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Rep. Mike Gallagher resigning early, bringing House GOP majority to 4

Fri, 03/22/2024 - 21:03

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Rep. Mike Gallagher, a Wisconsin Republican who has spearheaded House pushback against the Chinese government, said Friday he would resign from the House, leaving House Republicans with the thinnest of majorities.

Gallagher, age 40, announced he would resign his position on April 19. The latest resignation will leave Republicans with a 217-213 majority in the House, meaning that they cannot afford to lose more than one vote on a party-line vote. The thin majority has already proved to be a challenge for Republican leadership and forced House Speaker Mike Johnson to work with Democrats to pass practically any legislation.

Gallagher had already announced he would not seek reelection.

A former Marine who grew up in Green Bay, he has represented northeastern Wisconsin in Congress since 2017. He spent last year leading a new House committee dedicated to countering China. During the committee's first hearing, he framed the competition between the U.S. and China as "an existential struggle over what life will look like in the 21st century."

Gallagher said in a statement, "I've worked closely with House Republican leadership on this timeline and look forward to seeing Speaker Johnson appoint a new chair to carry out the important mission of the Select Committee on the Chinese Communist Party."

There also won't be a special election for Gallagher's seat. His resignation will happen within a window in Wisconsin law that dictates the seat be filled in the general election.

A Republican state senator, Andre Jacque of De Pere, and a former state senator, Roger Roth, are running for the Wisconsin 8th Congressional District seat that is being vacated.

SEE MORE: Marjorie Taylor Greene files motion to oust Speaker Mike Johnson

The district is solidly Republican, but the Wisconsin Democratic Party said in a statement that it would be "fighting hard" for the seat and called Gallagher's resignation "a remarkable indictment of a do-nothing GOP majority obsessed with creating chaos."

For a time, Gallagher was seen as a rising star in the GOP and was one of the highest-profile Republicans considering a run for U.S. Senate this year against incumbent Wisconsin Democrat Tammy Baldwin. But he abandoned the idea in June. He said then that he wanted to focus on countering China through the committee and that he planned to run for a fifth term in the House.

Gallagher led the successful push this month to pass in the House a bill that would lead to a nationwide ban of the popular video app TikTok if its China-based owner doesn't sell its stake. He, along with a wide bipartisan contingent, argued that the company's current ownership represented a national security threat.

But Gallagher found himself at odds both with former President Donald Trump and his supporters. He also angered fellow Republicans last month by refusing to impeach Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas.

The GOP was looking to oust Mayorkas as a way to punish the Biden administration over its handling of the U.S.-Mexico border, but the House's first impeachment attempt fell just one vote short in February after Gallagher and two other Republicans refused to support the action. They argued that Republicans were misusing impeachment.

Still, GOP members surrounded Gallagher on the House floor in an attempt to change his mind, but he refused to change his vote. Republicans were eventually able to impeach Mayorkas when other lawmakers returned from absences. But just days after the first failed impeachment vote, Gallagher announced he would leave the House.

UN passes resolution to protect against malicious AI

Fri, 03/22/2024 - 20:51

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The U.N. General Assembly approved a first-of-its-kind resolution on artificial intelligence this week. 

U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Linda Thomas Greenfield was instrumental in passing the resolution, which warns against malicious development. 

Greenfield notes that the U.S. and other countries have already taken measures to address the safety of AI. 

 "What we have done as a country, first, President Biden announced that we were going to engage in this when he was here in September," she said. "We have engaged with the private sector, gotten private-sector entities to agree to certain principles. And so what this does is it sets a platform for countries to base their own initiative."

Greenfield noted that the tech industry has been consulted on this issue, and they are getting buy-in,

"They're deploying AI, so they have to be part of any discussions about it," she said.

Despite all of the countries signing on to the resolution, it is non-binding. Greenfield appears to have faith that even countries like China will abide by the resolution.

"The fact that they wanted to join consensus, I think, is a positive sign," she said. 

With the U.S. taking action on AI and the European Union passing its own set of regulations last week, Greenfield believes progress on this issue is being made. 

SEE MORE: The White House wants feedback on keeping AI private or open-source

Viewers weigh in on our coverage of Trump's 'bloodbath' comments

Fri, 03/22/2024 - 20:20

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The messages viewers like you often leave us on our toll-free Scripps News Viewer Hotline reflect just how divided we are as a nation, with recent remarks made by former President Donald Trump sparking controversy and serving as a political Rorschach test.

"Now, if I don't get elected, it's going to be a bloodbath for the whole — that'll be the least of it," Trump said at a campaign event earlier this week while talking about the possibility of an increasing trade war with China over auto manufacturing. 

SEE MORE: Trump warns of a 'bloodbath' if he loses election in November

Trump's comments are often polarizing, with many of you expressing your support or disdain. So these latest remarks from the former president spurred many of you to call in.

Raymond said: "So I was watching the gentleman on Scripps News this morning trying to justify Mr. Trump’s behavior and I’ll be honest with you, I put it on mute every time you do that. I mean, there are certain things he can say, but there are certain things you guys shouldn’t let him repeat on TV. "

Meanwhile, Deborah from Pennsylvania said: "You’re slanting things. You’re changing words to make him look like he’s saying things he’s not saying. He did not say the bloodbath thing. He said 'the autoworkers,' and I heard you bleep it out. So you’re changing words, and we’re not dumb. We can see it."

Some of you took issue not just with our reporting here at Scripps News, but with all of professional journalism.

One viewer on YouTube wrote: "No minimally observant person trusts legacy media to be on the level."

SEE MORE: How Scripps News balances coverage of Biden and Trump

We are on the level — or at least we very much want to and try to be. We've also taken great steps to report on this story with context and clarity by leaving out sensationalism so that you can decide for yourself whether Trump's rhetoric was valid or whether it crossed a line.

But maybe since we're hearing both positive and negative reactions to this particular comment, it could be a sign we're leaving important room for you to decide for yourself.

As always, we welcome your feedback on this topic or any others that are on your mind. In fact, some of our new programs have spurred your feedback — like our newly launched limited-run series "Hindsight," in which we revisit stories that have faded from the headlines.

