At least 170,000 lose jobs as film industry grinds to a halt due to coronavirus

Around 120,000 people are out of work in Hollywood, while in the UK it is estimated that 50,000 freelancers will lose their jobs

About 120,000 film industry workers have already lost their jobs in Hollywood as a result of the coronavirus shutdown, according to the US entertainment industry union IATSE (International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees).

The estimate emerged in a newsletter sent out by the ICG (International Cinematographers Guild) to its members, which said: The IATSE reports that the pandemic shutdown has resulted in the loss of 120,000 jobs held by its 150,000 members. It is critical that our industry be included in pending federal relief package.

The film and TV industry worldwide has experienced a near-total cessation of activity, with thousands of largely freelance crew laid off at short notice with little or no financial compensation. Scores of productions, ranging from studio shoots such as the Avatar sequels and Fantastic Beasts 3 to independent films such as Paul Schraders The Card Counter, have been halted.

The ICG, which has nearly 9,000 members, added: Although some of our members are being paid for up to two weeks after their shows shut down, based upon the reality of the healthcare crisis we now face, it is highly unlikely that productions will resume after so short a period of time This problem is likely to continue for months, not weeks.

In the UK, the situation for below the line crew appears equally catastrophic. Bectu (Broadcasting, Entertainment, Communications and Theatre Union) estimates around 50,000 industry freelancers will have lost their jobs as a result of the pandemic. The unions head, Philippa Childs, said: Nearly all film and TV production has ground to a halt in the UK The [countrys] world-class film and TV sector is at risk of a whole generation of talent being financially ruined by this crisis. A survey conducted by the union suggested that 71% of freelancers about 35,000 people in the industry will struggle to survive financially as a result of the shutdown.

Directors UK, the trade guild representing British screen directors, sent a letter to chancellor Rishi Sunak calling for further measures to support freelance and self-employed film industry personnel. Directors UK CEO Andrew Chowns wrote: There is now a critical need for similar emergency support measures to be introduced for self-employed workers who are worried, not just about losing their current work, but at the prospect of facing months without income as productions are suspended longer term and, for some smaller productions, indefinitely. Chowns called for the introduction of proportional income support and sick pay to mitigate the effects of the pandemic.

The Guardians callout for insight into how the shutdown has affected film industry workers has revealed scores of anecdotes about the impact of coronavirus. A selection will be published in the near future.

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Why we need worst-case thinking to prevent pandemics

The long read: Threats to humanity, and how we address them, define our time. Why are we still so complacent about facing up to existential risk?

The world is in the early stages of what may be the most deadly pandemic of the past 100 years. In China, thousands of people have already died; large outbreaks have begun in South Korea, Iran and Italy; and the rest of the world is bracing for impact. We do not yet know whether the final toll will be measured in thousands or hundreds of thousands. For all our advances in medicine, humanity remains much more vulnerable to pandemics than we would like to believe.

To understand our vulnerability, and to determine what steps must be taken to end it, it is useful to ask about the very worst-case scenarios. Just how bad could a pandemic be? In science fiction, we sometimes encounter the idea of a pandemic so severe that it could cause the end of civilisation, or even of humanity itself. Such a risk to humanitys entire future is known as an existential risk. We can say with certainty that the novel coronavirus, named Covid-19, does not pose such a risk. But could the next pandemic? To find out, and to put the current outbreak into greater context, let us turn to the past.

In 1347, death came to Europe. It entered through the Crimean town of Caffa, brought by the besieging Mongol army. Fleeing merchants unwittingly carried it back to Italy. From there, it spread to France, Spain and England. Then up as far as Norway and across the rest of Europe all the way to Moscow. Within six years, the Black Death had taken the continent.

Tens of millions fell gravely ill, their bodies succumbing to the disease in different ways. Some bore swollen buboes on their necks, armpits and thighs; some had their flesh turn black from haemorrhaging beneath the skin; some coughed blood from the necrotic inflammation of their throats and lungs. All forms involved fever, exhaustion and an intolerable stench from the material that exuded from the body.

There were so many dead that mass graves needed to be dug and, even then, cemeteries ran out of room for the bodies. The Black Death devastated Europe. In those six years, between a quarter and half of all Europeans were killed. The Middle East was ravaged, too, with the plague killing about one in three Egyptians and Syrians. And it may have also laid waste to parts of central Asia, India and China. Due to the scant records of the 14th century, we will never know the true toll, but our best estimates are that somewhere between 5% and 14% of all the worlds people were killed, in what may have been the greatest catastrophe humanity has seen.

The Black Death was not the only biological disaster to scar human history. It was not even the only great bubonic plague. In AD541 the plague of Justinian struck the Byzantine empire. Over three years, it took the lives of roughly 3% of the worlds people.

When Europeans reached the Americas in 1492, the two populations exposed each other to completely novel diseases. Over thousands of years, each population had built up resistance to their own set of diseases, but were extremely susceptible to the others. The American peoples got by far the worse end of the exchange, through diseases such as measles, influenza and, especially, smallpox.

Police in Seattle during the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic. Photograph: Life/Getty

During the next 100 years, a combination of invasion and disease took an immense toll one whose scale may never be known, due to great uncertainty about the size of the pre-existing population. We cant rule out the loss of more than 90% of the population of the Americas during that century, though the number could also be much lower. And it is very difficult to tease out how much of this should be attributed to war and occupation, rather than disease. At a rough estimate, as many as 10% of the worlds people may have been killed.

Centuries later, the world had become so interconnected that a truly global pandemic was possible. Towards the end of the first world war, a devastating strain of influenza, known as the 1918 flu or Spanish flu, spread to six continents, and even remote Pacific islands. About a third of the worlds population were infected and between 3% and 6% were killed. This death toll outstripped that of the first world war.

Yet even events like these fall short of being a threat to humanitys long-term potential. In the great bubonic plagues we saw civilisation in the affected areas falter, but recover. The regional 25%-50% death rate was not enough to precipitate a continent-wide collapse. It changed the relative fortunes of empires, and may have substantially altered the course of history, but if anything, it gives us reason to believe that human civilisation is likely to make it through future events with similar death rates, even if they were global in scale.

The Spanish flu pandemic was remarkable in having very little apparent effect on the worlds development, despite its global reach. It looks as if it was lost in the wake of the first world war, which, despite a smaller death toll, seems to have had a much larger effect on the course of history.

The full history of humanity covers at least 200,000 years. While we have scarce records for most of these 2,000 centuries, there is a key lesson we can draw from the sheer length of our past. The chance of human extinction from natural catastrophes of any kind must have been very low for most of this time or we would not have made it so far. But could these risks have changed? Might the past provide false comfort?

