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U.K. Police Officer to Be Charged With Murder in Shooting of Chris Kaba

British prosecutors announced a murder charge on Wednesday for...

Right-Wing Republicans Defy McCarthy, Blocking Defense Bill

Right-wing House Republicans dealt another stunning rebuke to Speaker...

Poland Says It Won’t Send New Weapons to Ukraine Amid Grain Dispute

The Polish authorities said they would supply Ukraine “only”...
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U.K. Police Officer to Be Charged With Murder in Shooting of Chris Kaba


British prosecutors announced a murder charge on Wednesday for a police officer accused of fatally shooting a Black man in south London last year during a botched arrest operation, a rare move in a case that has prompted calls for greater police accountability.

Chris Kaba, 24, was killed while driving his car through the south London district of Streatham Hill last September. The shooting prompted widespread outrage in London’s Black community amid plummeting public trust in the city’s police force, which has been dogged by accusations of racism and misogyny.

The police first flagged Mr. Kaba’s car after an automatic license plate tracker identified it as being potentially linked to a firearm incident, according to the Independent Office for Police Conduct, a watchdog that handles complaints against officers in Britain.

Officers in unmarked vehicles then pursued Mr. Kaba for about 15 minutes without turning on their headlights or sirens, investigators said. After he turned left at an intersection toward a waiting marked police vehicle, armed officers exited their vehicles to arrest him.

The officer — identified only as NX121 — fired a single shot that pierced the car’s windshield and struck Mr. Kaba in the head, fatally wounding him, according to investigators. At some point during the confrontation, Mr. Kaba’s car also struck one of the police cars, investigators said.

Mr. Kaba was unarmed, according to his family and lawyers. The police watchdog said that “no nonpolice-issue firearm” was at the scene.

The shooting of Mr. Kaba — who was soon to become a first-time father, according to his family — prompted hundreds to rally last September in front of New Scotland Yard, the headquarters of London’s Metropolitan Police Service, to demand that the police be held accountable.

Mr. Kaba’s family hailed the decision to charge the officer involved, who is set to appear in court in London on Thursday.

“Chris was so very loved by our family and all his friends. He had a bright future ahead of him, but his life was cut short,” the Kaba family said on Wednesday in a statement provided by their legal team. “Our family and our wider community must see justice for Chris.”

In a statement on Wednesday, the police said the officer had been suspended from duty. The courts were considering whether to continue to grant the officer anonymity, the police said.

The police have “supported the I.O.P.C. investigation as it has worked to establish the facts,” said Helen Millichap, the London police’s deputy assistant commissioner for local policing. “Our thoughts are with everyone affected by this case,” she added.

The Metropolitan Police Service, informally known as the Met, is charged with overseeing law enforcement in London. But the force has been accused of discrimination and high-profile cases of police criminality.

In 2021, a police officer pleaded guilty to the rape and murder of Sarah Everard, 33, a crime that horrified Britain and prompted an outcry against the police force. In February, another police officer, David Carrick, was sentenced to life in prison for what prosecutors called “a relentless campaign of sexually and mentally abusing women.”

A wide-ranging government report said this year that the Met was troubled by falling public faith in it, widespread racism and misogyny, and a lack of transparency. In response, the police force announced what it described as its “largest reform of culture and standards in decades” on Tuesday. Over 100 Metropolitan Police officers have been dismissed for gross misconduct over the past year, an increase of 66 percent, the force said.

Critics also say the British authorities have struggled to penalize excessive use of force by officers. According to Inquest, an advocacy group, at least 1,871 people have been killed during or following British police custody or contact since 1990.

Only one officer has been successfully prosecuted for manslaughter over the same period, and none for murder, the group said.

In 2017, lawmakers revamped Britain’s police misconduct investigation agency, the Independent Office for Police Conduct, in an attempt to bolster public trust in the body. But it too has faced unwanted scandal: Its first chief resigned last year and was later charged with sexually assaulting a minor in the 1980s.


Right-Wing Republicans Defy McCarthy, Blocking Defense Bill


Right-wing House Republicans dealt another stunning rebuke to Speaker Kevin McCarthy on Thursday, blocking a Pentagon funding bill for the second time this week in a vivid display of G.O.P. disunity on federal spending that threatens to lead to a government shutdown in nine days.

Just hours after Mr. McCarthy signaled he had won over some of the holdouts and was ready to move forward, a handful of Republicans broke with their party to oppose a routine measure to allow the military appropriations bill to come to the House floor for debate, joining with Democrats to defeat it.

It was a major black eye for Mr. McCarthy, who has on multiple occasions admonished his members in private for taking the rare step of bringing down such measures, known as rules, proposed by their own party — a previously unheard-of tactic. And it signaled continuing right-wing resistance to funding the government, even after the speaker had capitulated Wednesday night to demands from hard-right Republicans for deeper spending cuts as part of any bill to prevent a shutdown on Oct. 1.

By Thursday afternoon, lawmakers were flying home for the weekend, scrapping plans to stay in session to pass spending legislation after a week in which they were unable to make any progress toward resolving their impasse.

“This is a whole new concept of individuals that just want to burn the whole place down,” Mr. McCarthy said on Thursday. “It doesn’t work.”

To try to satisfy those who said they would not vote for any stopgap bill, Republicans were coalescing behind a plan for next week to try to advance three or four of the annual appropriations bills containing steep spending cuts demanded by the hard right as a show of good faith to the conservatives. That approach would do nothing to avert a shutdown, since the Senate has not passed any appropriations bills, so there would be no chance for them to become law before funding runs out on Sept. 30.

Still, some House Republicans appeared ready to plow ahead.

“We’ve got to do our job,” said Representative Chip Roy, Republican of Texas. “That’s it — it’s that simple.”

Democrats were left shocked at the level of dysfunction across the aisle.

“Just really a collapse,” declared Representative Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut, the senior Democrat on the Appropriations Committee. “There really isn’t any leadership.”

Representative James E. Clyburn of South Carolina, a member of Democratic leadership, said he had never before seen a speaker lose a rule vote so many times — three times in four months, and twice this week alone — something that had not happened for two decades before Mr. McCarthy assumed the post.

“I don’t quite understand this,” Mr. Clyburn said of Mr. McCarthy’s strategy, before suggesting he consider cutting a deal with the top House Democrat that could pass both chambers and keep the government open. “My advice is, ‘Go sit down with Hakeem Jeffries.’ If he’s got a solid majority of his caucus, why wouldn’t he? This is the tail wagging the dog. That’s not the way to do it.”

But Mr. McCarthy is keenly aware that if he were to turn to Democrats for help funding the government, he would face a right-wing effort to remove him from his post.

On Thursday, the final vote was 216 to 212 against the rule to allow the military spending measure to proceed. All Democrats voted against it, given their opposition to the funding levels in the bill and other provisions that were added by Republicans who say they need to eliminate “woke” policies in the military.

Joining in the Republican defections were Representatives Andy Biggs of Arizona, Dan Bishop of North Carolina, Eli Crane of Arizona, Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia and Matt Rosendale of Montana. Representative Tom Cole of Oklahoma, the chairman of the Rules Committee and an ally of Mr. McCarthy, ultimately voted “no” as well so that he would have the ability to request that the vote be reconsidered, a step he took immediately after it was defeated.

But with the House in chaos, leaders quickly asked for a recess to regroup, and it was not clear when they would try again. Mr. McCarthy and his top allies spent the rest of the day in closed-door meetings with members of various factions of the conference, desperately trying to find consensus on what was ultimately nothing more than an attempt at a messaging bill. The spending cuts they were negotiating had no chance of passage in the Democratic-controlled Senate.

In a sign of the complex and confounding resistance Mr. McCarthy is facing within his own party, the group of defectors on Thursday was slightly different from the five who broke with the G.O.P. to oppose the same measure two days earlier.

Ms. Greene, who has emerged as a McCarthy ally in this Congress and supported the debt ceiling bill he negotiated with President Biden, on Tuesday had voted with her party on the rule. But she said online that she voted against it on Thursday because it contained funding for the war in Ukraine.

“Our Defense bill should not fund our DOD for blood money for the Ukraine war, that’s why I’m a NO,” she wrote on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter.

Ms. Greene was also aligned with hard-right Republicans who made it clear they planned to stand in opposition to Mr. McCarthy’s latest stopgap funding proposal, even after he bowed to their demands for steep spending cuts that stood little chance of surviving in the Senate. The group, which included at least seven Republicans, appeared to be large enough to defeat it given the party’s tiny majority, which allows for no more than four defections if all Democrats vote in opposition.