Deborah from Ohio said: "I really appreciate your show 'Hindsight' … because I always wonder, like, what happened afterwards? ... I’m just totally in love with this program. Thank you for putting it on."

SEE MORE: Viewer Spotlight: Our effort to present fact-based, unbiased news

"Hindsight" airs on Saturdays at 5 p.m. ET, and this week we take a look at the wide-ranging impact of the deadly Station nightclub fire in Rhode Island. Following up on major stories of the day is a hallmark of what we do here at Scripps News because all news is local to someone, and our reporters and producers live and work in communities big and small all across the country.

In the meantime, we want to follow up with you. Contact us anytime on our toll-free Scripps News Viewer Hotline. 

You may even hear your call on air!

Federal credit unions offer support to those left behind by big banks

Fri, 03/22/2024 - 20:06

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This is a story of David and Goliath, but not how you might expect.

In this story, who's David and who's Goliath depends on who's looking. What's at stake is a chance to lift up those often overlooked — even in the goliath of a city known as New York.

In some ways, Andrea Pitter is Goliath. She's not a villain to be defeated — but on her block in Flatbush, Brooklyn, where neighborhood stores sit shoulder to shoulder, Pitter's store covers 12,000 square feet.

"For people who live in the community, I'm absolutely Goliath," Pitter said, "but I feel like, when it comes to the industry as a whole, I'm definitely David."

Pitter runs Pantora Bridal. She designs wedding dresses, employs a dozen people, and symbolizes community success. But even in this context, this Goliath is still David. She's a David who's taken out multiple loans in 10 years. And she received them from another David, nearby in the borough.

Samira Rajan runs Brooklyn Coop, a cooperative federal credit union that provides banking services in communities where services are largely unavailable. 

"These are immigrant neighborhoods," Rajan said. "These are largely minority neighborhoods, and they're neighborhoods which are neglected, marginalized, ignored by most mainstream financial institutions."

In the world of small business loans, Brooklyn Coop is a David. The biggest banks every year give out thousands of small-business loans averaging hundreds of thousands of dollars apiece. Last year Brooklyn Coop approved 11 loans, averaging $24,000 each. But for their communities, cooperative federal credit unions are very much Goliaths, because those smaller loans can set up long-term wealth. 

"They approved me for $4,000, which was just enough to make me feel seen," Pitter said. "I remember what my first experience was like applying for a credit card. I felt terrible just applying for a credit card with a $125 limit. So imagine going into an establishment asking for several thousands of dollars. I never felt welcomed in those spaces."

Pitter's first store was 400 square feet in Crown Heights. Several locations and one decade later, she's been profiled by The Knot, won Season 2 of Amazon's "Making the Cut" and has become, in her industry, a trailblazing David.

"People aren't used to necessarily seeing a face that looks like mine," Pitter said. "They're not necessarily seeing celebrations that feels like ours." 

These are the kinds of businesses often supported by cooperative federal credit unions.

"We end up being like in the top five in business loans in Kings County (where Brooklyn is located), if you go by volume," Rajan said. "The members of the credit unions are the Davids. And the Goliath is, like, America."

Goliaths and Davids come in different sizes. Sometimes they coexist in the same business, in the same person. Brooklyn Coop is a David of a Goliath, and Pantora Bridal is a Goliath of a David. Both say they represent the Davids — of Brooklyn and beyond — finding a bit of Goliath for their financial future.

SEE MORE: Are tax credits better than deductions? Advice for top tax questions

First look at 'Beetlejuice' sequel shows Michael Keaton back in action

Fri, 03/22/2024 - 19:49

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Fans of Tim Burton's cult-classic movie "Beetlejuice" are getting a special treat this fall: Thirty-six years after the release of the 1988 original, Burton has filmed a sequel, and Michael Keaton is back in the title role. 

Based on the trailer, the follow-up appears to be every bit as kooky, funny and horror-tinged as the first one. It's set to hit theaters on Sept. 6.

The official title is "Beetlejuice, Beetlejuice," which is no doubt a nod to the way you summon the ghastly lead character — one more utterance of that word makes it three times, which is when Beetlejuice appears.

Original "Beetlejuice" cast members — including Winona Ryder and Catherine O'Hara, who played Lydia and Delia Deetz, respectively — are also returning. 

There's also a new family member: Lydia's daughter, Astrid, who is played by Jenna Ortega. She's an apt pick, since she's already played another comedy/horror heroine, Wednesday Addams, in Burton's TV show "Wednesday."

The original "Beetlejuice" centered around a couple named Barbara, played by Geena Davis, and Adam Maitland, played by Alec Baldwin, who lose their lives in a car accident. Now they're ghosts haunting their old house, and they're unable to leave the premises when the insufferable new owners, the Deetz family, move in. They solicit help from the devilish Beetlejuice, who (comically) makes everything worse.

Since Geena Davis and Alec Baldwin are not returning, we're expecting to learn that they made it out of the house, somehow. But there are some other new cast members arriving, including Willem Dafoe as a cop and former B-movie action star in the afterlife. Monica Bellucci (Burton's real-life love) will play Beetlejuice's wife, and Justin Theroux will play a mysterious character named Rory.

The sequel's first-look trailer gives a hint at what might kick off the new story. Delia, Lydia and Astrid stand by a gravesite with somber faces; could the story open with the death of Delia's husband, Charles, played by Jeffrey Jones in the original? 

Entertainment Weekly asked Burton about the opening scene, and he skirted the question, saying, "There's something that happens that sets things in motion."

In the moment we've been waiting for, Keaton appears as Beetlejuice at the end. Take a look:

The white-robed choir at the funeral sings strains from Harry Belafonte's "Day O," summoning one of the funniest scenes in the original movie. Though the trailer doesn't reveal much, it does seem like the sequel will also put a silly spin on death, which is what the original did best.

This story was originally published by Jennifer Graham Kizer on Simplemost.com.

US doctor recounts 'heartbreaking' mission for kids in northern Gaza

Fri, 03/22/2024 - 19:41

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Few humanitarians have set foot in northern Gaza in recent months. Last week, Chicago-area pediatrician John Kahler became one of them. 