Our population now is a thousand times greater than it was for most of human history, so there are vastly more opportunities for new human diseases to originate. And our farming practices have created vast numbers of animals living in unhealthy conditions within close proximity to humans. This increases the risk, as many major diseases originate in animals before crossing over to humans. Examples include HIV (chimpanzees), Ebola (bats), Sars (probably civets or bats) and influenza (usually pigs or birds). We do not yet know where Covid-19 came from, though it is very similar to coronaviruses found in bats and pangolins. Evidence suggests that diseases are crossing over into human populations from animals at an increasing rate.

Modern civilisation may also make it much easier for a pandemic to spread. The higher density of people living together in cities increases the number of people each of us may infect. Rapid long-distance transport greatly increases the distance pathogens can spread, reducing the degrees of separation between any two people. Moreover, we are no longer divided into isolated populations as we were for most of the past 10,000 years.

Together these effects suggest that we might expect more new pandemics, for them to spread more quickly, and to reach a higher percentage of the worlds people.

Poultry workers in Hong Kong being vaccinated during the 2004 bird flu crisis. Photograph: Kin Cheung/Reuters

But we have also changed the world in ways that offer protection. We have a healthier population; improved sanitation and hygiene; preventative and curative medicine; and a scientific understanding of disease. Perhaps most importantly, we have public health bodies to facilitate global communication and coordination in the face of new outbreaks. We have seen the benefits of this protection through the dramatic decline of endemic infectious disease over the past century (though we cant be sure pandemics will obey the same trend). Finally, we have spread to a range of locations and environments unprecedented for any mammalian species. This offers special protection from extinction events, because it requires the pathogen to be able to flourish in a vast range of environments and to reach exceptionally isolated populations such as uncontacted tribes, Antarctic researchers and nuclear submarine crews.

It is hard to know whether these combined effects have increased or decreased the existential risk from pandemics. This uncertainty is ultimately bad news: we were previously sitting on a powerful argument that the risk was tiny; now we are not.

We have seen the indirect ways that our actions aid and abet the origination and spread of pandemics. But what about cases where we have a much more direct hand in the process where we deliberately use, improve or create the pathogens?

Our understanding and control of pathogens is very recent. Just 200 years ago, we didnt even understand the basic cause of pandemics a leading theory in the west claimed that disease was produced by a kind of gas. In just two centuries, we discovered it was caused by a diverse variety of microscopic agents and we worked out how to grow them in the lab, to breed them for different traits, to sequence their genomes, to implant new genes and to create entire functional viruses from their written code.

This progress is continuing at a rapid pace. The past 10 years have seen major qualitative breakthroughs, such as the use of the gene editing tool Crispr to efficiently insert new genetic sequences into a genome, and the use of gene drives to efficiently replace populations of natural organisms in the wild with genetically modified versions.

This progress in biotechnology seems unlikely to fizzle out anytime soon: there are no insurmountable challenges looming; no fundamental laws blocking further developments. But it would be optimistic to assume that this uncharted new terrain holds only familiar dangers.

To start with, lets set aside the risks from malicious intent, and consider only the risks that can arise from well-intentioned research. Most scientific and medical research poses a negligible risk of harms at the scale we are considering. But there is a small fraction that uses live pathogens of kinds that are known to threaten global harm. These include the agents that cause the Spanish flu, smallpox, Sars and H5N1 or avian flu. And a small part of this research involves making strains of these pathogens that pose even more danger than the natural types, increasing their transmissibility, lethality or resistance to vaccination or treatment.

In 2012, a Dutch virologist, Ron Fouchier, published details of an experiment on the recent H5N1 strain of bird flu. This strain was extremely deadly, killing an estimated 60% of humans it infected far beyond even the Spanish flu. Yet its inability to pass from human to human had so far prevented a pandemic. Fouchier wanted to find out whether (and how) H5N1 could naturally develop this ability. He passed the disease through a series of 10 ferrets, which are commonly used as a model for how influenza affects humans. By the time it passed to the final ferret, his strain of H5N1 had become directly transmissible between mammals.

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The work caused fierce controversy. Much of this was focused on the information contained in his work. The US National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity ruled that his paper had to be stripped of some of its technical details before publication, to limit the ability of bad actors to cause a pandemic. And the Dutch government claimed that the research broke EU law on exporting information useful for bioweapons. But it is not the possibility of misuse that concerns me here. Fouchiers research provides a clear example of well-intentioned scientists enhancing the destructive capabilities of pathogens known to threaten global catastrophe.

Of course, such experiments are done in secure labs, with stringent safety standards. It is highly unlikely that in any particular case the enhanced pathogens would escape into the wild. But just how unlikely? Unfortunately, we dont have good data, due to a lack of transparency about incident and escape rates. This prevents society from making well-informed decisions balancing the risks and benefits of this research, and it limits the ability of labs to learn from each others incidents.

Security for highly dangerous pathogens has been deeply flawed, and remains insufficient. In 2001, Britain was struck by a devastating outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease in livestock. Six million animals were killed in an attempt to halt its spread, and the economic damages totalled 8bn. Then, in 2007, there was another outbreak, which was traced to a lab working on the disease. Foot-and-mouth was considered a highest-category pathogen, and required the highest level of biosecurity. Yet the virus escaped from a badly maintained pipe, leaking into the groundwater at the facility. After an investigation, the labs licence was renewed only for another leak to occur two weeks later.

In my view, this track record of escapes shows that even the highest biosafety level (BSL-4) is insufficient for working on pathogens that pose a risk of global pandemics on the scale of the Spanish flu or worse. Thirteen years since the last publicly acknowledged outbreak from a BSL-4 facility is not good enough. It doesnt matter whether this is from insufficient standards, inspections, operations or penalties. What matters is the poor track record in the field, made worse by a lack of transparency and accountability. With current BSL-4 labs, an escape of a pandemic pathogen is only a matter of time.

One of the most exciting trends in biotechnology is its rapid democratisation the speed at which cutting-edge techniques can be adopted by students and amateurs. When a new breakthrough is achieved, the pool of people with the talent, training, resources and patience to reproduce it rapidly expands: from a handful of the worlds top biologists, to people with PhDs in the field, to millions of people with undergraduate-level biology.