Ms. Greene’s vote Thursday morning came just hours after former President Donald J. Trump weighed in for the first time on the spending fight, using his social media website to encourage Republicans to vote against a temporary funding measure to avert the shutdown of a government he accused of being weaponized against him.

“They failed on the debt limit, but they must not fail now,” Mr. Trump wrote, referring to right-wing opposition to the deal Mr. McCarthy made with Mr. Biden to avert a federal debt default.

The problems with the defense measure were only the most immediate challenge. On Thursday, a group of hard-right Republicans made it clear that they would oppose any stopgap funding plan, no matter what Mr. McCarthy offered them. The group included those who blocked the military spending measure — Mr. Biggs, Mr. Crane, Mr. Rosendale, Mr. Bishop — and others, including Representative Matt Gaetz of Florida, the ringleader of the Republican opposition to Mr. McCarthy’s plans.

Representative Tim Burchett, Republican of Tennessee, compared passage of a stopgap measure known as a continuing resolution to feeding a drug addiction and said he did not intend to back one under any circumstances.

“We’re going to keep passing the C.R., and guess what? We are going to pass another C.R.,” he said, calling the prospect “ridiculous.”

Representative Anna Paulina Luna, Republican of Florida, wrote defiantly on the X platform: “I saw what happened with the debt ceiling. I saw what happened with negotiations & the senate. HOLD THE LINE #NOCR”

Luke Broadwater and Kayla Guo contributed reporting.


Poland Says It Won’t Send New Weapons to Ukraine Amid Grain Dispute


The Polish authorities said they would supply Ukraine “only” with already promised weapons, the latest in an escalating public dispute between Kyiv and one of its staunchest allies that comes as the ruling party in Warsaw is trying to fend off a far-right competitor ahead of a national election.

The statement came a day after the country’s prime minister, Mateusz Morawiecki, told a national broadcaster that Poland was “no longer transferring any weapons to Ukraine, because we are now arming ourselves with the most modern weapons.” But Mr. Morawiecki also insisted that “we will certainly not risk Ukraine’s security,” and said that a vital transit hub for Western weapons flowing into Ukraine through the Polish city of Rzeszow “still plays the same role it has played and will continue to play.”

It wasn’t immediately clear how much more weaponry Poland still has to offer or what the repercussions of such a move would be. But the public comments have risked fracturing Europe’s support for Ukraine as it faces the prospect of another long winter of fighting.

Since Russia began its full-scale invasion of Ukraine, Poland has been Kyiv’s most vocal backer in the E.U. and a linchpin of its united front against Moscow. As Ukraine’s neighbor, it hosts major logistics bases for the provision of weapons supplies; has become home to over 1.7 million Ukrainian refugees; and has been the fiercest advocate for continuous financial and military support to Kyiv.

But in recent months the narrative of the ruling Law and Justice party has shifted, with Warsaw last week defying a decision by Brussels to lift a temporary ban on Ukrainian agricultural imports.

Mr. Morawiecki’s somewhat contradictory remarks appeared to be part of a pre-election push by the governing party to reassure voters that it will not put Ukraine’s interests ahead of Polish citizens, and especially farmers, who are angry over low prices for their produce that they blame on an influx of cheap Ukrainian grain. His right-wing governing party is being squeezed by its far-right competitor, Konfederacja, which has been vocal about reducing Poland’s assistance for Ukraine.

Poland has delivered hundreds of Soviet-era tanks and armored personnel carriers for Ukraine’s war effort, as well as 14 MiG-29 fighter jets. The transfers have largely exhausted Poland’s stock of Soviet-designed weaponry, more easily dispensed with than the modern, Western-made arms at the heart of its ambitions as the dominant military power on NATO’s eastern flank.

Although so far there have been no changes in Poland’s policy toward Ukraine, Mr. Morawiecki’s comments showcase the government’s fraught position as it scrambles for votes before the election in October and threatens to deepen the public disagreement between Warsaw and Kyiv.

The government’s spokesman Piotr Mueller said in an interview on Thursday that Poland “only carries out previously agreed supplies of ammunition and weapons, including those resulting from the contracts signed with Ukraine.” Asked whether Warsaw would choose not to sign new contracts for delivering arms to Kyiv, Mr. Mueller declined to answer.

Together with Hungary and Slovakia, Poland last week introduced a unilateral ban on sales of Ukrainian agricultural exports within its borders, arguing that cheap Ukrainian produce was seeping into domestic markets and hurting farmers. Slovakia is also holding elections soon, on Sept. 30, and farmers are an important political constituency for authorities in both countries.

The declared bans have angered Ukraine, which this week filed a complaint with the World Trade Organization against the three countries. Ukraine’s minister of agriculture, Mykola Solskyi, said he had talked with his Polish counterpart “to find a solution that takes into account the interests of both countries” and that there will be further talks in the coming days. Poland did not immediately comment on the statement.

And Slovakia’s authorities on Thursday said they had reached an agreement with Ukraine, in which Kyiv will issue licenses to exporters to regulate the flow of grain. Ukraine did not immediately comment, but its agricultural ministry said on Wednesday that officials from the two countries had “discussed cooperation in the agricultural sector.”

Mr. Zelensky told the United Nations General Assembly this week that “it is alarming to see how some in Europe, some of our friends in Europe, play out solidarity in a political theater — making a thriller from the grain.” Mr. Zelensky added that they “are helping set the stage to a Moscow actor.”

The Polish Foreign Ministry said on Wednesday that it had summoned the Ukrainian ambassador over Mr. Zelensky’s comments.

The European Union, which reimburses part of the costs of weapons delivered by member nations to Ukraine, tried to play down concerns about weapons deliveries. Warsaw has so far provided Kyiv with military aid worth over $3 billion, including tanks, armored vehicles, and ammunition. The bloc is currently negotiating a €20 billion, or $21.3 billion, fund to finance weapons for Ukraine over the next four years, which requires agreement from all 27 member nations.

“What is important are the concrete actions, and the concrete actions on the ground are that Ukraine still receives military support from the European Union member states,” Peter Stano, E.U. spokesman for foreign affairs told reporters on Thursday when asked about Mr. Morawiecki’s comments.

Anatol Magdziarz, Constant Méheut and Andrew Higgins contributed reporting.


Biden Faces Competing Pressures as He Tries to Ease the Migrant Crisis


The demand that President Biden ease the migrant crisis threatening to overwhelm American cities came privately, from the New York governor to top White House officials. It came publicly, in angry statements from Democratic and Republican officials around the country. It came from scores of immigrant rights groups.

On Wednesday, the Biden administration relented.

In one of the largest such actions ever taken, the Department of Homeland Security said that almost a half-million immigrants in the United States who had fled Venezuela’s humanitarian crisis would be allowed to immediately apply for work authorization. By allowing them to legally earn income, the change could alleviate the costly burden of housing the refugees in major cities across the country. The migrants also will be protected from deportation for at least the next 18 months.

Administration officials say the decision was made, as required by law, because of the worsening conditions in Venezuela, not the situation in New York or other cities. But for Mr. Biden, the move is sure to inflame the already charged political debate, both inside his own party and with Republicans, about how to confront the surge of migration from South and Central America.

The situation at the border, where officials on Monday arrested 8,000 migrants — close to record highs in May — is providing ammunition to conservative Republicans who are vowing to shut down the government unless Congress agrees to new anti-immigration measures. They argue that protecting recent Venezuelan migrants from deportation will only encourage more to head north, hoping for similar treatment after they arrive.

Advocates for the policy say Venezuelans and other migrants decide to flee because they fear persecution, starvation and violence, not because of a policy change thousands of miles away in Washington. Mr. Biden singled out Venezuelans for the program because of their sheer numbers — they make up the largest mass migration in the hemisphere in decades.

But the dramatic move by Mr. Biden is evidence of the human dimensions and political power of an issue that has hounded him since he became president. How to deal with the border is at the heart of the funding debate in Congress, and is certain to be central to the debate between Mr. Biden and his Republican opponent in the 2024 campaign next year.

“The president is terribly compromising this country, has done irreparable harm to the country with the border invasion he has allowed,” Representative Bob Good, Republican of Virginia, said on CNN on Thursday.

The administration’s decision to expand Temporary Protected Status to an additional 472,000 Venezuelans in the United States is in line with previous moves by the administration to extend protections to some migrants from other countries. But it comes more than a year after Mr. Biden rejected similar pleas from immigration advocates to broaden its T.P.S. program for the Venezuelan migrants.

