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Burgess Owens criticized after again appearing on QAnon-linked program

Republican congressional candidate Burgess Owens is being criticized after last week speaking on a far-right program linked to QAnon, his second known appearance on a program associated with the baseless conspiracy that’s been identified as a potential domestic terrorism threat.

Owens, who is running against U.S. Rep. Ben McAdams, D-UT, to represent Utah’s 4th Congressional District, appeared on the program Flockop on Sept. 23 to raise money for his congressional campaign.

“We need help, guys,” Owens told listeners during his appearance on the program, which was first reported on by Media Matters. “The Pelosi PAC has millions of dollars that they have been setting aside and they’re just going full tilt with attacks right now. Because they know that many Utahns are just getting to know me, so they’re trying to paint (me) in a certain fashion.”

Flockop is part of the Freedom First Network, a collection of far-right programs serving as “a venue through which patriots (can) work together to fight the leftist narrative,” according to a description of the network.

On multiple occasions, the program has promoted QAnon, a fringe conspiracy alleging that an “anonymous government official known as ‘Q’ posts classified information online to reveal a covert effort led by President (Donald) Trump to dismantle a conspiracy involving ‘deep state’ actors and global elites allegedly engaged in an international child sex trafficking ring,” as explained in a May 2019 Federal Bureau of Investigation Phoenix Field Office bulletin.

In the bulletin, the FBI identified QAnon as a “fringe political” conspiracy theory that could “very likely motivate some domestic extremists, wholly or in part, to commit criminal and sometimes violent activity.”

The conspiracy was discussed at length during a May 21 Flockop episode titled “QAnon Explained with Stephany Thompson.”

“It sounds crazy to say, but it’s true, and you see the symbolism everywhere, that these people literally worship ancient Pagan religions,” said Thompson, who described herself as a QAnon researcher. “And so part of these ideologies are about depopulating the Earth, they believe that’s the only way to save the Earth, and they want to hoard the money, the medical cures, the technology for themselves.”

One of the hosts expressed sympathy for QAnon, noting that “there’s certainly a really strong PR campaign out against it calling it a conspiracy, calling the followers alt-right.”

“Yet it’s painfully obvious that QAnon is onto something, and it’s obvious regarding the deep state, at least in my opinion,” he said.

Owens and the hosts did not discuss QAnon during his appearance on the program. Instead, Owens encouraged listeners to vote for Republican candidates in November and emphasized “how close we are to going off the edge and literally losing everything that we grew up with, that we thought was a stable part of our country.”

“Everything that our country stands for is literally up for grabs right now,” the Republican candidate said.

This is the second known time that Owens has appeared on a program with ties to QAnon.

On May 26, he appeared on the “The Common Sense Show” on the Patriots’ Soapbox program, a program that has repeatedly promoted the conspiracy, according to Media Matters. Like in his appearance on Flockop, Owens did not discuss QAnon.

When asked on Tuesday about Owens’ position on QAnon, campaign Communications Director Jesse Ranney said the candidate does not support the conspiracy.

“Burgess has made numerous statements, he does not believe in or follow (QAnon) ... in any way,” Ranney said in an email.

Some Utah political figures have criticized Owens over his tangential association with the conspiracy.

The Salt Lake Tribune reported on Aug. 25 that former Republican state lawmaker Sheryl Allen had called on the Republican National Committee to disinvite Owens from speaking at the convention because of his appearance on the conspiracy-linked program.

Evan McMullin, who ran against Trump in 2016 as an independent candidate, tweeted on Tuesday that he was “troubled by the candidacy of … (Owens) who continues to associate with far-right conspiracy extremists.”

“There should be no place in Utah, or in Congress, for his unethical, divisive leadership,” McMullin said. “A cross-partisan coalition of Utahns should reject him.”

Katie Matheson, communications director of Alliance for a Better Utah, said in a written statement Monday that Owens “must take responsibility for his own actions” and “cannot pretend he doesn’t know what he is amplifying.”

“We cannot afford politicians who give a nod and a wink to a movement that inspires violence and undermines our democratic institutions,” Matheson said. “Now more than ever, Utah needs to elect candidates who will rise above dangerous misinformation and use their platforms wisely.”