The Human Genome Project was the largest ever scientific collaboration in biology. It took 13 years and $500m to produce the full DNA sequence of the human genome. Just 15 years later, a genome can be sequenced for under $1,000, and within a single hour. The reverse process has become much easier, too: online DNA synthesis services allow anyone to upload a DNA sequence of their choice then have it constructed and shipped to their address. While still expensive, the price of synthesis has fallen by a factor of 1,000 in the past two decades, and continues to drop. The first ever uses of Crispr and gene drives were the biotechnology achievements of the decade. But within just two years, each of these technologies were used successfully by bright students participating in science competitions.

Such democratisation promises to fuel a boom of entrepreneurial biotechnology. But since biotechnology can be misused to lethal effect, democratisation also means proliferation. As the pool of people with access to a technique grows, so does the chance it contains someone with malign intent.

People with the motivation to wreak global destruction are mercifully rare. But they exist. Perhaps the best example is the Aum Shinrikyo cult in Japan, active between 1984 and 1995, which sought to bring about the destruction of humanity. It attracted several thousand members, including people with advanced skills in chemistry and biology. And it demonstrated that it was not mere misanthropic ideation. It launched multiple lethal attacks using VX gas and sarin gas, killing more than 20 people and injuring thousands. It attempted to weaponise anthrax, but did not succeed. What happens when the circle of people able to create a global pandemic becomes wide enough to include members of such a group? Or members of a terrorist organisation or rogue state that could try to build an omnicidal weapon for the purposes of extortion or deterrence?

Romanian workers prepare to slaughter birds infected with avian flu in 2005. Photograph: Marius Nemes/AFP/Getty

The main candidate for biological existential risk in the coming decades thus stems from technology particularly the risk of misuse by states or small groups. But this is not a case in which the world is blissfully unaware of the risks. Bertrand Russell wrote of the danger of extinction from biowarfare to Einstein in 1955. And, in 1969, the possibility was raised by the American Nobel laureate for medicine, Joshua Lederberg: As a scientist I am profoundly concerned about the continued involvement of the United States and other nations in the development of biological warfare. This process puts the very future of human life on earth in serious peril.

In response to such warnings, we have already begun national and international efforts to protect humanity. There is action through public health and international conventions, and self-regulation by biotechnology companies and the scientific community. Are they adequate?

National and international work in public health offers some protection from engineered pandemics, and its existing infrastructure could be adapted to better address them. Yet even for existing dangers this protection is uneven and under-provided.

Despite its importance, public health is underfunded worldwide, and poorer countries remain vulnerable to being overwhelmed by outbreaks. Biotechnology companies are working to limit the dark side of the democratisation of their field. For example, unrestricted DNA synthesis would help bad actors overcome a major hurdle in creating extremely deadly pathogens. It would allow them to get access to the DNA of controlled pathogens such as smallpox (whose genome is readily available online) and to create DNA with modifications to make the pathogen more dangerous. Therefore, many synthesis companies make voluntary efforts to manage this risk, screening their orders for dangerous sequences. But the screening methods are imperfect, and they only cover about 80% of orders. There is significant room for improving this process, and a strong case for making screening mandatory.

We might also look to the scientific community for careful management of biological risks. Many of the dangerous advances usable by states and small groups have come from open science. And weve seen that science produces substantial accident risk. The scientific community has tried to regulate its dangerous research, but with limited success. There are a variety of reasons why this is extremely hard, including difficulty in knowing where to draw the line, lack of central authorities to unify practice, a culture of openness and freedom to pursue whatever is of interest, and the rapid pace of science outpacing that of governance. It may be possible for the scientific community to overcome these challenges and provide strong management of global risks, but it would require a willingness to accept serious changes to its culture and governance such as treating the security around biotechnology more like that around nuclear power. And the scientific community would need to find this willingness before catastrophe strikes.

Threats to humanity, and how we address them, define our time. The advent of nuclear weapons posed a real risk of human extinction in the 20th century. There is strong reason to believe the risk will be higher this century, and increasing with each century that technological progress continues. Because these anthropogenic risks outstrip all natural risks combined, they set the clock on how long humanity has left to pull back from the brink.

I am not claiming that extinction is the inevitable conclusion of scientific progress, or even the most likely outcome. What I am claiming is that there has been a robust trend towards increases in the power of humanity, which has reached a point where we pose a serious risk to our own existence. How we react to this risk is up to us. Nor am I arguing against technology. Technology has proved itself immensely valuable in improving the human condition.

The problem is not so much an excess of technology as a lack of wisdom. Carl Sagan put this especially well: Many of the dangers we face indeed arise from science and technology but, more fundamentally, because we have become powerful without becoming commensurately wise. The world-altering powers that technology has delivered into our hands now require a degree of consideration and foresight that has never before been asked of us.

Because we cannot come back from extinction, we cannot wait until a threat strikes before acting we must be proactive. And because gaining wisdom takes time, we need to start now.

I think that we are likely to make it through this period. Not because the challenges are small, but because we will rise to them. The very fact that these risks stem from human action shows us that human action can address them. Defeatism would be both unwarranted and counterproductive a self-fulfilling prophecy. Instead, we must address these challenges head-on with clear and rigorous thinking, guided by a positive vision of the longterm future we are trying to protect.

This is an edited extract from The Precipice: Existential Risk and the Future of Humanity by Toby Ord, published by Bloomsbury and available at

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James Franco accusers are ‘jumping on the #MeToo bandwagon’, say actor’s lawyers

Franco denies allegations and asks Los Angeles county superior court to dismiss lawsuit against him

James Franco has responded to allegations of sexual harassment by two former students by claiming they were an attempt to jump on the [#MeToo] bandwagon and played into the medias insatiable appetite to ruin the next celebrity.

In a demurrer filed on 28 February to the Los Angeles county superior court, Francos lawyers asked that the lawsuit filed in October by Sarah Tither-Kaplan and Toni Gaal be dismissed, saying none of the alleged events detailed had happened, and the statute of limitations had passed for the accusations.

Tither-Kaplan and Gaal have alleged that a now-defunct programme run by Francos Studio 4 acting school had enabled Franco and his male collaborators to engage in widespread inappropriate and sexually charged behavior towards female students by sexualizing their power as a teacher and an employer by dangling the opportunity for roles in their projects. Among other claims, Tither-Kaplan say Franco allegedly removed plastic guards that had been placed over actors genitals while he simulated oral sex.

In the demurrer, Francos lawyers state: The salacious allegations in the complaint have made great tabloid fodder, but like most tabloid stories, they are false and inflammatory, legally baseless and brought as a class action with the obvious goal of grabbing as much publicity as possible for attention-hungry plaintiffs.