What changed, say people who engaged in the concerted effort to convince the administration to act, is the pressure campaign from members of the president’s own party.

“The images of migrants sleeping on the streets of New York City and strong, concerning statements from the Democratic mayor and other leaders highlighted the urgency for federal action,” said Krish Vignarajah, president of the Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service.

Eleanor Acer, the senior director for refugee protection at Human Rights First, said that “it’s made a tremendous difference that cities and states were also making clear that these changes would help their communities.”

The T.P.S. law has been used for decades to provide limited legal status to people who have tried to escape natural disasters or political violence. It is designed to be a temporary refuge — usually 18 months — for people who cannot be sent home because the crisis there is ongoing. But presidents in both parties have regularly extended T.P.S. for certain groups, some of whom have remained in the United States for decades.

As of March 31, 2023, there are 16 countries whose citizens have been given T.P.S. designation, according to the Congressional Research Service: Afghanistan, Burma, Cameroon, El Salvador, Ethiopia, Haiti, Honduras, Nepal, Nicaragua, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, Syria, Ukraine, Venezuela, and Yemen.

“This redesignation and extension of Venezuela for T.P.S. is based on extraordinary and temporary conditions in Venezuela that prevent their nationals from returning in safety,” said Naree Ketudat, an spokeswoman at the Department of Homeland Security. “D.H.S. is doing everything in its power to get the migrants who are eligible working.”

Critics of the program have argued that the designations were being renewed so frequently that they no longer fit the definition of “temporary.” President Donald J. Trump sought to end T.P.S. protections for people from El Salvador, Honduras, Haiti, Nicaragua, Sudan and send them back to countries many had not seen in years. The effort was led by Stephen Miller, the architect of Mr. Trump’s immigration agenda.

On Thursday, Mr. Miller lashed out at Mr. Biden’s decision this week to expand T.P.S. for Venezuelans.

“By granting amnesty to the very illegals he’s escorting across the border, he will ensure the even more rapid emptying and relocation of the developing world into the United States,” Mr. Miller said. “It is the complete resettlement of America without the consent of the American people.”

Biden administration officials and advocates for migrants reject Mr. Miller’s philosophy, as do Democratic officials across the country. But the mayors and governors arguing for action over the last several months have been focused on a more pragmatic issue: how to pay to support the vast number of migrants settling in their communities.

The Biden administration has distributed close to $770 million in grants to localities, including about $140 million to New York, to bolster services for the migrants. The administration has asked Congress for another $600 million in supplemental funding for this year, and $800 million for next year.

But local officials have said they need more.

Gov. Kathy Hochul of New York, a Democrat, is in daily contact with top advisers at the White House about the issue, including Tom Perez, the president’s top liaison to other political leaders, according to one of the governor’s aides. On June 9, during a meeting on the issue in Washington with Jeffrey D. Zients, the White House chief of staff, Ms. Hochul spoke to Mr. Biden about T.P.S. on the phone.

A person familiar with Ms. Hochul’s efforts said she helped arrange a letter from New York business groups; deployed top labor leaders to speak with White House aides; and enlisted Hillary Clinton, the former New York senator who has her own contacts inside the administration, to make the case.

Senator Chuck Schumer and Representative Hakeem Jeffries, both from New York and the top Democrats in their chambers, also worked the issue. In a joint statement on Thursday, the pair called the decision “a welcome step forward.”

The call for help came from across the country.

In August, Gov. Maura T. Healey of Massachusetts, a Democrat, declared a state of emergency, citing the cost of shelter for more than 20,000 people, including migrants, who were living in the state’s shelters. Gov. J.B. Pritzker of Illinois and Mayor Brandon Johnson of Chicago, also Democrats, called on the Biden administration to do more.

“Let me state this clearly,” Mr. Johnson said last month. “The city of Chicago cannot go on welcoming new arrivals safely and capably without significant support and immigration policy changes.”

Ms. Hochul and Mayor Eric Adams, a Democrat, began to escalate their calls for the Biden administration to expand T.P.S. this spring, as the migrant crisis in New York City hit a tipping point that prompted the mayor to bus migrants from the city to upstate communities, sparking a backlash.

In March, Mr. Adams released a 25-page blueprint that vaguely called on the federal government to implement “an expedited right-to-work policy for asylum seekers.” By April, as the situation worsened, his requests had gotten more specific: He began asking that the federal government re-designate and extend T.P.S. not only for Venezuela, but also a slew of other Latin American and African countries.

The mayor, increasingly frustrated by the burden of the situation on the city’s coffers and shelter system, also began sharpening his criticism of the Biden administration, calling the migrant crisis “a national problem dropped on the lap of a city.”

“The national government has turned its back on New York City,” he said in a speech in late April, as the federal government prepared to lift Title 42, the pandemic-era rule used to immediately expel migrants. “This is impacting our schools, public safety, our ability to take care of those who were already in shelters. This is impacting the entire city.”

As Mr. Adams ratcheted up his attacks on the White House (in speeches, television interviews, rallies), souring his relationship with the president, Ms. Hochul maneuvered more carefully, staying largely above the fray. Over the summer, the governor took pains to avoid overtly criticizing Mr. Biden and instead focused on pushing the White House for more help through back channels.

But Ms. Hochul sharply shifted gears in late August when, under pressure to take a more active role, she delivered a rare address in Albany in which she laid the blame of the crisis at the door of the White House, saying, “We’ve managed thus far without substantive support from Washington.”

In an interview on CNN, the governor said the president shared the news this week that his administration would expand T.P.S. for Venezuelans during a glitzy reception at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in Manhattan.

“The president tipped me off and said, ‘You’ve been heard, I understand,’” she said.


Jango Edwards, Clown Who Challenged His Art Form, Dies at 73


Jango Edwards may have been the most famous clown never to don a red nose. In fact he was as far from the family-friendly Bozo as one can imagine: rude, scatological, raunchy. He performed in drag, in fat suits and sometimes in nothing at all.

In one of his stage bits, in which he played a nearsighted, manic magician, he would ask an audience member, usually a woman, to help him perform a card trick in which the deck had been replaced with hot dogs — a gag that was as absurd, and lewd, as one can imagine.

“For sheer theatrical energy, for schmutz as well as chutzpah, he makes John Belushi look like Charlie Brown,” The New York Times wrote in 1981.

Some might have called him unhinged. But to his fans, mostly in Europe, Mr. Edwards was a genius.

Starting in the early 1970s, he helped lead a back-to-basics revival of clowning, embracing a thread of transgressive traditions running from medieval court jesters through renaissance commedia dell’arte and Weimar burlesque to Jerry Lewis, whose zany antics, a model for Mr. Edwards, also won great acclaim in Europe.

With his long hair, hawkish face and piercing eyes, Mr. Edwards looked more like Frank Zappa than Ronald McDonald, and his presence, onstage and off, was more rock star than children’s entertainer.

Though he was born in the United States, he learned his craft in London, where he moved in 1970; he later lived in Amsterdam. When he died at 73 on Aug. 5, at home, he was living in Barcelona, Spain.

His death, which was not widely reported in the United States, was announced on social media by Jaume Collboni, the city’s mayor. Mr. Edwards’s wife, Cristi Garbo, a fellow clown who often performed with her husband, said the cause was pancreatic cancer.

Mr. Edwards liked to say that a clown stands outside the limits of polite society looking in, using humor to comment on modern life and the human condition. His skits poked fun at the bureaucracy of everyday life; in one he played a flight attendant trying to explain safety procedures while on roller skates.

“It works because I’m a clown and a clown can make anybody laugh anywhere,” he told The New York Times in 1987, over a quick dinner in between shows in Paris. “Clowning is the silliness of youth and the wisdom of age. It’s pathos and it’s hilarity.”

He was always in character: When leaving the Times interview, he kissed a fellow patron, bonked another on the head and flipped the “open” sign on the restaurant’s front door to “closed.”

Though he was never as popular in the United States as he was in Europe, his influence can be felt today, as a number of American clowns embrace a more risqué, socially insightful style.

“He was always new, and always pushing, really, before a lot of clowns were pushing things that were more sensual or feral and dangerous,” Chad Damiani, a clown teacher and performer based in Los Angeles, said in a phone interview “He was in touch with his inner child, but his inner child was ripped from ‘Lord of the Flies.’”

Stanley Ted Edwards was born on April 5, 1950, in Detroit. His parents, Harold and Hermione Edwards, owned a landscaping company, which Stanley and his brother, Harold Jr., took over after they left high school.