Owens, who handedly defeated his three GOP challengers in the June primary, will face off against McAdams in the November general election.

College students encourage peers to wear masks with positive, incentivized campaign

When college students are berated as being the cause for an increase in COVID-19 cases in Utah County, they don’t protest or riot, they roll up their sleeves and seek to become the enthusiastic cure.

On Thursday, a special press conference will be held to announce a new initiative organized by college students for college students. It’s intended to show just what a college student can do.

Brigham Young University’s Y Digital Team took on its “Join the Maskerade” campaign to show students wearing masks can pay off.

Shepherded by Professor Adam Durfee, managing director and founder of Y Digital, a lead team of eight students are saying “yes” to the mask and believe they can get their peers to say so, too.

“This has grown into something big,” said Aubree Smith, a senior from Connecticut and senior account executive.

Smith said the team realized that all they needed to find out what students in Provo and Orem thought was turn to themselves and ask what they would do.

“Masks are enabling,” Smith said.

The campaign goes from Oct. 1 through Dec. 14 with a grand prize announced at the end. Two monetary prizes will be award each week in a drawing from students that pledge to wear a mask on and off campus. More door prizes and incentives will be announced Thursday.

Durfee said the students could change their perspective and their entire motivation system to a rewards behavior.

“It’s been fun planning this,” Smith said. “There is an energy here.”

Provo Mayor Michelle Kaufusi asked the Y Digital team to join her and Provo to keep the positive energy going on wearing face masks and the city’s Mask Up Provo initiative.

When Gov. Gary Herbert called and said Provo and the students were the issue, Kaufusi took action and contacted BYU.

“We have a wonderful college town,” Kaufusi said.

What Kaufusi did was bring leaders and students together for a higher education huddle.

“We brainstormed and came together,” Kaufusi said. “This is not about Wolverines vs. Cougars. Each university loved the campaign.”

Kaufusi said the huddle was such a success she is going to continue having them each week.

“Since we’re the issue, we’ll solve the issue,” Kaufusi said.

The intent is to make allies between the universities, which includes the other specialty colleges in Utah County.

“At first, I wasn’t feeling strongly about masks and I didn’t necessarily agree about wearing them,” said Siena Poyfair, a senior from the tri-cities area of Washington. “This is an incredible campaign. We are coming together as students and want to have joy and be happy and have fun. We want a positive outcome.”

Maddie Mingus, a senior from Austin, Texas, and an account assistant, said the students discussed the negative comments that have been thrown out there and asked, “How do we respond?”

“How would a student respond?” Mingus said. “In a witty, fun and positive way. We have thought of ways to lighten the atmosphere. We all feel good about what we’re putting out there and it’s not political.”

The students didn’t want to divulge too much before the press conference, but they indicated residents would notice a change of attitude in the air.

Durfee admits this may not be easy, and they will have some pushback for sure, but with positive energy and incentives, he believes his students will be able to accomplish great things.

“We’ll be putting something new out there every day,” said Darnel Apelu, a senior from Taylorsville and an account assistant.

Apelu and his team is in charge of social media messaging and keeping Instagram and Facebook filled with messages every day.

“We have been talking about all these ideas,” Apelu said. “It’s all we’ve be doing for the last three weeks.”

Suzy Bushman, a senior from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and a digital marketing specialist, said it was a huge relief that the idea was to make it fun.

“Like I didn’t know to wear a mask and stand 6 feet apart,” Bushman said. “We’ve been hearing this in (negative) campaigns for months and months. We’re saying masks are enabling things.”

Jacob Curtis, a senior from Denver, said he keeps hearing that students can’t wait to get back to normal and have college experiences.

“This is the only face-to-face class I have,” Curtis said. “I am actually having a college experience the same as any semester. Masks are enabling us to have this experience.”

Riley Gilliland, a senior from Salt Lake City and a digital account specialist, said his wife graduated in April, and after years of hard work and being the first in her family to graduate from college, she was deprived of the full graduation experience. He does not want to go through the same thing.

He wants students to make it the best experience with the time they have. If wearing face masks is part of that, then own it, have fun with it and be positive.