The filing by Franco denies that actors were pressured to participate in nude scenes, saying that all performers had signed nudity waivers and no complaints were made at the time. It also denies that vaginal guards were removed as Tither-Kaplan alleged, saying that all of the performers using them confirmed this was the case.

In a statement the plaintiffs lawyer James Vagnini rebutted the filing. Mr. Francos aggressive effort to position himself as the victim and smear the reputation of the survivors who have come forward is, unfortunately, a tactic commonly used by perpetrators of wrongdoing We firmly believe Mr Francos claims to be without merit and we are confident that, as we work through the legal process and hear from numerous other witnesses and survivors, we will achieve full justice.

In 2018, he was accused of sexual misconduct by five women (including Tither-Kaplan), which he denied, and was sharply criticised only, including by Breakfast Club actor Ally Sheedy, after wearing a Times Up badge to the 2018 Golden Globes.

Franco is described in the statement as an ardent believer in the righteousness of the #MeToo and Times Up movements.

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Revealed: the true identity of the leader of an American neo-Nazi terror group

The white supremacist group the Base uses terror to spread its ideology and recruit young men. The FBI is closely watching them and the Guardian is now able to reveal the identity of its secretive leader

The Guardian has learned the true identity of the leader and founder of the US-based neo-Nazi terror network the Base, which was recently the target of raids by the FBI after an investigation into domestic terrorism uncovered their plans to start a race war.

Members of the group stand accused of federal hate crimes, murder plots and firearms offenses, and have harbored international fugitives in recent months.

The Bases leader previously operated under the aliases Norman Spear and Roman Wolf. Members of the network do not know his true identity due to the groups culture of internal secrecy.

But the Guardian can reveal that Norman Spear is in fact US-born Rinaldo Nazzaro, 46, who has a long history of advertising his services as an intelligence, military and security contractor. He has claimed, under his alias, to have served in Russia and Afghanistan.

The revelation of his identity comes after a months-long investigation by the Guardian into Nazzaro and the activities of the Base.

The Bases members stand accused of federal hate crimes. Photograph: Obtained by the Guardian

While Nazzaros most recently used address is in New Jersey, there is evidence supporting his claims of being based in Russia, where he lives with his Russian wife.

The Base which is an approximate English translation of al-Qaida began recruiting in late 2018. The white supremacy group, which has regional and international cells, extols the virtues of an all-out race war while specifically targeting African Americans and Jewish people.

Using encrypted apps, members of the highly organized group planned terror campaigns; vandalized synagogues; established armed training camps and recruited new members.

The US attorney for Maryland, Robert K Hur, speaking after the recent arrest of three members of the Base, said that they did more than talk they took steps to act and act violently on their racist views.

Few traces of him exist anywhere

Rinaldo Nazzaro has maintained a decidedly low profile: he has no visible presence on any major social media platforms, no published writings under his own name, and no profile in local or national media.

Few traces of him exist anywhere, except where a name is required in official business such as real estate purchases and the registration of companies.

Multiple emails and phone calls to Nazzaro went unanswered.

But through a painstaking investigation involving freedom of information requests, the analysis of material provided to the Guardian by a whistleblower inside the group, and cross-examination of information found online and in databases, the Guardian was able to piece together his identity and some of his whereabouts.

The Guardian was able to unravel Nazzaros identity due to his 2018 activities in a remote corner of the Pacific north-west.

In chat rooms hosted by the Base, Nazzaro stressed the importance of in-person meet-ups and required members to attend training camps. The Bases propaganda videos show young men undergoing combat training together in rural areas.

Last August, an Oregon-based antifascist group, Eugene Antifa, warned that the Base was planning a hate camp in the neighboring state of Washington, and claimed Nazzaro (operating under the alias of Spear) had purchased land in Stevens county for training purposes.This warning came after a leak of the Bases internal chats.

EUG161 (@161EUG)

The neo-Nazi group called “The Base” is planning a ‘hate camp’ this month in Washington. Members are flying in from around the country to Spokane, WA this August to participate in the gathering.#DeBasedDoxx


August 5, 2019

Local media outlets picked up the story, which led local law enforcement to urgently seek information on the group.

In emails obtained by the Guardian via public records request, the Stevens county Sheriff, Brad Manke, is seen contacting the FBI and the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) for advice on the group.

On 20 August 2019, Manke writes to an FBI agent, asking: Do you have a name for the actual head of the group The Base or the address where the property actually is?

In a 20 September email responding to an SPLC researcher, Manke writes: I have since learned that The Base has purchased property in Ferry County, WA which is a neighboring county.

Property record searches revealed that three 10-acre blocks of undeveloped land were purchased in December 2018 for $33,000 in the name of a Delaware LLC called Base Global. In a telephone conversation in late November, Manke confirmed that this was the block of land he had been referring to.

In recordings of two internal Base voice calls provided to the Guardian by the source, Norman Spear discusses his recent land purchase.

When asked why the land had been inexpensive, he replied: Because theres no possibility of getting utilities in there. Ever. He continued: But to me, that was a good thing for my purposes. I looked at it like it was just naturally secluded.

In deeds of sale, the address provided for the company was a New Jersey post office enough to conceal the purchasers identity. But separate tax affidavits associated with the purchase give a different address for Base Global.

That address is for a New Jersey apartment that has belonged to an older family member of Nazzaro since 1998. Nazzaro and his wife have also intermittently resided at that address, according to database searches.

The affidavits are also signed by Nazzaro, and dated 12/21/2018 Republic. Republic is the seat and the only city in Ferry county, Washington.

According to a source inside the Base, this date coincided with a trip by Russia-based Norman Spear to the United States, during which time he had in-person meetings with members of the group.

Speculation that Nazzaro was a federal agent

The location of the land is consistent with Norman Spears advocacy of a white supremaciststrategy called the Northwest Territorial Imperative (NTI), which was promoted by the deceased white supremacist Harold Covington.

The strategy argues for the creation of a separatist ethnostate in the Pacific north-west and encourages white supremacists to move to the region.

In one of Norman Spears first public appearances, on a far-right podcast recorded in December 2017, he was introduced as a Northwest Front (another white supremacist separatist group) organizer and went on to spell out a four-state plan culminating in achieving independence, realizing the ultimate goal which is an independent nation state in the Pacific north-west, an ethnostate.

The plan, he said, would trigger the relocation to the Pacific north-west of the white population in the United States.

Around the same time, Spear filmed a series of short instructional presentations on the tactics and strategy of guerrilla warfare.In an archive of those videos on the far-right site Bitchute, he is identified as Defense Studies expert and former CIA field intelligence officer Norman Spear.