He liked to joke that he got rich “selling grass.” But the work left him unfulfilled, especially after he got a whiff of the radical cultural politics of the time. He sold his share in the family business to his brother in 1969 and moved to London, intent on making a new life as a street performer.

His first marriage, to Cynthia Marler, ended in divorce. He married Ms. Garbo in 2014. Along with her, he is survived by his sons, Mickie and Turne, from his first marriage; his daughter, Valentina, from another relationship; his brother; and three grandchildren.

His first months in London were spent busking, either with instruments or just his body. He would spin in place for 15 minutes until he made himself vomit.

He took the stage name Jango after a trip to Morocco, where a group of children told him he looked like Django, a character from a spaghetti western film. He dropped the D and kept the name.

He began taking night classes in clowning and got good enough that after the instructor left for a stint in a circus, he took her spot. Within a few years he had a troupe, the Friends Roadshow, which he founded with another clown, Nola Rae.

In 1975, he co-founded the International Festival of Fools, a street fair in Amsterdam, which became the centerpiece of the movement that he and others called Nouveau Clown. They took as their central tenet a quotation about fools from Erasmus, in his 1509 essay “In Praise of Folly”: “They’re the only ones who speak frankly and tell the truth, and what is more praiseworthy than the truth?”

Though he spoke French and was passable in other languages, Mr. Edwards performed in English. It didn’t matter. He developed a broad fan base and a following among European cultural royalty, with devotees like the Rolling Stones and the director Federico Fellini.

By the mid-1980s Mr. Edwards was a fixture on French, Dutch and German TV talk shows. His schedule was relentless: He performed multiple 90-minute shows six nights a week, either by himself or with other progressive clowns from around Europe, like Johnny Melville of Scotland, Leo Bassi of Italy or Ms. Garbo of Spain.

He settled in Barcelona in the early 2000s. In 2009, he and Mr. Melville founded the Nouveau Clown Institute, a training center there for anyone interested in following their crooked path.

He retired in 2017 but found it hard to stay quiet, returning for the occasional show or short tour. He announced that he had terminal cancer in 2022, then rushed to complete a memoir-cum-training guide, “The Clown Bible.” He finished it a few days before his death.


Missouri senator says he would torch 'woke pornographic books' after false claims of book burning at GOP event


Claims that a Republican state senator running for governor in Missouri participated in a book burning at a recent GOP event have been proven false, but he said he would do it to “woke pornographic books” if they end up in the state’s schools.

In a now viral video, Sen. Bill Eigel can be seen shooting flames at cardboard boxes with state Sen. Nick Schroer, another Missouri Republican, during the St. Charles County Freedom Fest event outside St. Louis on Sept. 15. 

The video drew criticism after a user on X, formerly Twitter, claimed the two senators were “at a literal book burning” – a post that has since been fact-checked by Snopes stating that is not the case.

Eigel responded to the post himself by saying the blazing cardboard boxes represented what he plans to do to “leftist policies” and “RINO corruption” in Jefferson City, the state’s capital.


Missouri Senator Bill Eigel

Missouri Sen. Bill Eigel, who is running for governor, was not burning books at a recent St. Charles County Freedom Fest event, but said he would do so if “woke pornographic books” made it into the state’s schools. (Missouri State Senate)

“In the video, I am taking a flame thrower(sic) to cardboard boxes representing what I am going to do to the leftist policies and RINO corruption of the Jeff City swamp,” Eigel wrote on X. “But let’s be clear, you bring those woke pornographic books to Missouri schools to try to brainwash our kids, and I’ll burn those too – on the front lawn of the governor’s mansion.”

Freedom Fest organizer Debbie McFarland said the false claims about books being burned at the event “fit a narrative that they wanted to put out there” that “just didn’t happen to be the truth,” according to The Associated Press.

Missouri state senators blowing flames on empty boxes

Republican Missouri state Sens. Nick Schroer and Bill Eigel, who is running for governor, torch empty boxes at the St. Charles County Freedom Fest, a move that was criticized after some falsely claimed the two lawmakers were burning books. (Debbie McFarland via AP)

After the claims were proven false – and a note was added to the video stating such – some social media users denouncing the actions of Eigel and Schroer changed their language to say the incident was symbolic of a book burning.

“The community note is helpful here,” wrote Jonathan Riley, the X user who initially stated the video showed “a literal book burning.” “I admit I mistook this metaphorical book burning for a literal book burning. But the candidate for Governor in this video promised to burn books on the lawn of the Governor’s mansion if elected, so don’t act like I’m the one being inflammatory.”

On Tuesday, one day after Eigel said he would burn “woke pornographic books” if they make it into schools, he wrote on X:

“I take back nothing, apologize for nothing, and will fight to protect kids every. single. time. Truth never mattered to the Left—these are the folks that think men can get pregnant. Let’s Go Missouri!”

Missouri Sen. Eigel and Sen. Schroer with flamethrowers

The two Republican lawmakers shot flames at a pile of empty boxes during the St. Charles County Freedom Fest event on Sept. 15. (Screenshot/@BillEigel video on X)


Eigel continued the conversation on Wednesday by claiming on X that parents in St. Charles were outraged over a book found in a public library by the name of “Bang Like a Porn Star.” 

In a post accompanied by a picture of a bonfire, Eigel wrote that the book should be “burned, bulldozed, or launched into outer space before being allowed into the hands of kids.”


According to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the book in question was found in the adult section of the library and “features interviews with several gay adult film stars and includes photographs detailing various sex acts.” It was one of two books community members described as too sexually explicit to be in public libraries at the St. Charles County-City Library Board meeting on Tuesday. 

The other book was “It’s Perfectly Normal: Changing Bodies, Growing Up, Sex, Gender and Sexual Health,” which was on display at one of the library’s 12 branches, according to the outlet.


Russian-Occupied Crimea Comes Under Large Ukrainian Air Attack


Ukraine fired missiles and drones at the Russian-occupied Crimean Peninsula, Russian and Ukrainian officials said on Thursday, as Moscow’s forces attacked regions across Ukraine.

Ukraine’s military command said its forces had attacked a Russian air base near the city of Saki, on Crimea’s western coast, but did not give details of any casualties or damage. Earlier on Thursday, Russia’s defense ministry said it had destroyed 19 Ukrainian drones over Crimea and the surrounding Black Sea, thwarting an attack.

The Ukrainian and Russian claims could not be independently verified.

Ukraine’s military has intensified its attacks on Crimea in recent weeks and has long maintained that taking aim at Russian assets and operations on the peninsula, which Russia illegally annexed in 2014, is critical to its war effort. The peninsula is a hub for the Russian military, which keeps troops, fuel, ammunition and other supplies there to funnel to its forces on the front lines in southern Ukraine.Last week, a Ukrainian attack targeted the headquarters of the Black Sea Fleet, damaging two ships and starting a fire at a sprawling naval shipyard that is seen as important to the Russian war effort. And on Wednesday, Ukraine’s military said its missiles took out a command post for the Black Sea Fleet in the village of Verkhnesadovoye, near its headquarters in the nearby port city of Sevastopol. The claims could not be independently verified.

Rybar, an influential Russian military blogger, said Thursday that drones launched from southern Ukraine had targeted five Russian military outposts on Crimea’s western coast, but had caused no damage.

Still, unverified videos posted on social networks by Crimean-based channels reported explosions in the area of the Saki Air Base. In one such video, the buzzing of a drone can be heard followed by the sound of a loud explosion.

The Saki base came under Ukrainian attack last year. Satellite photos taken after a series of explosions there appeared to show at least eight wrecked warplanes.

“We ask all Crimeans to remain calm,” Oleg Kryuchkov, an adviser to the Moscow-appointed governor of Crimea, Sergei Aksyonov, said on Telegram. He added in another message that a cyberattack had targeted government websites and media in Crimea. The claim of a cyberattack could not be independently verified.Explosions later heard in Sevastopol on Thursday night were not from another Ukrainian attack, but from Russia firing an Onyx P-800 supersonic missile over the Black Sea toward the Odesa region, Rybar said.

The head of Odesa’s military administration, Oleg Kiper, confirmed a Russian attack in the Bilhorod-Dniestrovsky district, saying there were no civilian casualties but “rockets” hit “recreational infrastructure.”

Anushka Patil contributed reporting.


Inside the Deal to Free 5 American Prisoners in Iran


The prisoner swap was all arranged, or so the American negotiators thought.

After years of painstaking negotiations with Iran, secretly mediated by Persian Gulf nations, top aides to President Biden had finally struck a deal on June 6 that would free four Americans held in one of Iran’s most notorious prisons. In exchange, the United States would unfreeze $6 billion in Iranian oil revenue and drop charges against Iranians accused of violating U.S. sanctions.