For his organization MedGlobal, Dr. Kahler traveled to Kamal Adwan Hospital, north of Gaza City, for one afternoon to help set up a potential nutrition stabilization program for young children. 

“The road was absolutely destroyed. I mean, it was blown to smithereens," the 77-year-old recalls, adding that when he toured the pediatric unit “virtually 100% of the children were dehydrated and malnourished.” 

Accompanied by a UNICEF representative, Kahler brought with him two cases of special formula designed to help resuscitate malnourished children. 

"You would have thought we brought a shipment-load by how happy people were that we brought something. It tells you the immensity of the problem," Kahler said. 

According to UNICEF, 25% of children under 5 in northern Gaza now suffer from acute malnutrition.  

Kahler says that's a tipping point — and the percentage could soon increase exponentially, leading to more deaths and "a potential breakdown in civil order, because the parents of these kids are going to become more and more desperate, in addition to being more and more hungry." 

Kahler says he saw hints of that desperation during his journey to the hospital in a U.N.-marked SUV. 

"People hitting the window of your car as you passed — more out of frustration and anger. And it was just this terrible feeling of impotence," he recalled. 

Twice in the last month, efforts to bring aid to northern Gaza ended in bloodshed as Gazans approaching aid convoys were killed. 

Kahler says MedGlobal's mission there will only work if Israel opens more crossings and allows more aid. Israeli officials say they don't impose limits on how much aid can enter Gaza though aid workers say inspections are slow. 

During his trip, Kahler also spent a week overseeing the launch of malnutrition screening and stabilization programs for children in Rafah in southern Gaza. 

"What you see when you get a thing like malnutrition is you see the stare, they're really listless,” the pediatrician explained, adding that seeing so many malnourished children in Gaza with that stare was heartbreaking. 

It was the doctor's second trip to Gaza in two months. Barely back from his latest mission, he's already planning the next, slated for April. 

 "The remainder of my life is dedicated to helping people like this," he said.

SEE MORE: Chicago doctor describes heartbreaking scenes in Rafah, vows to return

Solar eclipse prompts National Guard response in Oklahoma

Fri, 03/22/2024 - 19:22

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The Oklahoma National Guard will activate members to help assist with the influx of tourists one area is expected to see for next month's total solar eclipse. 

Officials said McCurtain County Emergency Management requested National Guard members so local emergency responders can continue assisting citizens. The eclipse will occur on April 8. 

The National Guard said its 63rd Civil Support Team will help provide authorities with an extra hand. 

“McCurtain County Emergency Management requested our support because they expect up to 100,000 additional people visiting their communities to watch the eclipse,” said Lt. Col. Jabonn Flurry, 63rd CST commander. “This influx of visitors has the potential to overtax local resources and thanks to the training and experience our Guardsmen have working alongside local agencies all across Oklahoma, the CST is uniquely qualified to support our fellow Oklahomans.” 

SEE MORE: Solar eclipse could disrupt operations at US airports, FAA says

McCurtain County is within the path of totality and will have over four minutes of a total eclipse.

The total solar eclipse's swath is about 100 miles wide and extends from Texas to Maine. Other states along the path of totality have prepared by delaying road projects and closing schools. Emergency management officials have also warned that cellphone service could be disrupted because of the number of visitors. 

Many hotels and campgrounds have sold out ahead of the eclipse. 

New York is among the other states expecting many visitors. 

"The New York State Police is working closely with our local and state partners preparing for any potential increase in traffic and large gatherings that the eclipse may bring. We are making preparations to ensure the safety of the motoring public, including deploying additional troopers as needed," said New York State Police Acting Superintendent Dominick L. Chiumento. "We also remind the public to watch the eclipse from designated viewing areas and to avoid stopping on controlled access highways unless there is an emergency. The New York State Police wants everyone to safely enjoy this rare event.”

Cuban exile community in US keeping watchful eye on protests in Cuba

Fri, 03/22/2024 - 19:10

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The grainy and often shaky cellphone videos, posted on social media, paint part of the picture of what's going on inside of Cuba. 

This past week, large crowds gathered in several cities to protest a dwindling supply of food and fuel, on an island where electricity blackouts are now commonplace. Such protests are rare. 

"There is no economic freedom. There is no political freedom. There's nothing in Cuba," said Janisset Rivero with the Center for a Free Cuba, a nonprofit group of Cuban exiles pushing for regime change on the island.

Rivero migrated to Miami in the early 1990s and still has family in Cuba. 

"When I left the island, I couldn't see them again," she said. "So, I miss my family — the family I left there." 

What is happening now is dire, Rivero said. 

This week, state-run media there reported, and the World Food Programme confirmed to Scripps News, that the island nation asked the international food aid agency for help in the form of powdered milk for all Cuban children under the age of 7.

"The situation is critical," Rivero said. "There is no transportation, there is no food, there is no electricity, there is no water — not even water." 

Eduardo Gamarra, a professor of international affairs at Florida International University, also said the Cuban economy is not doing well. 

"Its economy is absolutely at ground zero," he said. 

Despite that, though, Gamarra said these latest protests came as a surprise for one main reason: More than a half-million Cubans have left the island and sought refuge in the U.S., just since 2021. 

"It's not a surprise that there are demonstrations, in the sense that the conditions are so bad," Gamarra said. "It's just that, given the repression and that so many people left, I guess it's a wonder, is there anybody left there to protest?" 

He said many Cubans left the island by obtaining visas to countries in Central America and then made the trek to the U.S. southern border.

In the past three years, about 300,000 of them settled in Miami-Dade County alone, adding to the Cuban-American community already established there. Miami's Little Havana neighborhood is the heart of the Cuban-American community in the United States. More than 2.7 million Cubans and Cuban Americans now call the U.S. home. 

Cuban officials often blame the island's poor economy on a long-standing U.S. trade embargo. However, the latest protests came on the heels of the Cuban government firing its economy minister, Alejandro Gil Fernández, earlier this month. They are now investigating him for "serious mistakes." 

"So, the situation is bad enough so that the government is saying maybe we need to rethink our economic policy," Gamarra said, "but nothing is going to change in Cuba, policy-wise, in my opinion, at least until the regime changes — and that's unlikely to happen in the near term." 

