House Foreign Affairs Committee presses Pompeo to appear for Iran hearing

Rep. Eliot Engel, D-N.Y., on Friday pressed Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to agree to testify before the House Committee on Foreign Affairs on the Trump administration’s policy toward Iran and threatened to issue a subpoena if necessary.

The invitation to Pompeo from Engel, the committee chairman, comes as Democratic lawmakers demand answers about Trump’s recent actions against Tehran, particularly an airstrike that killed Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani that led a retaliatory attack on American troops in Iraq and has escalated tensions in the region.

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“As the Administration’s public face of this policy, your participation at this hearing is necessary so that the committee can conduct appropriate oversight and consider legislative alternatives related to the use of military force as well as the strategy and aims of American policy in Iran, Iraq, and the broader Middle East,” Engel wrote.

Pompeo was previously invited to testify before the committee this week but declined, citing time constraints. Engel warned Pompeo that he would use legal means to compel him to testify if he refuses to appear at the Jan. 29 hearing.

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“I was particularly troubled by the fact that, rather than discuss urgent matters of war and peace with the State Department’s committee of jurisdiction you announced after you had been invited to the January 14 hearing, you traveled to California to deliver a scripted speech on these same issues,” Engl wrote. “I consider your testimony to be of extremely high importance and am prepared to use all legal means to ensure your attendance.”

The State Department did not immediately return a Fox News request for comment Friday.

On Tuesday, Richard Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations and former State Department official under President George W. Bush, told Congress that the Trump administration’s campaign against Iran has been effective.

He expressed optimism that sanctions on Iran have been strong enough to bring its leaders back to the negotiating table and was encouraged by threats of additional sanctions from Britain, France and Germany, all signatories of the 2015 nuclear deal.

Also present at the hearing were former national security adviser Stephen Hadley and former deputy national security adviser and former deputy director of the CIA Avril Haines

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Tensions between the U.S. and the Islamic Republic reached a boiling point after Sloeimani‘s death earlier this month. Democrats blasted the attack, saying it would put American lives in danger. Trump administration officials said the Quds Force commander was planning attacks against American personnel and American forces.

Iran responded by launching missiles at military bases in Iraq that house American troops, which injured 11 service members. Trump initially said no one was injured in that attack.

Iraqi lawmakers also voted to expel U.S. troops from the country, which had been invited back to combat the Islamic State after the terror group overtook vast swaths of the country from security forces and has since been defeated.

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The House last week passed a War Powers Resolution, mostly along party lines, intended to tighten Trump’s military action toward Iran. Senate Armed Services Committee member Tim Kaine, D-Va. introduced a second version that would mandate the U.S. withdraw troops from hostilities against Iran.

Fox News’ Ronn Blitzer contributed to this report. 

Instagram influencer arrested for climbing pyramid in Egypt: ‘I saw horrible things and I don’t wish this upon anybody’

Is a great Instagram post worth going to jail over?

An American-Russian influencer recently revealed to his followers that he’d spent several days in an Egyptian jail after being arrested for climbing one of the pyramids of Giza.

Ironically, Vitaly Zdorovetskiy uploaded a picture about a week ago where he bragged that he was going to take over Egypt. Several days later, he revealed that he had been arrested.

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“No words can explain what I just went through the past five days,” Zdorovetskiy wrote alongside a picture that appears to show him sitting on top of one of the pyramids.

“I was locked up in Egypt because I climbed the Pyramids of Giza,” he continued. “I’ve been in Jail many times but this one was by far the very worst. I saw horrible things and I don’t wish this upon anybody.”

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Oddly, after commenting about how horrible his experience in jail was, he added: “Was it worth it? F— YEAH! I did it for a good cause and soon I’m going to share the whole video so the whole world can see.”

The post has received over 192,000 likes and over 2,000 comments (although many of the comments are just made up of laughing faces or the flame emoji).

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The Egyptian Parliament decided that it was illegal to climb the pyramids in November, The Sun reports. Anyone who violates this law can face thousands of dollars in fines and up to 30 days in jail.

Honduran migrants gather to try forming new caravan

Hundreds of people, mostly Hondurans, began walking and hitching rides from San Pedro Sula, Honduras, on Wednesday in hopes of starting another migrant caravan similar to one that traversed through Mexico and inundated American border agents in 2018.

Their attempt to form another caravan comes as Mexico has begun stepping up efforts to block migrants from arriving at the southern border amid pressure from the Trump administration. Many migrants are seeking asylum in the United States, citing endemic poverty and increases in crime and gang activity in their Central American countries.

“We aren’t living here, we’re just surviving,” said Elmer Garcia, 26, a migrant from the town of Comayagua, Honduras. “So it doesn’t make much difference if you die there, or die here.”

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Migrants ride on top of a truck moving along the highway, in hopes of reaching the distant United States, from San Pedro Sula, Honduras, early Wednesday. Hundreds of Honduran migrants started walking and hitching rides Wednesday from the city of San Pedro Sula, in a bid to form the kind of migrant caravan that reached the U.S. border in 2018. (AP Photo/Delmer Martinez)

Migrants ride on top of a truck moving along the highway, in hopes of reaching the distant United States, from San Pedro Sula, Honduras, early Wednesday. Hundreds of Honduran migrants started walking and hitching rides Wednesday from the city of San Pedro Sula, in a bid to form the kind of migrant caravan that reached the U.S. border in 2018. (AP Photo/Delmer Martinez)

Wednesday’s journey could face obstacles from Mexican authorities, which broke up a number of attempts to form caravans last year.