The U.S. negotiators knew there could still be last-minute hiccups, but things were moving forward. The prison guards in Tehran rounded up the Americans, brought them to the warden’s office and told them to pack their belongings — their release was imminent. They should be ready to go home within three days.

But White House officials were about to receive some bad news. Just a day after the agreement was reached, they learned from the F.B.I. that Iran had seized another American citizen, a retired woman from California who was doing aid work in Afghanistan.

It was unclear then, and even now, whether the woman’s detention was a strategic decision or if she had simply gotten caught up in Iran’s web of security, a case of the country’s left hand not knowing what its right hand was doing.

Either way, the U.S. officials were livid. There was no way Mr. Biden could sign off on an agreement that would leave her behind. The woman from California had to be released, too.

The deal crumbled. And the prisoners, who by this point were expecting to go home any day, were crushed.

It would be weeks before U.S. officials, still working in secret, would get the talks back on track, with help from diplomats in Oman, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates.

When Mr. Biden finally announced on Monday that the Americans — including the newly captured woman — were on their way home, it was the culmination of years of careful negotiations focused not only on freeing the prisoners, but also on efforts to defuse tensions with Iran and counter what the U.S. views as Tehran’s destabilizing activities throughout the Middle East.

“When all the pieces finally come into place, there’s a collective sigh of relief, but up until that moment we’re all holding our breath,” said Jake Sullivan, the president’s national security adviser. “We don’t want the terrible ordeal these Americans are enduring to last a single day longer than it has to.”

The story of those negotiations was recounted by officials in the United States, Iran and Qatar; family members and lawyers for some of the prisoners; and representatives of other organizations familiar with the talks. Most spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss confidential conversations about the prisoners.

The outcome, they said, is proof that even fierce adversaries can sometimes find their way to an agreement.

But it almost didn’t happen.

The work to bring home the Americans had begun early in 2021, just weeks after Mr. Biden took office.

Siamak Namazi, Emad Sharghi and Morad Tahbaz had been jailed on unsubstantiated charges of spying. They were held in Evin Prison, infamous for accusations of torture and a symbol of the regime’s authoritarian approach to justice.

Mr. Biden and his advisers were determined to get them out, somehow. For months, Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken carried the names of the detainees in his pocket.

First though, the United States and Iran needed to find ways to talk about broader issues. Throughout 2021 and the first half of 2022, Washington and Tehran hoped that they could revive the Obama-era nuclear deal, which had limited Iran’s nuclear program in return for sanctions relief. Former President Donald J. Trump had abandoned the deal.

Now, U.S. and Iranian officials were engaged in indirect talks in Vienna. And on a separate track, the Biden administration pushed for a way to free the imprisoned Americans.

But by August last year, those talks had completely broken down.

Iran was making demands about its nuclear program that the United States could not accept. It was rapidly increasing uranium enrichment to 20 percent, then 60 percent, stockpiling beyond levels approved in the now-defunct Obama deal. Iran’s top officials sided with Russia on its invasion of Ukraine, and reports surfaced of Iranian drones being sold to Russia and used to target civilians.

Behind the scenes, discussions about releasing the imprisoned Americans had become intertwined with the broader nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.

To negotiators on both sides, it seemed clear that the United States would not approve a costly deal for the prisoners when the nuclear negotiations were falling apart.

“In the entire course of 2021 and for most of 2022, the U.S. seemed to prefer to wrap the detainee deal into the J.C.P.O.A.’s restoration,” said Ali Vaez, the Iran director of the International Crisis Group, who was familiar with the negotiations from both the American and Iranian sides. “It was only late last year, when the window closed on nuclear diplomacy, that a stand-alone detainee deal was contemplated.”

Iran wanted to be able to access $6 billion in oil revenue that was sitting in accounts in South Korea, virtually unusable because of currency issues. Iran’s negotiators demanded the money be moved in a way they could use it.

The United States was insisting that money would have to be placed in restricted accounts, with controls that made it impossible to use for anything other than food, medicine, medical devices or agriculture. The Iranians rejected the proposal outright.

A month later, in mid-September, nationwide protests erupted across Iran in the aftermath of Mahsa Amini’s death in the custody of the morality police. Iran’s government responded with brutal force, and scenes of young people being shot, killed, beaten and arrested dominated headlines about Iran.

Iranian forces also had intensified their attacks on American forces in Syria. Many in the Iranian American diaspora staged protests in cities across the United States and lobbied for Washington to end all negotiations with Iran and support Iranians fighting for democratic change.

And by this time, Iran had arrested a fourth American, a businessman and scientist whose identity has been withheld. The Biden administration continued to press for their release.

Robert Malley, who served as the Iran envoy for the United States, met several times with Amir Saeid Iravani, Iran’s ambassador to the United Nations. They were the only major face-to-face discussions between the United States and Iran about the prisoners, but they did not produce a breakthrough.

Mr. Iravani did not respond to questions from The New York Times about the talks.

The families of the American detainees and their lawyers publicly pressured Mr. Biden to set aside politics and bring their loved ones back home. Mr. Namazi, a 51-year-old businessman, gave an interview to CNN in March from Evin Prison saying that consecutive American presidents had left him behind to rot in an Iranian cell. He pleaded for help.

“I’ve been a hostage for seven and a half years — that’s six times the duration of the hostage crisis,” Mr. Namazi told CNN, referring to the Americans who were taken hostage in Iran during the 1979 revolution and held for 444 days.

But by the spring of this year, an agreement on anything that involved concessions to Iran seemed a million miles away.

The American diplomats arrived in Oman in May with a heavy dose of skepticism.

Iran had sent word, through intermediaries, that Tehran wanted to reduce tensions.

Just weeks earlier, Mr. Biden had ordered U.S. fighter jets to attack a munitions warehouse in eastern Syria linked to Iran’s intelligence services. His administration believed the attack, a direct response to Iran’s complicity in the first death of an American contractor in Syria in years, had rattled the Iranians. But the U.S. officials — including Brett McGurk, a veteran Middle East diplomat — were doubtful that Iran was serious.

Mr. McGurk and his American team huddled in one room of a hotel in Muscat, the capital of Oman. Iran’s delegation, led by a deputy foreign minister, Ali Bagheri Kani, gathered in another. For hours, Omani mediators shuttled back and forth between the two groups, who could see each other through windows.

The message from Mr. McGurk’s side was simple: If Iran wanted to reduce tensions, and perhaps even resume discussions about the country’s nuclear program, it had to stop attacking American forces. And it had to finally release the four Americans who were imprisoned, in some cases for years.

Through the windows, Mr. McGurk could see the Iranians arguing, a signal that there was hardly unanimity. But the messages returned by the Omani mediators contained a surprise. The Iranians wanted concessions about easing enforcement of sanctions on oil sales, but were willing to consider the U.S. demands for an exchange that would free the imprisoned Americans.

Within weeks, further talks were arranged in the nearby Gulf nation of Qatar, which had been trying for years to help broker the release of the Americans.

“Iran decided that if a nuclear deal with the U.S. was not tenable, it had to resolve its smaller problems such as the prisoner exchange and reducing the tensions in the region,” said Gheis Ghoreishi, a political analyst in Iran who has advised its foreign ministry. “The approach was if we untie a few of the knots eventually it could lead to a bigger opening, sanctions relief, a nuclear deal and such like.”

On June 6, with Qataris serving as the go-between in Doha, U.S. and Iranian officials hammered out a written agreement. The Americans would be released, and the United States would allow Iran to buy humanitarian goods using $6 billion of its profits from oil sales that had been stuck in banks in South Korea. The United States would also drop charges against five Iranians accused of violating American sanctions.

For Mr. McGurk and others in the White House and at the State Department, the flurry of diplomacy in Oman and Qatar in the spring of this year was a moment of hope.

Just maybe there was a chance to bring home the Americans after all.

But the arrest of the fifth American, the California woman who was doing aid work in Afghanistan, upended any hopes of a quick solution.

For several weeks, Mr. McGurk and others in the United States tried to resurrect the agreement they had signed on June 6. Working through mediators again, the U.S. officials made it clear that the only way for the deal to proceed was if she were released too.

It took some time to “unstick” the situation, as one American official recalled. But once the Iranians agreed to the demand for the release of all five prisoners, negotiations reached a turning point.