Still, many Cubans in the U.S. said they would like to see regime change soon, including Janisset Rivero. 

"When Cuba is free, I will definitely go back to help in the reconstruction," Rivero said.

Until then, the two Cuban communities will be living very different lives — 90 miles apart.

SEE MORE: Former US ambassador arrested in Florida, accused of working for Cuba

Former shelter dog cast in local production of 'Annie'

Fri, 03/22/2024 - 19:07

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In the musical "Annie," an orphan girl rescues Sandy, a lovable stray that no one else wants.

In an upcoming production of "Annie," the canine actor playing Sandy has a similarly hard-knock story, making the theme even more heartwarming. A Pyrenees mix named Olaf portrays Sandy in “Annie” at the Muskegon Catholic Central Theater in Muskegon, Michigan. Before making his theatrical debut, Olaf was also a dog that no one wanted.

Jodi Jarvis-Therrian, a dog trainer with Dog Blessed, rescued Olaf about four years ago after he was transported from an overcrowded shelter in St. Landry Parish, Louisiana. She had just lost her beloved dog, Odin, and wasn’t sure if she was ready to adopt another. But she agreed to foster Olaf.

"He just had that look, like 'Please get me out of here,'" she says. "And I have a thing for white, fluffy dogs."

When he arrived, Olaf was heartworm positive, very timid and frightened by even the simplest commands. When she’d give the “sit” command, Olaf would sit, but he would cower like he was hurt. Jarvis-Therrian guessed that a prior owner was impatient with him and yelled a lot.

So, in her lighter, positive tone, she gave the usual commands in Pig Latin instead. Rather than saying “sit,” she might say, “it-say” — a term that didn’t have negative connotations for Olaf. The technique worked beautifully. Soon enough, he’d learned many commands.

“I believe in giving dogs purpose and fun and jobs,” she says. “And he is so eager to work now. It can help a dog’s confidence soar, and it did with him.”

She brings Olaf with her everywhere, including her community training classes, where he is a big help with the puppies. “During puppy social time, if one is scared, I’ll take him to the side and just let him hang out with Olaf. He makes himself kind of small and rolls over on his back."

Part of Jarvis-Therrian’s dog training work involves certifying animal actors, and Olaf has his black card certification. “I post all the fun acting stuff Olaf does [on social media],” Jarvis-Therrian says. And that’s how “Annie’s” musical director, Jacqui Robinson, got word about Olaf.

Jarvis-Therrian brought Olaf in to meet Lila Offman, the 13-year-old who plays Annie.

“Olaf is so lovable, kind and fluffy,” Lila says of her canine costar. “And he is a lot of fun!”

The feeling was mutual, as Olaf relishes attention from children.

“I thought, as long as he’s good with it, I’m good with it,” Jarvis-Therrian says. “I want him to have a happy life. His life span may be shorter because of his heart, but I want every moment to just be amazing and fun.”

Olaf is a fantastic mimic, following body language. He watches Lila and follows what she does. When Lila spins, he spins. And he’s not disturbed by the loud music.

“On the first day, it was all kind of Greek to us, but Olaf was just happy and silly,” Jarvis-Therrian says. “Lila put her little headset on, and they played the music, and she started singing. And he ended up putting his head down on her lap and just flopping over! And it was like, ‘Oh, he’s going to be so good with that!'”

Meanwhile, Robinson, the musical director, couldn’t be happier to have this charming rescue dog in her cast. “We have lucked out having both Jodi and Olaf,” she says.  “They are such a blessing to have involved in our production!”

You can watch Jarvis-Therrian discuss Olaf’s starring role at MuskegonChannel.com. And if you live nearby, you can still buy tickets to see Olaf and Lila perform in “Annie” on March 22 at 7 p.m. and March 23 at 1 p.m. and 7 p.m.

This story originally appeared on Simplemost.

Kobe Bryant's dad auctioning off late NBA star's 1st championship ring

Fri, 03/22/2024 - 18:51

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An NBA Championship ring that was once owned by the late Los Angeles Lakers star Kobe Bryant has hit the auction block.

According to Goldin, the 14-karat gold ring is decorated with a whopping 40 diamonds and was given to Kobe's father, Joe Bryant, after the athlete won his first championship with the Lakers during the 2000 NBA season. While it's not the same ring given to players and team personnel, it is listed as an exact replica that Kobe had ordered as a gift for his 69-year-old father.

Goldin says the ring comes in Kobe's ring size of 11.5, weighs nearly 60 grams, and comes with a letter of authenticity from the Hall of Famer's mother, Pam Bryant.

"Obtained directly from the Bryant family, this ring is a true one-of-a-kind," the item description reads. "And we can confirm that it is the only championship ring ever given by Kobe to his father."

Bidding on the ring began at $30,000. But as of Friday afternoon, the highest bid had already reached $141,000, with the auction set to conclude on March 30.

Bryant was just 41 years old when he died alongside his 13-year-old daughter Gianna and seven others in a helicopter crash on Jan. 26, 2020. The group was on their way to a youth basketball game in which Kobe was set to coach and his daughter was scheduled to play. An investigation found that the helicopter encountered dense fog and poor visibility, before crashing into a mountain in Calabasas, California. 

Over the course of his 20-year career — all with the Lakers — Bryant went on to win five NBA Championships, was named Finals Most Valuable Player twice, and won two gold medals while representing Team USA in the Olympics. He was posthumously inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2021.

Islamic State claims responsibility for deadly Moscow terror attack

Fri, 03/22/2024 - 18:49

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Assailants burst into a large concert hall in Moscow on Friday and sprayed the crowd with gunfire, killing over 60 people, injuring more than 100 and setting fire to the venue in a brazen attack just days after President Vladimir Putin cemented his grip on power in a highly orchestrated electoral landslide.

The Islamic State group claimed responsibility for the attack in a statement posted on affiliated channels on social media. A U.S. intelligence official told The Associated Press that U.S. intelligence agencies had learned the group's branch in Afghanistan was planning an attack in Moscow and shared the information with Russian officials.