This detail, coupled with other leads, compelled many to speculate whether Norman Spear was, in fact, a federal agent operating inside the Base.

The Base has emerged at a time when far-right organizing is on the rise in the US. Last year saw a spate of terror attacks by white supremacists. In August, the gunman who killed 22 people at a Walmart store in El Paso, Texas, is believed to have posted a white nationalist manifesto online prior to the attack.

In April, an attacker who killed one person after opening fire inside a San Diego synagogue killing posted a note online citing white supremacy influences and naming the gunman who killed 51 in an attack on a mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand, as an inspiration.

We have a significant increase in racially motivated violent extremism in the United States and, I think, a growing increase in white nationalism and white supremacy extremist movements, Jay Tabb, the head of national security for the FBI, said at an event in Washington recently.

Under the motto there is no political solution, the Base embraces an accelerationist ideology, which holds that acts of violence and terror are required in order to push liberal democracy towards collapse, preparing the way for white supremacists to seize power and institute an ethnostate.

Members remained defiant following the arrest of seven alleged members of the group in mid-January, calling it an unjust political witch hunt from the Liberal Globalist System.

Was the Base a honeypot designed to entrap people?

Beginning in 2009 and until as late as 2019, Nazzaro billed himself as an intelligence expert working with various government and military agencies.

Nazzaro is the principal of an LLC called Omega Solutions International (OSI), a company offering a range of intelligence and security contracting.

Its website, which was removed from the Internet some time after August 2019, boasted of the firms experience conducting intelligence analysis for government agencies, military organizations, and private businesses, as well as access to a network of seasoned security professionals with expertise in counterterrorism, counterinsurgency, homeland security, hostage rescue/negotiations, psychological operations, and more.

The firm also has a Cage Code, which is an administrative requirement for military and government contractors.

Materials inspected and sources consulted by the Guardian indicate that Nazzaro, as Spear, has faced persistent suspicions from current and former members of the group that he is a fed, or the agent of a foreign government, or that the Base is a honeypot intended to lure neo-Nazis out into the open for the benefit of law enforcement agencies.

Former members have cited this as a reason for leaving.

A connection with Russia

New York marriage records show that Nazzaro and his wife were married in New York City in 2012, during the period when Nazzaro is recorded as maintaining a midtown Manhattan address. At that time, he was recorded as having one child.

A Russian site that scrapes and archives social media accounts had captured a profile, and photos, posted by Nazzaros Russian-born wife to VK, the Russian social media site.

An early photograph of Nazzaro, dated 1994. Photograph: The Villanovan

She has since hidden that profile, but other social media archives confirm the prior existence of an account in Nazzaros wifes name (using her married name).

The photographs show the same person who has been presenting himself as Norman Spear.

Meanwhile, a reverse image search yielded a photograph matching public photos of Norman Spear atop advertisements for English lessons in St Petersburg, Russia.

The Guardian was only able to find one earlier photograph attached to his real name. It appeared above a vox pop in the Villanovan, the student paper of Catholic, Pennsylvania-based Villanova University, in 1994.

At the time of the photograph, Ron Nazzaro was described as a junior in philosophy, which is consistent with a 1973 birthdate. A source who has met Spear in person believes that the 1994 photo of Nazzaro is the same person he met.

A Rinaldo Nazzaro is also identified as a class of 1991 alumnus and donor of the prestigious New Jersey Catholic prep school the Delbarton School.

Nazzaros approximate age, his Italian heritage, his familys New Jersey location, his background in counter-intelligence, the nationality of his spouse, and the number of his children were relayed to the Guardian as characteristics of Norman Spear by an internally placed source.

I am on the terrorism watchlist

Richard Tobin, a Base member, is awaiting trial in New Jersey over allegations that he coordinated the September vandalism of synagogues in Michigan and Wisconsin. In a December custody hearing, the prosecuting assistant US attorney cited Tobins self-professed belief that Norman Spear was a Russian spy.

The Guardian has discovered that all of the business addresses associated with Nazzaros OSI LLCs are virtual offices. This describes a situation where a second company provides a business address, and sometimes meeting rooms and greeting services, for businesses who do not wish to maintain their own premises.

The addresses are often prestigious: OSIs virtual address locations include Fifth Avenue in Manhattan and K Street in Washington DC, an address associated with federal government contracting and lobbying.

Meanwhile, Norman Spear appears to have had no extended history in the neo-Nazi movement before emerging as leader of the Base.

According to an internally placed source, the only people within the movement who vouched for Spear were connected to the Northwest Front (NWF). The NWF founder, Harold Covington, was himself the subject of persistent rumors within the white nationalist movement that he was a federal informant, and that NWF was itself a honeypot a front organization routinely used by US law enforcement in order to entrap people.

Norman Spear has told Base members that he remains in Russia. Law enforcement sources have indicated on background that Nazzaro is believed by some agencies to be working for the Russian government.

The US government may have been monitoring Norman Spears activities for some time. In the April conversation planning a meetup in July, Spear was concerned that he would not be able to attend.

I have confirmed that I am on the FBI terrorism watch list. I mean, that doesnt really matter in the context of the training. What matters is that Im on it.

The Guardians investigation of the group continues.

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The Guardian view on the US and Iran: relief may be short-lived | Editorial

Editorial: Tehrans immediate response to the killing of Qassem Suleimani was carefully controlled. It is also unlikely to spell an end to the crisis

Relief at Irans significant but calibrated retaliation against the US for the killing of Qassem Suleimani is an understandable and merited instinct. Matters could be much worse today. But there can be no complacency: the dangers have been briefly stayed, not averted. While Donald Trump said on Wednesday that Iran appears to be standing down, we will not know the true impact of the killing for months and probably years.

The strikes on Iraqi bases hosting US and coalition troops constituted Irans most direct attack on Americans since the seizing of the US embassy in Tehran in 1979, and the first direct assault on a US base. This was a bold and symbolic display: an operation timed to match the moment of the generals death. But it was also limited. Despite Iranian claims of 80 casualties, the US says no Americans were hurt. The Iraqi prime minister, Adel Abdul-Mahdi, has said the Iranians warned him of their actions just ahead of the attack. The Iranian foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, stated on Twitter that his country had concluded its response and that we do not seek escalation or war.