The tone of the Join the Maskerade Campaign will be colorful, humorous and eclectic, and centered on the Provo culture.

More information on the Maskerade Campaign will be released on Thursday, but in the meantime, Y Digital’s Team and Kaufusi are encouraging students and residents to get their game on, think positive and wear their masks.

Face-to-face anger: Trump, Biden lash, interrupt each other

CLEVELAND — Marked by angry interruptions and bitter accusations, the first debate between President Donald Trump and Democratic challenger Joe Biden erupted in contentious exchanges Tuesday night over the coronavirus pandemic, city violence, job losses and how the Supreme Court will shape the future of the nation’s health care.

In what was the most chaotic presidential debate in recent years, somehow fitting for what has been an extraordinarily ugly campaign, the two men frequently talked over each other with Trump interrupting, nearly shouting, so often that Biden eventually snapped at him, “Will you shut up, man?”

“The fact is that everything he’s said so far is simply a lie,” Biden said. “I’m not here to call out his lies. Everybody knows he’s a liar.”

Trump and Biden arrived in Cleveland hoping the debate would energize their bases of support, even as they competed for the slim slice of undecided voters who could decide the election. It has been generations since two men asked to lead a nation facing such tumult, with Americans both fearful and impatient about the coronavirus pandemic that has killed more than 200,000 of their fellow citizens and cost millions of jobs.

Over and over, Trump tried to control the conversation, interrupting Biden and repeatedly talking over the moderator, Chris Wallace of Fox News. The president tried to deflect tough lines of questioning — whether on his taxes or the pandemic — to deliver broadsides against Biden.

The president drew a lecture from Wallace, who pleaded with both men to stop interrupting. Biden tried to push back against Trump, sometimes looking right at the camera to directly address viewers rather than the president and snapping, “It’s hard to get a word in with this clown.”

But despite his efforts to dominate the discussion, Trump was frequently put on the defensive and tried to sidestep when he was asked if he was willing to condemn white supremacists and paramilitary groups.

“What do you want to call them? Give me a name. Give me a name,” Trump said, before Wallace mentioned the far right, violent group known as the Proud Boys. Trump then pointedly did not condemn the group, instead saying, “Proud Boys, stand back, stand by,but I’ll tell you what, somebody’s got to do something about Antifa and the left because this is not right-wing problem. This is a left wing problem.”

The vitriol exploded into the open when Biden attacked Trump’s handling of the pandemic, saying that the president “waited and waited” to act when the virus reached America’s shores and “still doesn’t have a plan.” Biden told Trump to “get out of your bunker and get out of the sand trap” and go in his golf cart to the Oval Office to come up with a bipartisan plan to save people.

Trump snarled a response, declaring that “I’ll tell you Joe, you could never have done the job that we did. You don’t have it in your blood.”

“I know how to do the job,” was the solemn response from Biden, who served eight years as Barack Obama’s vice president.

The pandemic’s effects were in plain sight, with the candidates’ lecterns spaced far apart, all of the guests in the small crowd tested and the traditional opening handshake scrapped. The men did not shake hands and, while neither candidate wore a mask to take the stage, their families did sport face coverings.

Trump struggled to define his ideas for replacing the Affordable Care Act on health care in the debate’s early moments and defended his nomination of Amy Coney Barrett, declaring that “I was not elected for three years, I’m elected for four years.”

“We won the election. Elections have consequences. We have the Senate. We have the White House and we have a phenomenal nominee, respected by all.”

Trump criticized Biden over the former vice president’s refusal to comment on whether he would try to expand the Supreme Court in retaliation if Barrett is confirmed to replace the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

The president also refused anew to embrace the science of climate change.

As the conversation moved to race, Biden accused Trump of walking away from the American promise of equity for all and making a race-based appeal.

“This is a president who has used everything as a dog whistle to try to generate racist hatred, racist division,” Biden said.

Recent months have seen major protests after the deaths of Black people at the hands of police. And Biden said there is systemic racist injustice in this country and while the vast majority of police officers are “decent, honorable men and women” there are “bad apples” and people have to be held accountable.

Trump in turn claimed that Biden’s work on a federal crime bill treated the African American population “about as bad as anybody in this country.” The president pivoted to his hardline focus on those protesting racial injustice and accused Biden of being afraid to use the words “law and order,” out of fear of alienating the left.