It wasn’t immediately clear what happened to the attackers after the raid, which state investigators were investigating as terrorism.

The attack, which left the concert hall in flames with a collapsing roof, was the deadliest in Russia in years and came as the country’s war in Ukraine dragged into a third year. Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin called the raid a “huge tragedy.”

The Kremlin said Putin was informed minutes after the assailants burst into Crocus City Hall, a large music venue on Moscow’s western edge that can accommodate 6,200 people.

The attack took place as crowds gathered for a performance by the Russian rock band Picnic. The Investigative Committee, the top state criminal investigation agency, reported early Saturday that more than 60 people were killed. Health authorities released a list of 145 injured — 115 of them hospitalized, including five children.

Some Russian news reports suggested more victims could have been trapped by the blaze that erupted after the assailants threw explosives.

Video showed the building on fire, with a huge cloud of smoke rising through the night sky. The street was lit up by the blinking blue lights of dozens of firetrucks, ambulances and other emergency vehicles, as fire helicopters buzzed overhead to dump water on the blaze that took hours to contain.

The prosecutor’s office said several men in combat fatigues entered the concert hall and fired on concertgoers.

Dave Primov, who was in the hall during the attack, described panic and chaos when the attack began.

“There were volleys of gunfire,” Primov told the AP. “We all got up and tried to move toward the aisles. People began to panic, started to run and collided with each other. Some fell down and others trampled on them.”

Videos posted by Russian media and on messaging app channels showed men toting assault rifles shooting screaming people at point-blank range. One video showed a man in the auditorium saying the assailants had set it on fire, as gunshots rang out incessantly.

Guards at the concert hall didn’t have guns, and some could have been killed at the start of the attack, Russian media reported. Some Russian news outlets suggested the assailants fled before special forces and riot police arrived. Reports said police patrols were looking for several vehicles the attackers could have used to escape.

In a statement posted by its Aamaq news agency, the Islamic State group said it attacked a large gathering of “Christians” in Krasnogorsk on Moscow’s outskirts, killing and wounding hundreds. It was not immediately possible to verify the authenticity of the claim.

However, U.S. intelligence officials confirmed the claim by the Islamic State group's branch based in Afghanistan that it was responsible for the Moscow attack, a U.S. official told the AP.

The official said U.S. intelligence agencies had gathered information in recent weeks that the IS branch was planning an attack in Moscow. He said U.S. officials privately shared the intelligence earlier this month with Russian officials. The official was briefed on the matter but was not authorized to publicly discuss the intelligence information and spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity.

Noting that the IS statement cast its claim as an attack targeting Christians, Aymenn Jawad al-Tamimi, an expert on the terrorist group, said it appeared to reflect the group’s strategy of “striking wherever they can as part of a global ‘fight the infidels and apostates everywhere.’”

In October 2015, a bomb planted by IS downed a Russian passenger plane over Sinai, killing all 224 people on board, most of them Russian vacation-goers returning from Egypt. The group, which operates mainly in Syria and Iraq but also in Afghanistan and Africa, also has claimed several attacks in Russia’s volatile Caucasus and other regions in the past years. It recruited fighters from Russia and other parts of former Soviet Union.

On March 7, Russia’s top security agency said it thwarted an attack on a synagogue in Moscow by an Islamic State cell, killing several of its members in the Kaluga region near the Russian capital. A few days earlier, Russian authorities said six alleged IS members were killed in a shootout in Ingushetia in Russia’s Caucasus region.

On Friday, statements of outrage, shock and support for those affected by the concert call attack streamed in from around the world.

Some commentators on Russian social media questioned how authorities, who relentlessly surveil and pressure Kremlin critics, failed to identify the threat and prevent the attack.

Russian officials said security was tightened at Moscow’s airports, railway stations and the capital’s sprawling subway system. Moscow’s mayor canceled all mass gatherings, and theaters and museums shut for the weekend. Other Russian regions also tightened security.

The Kremlin didn’t immediately blame anyone for the attack, but some Russian lawmakers were quick to accuse Ukraine and called for ramping up strikes. Hours before the attack, the Russian military l aunched a sweeping barrage on Ukraine’s power system, crippling the country’s biggest hydroelectric plant and other energy facilities and leaving more than a million people without electricity.

Dmitry Medvedev, deputy head of Russia’s Security Council, said that if Ukraine involvement was proven, all those involved “must be tracked down and killed without mercy, including officials of the state that committed such outrage.”

Mykhailo Podolyak, an adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, denied Ukraine involvement.

“Ukraine has never resorted to the use of terrorist methods,” he posted on X. “Everything in this war will be decided only on the battlefield.”

John Kirby, spokesman for the White House National Security Council, said he couldn’t yet speak about the details but “the images are just horrible. And just hard to watch.”

Friday's attack followed a statement earlier this month by the U.S. Embassy in Moscow that urged Americans to avoid crowded places in view of “imminent” plans by extremists to target large gatherings in the Russian capital, including concerts. The warning was repeated by several other Western embassies.

National Security Council spokesperson Adrienne Watson said Friday the U.S. government had information about a planned attack in Moscow, prompting the State Department advisory to Americans. The U.S. government shared the information with Russian authorities in accordance with its longstanding “duty to warn” policy, Watson said.

Putin, who extended his grip on Russia for another six years in this week’s presidential vote after a sweeping crackdown on dissent, denounced the Western warnings as an attempt to intimidate Russians. “All that resembles open blackmail and an attempt to frighten and destabilize our society,” he said earlier this week.

Russia was shaken by a series of deadly terror attacks in the early 2000s during the fighting with separatists in the Russian province of Chechnya.

In September 2004, about 30 Chechen militants seized a school in Beslan in southern Russia taking hundreds of hostages. The siege ended in a bloodbath two days later and more than 330 people, about half of them children, were killed.

Princess Kate reveals she is being treated for cancer

Fri, 03/22/2024 - 18:01

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Kate, the Princess of Wales, revealed on Friday that she is being treated for cancer. 

There have been a lot of questions surrounding her health ever since the palace announced she had abdominal surgery in January. The cancer was reportedly found following that surgery. 

"The surgery was successful," Kate said in a video statement. "However, tests after the operation found cancer had been present."