In early August, following a visit to Tehran by Mohammed Al Khulaifi, a Qatari state minister, both sides came to a final agreement laying out the terms, including the prisoner exchange and the funds transfer mechanism. There were also stipulations that the funds would be held in Qatar and paid directly to vendors when Iran wanted to make humanitarian purchases on food, medicine and medical equipment.

On Aug. 10, all of the prisoners were transferred to a hotel in northern Tehran and placed under house arrest pending the complete transfer of the money.

Finally, on Monday, the Swiss ambassador in Tehran — known as the “protecting power in Iran” for the United States, which has no diplomatic presence there — drove two other American citizens to the airport. Iran had agreed to let Mr. Namazi’s mother, Effi, and Morad Tahbaz’s wife, Vida, leave on the same plane with their relatives. Both women had been prevented from leaving Iran since their family members’ detentions.

At the hotel where they were under house arrest, the five American prisoners were also ready to leave for the airport, where an airplane provided by Qatar’s government waited to take them to Doha for a Cold War-style swap on the tarmac and then a flight home.

But there was one more delay.

Officials in Iran claimed that not all of the money from South Korea had reached the bank account in Qatar. They would not let the Americans leave if the money could not be accounted for. For more than two hours, everyone just waited.

In New York, where the president and his aides had arrived for the upcoming United Nations General Assembly, national security officials were waiting anxiously. When Iranian officials confirmed that they were satisfied the money had arrived, the Americans boarded cars for the 40-minute drive to the Tehran airport.

At 5:30 a.m. on Tuesday, after a brief stop in Doha, the Americans walked off the plane at a military base in Northern Virginia, free for the first time since they were imprisoned.

Two hours later, Mr. Sullivan, the president’s national security adviser, posted a picture of the Americans gathered together in the small government plane.

Alongside an American flag emoji, he wrote: “Welcome home.”


We Asked Readers to Spend the Summer Watching Birds. Here’s What Happened.


One Saturday morning in June, Amy Simmons spotted some sparrows flitting around a coastal marsh in Maine. She and her two companions, all dedicated bird-watchers, quickly identified one of the foraging birds as a Nelson’s sparrow, a small, round bird with a yellow stripe over its eye. Then, overhead, they spotted something slightly different. The stripe over this sparrow’s eye had a more saturated, orange tint, and its breast was speckled with black and white.

It was a saltmarsh sparrow, a species threatened by sea level rise. Without significant conservation action, climate change could render the species extinct by the middle of this century, some scientists predict.

“It’s a beautiful bird,” said Ms. Simmons, who works in fund-raising at the National Audubon Society. “It’s exciting to see it. But then it kind of breaks your heart at the same time. Because it is so threatened right now.”

Ms. Simmons snapped some photos and logged the observation in eBird, a website and app that allows scientists at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology to collect observations from bird-watchers worldwide. The data has already helped scientists keep tabs on bird populations, many of which are in steep decline, and track how their behaviors and lives are shifting with a changing climate.

But the data has gaps; eBird generally receives fewer submissions in the summer than it does during the spring and fall migratory seasons, and much of the data comes from popular bird-watching locations, like parks and nature preserves. So this summer, The New York Times collaborated with the lab on a citizen science project, inviting readers to make birding part of their daily routines and to share their observations with researchers. Participants were encouraged to continue birding throughout the slow season and to venture beyond their favorite bird-watching haunts.

A video summarizing the project will be shown during The New York Times Climate Forward event on Thursday, where leaders in business, science and public policy will be discussing climate change and efforts to deal with it.

“People took that call to action to heart,” said Jenna Curtis, who is a project leader for eBird at the Cornell lab.

Roughly 25,000 people, including Ms. Simmons, signed up to participate; 46 percent said that they were new to birding. Though it’s unclear how many of them actually followed through, more than 2,000 people submitted eBird checklists using the designated #NYT hashtag; together, these eBird users submitted more than 95,000 checklists between mid-May and the end of August. Readers also submitted their drawings of birds and reported joining others for bird-watching outings.

Data provided by Cornell — and interviews with participants — also suggests that the project prompted existing eBird users to remain more engaged through the slow summer season and to submit data from a greater assortment of locations.

Karla Simpson, a relatively new birder in Indiana, said the project expanded her understanding of where she might find interesting birds. When she attended her niece’s wedding in Michigan, she logged 20 species — including wood ducks, northern flickers and red-bellied woodpeckers — at a pond behind her hotel, a Fairfield Inn & Suites in a busy business district. “As long as there was habitat, there were birds,” she said.

Ms. Simmons was not alone in logging a sighting of the saltmarsh sparrow; more than 100 people who used the #NYT hashtag reported seeing one, providing more data that experts might be able to use to better target conservation efforts, Dr. Curtis said. “It’s super valuable information,” she said. “They’re seeing a bird that’s on the brink, that their children or grandchildren might not see if we don’t do something.”

Many participants also reported seeing birds outside their typical ranges — a red-bellied woodpecker outside Montreal, a Carolina wren in Vermont — a sign that species are being pushed north by a warming climate. In Prospect Park in Brooklyn, Emily Clark spotted an anhinga, a long-necked water bird often found in Florida. “It’s cool to see an anhinga in New York,” Ms. Clark said. “But it’s not necessarily a good thing, especially if they’re being forced up here.”

Climate change, and the extreme weather that comes with it, can also make life hard for birders; participants in this summer’s project had to deal with extreme heat and unusual plumes of wildfire smoke.

Even with the not-always-favorable weather conditions, Ms. Clark said that the project motivated her to get back into birding after having a baby this spring, and that she hopes to share her love of birds with her new son. Bird-watching, she said, has brought her closer to her own father, a lifelong birder who gave her the middle name Wren. Ms. Clark passed the name on to her newborn, and when her father came into town to meet the baby, they bonded over the strange tropical bird that had landed in Brooklyn.

“On his first visit down to meet his new grandson,” Ms. Clark said, “he hung out with the baby for a few hours and then he said, ‘Is it all right if we make a quick trip to Prospect Park to see the anhinga?’”


The Soccer Star Who Became a Conspiracy Theorist


Just after clocking off time at the edge of Liverpool’s business district on Wednesday afternoon, a small but striking man with a tattoo stretching across his neck joined a crowd of 200 or so protestors outside the city’s most significant civic building.

Chris Sky is an optimistic-sounding name. His aviator glasses, gleaming white teeth and peroxide hair gave him the appearance of a Las Vegas timeshare salesman; instead, he was flogging a story to other famous men like Rickie Lambert, the former Liverpool and England forward, who had advertised this rally in advance without mentioning its special guest.

On the opposite side of the road was another group, making a stand against fascism. For a good half-hour, two men holding megaphones used the busy thoroughfare as a barrier between ideologies as cars went past and bemused commuters tried to get home.

While the anti-fascists screamed about Nazis and the real problems Liverpool’s residents should campaign against, the “freedom” movement stood behind yellow placards that advised readers to “question everything” and to “lose the denial”. There was also another warning: “15-minute neighbourhoods will be your prison.”

The 15-minute city protest in Liverpool (Simon Hughes)

That, ultimately, was what Lambert was here for: to raise awareness of the supposed threat of Liverpool becoming a “15-minute city”, where the local government stands accused of planning to essentially segregate districts in the name of climate change.

Sky emerged as an online agitator at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic by railing against restrictions at a series of “freedom rallies”. To his followers, he is a precious purveyor of truth in a world of sinister forces trying to exercise control; to many more, he is a dangerous conspiracy theorist.

There was, however, no denying he was the star attraction on Wednesday. After another “freedom” spokesman with the megaphone denied the event’s links to the far right — “This has nothing to do with racism,” he claimed — Sky and his followers ambled towards the space in front of the crown court. Then, after the rally’s organiser described those mainly middle-class-looking older women and students handing out socialist newsletters on the other side of the street as “satanic” communists trying to “steal our souls”, Sky was invited to talk.

“Hello Liverpool,” he shouted into the mic, only for his voice to disappear in a violent gust blowing in from the Irish Sea.

Sky announced that he was on a tour to change the world courtesy of speeches like this one, which included unsubstantiated claims about the return of Covid-19, the weaponising of climate change by governments in an attempt to control freedoms, and a hidden LGBT agenda that the audience needed to be aware of because according to the Bible, “pride” was one of the seven deadly sins.

Lambert, who did not speak despite his role in promoting the event, stood by, taking it all in. Most people did, but for one Liverpudlian in a vest, who piped up from the back of the crowd: “Why the f*** are we listening to some American talk about our city?”

It was at that point that someone informed him that Sky, whose surname is really Saccoccia, was in fact from Canada.