“Violence is never appropriate,” Biden said. “Peaceful protest is.”

With just 35 days until the election, and early voting already underway in some states, Biden stepped onto the stage holding leads in the polls — significant in national surveys, close in some battleground states — and looking to expand his support among suburban voters, women and seniors. Surveys show the president has lost significant ground among those groups since 2016, but Biden faces his own questions encouraged by Trump’s withering attacks.

Cox, Peterson tussle over education funding during Utah governor debate

Utah gubernatorial candidates Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox and Chris Peterson both pledged that they would oppose a food tax increase if the Utah State Legislature proposed one but clashed with one another on the subject of education funding during a debate Tuesday evening.

During the debate, which was hosted by the Utah Debate Commission, Cox — the Republican candidate — said he was opposed to a sales tax increase lawmakers passed in December that would have increased the state tax on food products from 1.75% to 4.85%. Lawmakers repealed the tax reform bill following widespread public opposition.

“I thought it was a huge mistake at the time, and I said as much,” Cox said, noting that his running mate, Sen. Deidre Henderson, R-Spanish Fork, voted against the tax reform.

“And it (voting against the bill) was the right thing to do because it is a regressive tax, and it is very difficult for our low-income families, our seniors who are on a fixed income, to be able to pay those extra taxes,” he said. “That is not the way that we should do business here in Utah.”

Peterson, a business law professor at the University of Utah and the Democrat in the governor’s race, agreed that the food tax increase was problematic.

“I would have never supported that,” Peterson said. “Not only would I have marched down there and tried to negotiate a better deal, I also would have vetoed that bill. And they would have had to pass it over my veto.”

But the candidates disagreed when asked about education funding and Amendment G, a ballot measure that would allow income tax revenue, which is earmarked for fund public education, and intangible property tax revenue to be used to support programs for children and people with disabilities.

On Sept. 7, the Utah Citizens’ Counsel wrote that Amendment G was a “seriously flawed proposal (that) will expand the use of income tax revenues from solely public- and higher-education to noneducational uses … further eroding the state’s half-hearted commitment to education.”

Peterson said he was opposed to the ballot measure and concerned it “create competitions between disabled people and the public school kids.”

“Let’s just fund both of them,” said Peterson, pointing out that Utah ranks last in the country in per-pupil spending.

Cox said it was “absolutely critical that education funding is our first and foremost priority” and that “there were promises that were made to teachers, to educators to parents during the negotiations on Amendment G.”

“And as your governor, I will make sure that those promises are kept,” Cox said. “It’s absolutely critical that education funding is our first and foremost priority.”

“I think at this point, I think the deal has been broken,” Peterson pushed back. “And I’m going to vote against Amendment G.”

The candidates agreed with one another at many other points throughout the debate, including economic development, air quality and population growth.

Both pointed to telework, investment in broadband internet and improvement of public transportation infrastructure as ways to increase economic opportunities in rural Utah and prevent congestion in Salt Lake and Utah counties.

The two candidates gave similar responses when asked how to improve public trust in law enforcement in the wake of nationwide protests over police shootings. Cox said reforming use of force guidelines and implementing racial bias training were ways to improve public trust, while Peterson pointed to increasing mental health resources and community involvement.

Cox and Peterson diverged, again, on the subject of the COVID-19 pandemic and how to address surges in positive cases in Utah County and other parts of the state.

Peterson said he would impose a statewide mask mandate “with some reasonable exceptions,” while Cox said the decision is best left up to local officials.

“I support where we are today, I support what Gov. Herbert has chosen to do: leaving mask mandates to individual communities to make that decision,” the lieutenant governor said.

Cox defended the state’s pandemic response and said officials were “making incredibly difficult decisions” based on the recommendations of medical and health professionals.

Peterson said Utah needed “better leadership on this virus” and noted that low-income health resources had been closed in Provo, Ogden and Salt Lake City due to a lack of funding.

“I agree that we’ve had some successes,” Peterson said. “But we also have had some real challenges.”

The full debate can be viewed online at http://www.facebook.com/utahdebatecommission.