The princess did not say what type of cancer she was diagnosed with but explained that she is undergoing "preventative chemotherapy."

"This, of course, came as a huge shock, and William and I have been doing everything we can to process and manage this privately for the sake of our young family," Kate said. 

Kate and William are parents to three children: George, Charlotte and Louis. 

The princess said they needed space so she could reassure her children that she would be OK.

"As I have said to them; I am well and getting stronger every day by focusing on the things that will help me heal; in my mind, body and spirits," Kate said. 

Kate thanked the public for their prayers and concern but requested privacy during this time. There's no clear timetable on when the princess will return to public duties. 

"My work has always brought me a deep sense of joy and I look forward to being back when I am able, but for now I must focus on making a full recovery," she said.

Prince Harry and Meghan Markle expressed their well wishes to the princess, saying in a statement obtained by The Associated Press, "We wish health and healing for Kate and the family, and hope they are able to do so privately and in peace."

King Charles III, who is also being treated for an unspecified cancer discovered during a surgery, also shared that he "is so proud of Catherine for her courage in speaking as she did" and that he and Queen Camilla "will continue to offer their love and support to the whole family through this difficult time," a statement released by Buckingham Palace said, per the AP.

A message from Catherine, The Princess of Wales pic.twitter.com/5LQT1qGarK

— The Prince and Princess of Wales (@KensingtonRoyal) March 22, 2024

SEE MORE: Princess Kate apologizes for 'confusion' over edited photo

Solar eclipse could disrupt operations at US airports, FAA says

Fri, 03/22/2024 - 16:51

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The Federal Aviation Administration issued a notice ahead of next month's solar eclipse, warning that the event could cause disruptions at airports small and large. 

A nearly 100-mile swath of the U.S., starting from Texas all the way through the Midwest and into Maine, will have a rare total eclipse. In and around that swath, airports are expected to have increases in activity. 

The notice goes into effect on April 7 and will continue through April 10. The solar eclipse will occur on April 8.

With the increased air traffic, pilots are being prepared for potential delays and ramp congestion. They might also have difficulty finding places to park their aircraft along the path of totality. Pilots are being urged to coordinate their flight plans ahead of time to minimize disruptions. 

SEE MORE: Scientist develops tool to photograph solar eclipses with smartphones

The FAA added that trainings might need to be held off during this four-day window. 

There will also be some security considerations in play. The FAA said temporary flight restrictions, two-way radio communications, and discrete transponder requirements are possible around the time of the eclipse. 

Numerous state governments have said they expect an influx of tourists during the solar eclipse. The total solar eclipse is expected to attract millions of people as more than half of the U.S. population resides within a 12-hour drive from its path of totality. 

Several commercial flights have added routes along the path of totality for passengers to view the eclipse from the air.

Marjorie Taylor Greene files motion to oust Speaker Mike Johnson

Fri, 03/22/2024 - 16:21

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For a second time this term, a Republican has filed a motion to remove a GOP Speaker of the House. 

Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene filed a motion to vacate on Friday, but stopped short of calling for an immediate vote, after expressing her frustration with Speaker Mike Johnson for bringing a $1.2 trillion government funding bill to the House floor. 

"This is not a Republican bill," Greene said before the vote took place on Friday. "This is a Chuck Schumer, Democrat-controlled bill."

The bill, which is over 1,000 pages, funds numerous departments, including Homeland Security, the Department of Defense and Health and Human Services. 

"This bill will absolutely destroy our majority and will tell every single one of our voters that this majority is a failure," Greene said. 

The House ended up passing the bill by a vote of 286 to 134. It still needs to pass in the Senate to avoid a partial government shutdown. 

SEE MORE: Rep. Mike Johnson elected speaker of the House

With passage of the bill in the House, Johnson faces a similar fate as former Speaker Kevin McCarthy. Rep. Matt Gaetz filed a motion to vacate last year after McCarthy agreed to a temporary bipartisan spending bill that kept the government open. Gaetz, like Greene, was upset about funding levels and where the money was being allocated. 

After McCarthy was ousted, several Republicans attempted to take his place, but they didn't receive enough support from their party to secure the job. 

After about three weeks without a speaker, Johnson received the backing of his party and was voted House Speaker. 

Senate passes $1.2 trillion funding package, ending shutdown threat

Fri, 03/22/2024 - 16:11

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The Senate passed a $1.2 trillion package of spending bills in the early morning hours of Saturday, a long overdue action nearly six months into the budget year that will push any threats of a government shutdown to the fall. The bill now goes to President Joe Biden to be signed into law.

The vote was 74-24. It came after funding had expired for the agencies at midnight, but the White House sent out a notice shortly after the deadline announcing the Office of Management and Budget had ceased shutdown preparations because there was a high degree of confidence that Congress would pass the legislation and the president would sign it on Saturday.

"Because obligations of federal funds are incurred and tracked on a daily basis, agencies will not shut down and may continue their normal operations," the White House statement said.

Prospects for a short-term government shutdown had appeared to grow Friday evening after Republicans and Democrats battled over proposed amendments to the bill. Any successful amendments to the bill would have sent the legislation back to the House, which had already left town for a two-week recess.

But shortly before midnight, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer announced a breakthrough.

"It's been a very long and difficult day, but we have just reached an agreement to complete the job of funding the government," Schumer said. "It is good for the country that we have reached this bipartisan deal. It wasn't easy, but tonight our persistence has been worth it."

While Congress has already approved money for Veterans Affairs, Interior, Agriculture and other agencies, the bill approved this week is much larger, providing funding for the Defense, Homeland Security and State departments and other aspects of general government.

SEE MORE: Members of House GOP protest 'morally dubious' IVF access for veterans

The House passed the bill Friday morning by a vote of 286-134, narrowly gaining the two-thirds majority needed for approval. More than 70% of the money would go to defense.

The vote tally in the House reflected anger among Republicans over the content of the package and the speed with which it was brought to a vote. House Speaker Mike Johnson brought the measure to the floor even though a majority of Republicans ended up voting against it. He said afterward that the bill "represents the best achievable outcome in a divided government."