In his book, Red Pill Blue Pill, David Newert describes a conspiracy theory as “a hypothetical explanation of historical or ongoing new events comprised of secret plots, usually of a nefarious nature, whose existence may or may not be factual”.

In recent years, Newert adds that it has also become a “kind of dismissive epithet”. The majority of people, he explains, do not have the time for conspiracist beliefs and, therefore, it is easier to banish those who do as “cartoonish scam peddlers”.

A psychologist based in Merseyside, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of his working contracts, makes comparisons between conspiracy theorists and his experiences in the drug services when survivors discover salvation, prompting them to want to impart their knowledge to others by working in recovery.

“When conspiracy theorists discover something, they never keep it to themselves,” he concludes. “They have to pass it on to someone else. Now they know their place in the world, they see themselves as crusaders.”

Conspiracy theories can take root in every sector of society and yet there are compelling reasons why sportspeople — including footballers — could be particularly susceptible.

Lambert has used his social media platforms to perpetrate a variety of outlandish theories, including calling for doctors and nurses who vaccinated children against Covid-19 to be arrested, sharing posts that erroneously claim vaccine shots contain ‘cancer virus’, and saying that anyone who is “in on the globalist plan, the new world order, needs to be brought down”.

Yet he is by no means the only high-profile example. Matt Le Tissier, one of his predecessors in a Southampton and England shirt, has used social media to augment arguments among conspiracy theorists that include the denial of the war in Ukraine and actors being used to fake what is happening in front of Western cameras.

Le Tissier has sparked controversy with his views (Robin Jones/Getty Images)

Le Tissier claims he has been pushed to the fringes by mainstream media companies because of his views. Support has come from Lambert but also from other ex-footballers, such as David Cotterill, the former Swansea City and Wales midfielder, who has used his Instagram account to make wild accusations over the existence of a network of celebrity paedophiles, climate change, Covid restrictions and that a Texas school shooting was a ‘false flag’ event.

Another former Liverpool player, Dejan Lovren, appeared to endorse the conspiracy theory that the Covid-19 pandemic was devised as a ploy to force vaccinations on the world’s population. In 2020, he responded to a social media post thanking health workers by Bill Gates, the billionaire who helped fund vaccine research, by saying: “Game over Bill. People are not blind.” He has repeatedly promoted links to talks by David Icke, the former Coventry goalkeeper, who has long held a belief that the British Royal Family are a group of shape-shifting lizards.

On a similar theme, the former Spain goalkeeper Iker Casillas revealed in 2018 that he did not believe the Moon landings were real.

The key word in any cognitive reaction to conspiracy theories, according to the psychologist, is ‘threat’. They explain the brain like this: the threat part of the brain is the most potent, telling the drive system to do something about it. But the drive system is also the part of the brain that deals with reward, which makes people feel like they are eliminating a threat. This, therefore, makes people feel like they are achieving something. When that happens, it releases chemicals like serotonin and dopamine, making them feel better.

“It gives people a purpose,” he says. “The problem is, it becomes cyclical. The threat system says, ‘You’ve done something about it this time — what about next time? You feel good now but there’s another threat around the corner.’ This means the brain jumps back into drive.

“This isn’t a million miles away from the life of a Premier League football player, who has to push themselves to avoid being dropped or heckled by 60,000 spectators who revel in telling you that you’re crap at your job. In a sporting life, that’s the threat. You’ve done well in one game, but there’s always another to follow.”

Sportspeople are susceptible to this world because of how carefully they need to manage their bodies in order to perform.

“Clean eating became a fad 10 years ago or so,” the psychologist says when asked to explain what can happen when sportspeople embrace alternative thinking. “That quickly becomes, ‘Don’t trust the professionals — take charge of what you put into your body.’ This then becomes, ‘Don’t trust the professionals — they are in the pockets of ‘big pharma’’. You throw in a pandemic in the middle of all this, along with various high-profile political scandals, and suddenly it manifests into not trusting anyone, claims about who controls the planet, and extreme views such as antisemitism.”

These are big jumps, but look at the leap Le Tissier has made in a relatively short space of time, from small city champion and legendary Southampton No 7 to a war-denier in Ukraine, who in July, without providing evidence, suggested on Twitter a “communist takeover is slyly being implemented”.

The psychologist suggests retired footballers can find life difficult without the routine of training and matches. This can lead to them seeking a lost dressing room culture that can be found initially in a chat room or a forum.

“Given golf courses were closed during the pandemic and there was nothing else to do, there was a sanctuary of sorts on the internet, where people seeking explanations for questions that had no answers seemed to find them. Such groups offer the illusion of certainty and safeness.”

Golf courses closed during the Covid-19 pandemic (Glyn Kirk/AFP via Getty Images)

The problem, as Newert points out, is that real conspiracies do exist and have done through most of civilised history.

In Liverpool, particularly, you only need to remind people of the 1980s, when “managed decline” was suspected as a strategy of the United Kingdom’s Conservative government, before official papers were released under the 30-year rule in 2011 revealing that Chancellor Geoffrey Howe had, at the very least, proposed the policy to then Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher.

Many people who lived in the city through this period would agree that there is enough evidence to believe the policy was, in fact, carried out. The decade finished with Hillsborough, the worst football disaster in British history, when the authorities aligned to blame fans. It would take more than a quarter of a century for a cover-up to be exposed in a courtroom and only in the past few years have some police forces started paying out damages to victims.

In some parts of Liverpool, it is still believed that the heroin epidemic of the same era was another strategy, aimed at doping the city up as the rot set in — preventing people in the haze from standing their ground.

Only a few hundred at most turned up outside Liverpool’s town hall on Wednesday, but the psychologist believes the city is fertile ground for conspiracists because of its history and a wariness towards authority.

Though it has not manifested into demonstrations, the current Conservative government’s decision to send in commissioners to run an area that hasn’t had a Tory councillor since 1997 has heightened suspicion amongst those with long memories.

This month, Icke hosted a talk in Liverpool’s Greenbank Conference Centre and he wouldn’t have organised that if he didn’t think at least some people from the surrounding area would turn up.

Super conspiracies, the psychologist thinks, are intoxicating because they have no answers, which helps maintain an interest over a long period of time.

“The awakening always feels just around the corner; that Scooby Doo moment, where the villain’s sack is removed from his head,” he says. “First, there was 5G to consider. Then there were lockdowns and masks. Now there are 15-minute cities. It’s a never-ending threat and that’s why it’s so difficult to escape from.”

Lambert, whose football career ended in 2017 following 241 goals in 701 games for nine clubs across all levels of professional football in England, perhaps stands as testament to that.

On September 11, the 41-year-old used his Twitter page to start promoting the rally with a poster that could easily have been an advert for a ghost tour, where the town hall faded into the background of a ghoulish blue light.

“People of Liverpool, start researching 15 minute city’s (sic),” Lambert wrote, “because they are coming our way very shortly if we allow it.”

Then, in capital letters, he added: “WE DO NOT CONSENT!!”

A video from a garden followed three days later, was aimed at “you Scousers”.

According to Lambert, Liverpool’s council was planning on “dividing” the city into 13 zones in an attempt to create greener and safer spaces for “us, the people”.

“It is not, it is not,” Lambert insisted. “It is a controlled tactic being implemented across this country as we speak. These are initial movements for 15-minute cities, all under the guise of climate change.”

Liverpool would be under the surveillance of cameras and, eventually, permanent barriers, according to Lambert. “This is unacceptable,” he said. “Us, the people, will not stand for this control tactic.”

Lambert making his way to the 15-minute city protest in Liverpool (Simon Hughes)

While Lambert did not provide evidence for these claims, the city council is adamant that such plans have never been discussed at any committee meeting and it does not form a part of its planning or policy.

The 15-minute city, an urban design concept which could be perceived as a fairly mundane strategy that has been moderately successful in other parts of the world for more than a decade, aims to provide everything that a resident supposedly needs within a 15-minute walk or bike ride.

Since the start of 2023, however, it has been targeted by conspiracy theorists, who believe it to be a part of a malign international plot to control people’s movement in the name of climate change. According to the protestors standing beside Sky, new cameras in bus lanes were evidence that this process had started in Liverpool.

Not every person’s life can be viewed through their social media output, but Lambert’s might be revealing in terms of what it does not include over the first three years.

His Instagram page has been active since 2017 and until 2020, nearly all of his posts related to his family and football. If he was interested in politics, medicine, or social freedoms, he did not show it.

The nature of those posts began to change six months into the Covid-19 pandemic, specifically when Rishi Sunak told musicians they should retrain and find new jobs.