Given that Iran cannot afford a hot war, Wednesday mornings strikes look like a sensible response, but hardly the severe revenge it had vowed. The supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has described them as a slap in Americas face, which cannot compensate for the assassination: What is important is the ending of American presence. Whether or not a US withdrawal from Iraq is imminent, the events of the last week have surely made it almost inevitable. That might be enough to assuage Irans damaged pride, allowing it to say it has as Suleimani long wanted chased out the US, which will be left without even a fig leaf of any achievement to show for its disastrous 2003 invasion.

But the missile attacks also allow Iran to return to its favoured mode of plausible deniability, relying on proxies, cyber-attacks and terrorism. We could see attacks on US military personnel and civilians in the region; on the oil infrastructure of regional partners; attacks against Israel from Syria. The reverberations could be felt in Afghanistan. Americans might be targeted much further afield.

Suleimanis killing impels Iran to hit back hard even as it is more aware than ever of the volatility and ignorance of the US commander-in-chief, and the influence of the administrations Iran hawks. The events of the last week have made it even clearer that Mr Trump has no Iran strategy; just a bundle of impulses and prejudices. His suggestion that Nato should be more involved in the Middle East merely added to the confusion. He is also desperate to distract from his impeachment trial and to win another term this November. In his pre-White House days, Mr Trump repeatedly warned that Barack Obama might start a war with Iran to get re-elected.

Instead, of course, Mr Obama achieved the nuclear deal which Mr Trump has done his best to destroy. The JCPOA blocked Tehrans progress towards nuclear weapons. On Wednesday the president suggested that the UK and others should help him to win a better deal. This would be ludicrous even if his administration had a genuine interest in such an agreement or the capacity to negotiate it. By withdrawing the US and turning up the pressure on Iran, he has told Tehran and others that the US is utterly unreliable and (as George W Bushs did by invading Iraq) that getting and keeping weapons of mass destruction is the key to survival. Whatever the short-term outcome of this crisis, the long-term implications for peace are obvious, and frightening.

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Zac Efron falls ill while filming reality show Killing Zac Efron

US actor hit by suspected typhoid while filming survival TV series in Papua New Guinea

The American actor Zac Efron has confirmed he recently fell ill while filming a survival reality TV show in Papua New Guinea.

Australian media had reported that Efron, 32, was flown by helicopter for treatment in Australia after contracting a bacterial infection, possibly typhoid, while shooting the Killing Zac Efron series.

In a post on Monday on his official Twitter account, accompanied by a photograph of him in Papua New Guinea, Efron said he was back home for the holidays with my friends and family.

Very thankful to everyone who has reached out, his post said. I did get sick in Papua New Guinea but I bounced back quick and finished an amazing 3 weeks in PNG

Glenn McKay, a doctor with the Medical Rescue Group, told the Daily Telegraph on Sunday he could not discuss confidential patient information, but could confirm that Medical Rescue retrieved a US citizen in his 30s from PNG to Brisbane recently for medical attention.

The newspaper reported that doctors allowed Efron to fly home to Los Angeles on Christmas Eve.

Typhoid fever is transmitted by contaminated food and water, and kills 216,000 to 600,000 people worldwide each year.

Killing Zac Efron is billed as an adventure series in which the star ventures deep into the jungles of a remote, dangerous island to carve his own name in expedition history.

The series was commissioned by the short content platform Quibi, which is scheduled to launch in April.

Efron had previously posted images on social media showing him in a canoe on PNGs Sepik River and travelling to Yanchan Village to see a traditional skin-cutting ceremony.

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Trump impeachment: Democrats push for Bolton to testify in Senate trial

Schumer writes to McConnell seeking terms of trial but Republican has indicated close coordination with White House

Days before a final vote to impeach Donald Trump is expected in the House over accusations that the president betrayed the nation by abusing his high office, Chuck Schumer, the Senates top Democrat, is warning that a Senate trial without witnesses would amount to a cover-up by the White House.

The demand that John Bolton, the former national security adviser fired by Trump in September, and the acting chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, should testify was the opening salvo in an effort to force the Republican Senate leader, Mitch McConnell, to negotiate over the proceedings. The two are key eyewitnesses to many of the most contentious elements of the Ukraine scandal.

Trials have witnesses. Thats what trials are all about, Schumer told reporters at a press conference on Monday. To engage a trial without the facts coming out is to engage in a cover-up.

The request sets up a bruising clash over the shape and scope of only the third impeachment trial in US history.

The trial, which Schumer proposes should start on 7 January, is now all but certain. The House of Representatives, controlled by the Democrats, is set to vote in favor of two articles of impeachment on Wednesday.

The Democrat-controlled judiciary committee laid out its case for impeachment early on Monday with the release of a 658-page report, charging Trump with placing his personal, political interests above our national security, our free and fair elections, and our system of checks and balances.

The committee accused Trump of committing constitutional and criminal bribery by trying to press Ukraine to investigate the former vice-president Joe Biden and the 2016 election as the countrys military aid was held up.

Applying the constitutional definition of bribery here, there can be little doubt that it is satisfied, the report reads.

Still, the impeachment vote will be difficult for moderate freshman Democrats, especially those who flipped Republican seats that Trump won in 2016. One of those Democrats, the New Jersey congressman Jeff Van Drew, told aides over the weekend that he intends to switch parties. A wave of other frontline Democrats began announcing their plans.

At a raucous town hall on Monday that highlighted the deep partisan divide over impeachment, the Michigan congresswoman Elissa Slotkin, a Democrat from a conservative district, explained over shouts and cheers her decision to support articles of impeachment against Trump.

Meanwhile in Washington, Schumer laid out a possible structure based on Bill Clintons impeachment in 1999. He pointedly notes that the ground rules on that occasion were approved by a vote of 100-0.

In his letter to McConnell, Schumer writes: Senate Democrats believe strongly, and I trust Senate Republicans agree, that this trial must be one that is fair, that considers all of the relevant facts The trial must pass the fairness test with the American people. That is the great challenge for the Senate in the coming weeks.

But hopes of a similar bipartisan agreement over the likely trial were all but dead in the water before Schumer sent his letter. Republicans have made clear they have no intention of abiding by constitutionally prescribed parameters for the trial, which effectively place senators in the role of jurors.

McConnell, who as the majority leader will have ultimate say over how the trial is conducted, has stated brazenly that Trump will not be convicted and that he will design the trial in consultation with the president the lead juror in league with the defendant.

Everything I do during this, Im coordinating with the White House counsel, McConnell said last week.

Other senators have indicated they have reached a verdict of acquittal even before the first witness is called.

I have made up my mind, Im not trying to pretend to be a fair juror here, Senator Lindsey Graham, the Trump apologist from South Carolina, has said.