In sign of the conservative frustration, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., initiated an effort to oust Johnson as the House began the vote but held off on further action until the House returns in two weeks. It's the same tool that was used last year to remove the last Republican speaker, Kevin McCarthy of California.

The vote breakdown showed 101 Republicans voting for the bill and 112 voting against it. Meanwhile, 185 Democrats voted for the bill and 22 against.

Rep. Kay Granger, the Republican chair of the House Appropriations Committee that helped draft the package, stepped down from that role after the vote. She said she would stay on the committee to provide advice and lead as a teacher for colleagues when needed.

Johnson broke up this fiscal year's spending bills into two parts as House Republicans revolted against what has become an annual practice of asking them to vote for one massive, complex bill called an omnibus with little time to review it or face a shutdown. Johnson viewed that as a breakthrough, saying the two-part process was "an important step in breaking the omnibus muscle memory."

Still, the latest package was clearly unpopular with most Republicans, who viewed it as containing too few of their policy priorities and as spending too much.

"The bottom line is that this is a complete and utter surrender," said Rep. Eric Burlison, R-Mo.

It took lawmakers six months into the current fiscal year to get near the finish line on government funding, the process slowed by conservatives who pushed for more policy mandates and steeper spending cuts than a Democratic-led Senate or White House would consider. The impasse required several short-term, stopgap spending bills to keep agencies funded.

The first package of full-year spending bills, which funded the departments of Veterans Affairs, Agriculture and the Interior, among others, cleared Congress two weeks ago with just hours to spare before funding expired for those agencies.

When combining the two packages, discretionary spending for the budget year will come to about $1.66 trillion. That does not include programs such as Social Security and Medicare, or financing the country's rising debt.

To win over support from Republicans, Johnson touted some of the spending increases secured for about 8,000 more detention beds for migrants awaiting their immigration proceedings or removal from the country. That's about a 24% increase from current levels. Also, GOP leadership highlighted more money to hire about 2,000 Border Patrol agents.

Democrats, meanwhile, are boasting of a $1 billion increase for Head Start programs and new childcare centers for military families. They also played up a $120 million increase in funding for cancer research and a $100 million increase for Alzheimer's research.

"Make no mistake, we had to work under very difficult top-line numbers and fight off literally hundreds of extreme Republican poison pills from the House, not to mention some unthinkable cuts," said Sen. Patty Murray, the Democratic chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee.

Sen. Susan Collins, the top Republican on that committee, appealed to her GOP colleagues by stating that the bill's spending on non-defense programs actually decreases even before accounting for inflation. She called the package "conservative" and "carefully drafted."

"These bills are not big spending bills that are wildly out of scope," Collins said.

The spending package largely tracks with an agreement that then-Speaker McCarthy worked out with the White House in May 2023, which restricted spending for two years and suspended the debt ceiling into January 2025 so the federal government could continue paying its bills.

Shalanda Young, director of the White House Office of Management and Budget, told lawmakers that last year's agreement, which became the Fiscal Responsibility Act, will save the federal government about $1 trillion over the coming decade.

Some Medicare recipients eligible for weight loss medication

Fri, 03/22/2024 - 16:03

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Some Medicare Part D recipients will soon be eligible to have weight loss medication Wegovy covered by their plan, the agency said in a statement. 

Although Wegovy has become a popular tool for those battling obesity, not everyone on Medicare Part D plans will be eligible.

According to guidance provided by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, FDA-approved anti-obesity medications can be used for an additional medically accepted indication. The FDA said anti-obesity medications like Wegovy will be covered "to treat diabetes or reduce the risk of major adverse cardiovascular events in adults with established cardiovascular disease and either obesity or overweight."

Wegovy was approved for weight loss management by the Food and Drug Administration in 2021. Earlier this month, the FDA extended the drug's approval to "reduce the risk of cardiovascular death, heart attack and stroke in adults with cardiovascular disease and either obesity or overweight."

“Wegovy is now the first weight loss medication to also be approved to help prevent life-threatening cardiovascular events in adults with cardiovascular disease and either obesity or overweight,” said Dr. John Sharretts of the FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research. “This patient population has a higher risk of cardiovascular death, heart attack and stroke. Providing a treatment option that is proven to lower this cardiovascular risk is a major advance for public health.” 

SEE MORE: Oprah Winfrey is stepping down from WeightWatchers board of directors

Other weight loss drugs could also become covered by Part D if the FDA approves them to reduce the risk of cardiovascular death. 

Medicare officials said weight loss drugs are not covered when used for chronic weight management in patients who do not have an additional medically accepted indication, like a history of heart disease. 

According to KFF, 50 million out of 65 million Medicare recipients are signed up for Part D coverage. 

Medications like Wegovy are known as GLP-1 agonists, and many of these drugs were initially prescribed to help manage Type 2 diabetes but have since gained popularity to help patients manage weight. 

According to the Cleveland Clinic, these medications help manage blood sugar levels by triggering insulin release from the pancreas. The drugs also help slow digestion, which causes less glucose to enter the bloodstream. The medicine also affects satiety, allowing patients to feel full after eating, the Cleveland Clinic said. 

After being told to remove US flag from truck, student doubles down

Fri, 03/22/2024 - 15:46

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A high school student in St. Leon, Indiana, has wrapped his truck in the American flag after going viral for being told to remove a flag on his truck.

Earlier this month, East Central High School student Cameron Blasek was told by his school district that he needed to remove the American flag from the back of his truck because it was a violation of school rules. After going viral and shared camaraderie with his fellow students, the district reversed their decision, with the principal saying they were "deeply sorry for the misunderstandings and confusion that social media is creating right now."

“Friday morning, after consulting with other administrators, we determined that we would allow the U.S. Flag to be displayed, and would prohibit other flags if they were determined to be offensive,” principal Tom Black told Scripps News Cincinnati.

The whole incident went viral on social media. It was picked up by X account @LibsofTikTok, where it now has more than 8 million views.

GCI Digital Imaging owner TJ Bedacht said he found out about Cameron's story on social media. The company decided to donate a complete wrapping of the 17-year-old's truck with the American flag.

