testing, sometimes it’s because the product delivers an active ingredient with less irritation — and sometimes it’s purely marketing.”

We’re all for treating yourself, but it helps to know when you might need to drop some serious cash on a product and when the more affordable option will work just as well. “Certain ingredients like botanical extracts and antioxidants like vitamin C tend to cost more, which is why many products containing these ingredients are more expensive,” says Dr. Joshua Zeichner, director of cosmetic and clinical research at Mount Sinai Hospital’s Department of Dermatology. He regularly recommends brands like Aquaphor and Cetaphil, which he says are staple brands for many dermatologists. “There are many products available right at your local drugstore, which may work as well if not better than competitors’, that cost double the amount,” he says.

Ahead, check out the affordable, under-$20 skin care products that dermatologists recommend by name.

Neutrogena Pore Refining Toner With Witch Hazel ($6.54, originally $10.51; amazon.com)

Neutrogena Pore Refining Toner With Witch Hazel
Neutrogena Pore Refining Toner With Witch Hazel
PHOTO: Amazon

This toner combines glycolic and salicylic acids to help remove dirt, oil and dead cells from the surface of the skin to brighten the complexion and minimize the appearance of pores,” says Zeichner.

Neutrogena Hydro Boost Gentle Cleansing Gel ($7.64; amazon.com)

Neutrogena Hydro Boost Gentle Cleansing Gel
Neutrogena Hydro Boost Gentle Cleansing Gel
PHOTO: Amazon

“My favorite cleanser for winter is the Neutrogena Hydroboost Cleansing Gel,” says Love. “It provides adequate cleansing without stripping the skin.”

Aveeno Oat Face Mask With Soothing Pumpkin Seed Extract ($7.48; amazon.com)

Aveeno Oat Face Mask With Soothing Pumpkin Seed Extract
Aveeno Oat Face Mask With Soothing Pumpkin Seed Extract
PHOTO: Amazon

Aveeno’s Oat and Pumpkin Mask is a great option to hydrate and protect inflamed skin,” says Zeichner. “Colloidal oatmeal has anti-inflammatory properties, while pumpkin seed oil is rich in emollient oils to soothe the skin.”

L’Oréal Paris Derm Intensives Vitamin C Serum ($21.20, originally $23.99; mazon.com)

L
L’Oréal Paris Derm Intensives Vitamin C Serum
PHOTO: Amazon

“This is a great drugstore brand antioxidant,” says Zeichner. “It contains 10% vitamin C in a stabilized anhydrous delivery system to help brighten and even skin tone.”

Dove Body Wash With Pump ($8.18, originally $12.09; amazon.com)

Dove Body Wash With Pump
Dove Body Wash With Pump
PHOTO: Amazon

According to both Love and Zeichner, this body wash is a go-to drugstore favorite. “Its hypoallergenic formula uses ultra-gentle cleansers along with the same type of hydrating ingredients found in traditional moisturizers,” says Zeichner.

Differin Gel Acne Spot Treatment for Face With Adapalene ($12.88, originally $14.99; amazon.com)

Differin Gel Acne Spot Treatment for Face With Adapalene
Differin Gel Acne Spot Treatment for Face With Adapalene
PHOTO: Amazon

Differin’s vitamin A acne treatment is prescription strength — and one of Love’s favorite under-$20 skin care products.

Eucerin Advanced Repair Lotion ($8.97, originally $11.99; amazon.com)

Eucerin Advanced Repair Lotion
Eucerin Advanced Repair Lotion
PHOTO: Amazon

Love also recommends this no-frills body lotion, which has more than 4,000 5-star reviews.

Vaseline Intensive Care Advanced Repair Lotion ($7.43, originally $9.99; amazon.com)

Vaseline Intensive Care Advanced Repair Lotion
Vaseline Intensive Care Advanced Repair Lotion
PHOTO: Amazon

“This contains triple-purified petrolatum in a nongreasy, easy-to-spread lotion to help hydrate and protect dry skin,” says Zeichner.

CeraVe Therapeutic Hand Cream for Dry Cracked Hands ($10.99; amazon.com)

CeraVe Therapeutic Hand Cream for Dry Cracked Hands
CeraVe Therapeutic Hand Cream for Dry Cracked Hands
PHOTO: Amazon

Love recommends CeraVe’s hand cream because it’s packed with hyaluronic acid, a moisturizing molecule that can hold up to 1,000 times its weight in water.

La Roche-Posay Toleriane Double Repair Face Moisturizer ($19.99; amazon.com)

La Roche-Posay Toleriane Double Repair Face Moisturizer
La Roche-Posay Toleriane Double Repair Face Moisturizer
PHOTO: Amazon

“I also love La Roche-Posay Double Repair for dry skin,” says Love. The niacinamide-rich moisturizer has more than 4,000 5-star reviews on Amazon.

Eau Thermale Avène Thermal Spring Water Facial Mist ($18.50; amazon.com)

Eau Thermale Avène Thermal Spring Water Facial Mist
Eau Thermale Avène Thermal Spring Water Facial Mist
PHOTO: Amazon

“I love Avène products for patients with sensitive skin,” says Love, who recommends this face mist to keep your face feeling fresh and moisturized throughout the day.

Eau Thermale Avène Micellar Lotion Cleansing Water ($19.40; amazon.com)

Eau Thermale Avène Micellar Lotion Cleansing Water
Eau Thermale Avène Micellar Lotion Cleansing Water
PHOTO: Amazon

Avène’s Micellar Water is great for removing makeup without stripping the skin of its natural moisture barrier, according to Love.