This weekend, footage of Graham speaking in 1999, when he was a House manager in the impeachment of Bill Clinton, made the rounds on social media.

I have a duty far greater than just getting to the next election, Graham said in the footage. Members of the Senate have said, I understand everything there is about this case, and I wont vote to impeach the president. Please allow the facts to do the talking Dont decide the case before the cases end.

Though the Republicans are in the driving seat, their control is not beyond challenge. Were the Democrats to persuade just four Republicans to vote against party lines they could reach the 51 votes needed to determine some features of the trial.

In an interview with CNN on Monday, Schumer implied that getting those four votes was not out of the question, though he would give no names of potential targets.

There are a good number of Republicans who are troubled by what the president did, he said, who want to see all the facts.

Speculation has focused on senators including Mitt Romney of Utah, who has criticised Trump relatively strongly, and moderates Susan Collins of Maine, and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska.

Trump faces two articles of impeachment. The first accuses him of misusing his office to bully Ukraine into investigating Joe Biden in a way that would benefit Trumps re-election campaign; the second charges the president with obstructing Congress by blocking witnesses to impeachment hearings.

Despite the hyper-partisan battle ahead, Schumers demand for Bolton and Mulvaney to be called as witnesses could be significant as it goes to the heart of the evidence of high crimes and misdemeanors that impeachment is devised to penalise.

Two other key officials have also been requested by the Democrats: Mulvaneys senior adviser, Robert Blair, and Michael Duffey, associate director for national security at the Office of Management and Budget.

Evidence already gathered has revealed Boltons deep misgivings about the way Trump was pressurising Ukraine for personal political gain, reportedly complaining: I am not part of whatever drug deal [Trump aides] are cooking up.

Mulvaneys testimony would also be potentially critical given his statement in October that there had indeed been quid pro quo with Ukraine. The Trump administration withheld almost $400m in military aid to the country at the same time as demanding an investigation into Biden.

Joan E Greve contributed reporting

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Trump condemned for tweets pointing to name of Ukraine whistleblower

President posted link to article that identifies official then sent a further tweet containing the name

Donald Trump has retweeted material that publicly names the purported whistleblower whose complaint about the US presidents dealings with Ukraine led to his impeachment.

The president on Friday night sent a retweet from one of his supporters containing the alleged name of the individual. Trump drew the attention of his 68 million Twitter followers to the post which, along with publicising the name, inaccurately claimed that the whistleblower committed perjury by making false statements and is being protected by Adam Schiff, chairman of the House intelligence committee. There is no evidence to support these assertions.

Earlier, on Thursday, Trump had also retweeted a post by his re-election campaigns war room that linked to an article by the conservative Washington Examiner news website. The article, published on 3 December, has the name of the alleged whistleblower in its headline.

Trumps retweet quickly drew sharp criticism. Amy Siskind, president of the New Agenda, a nonpartisan advocacy organisation, posted on Friday: This is not acceptable behavior from the so-called leader of our country, and he must be called to task for it!

The whistleblower is reportedly a CIA analyst . They filed an anonymous complaint in August alleging Trump pressured Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskiy to announce an investigation into a political rival a violation of laws against seeking foreign help in US elections.

The nine-page memo was based on secondary sources, but the whistleblowers colleagues in the intelligence and diplomatic communities corroborated and fleshed out the account in closed-door and public hearings. This culminated in last weeks House of Representatives vote to impeach Trump for abuse of power and obstruction of Congress, setting the stage for a Senate trial in the coming weeks.

With so much evidence on the record, Democrats have largely moved on from the whistleblower, who has become something of a rightwing obsession. Their alleged name and photograph have been circulating in conservative media for months. Despite whistleblower protection laws, they have to be driven to work by security detail to protect their safety.

The president was following in the footsteps of his own son, Donald Trump Jr, who last month tweeted an article that contained the name and was then grilled about it on the TV talk show The View. Trump Jr claimed he was a private citizen sharing information on social media. The shows hosts argued this was disingenuous considering that he is the presidents son.

Yet for all his sense of raw grievance and righteous indignation over impeachment, Trump himself had been showing uncharacteristic restraint. Last month the Guardian asked him if he was thinking about tweeting out the name of the whistleblower.

The president replied: Well, Ill tell you what. There have been stories written about a certain individual a male and they say hes the whistleblower.

Trump went on to claim, without evidence, that the whistleblower is linked to John Brennan, the former director of the CIA, and Susan Rice, the ex-national security adviser. If hes the whistleblower, he has no credibility because hes a Brennan guy, hes a Susan Rice guy, hes an Obama guy, and he hates Trump, and hes a radical. Now, maybe its not him. But if its him, you guys ought to release the information.

Trump has made several more appeals for the media to out the whistleblower, amplified by Republican allies in in Congress, who allege the person is a Democrat pursuing a vendetta. At a Trump rally in Kentucky, the US senator Rand Paul urged reporters: Do your job and print his name! Trump applauded.

Trump himself has never come closer to doing it himself than Thursdays retweet. The Daily Beast reported: Several people close to the president, such as Ivanka Trump and White House Counsel Pat Cipollone, had privately cautioned him against saying or posting the name in public, arguing it would be counterproductive and unnecessary.

Legal experts disagree on whether identifying a whistleblower is a crime. Some argue the Intelligence Community Whistleblower Protection Act of 1998 forbids retaliation against an employee for blowing the whistle on perceived wrongdoing but does not prevent a president or member of Congress from identifying a whistleblower.

But Robert Litt, former general counsel for the office of the director of national intelligence, told National Public Radio last month: Anybody who is thinking about outing the whistleblower has to take into account the possibility that if something happens to the whistleblower, there would be some civil liability for causing that to happen. And while disclosing the identity of the whistleblower isnt necessarily unlawful, creating a hostile work environment might be viewed as retaliation.

With few public engagements, Trump, based at his private club in Palm Beach, Florida, has spent the Christmas period furiously tweeting and retweeting false claims and conspiracy theories related to Ukraine and impeachment.

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Protests grow as Peter Handke receives Nobel medal in Sweden

The literature laureateship, due to be presented in Stockholm on Tuesday, faces boycotts and widespread protest

As Turkey joins Albania and Kosovo in boycotting Tuesdays Nobel prize ceremony for Peter Handke over his support for Slobodan Milosevics genocidal regime, war correspondents from Christiane Amanpour to Jeremy Bowen are protesting his win by sharing their harrowing stories from the conflict in the former Yugoslavia.