Cameron said he initially put the U.S. flag on the back of his truck because "the flag itself represents this country, this beautiful country that we live in."

"It also represents the people who fought their lives for it," he said. "And I think that’s a really hard thing to talk about, but I think it’s a big thing."

Bedacht said Cameron was "blown away" seeing his truck wrapped in the U.S. flag. He added that "we need more young guys to do what Cameron did."

"We want more people to be good citizens," Bedacht said. "Pay it forward. God bless America."

This story was originally published by Molly Schramm at Scripps News Cincinnati.

Police: Missing college student Riley Strain's body found in river

Fri, 03/22/2024 - 14:55

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The Metropolitan Nashville Police Department confirmed Friday that the body of missing college student Riley Strain was found in the Cumberland River. 

Strain's body was spotted after workers of a company searching the area removed an object from the river, police said. 

"The fire department was called in, retrieved the body from the river," said Nashville Police Chief John Drake. "The medical examiner's office reviewed the body and we've confirmed that it is Riley Strain."

Drake added that no foul play-related trauma was observed.

The 22-year-old was reported missing about two weeks ago after being kicked out of Luke Bryan's bar.

Surveillance video of Strain shows him wandering around downtown Nashville, stumbling and eventually hitting his head on a pole and bouncing off of buildings. On Monday, Metro Nashville police released a video of a very brief interaction between an officer and Strain. When asked how he was doing, Strain told the officer that he was OK.

The only physical evidence police had in the case is Strain's debit card, which was found along the Cumberland River by a pair of women wanting to help locate Strain.

Strain was visiting Nashville with a group of fraternity brothers from the University of Missouri. 

SEE MORE: Riley Strain's family invites Cajun Navy to look for their missing son

FDA recommends reclassifying marijuana; says it has medicinal purpose

Fri, 03/22/2024 - 14:33

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The U.S. Food and Drug Administration released a report saying that marijuana does have a legitimate use for medical purposes and recommended the Drug Enforcement Agency change its classification from Schedule I to Schedule III.

“The definition of a Schedule I drug says it has no health benefits to it, and, so, obviously, there’s been plenty of research that has documented the multitudes of ways that cannabis can be helpful,” said David Berger, MD, with Wholistic ReLeaf.

SEE MORE: Marijuana use could make you a nicer person, research finds

Though not all in the medical community agree, many people swear by the medicinal effects of marijuana to help treat symptoms of cancer, anxiety, post traumatic stress disorder and epilepsy.

“It’s no longer appropriate to say that there’s no medical benefit when there are hundreds if not thousands of medical studies that show the opposite,” explained Dr. Berger.

As a Schedule I drug, marijuana is in the same category as some of the hardest drugs like heroin, LSD and methamphetamine, which means it’s classified as being more dangerous than even fentanyl — a Schedule II narcotic.

SEE MORE: Are cannabis edibles safer than smoking? Here's what some experts say

“What happens after this is the federal government has more decisions to make as to what they’re going to do next,” said Dr. Berger.

The Department of Health and Human Services formally recommended that the DEA classify marijuana as Schedule III in August of last year after the Biden administration asked it to review how the drug is classified under federal law.

Earlier this year, Senate Democrats urged President Biden to deschedule the drug entirely, meaning you would not need a doctor’s authorization to use marijuana.

This story was originally published by Anthony Hill at Scripps News Tampa.

Trump's social media company can go public following merger

Fri, 03/22/2024 - 14:30

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Donald Trump is returning to the stock market.

Shareholders of Digital World Acquisition Corp., a publicly traded shell company, approved a deal to merge with the former president's media business in a Friday vote. That means Trump Media & Technology Group, whose flagship product is social networking site Truth Social, will soon begin trading on the Nasdaq stock market.

Trump could receive a sizable payout in the process. He would own most of the combined company — or nearly 79 million shares. Multiply that by Digital World's closing stock price Thursday of $42.81, and the total value of Trump's stake could surpass $3 billion. The shares did fall 5% after the merger approval was announced.

The deal's greenlight arrives at a time the presumptive Republican presidential nominee is facing his most costly legal battle to date: a $454 million judgment in a fraud lawsuit.

But Trump won't be able to cash out the Friday deal's windfall immediately, unless some things change, due to a "lock-up" provision that prevents company insiders from selling newly issued shares for six months.

Trump's presidential campaign did not immediately respond to request for comment.

Trump's earlier foray into the stock market didn't end well. Trump Hotels and Casino Resorts went public in 1995 under the symbol DJT — the same symbol Trump Media will trade under. By 2004, Trump's casino company had filed for bankruptcy protection and was delisted from the New York Stock Exchange.

Ahead of the merger's approval, Digital World's regulatory filings listed many of the risks its investors face, as well as those of the Truth Social owner once Trump Media also goes public.

One risk, the company said, is that Trump would be entitled to vote in his own interest as a controlling stockholder — which may not always be in the interests of all shareholders. Digital World also cited the high rate of failure for new social media platforms, as well as Trump Media's expectation that it would lose money on its operations "for the foreseeable future."

Trump Media lost $49 million in the first nine months of last year, when it brought in just $3.4 million in revenue and had to pay $37.7 million in interest expenses.

Trump Media and Digital World first announced their merger plans in October 2021. In addition to a federal probe, the deal has faced a series of lawsuits leading up to Friday's vote.

Truth Social launched in February 2022, one year after Trump was banned from major social platforms including Facebook and Twitter, the platform now known as X, following the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol. He's since been reinstated to both but has stuck with Truth Social as a megaphone for his message.

Trump promoted Truth Social in a post on the social media network Thursday evening, saying: "TRUTH SOCIAL IS MY VOICE, AND THE REAL VOICE OF AMERICA!!! MAGA2024!!!"

Trump Media hasn't so far disclose Truth Social's user numbers. But research firm Similarweb estimates that it had roughly 5 million active mobile and web users in February. That's far below TikTok's more than 2 billion and Facebook's 3 billion — but still higher than rivals like Parler, which has been offline for nearly a year but is planning a comeback, or Gettr, which had less than 2 million visitors in February.

SEE MORE: Prosecutors say Donald Trump's hush money trial should start April 15

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