Cetaphil Gentle Skin Cleanser ($11.90, originally $15.99; amazon.com)

Cetaphil Gentle Skin Cleanser
Cetaphil Gentle Skin Cleanser
PHOTO: Amazon

“Brands like Cetaphil are a staple for the dermatologist,” says Zeichner, who recommends it to patients with sensitive skin. “It has a long heritage of being an effective, well-tolerated and affordable option for our patients.” And we can personally vouch for the greatness of its cleanser, which leaves skin still moisturized after washing in the morning and at night.

Neutrogena Oil-Free Pink Grapefruit Acne Face Wash ($5.96, originally $7.78; amazon.com)

Neutrogena Oil-Free Pink Grapefruit Acne Face Wash
Neutrogena Oil-Free Pink Grapefruit Acne Face Wash
PHOTO: Amazon

“My favorite oily skin cleanser is the Neutrogena Grapefruit Salicylic Acid Wash,” says Love. “The smell just makes me happy.”

Aquaphor Lip Repair Ointment ($3.97; amazon.com)

Aquaphor Lip Repair Ointment
Aquaphor Lip Repair Ointment
PHOTO: Amazon

And if chapped lips season is already well underway for you, Zeichner recommends Aquaphor as a no-frills option for moisturized lips.

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Facebook’s independent oversight board is finally up and running

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Facebook’s much-anticipated independent decision-making body, the Facebook oversight board, announced it will start allowing people to submit cases for review beginning today.

That means that if you post something on Facebook or Instagram and it’s taken down for violating any of Facebook’s ever-changing rules on things like hate speech, nudity, misinformation, or violence — you will soon have the ability to appeal that decision to someone besides Facebook. For now, that option will roll out in waves, and in the next few weeks, Facebook says it’ll be an option for all users.

Social media experts have long awaited the Board’s launch because it’s expected to serve as the final decision-maker in how Facebook handles complicated and problematic posts, which have plagued the social media company. Look, for example, at how it managed the unsubstantiated New York Post article about Hunter Biden or any of the countless times Facebook has been accused of letting racist hate speech run rampant on its platform. The Board said it will prioritize cases that threaten to harm freedom of expression or human rights, but declined to comment on specific cases it plans to take.

Facebook’s oversight board is made up of a group of 20 academics, journalists, and international policy experts from around the world, and is set up as a separate company from Facebook, funded by a $130 million independent trust. Its decisions on individual pieces of content are binding, meaning Facebook has agreed to follow whatever decisions the Board makes, and the group can also make broader policy recommendations to Facebook — although those won’t be binding. That means the board has the power to overrule even Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, who has a history of taking stubborn stances in the name of protecting free expression. Zuckerberg allowed President Trump’s “when the looting starts, the shooting starts” post in response to Black Lives Matter protests in Minneapolis, and, until recently, allowed Holocaust denialism on Facebook — even when some of his own employees, civil rights leaders, and others have raised serious concerns.

“The Board is eager to get to work,” said Catalina Botero Marino, co-chair of the oversight board, in a press statement on Thursday. “We won’t be able to hear every appeal, but want our decisions to have the widest possible value, and will be prioritizing cases that have the potential to impact many users around the world, are of critical importance to public discourse, and raise questions about Facebook’s policies.”

At a time when Facebook is being criticized by US politicians on both sides of the aisle for how it handles contentious speech on its platform, the Board is meant as an outside check on Facebook’s power. Some, though, have criticized the Board, saying it was too slow in getting started (Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg first publicly described the idea two years ago) and too narrow in scope to meaningfully change how Facebook handles hate speech and misinformation. For example, for now, users will only be able to appeal cases where they feel their content is wrongfully taken down, not cases in which they think inflammatory content is wrongfully staying up on the platform (the Board says that latter option will come in the next few months).

“Facebook was always criticized for moving fast and breaking things. I think we are looking at this as the opposite that,” said oversight board co-chair and former Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt on a press call with reporters on Thursday.

Critics point out that the oversight board seems unlikely to help Facebook deal with one of the most controversial content moderation challenges it has faced to date: the 2020 US presidential election.

President Trump has been making unsupported assertions on Facebook and Twitter for months now that the election is “rigged,” centering on false claims about mail-in voting — which Facebook has labelled with a generic link to nonpartisan voting information, and Twitter has more aggressively — at times — labeled as “misleading” and fact-checked.

Many anticipate that Trump — or other politicians — could question the results of the election or declare a premature victory on social media before the race is called. In that case, it would be up to Facebook or Twitter to decide how to deal with such a declaration. (Facebook and Twitter have signaled they would fact-check and label such a post or even take it down, depending on what it says.) Whatever decision these companies make will be widely controversial.

But it seems unlikely the Board will take any cases in time to impact election-night posts or regulate misinformation in the remaining days until the election.

That’s because it will take up to 90 days for the Board to decide on a case — and that’s after the Board even figures out which cases it wants to hear first. Facebook the company can submit a case to the Board for expedited review, but on a press call with journalists on Thursday morning, the company said it will not send any cases to the Board before November 3.

“We are not going to send something for expedited review before the election,” said head of strategic initiatives at Facebook Brent Harris. “And we have done that because we do not wish to place undue pressure on the board.”

Last month, a group of 25 experts from academia, civil rights, politics, and journalism announced they were creating an ad-hoc group to scrutinize Facebook’s oversight board, calling themselves “The Real Facebook Oversight Board.”

Facebook oversight board’s Thorning-Schmidt said she welcomes the feedback.

“We welcome all debate on this,” she said. “Part of the reason why we have joined this course is because we want to debate around content moderation.”


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