The Austrian writer, whose stance on the Yugoslav wars of the 1990s and attendance at Milosevics funeral have been widely criticised, is due to receive his Nobel medal in Stockholm, where a large protest demonstration is expected.

Bosnian Swedish writer Adnan Mahmutovic, who is organising the protests, said there had been a huge negative response to Handkes win in Sweden.

We hope that our voices tonight will help us start a dialogue about the consequences of continuous genocide denial that has been going on for decades. Genocide is not an event but a process whose last phase is denial. We cannot let our Nobel legacy legitimise it, he said.

A digital mural on the side of a Sarajevo shopping mall protests against the awarding of the laureateship to Handke on Tuesday. Photograph: Anadolu Agency/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Last week Peter Englund, a member of the Swedish Academy, which selects the winner, announced he would boycott the ceremony, saying: To celebrate Peter Handkes Nobel prize would be gross hypocrisy on my part. On Tuesday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan slammed Handke on television, saying the Nobel has no value granting the Nobel literature prize on Human Rights Day to a figure who denies the genocide in Bosnia and Herzegovina is nothing less than rewarding human rights violations. Turkeys ambassador to Sweden, Hakki Emre Yunt, also announced he would not attend the ceremony.

Albanias acting foreign minister Gent Cakaj has instructed the countrys ambassador to Sweden to boycott the ceremony, as is Kosovo, with its ambassador to the US, Vlora itaku calling Handkes win a preposterous and shameful decision.

Journalists who covered the war in Bosnia, meanwhile, are protesting Handkes win by describing what they saw during the conflict using the hashtag #BosniaWarJournalists.

I was there. We all know whos guilty, wrote Amanpour, the chief international anchor for CNN who covered the war as a young reporter.

My colleagues #BosniaWarJournalists are outraged so we are posting our work to remind the world of what happened there. Never forget, wrote foreign correspondent Janine di Giovanni. In Sarajevo, Id go to the morgue to count dead: Children, women, soldiers, horrors of that unjust war laid out on a slab. What BosniaWarReporters like me saw was relentless attacks on civilians. Genocide. Please speak out against Handke getting Nobel.

The BBCs Middle East editor Jeremy Bowen wrote: I reported all the Yugo wars. Saw monstrous crimes. Later testified at war crimes trials, inc those of Bosnian Serb leaders Karadzic & Mladic.

Former foreign correspondent Emma Daly said that she will never forget walking around the mass graves holding hundreds of men & boys who were blindfolded, shot & buried on farmland near Srebrenica. We know Milosevic was responsible.

The New York Timess Roger Cohen, sharing a link to his 1994 story about a Serbian concentration camp, wrote: shame on Nobel Committee and Swedish King for handing Nobel literature prize to Peter Handke, who calls the Bosnian genocide myth.

Journalist Peter Maass, who was told on Friday by Handke that his questions about the Srebrenica massacre were empty and ignorant, wrote on Twitter that the legacy of the Swedish royal family, who will award the Austrian author his medal, will be that they authenticated a genocide denier.

Handke has claimed that the Muslims staged their own massacres in Sarajevo and then blamed this on the Serbs, also casting doubt on the massacre of thousands of Muslims in Srebrenica in 1995. In an essay for the French newspaper Libration in 2006, he wrote: Lets stop comparing Slobodan Milosevic to Hitler and lets never again use the expression for the camps installed during the Yugoslav war concentration camps.

True, there were intolerable camps between 1992 and 1995 in Yugoslavia, especially in Bosnia. But let us stop mechanically linking, in our heads, these camps to Bosnian Serbs there were also Croatian camps and Muslim camps, and the crimes committed there, and there, are and will be tried in The Hague, he wrote. And finally, lets stop linking the massacres (amongst which, in the plural, those in Srebrenica in July 1995 were by far the most abominable) to Serbian forces or paramilitaries. Let us also listen to the survivors of Muslim massacres in the many Serbian villages around Srebrenica.

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China issues warning over Hong Kong after election blow

Beijing re-emphasises its rule in response to defeat for pro-government candidates

Chinas government has responded to a stunning landslide victory for pro-democracy candidates in the Hong Kong elections by emphasising that the city will always be ruled from Beijing, and warning against further protest violence.

The foreign minister, Wang Yi, warned against attempts to disrupt Hong Kong, as a few hundred people took to the streets again in support of protesters holed up in a university that has been under siege by police for over a week.

No matter how the situation in Hong Kong changes, it is very clear that Hong Kong is a part of Chinese territory, he told reporters on the sidelines of the G20 meeting in Tokyo. Any attempts to disrupt Hong Kong or undermine its stability and prosperity will not succeed.

The election results pose a dilemma for Beijing, and Hong Kongs chief executive, Carrie Lam. Hand-picked to rule by party leaders, she is widely accepted to have coordinated her hardline response to protesters with Chinas top leadership.

Before the vote, Lam often claimed she had the support of a silent majority, as she refused to compromise. With that position untenable after pro-government candidates were swept from power across the city, holding on to barely one in 10 seats on district councils, she took a more conciliatory approach.

On Monday, she promised to respect the election results and listen humbly to the views of the public. Refusing to compromise would almost certainly inflame residents and protesters further, nearly six months into a deep political crisis.

Play Video

Celebrations in Hong Kong amid landslide victory for pro-democracy candidates video

But the resounding democratic rejection of Chinas plans for Hong Kong presents the autocratic president, Xi Jinping, with one of the most serious challenges to his rule since he took power in 2012, and it is far from clear if he will be willing to climb down.

Most Chinese media sidestepped mentioning the results when they reported on the elections, saying only that polls had closed in Hong Kong.

Hours after Wangs comments, a ministry spokesman Geng Shuang also avoided directly commenting on the results, but made a fresh attack on the protest movement, which China has repeatedly claimed is being supported by foreign powers seeking to undermine the country.

The most urgent task for Hong Kong at present is to stop violence, control chaos and restore order, Geng said, according to reports on state media. The Chinese government is unswervingly determined to safeguard national sovereignty, and to oppose any interference in Hong Kong affairs by external forces.

But in a reminder of the protesters commitment and the volatile situation, by Monday evening a crowd had gathered outside the Hong Kong Polytechnic University, where a handful of protesters were still under siege by police, and newly elected pro-democratic councillors went to meet them inside.

On Weibo, Chinas equivalent to Twitter, it was clear that some news had leaked behind the great firewall that cuts the countrys internet off from the world wide web. Now we can see clearly who is the minority, wrote one user, in reference to Lams frequent claims that the protesters were just a small but vocal group.

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