Lambert, like a lot of people, pushed back at this radical suggestion by the then Chancellor of the Exchequer, who has since become the British prime minister.

By March 2021, he was posting about lockdowns, writing: “No new variant or blaming the unvaccinated!! NO MORE!!!”

Lambert only joined Twitter in June 2023, attracting 10,000 followers since. His bio suggests he is “fighting for my children’s future”, as an ex-footballer-turned-coach, though he does not mention he is employed by Wigan Athletic. It includes the hashtag #greatawakening.

In his first video post, he described himself as a “critical thinker” before having a stab at explaining what he thought this phenomenon was.

“No one has ever told us what the great awakening is,” Lambert admitted.

A month later, he released another, more succinct video, where he “withdrew his consent to be governed by any corrupt, compromised, belligerent parliament of government”.

“I will not comply,” he added.

I had asked Lambert for an interview in July, to speak about his views, challenge them, and to see where they were rooted. Initially, he agreed, but the night before we were due to meet, he cancelled without any initial indication he wanted to reschedule. After being pressed on another date and promising to come back with a suggestion, he did not.

It became apparent on his Instagram page that two days before our original interview, he had attended a gathering with at least four other people, including Andrew Bridgen, the Member of Parliament who, earlier this year, was expelled from the Conservative Party for comparing Covid-19 vaccines to the Holocaust. He had also been found to have breached lobbying rules.

Bridgen has been an outspoken critic of lockdown policy (Leon Neal/Getty Images)

At the start of September, Hope Not Hate, the largest anti-fascist organisation in the United Kingdom, distributed a picture of Bridgen in Copenhagen with Tommy Robinson, arguably the most notorious far-right activist in the United Kingdom.

The organisers of the rally Lambert promoted and attended in Liverpool were the British Lions, a group which was spawned out of the Covid conspiracy “freedom” movement.

Despite using ancient law and sovereign language, Hope Not Hate says the organisation is not explicitly far-right, but says that some of its members have been seen at other far-right events.

A leaflet handed out by the British Lions on Wednesday outlined, rather chaotically, all of the things they are challenging the government on. Some were rooted in reality, such as the attempt to criminalise rights to protest; others were unsubstantiated claims apparently designed to offer the impression of a super conspiracy.

So many of the origin stories for these groups and beliefs can be traced back to the pandemic, which Joe Mulhall, from Hope Not Hate, describes as an “unprecedented opportunity for engagement with the conspiracy world”.

Mulhall says conspiracists will ignore any differences when they meet believers of their secretive world. “The nuances seem tiny when they feel like they are conquering an external force. The enormity of the perceived threat means they will put aside political distinctions that traditionally might be a problem.”

Nine summers ago, I watched Lambert cry tears of joy as he completed his dream move. He was at Melwood, Liverpool’s old training ground, having just signed for the club.

When I spoke to him briefly in July, he described it as the best moment of his life. I remember being delighted for him, as so many Liverpool supporters were. His story until this point had been one of crushing rejection and extraordinary revival, heaving himself from the floor of his release from the club he loved as a teenager to working his way back a couple of decades later. “I can’t believe this has happened,” he told me.

Lambert fulfilled a boyhood dream by playing for Liverpool (Michael Regan/Getty Images)

On much colder reflection, his path might offer clues as to why he thinks the way he does now. Lambert was born in Kirkby, an overspill town seven miles inland from Liverpool’s city centre, living in a maisonette opposite the old Kirkby Stadium, which for junior teams in the area was the equivalent of Wembley. With a notoriously hard shot, he was spotted by Liverpool scouts aged 10 and he spent five years in the junior ranks, rejecting opportunities to join Everton and Manchester United.

It was not a shock to him when he was told by Steve Heighway, Liverpool’s academy director, that he was being released because of his lack of pace. Over the next few years, he had to adapt his game and this led to him playing in a variety of positions. He joined Blackpool as a right-back, but by the last year of his apprenticeship, he was a central midfielder. Two of those years had been under Nigel Worthington, but when Steve McMahon, the former Liverpool midfielder, took over, his fortunes changed. McMahon had been his father’s hero, but within six months of his appointment as manager, Lambert was allowed to leave the club — unable to even get a game for the reserves. McMahon had seen ability but did not think Lambert’s body would allow him to regularly play for 90 minutes.

On trial at Macclesfield Town, he was not being paid and this led to him getting a job at a beetroot factory. Aged 19, he was contemplating a career in the semi-professional ranks because he did not have a car and could not even afford the cost of the travel expenses to make it to training. Yet six months later, he was sold to Stockport County for what remains a club record fee of £300,000.

Lambert believes he was entitled to earn 10 per cent of that fee, but when he tried to buy a house, he learned that the money had disappeared into an agent’s account. By the age of 19, it would be understandable if he had trust issues given he might feel let down by the club he loved, his father’s hero, and the person supposedly representing him in this cruel, unforgiving sport.

At Stockport, Lambert found it hard to adapt to a deep-lying midfield role. The team was struggling and the fans turned on the players. As the most expensive signing, he bore the brunt and this led to him dropping a division to join League Two Rochdale, where he rediscovered a sense of purpose while playing as a centre-forward. He maintained his scoring habit after moving to Bristol Rovers and when Southampton were relegated into League One, new owners, with new money, enticed him to the south coast. There, the manager Alan Pardew asked him to lift his top up. Looking at his belly, he told him he was a “disgrace”.

Despite scoring the goals that helped Southampton accelerate back up the leagues and making friends with Le Tissier along the way, Lambert says the club wanted to sell him every summer.

He was desperate to prove them wrong and when he finally made it into the Premier League, aged 30, he had played almost 400 games across each of the divisions in the English football league. Yet in the opening game of that season, at champions Manchester City, he was left on the bench. The decision by manager Nigel Adkins suggested he didn’t truly believe in him.

Lambert always felt the need to prove himself (Glyn Kirk/AFP via Getty Images)

Listening to Lambert, you begin to realise how lonely football can be. He could only ever really trust himself: his talent and resilience. Regularly, those making decisions about the direction of his career did not. Even after proving himself in the Premier League, he felt as though international recognition with England only came out of respect for his record rather than his ability.

On his debut against Scotland, he was in “dreamland” after scoring the winner. He made it into England’s squad for the 2014 World Cup squad but felt like a “mascot” after just three minutes of playing time. The lack of action meant he felt he needed less of a summer holiday as he began his Liverpool career. Despite being given five weeks off, he returned to Melwood after a fortnight, vowing to become the fittest he had ever been.

It proved to be a mistake because he needed the break. Aged 32, Lambert had never played a full season extending into a summer tournament before. Back on Merseyside, he felt heavy — like he didn’t have any energy. On the club’s pre-season tour of the United States, he struggled with the routine of training, playing and travelling.

Liverpool’s manager, Brendan Rodgers, had told Lambert that he was bringing in Alexis Sanchez to replace the outgoing Luis Suarez. Sanchez, however, never arrived. In the 2014-15 season, Liverpool missed Suarez terribly. In Sanchez’s place, Rodgers bought Mario Balotelli despite vowing not to, and Balotelli’s signing was a failure.

Lambert was under more pressure to deliver. His first Liverpool goal at Crystal Palace coincided with what turned into a bad team performance and a defeat. After just five months at the club, Rodgers wanted to move him on, but Lambert rejected the opportunity to join Palace before he almost went to Aston Villa. He never fulfilled that boyhood dream of scoring for Liverpool at Anfield.

Out of the starting XI, his fitness got worse. He was less likely to affect a game if his chance did come. Spells at West Bromwich Albion and Cardiff City followed, but within six weeks, Lambert was told by Neil Warnock that he wanted him off the wage bill. One of the offers came from Scunthorpe United, but he couldn’t face lowering himself to a level of football which he had tried so hard to get away from.

Listening to him on the Straight From The Off podcast in 2021, it seemed as though he was still searching for answers as to why his career unravelled the way it did. Certainly, had he listened to any supposed “expert” at crucial points in his career, then he may have not even made it to Blackpool.

Across the Liverpool fanbase, he has become a figure of fun, but not because his time at the club ended in the way it did. In another podcast this year, he spoke enthusiastically about scientists conducting an experiment where they spent time speaking positively to a glass of water, which allegedly responded by dazzling them with the clarity of their crystals.

When a friend saw that clip, he messaged me straight away, asking: “What next, Rickie Lambert taking mortgage advice from a can of Fanta?”

(Top photo: Getty Images; design: Eamonn Dalton)