“The truth is, it is going to be impossible for them to reach the United States,” said human rights activist Itsmania Platero. “The Mexican police have a large contingent and they are going to catch all the migrants without documents and they will be detained and returned to their home countries.”

In an attempt to decrease the flow of migrants, the U.S. has entered into bilateral agreements with Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador to deny people the opportunity to apply for asylum in the U.S. in an effort to enlist other countries to help deal with the ongoing crisis.

Migrants are instead sent back to Central America with an opportunity to ask for protection there.

Gerson Noe Monterroso, 34, said he’s been unemployed for five years and sees the journey to the U.S. as an opportunity. He left his home in Choloma, just north of San Pedro Sula, with dreams of finding a job to send money back to his family.

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He was making the trip Wednesday with his toddler in his arms. His other children are with their grandparents back home, he said.

Israel Connor, a Nicaraguan who has been living in Honduras since fleeing political and social upheaval, left Wednesday with his wife and their three children, ages 3 to 5.

“We are going to struggle, but if God is with us, nobody can stop us,” said Connor. “We know we are going to get through Guatemala, and God will soften the hearts of the Mexican authorities.”

After arriving at the U.S.-Mexico border, migrants seeking asylum are given a series of options: One is to be sent back to Guatemala as part of a “safe third country” agreement with the U.S. or their home country. Another is entering into the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP) — also known as “Remain-in-Mexico” — where they can wait out their cases in Mexico.

The program ended the practice of “catch-and-release” by where immigrants were released into the U.S. to await their hearings.

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Critics and human rights advocates say sending migrants to countries marred by violence puts them in danger. The Trump administration recently started returning Mexican migrants deep into the country, as far down as Guadalajara.

The plan marks a change from past protocols, which called for releasing migrants at the border. Homeland Security officials expect to return 250 Mexican migrants each week.

Fox News’ Adam Shaw and The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

Americans drinking more than before Prohibition, stats show

America still has a problem with alcohol, say public health experts.

Americans are drinking more now than when Prohibition was enacted in 1920, and alcohol-related deaths have been rising for the last two decades, according to federal health statistics.

The stats show a rise in per-person consumption and increases in emergency room visits, hospitalizations and deaths tied to drinking.

It’s unclear and unknown when the stats shall fall again.

“Consumption has been going up. Harms (from alcohol) have been going up,” said Dr. Tim Naimi, an alcohol researcher at Boston University. “And there’s not been a policy response to match it.”

This 1971 photo made available by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows an alcoholic cirrhosis liver specimen from an autopsy showing a dense network of scar tissue in response to chronic injury from alcohol abuse. (Dr. Edwin P. Ewing, Jr./CDC via AP)

This 1971 photo made available by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows an alcoholic cirrhosis liver specimen from an autopsy showing a dense network of scar tissue in response to chronic injury from alcohol abuse. (Dr. Edwin P. Ewing, Jr./CDC via AP)

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Excessive drinking is associated with chronic dangers such as liver cancer, high blood pressure, stroke and heart disease. Drinking by pregnant women can lead to miscarriages, stillbirths or birth defects. Health officials say alcohol is a factor in as many as one-third of serious falls among the elderly.

It’s also a risk to others — through drunken driving or alcohol-fueled violence. Research based on surveys suggests that more than half of the alcohol sold in the U.S. is consumed during episodes of binge drinking.

More than 88,000 Americans die each year as a result of excessive drinking, a figure higher than the opioid-related deaths seen in a current drug overdose epidemicaccording to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

This month, researchers at the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism released a different calculation of alcohol-related deaths. They scanned death certificates from more than two decades to search for mention of alcohol. The numbers were lower, at a little under 73,000 in 2017. The researchers said death certificates can be incomplete and their number is likely an undercount.

The more important finding, other researchers said, was that the number of alcohol-related deaths had doubled since 1999, and the death rate had risen 50 percent. Some or much of that may be related to the increasingly deadly drugs used in the overdose epidemic, since many people drink while taking drugs, said Aaron White, the study’s lead researcher.

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FILE - This Monday, Jan. 28, 2019 file photo shows the scene of a multiple vehicle accident involving two trucks and a bicyclist in Honolulu. Police say a suspected drunk driver slammed into a crowded Honolulu intersection, killing two pedestrians and a bicyclist and injuring five people including himself. (Cindy Ellen Russell/Honolulu Star-Advertiser via AP)

FILE – This Monday, Jan. 28, 2019 file photo shows the scene of a multiple vehicle accident involving two trucks and a bicyclist in Honolulu. Police say a suspected drunk driver slammed into a crowded Honolulu intersection, killing two pedestrians and a bicyclist and injuring five people including himself. (Cindy Ellen Russell/Honolulu Star-Advertiser via AP)

In the late 1910s, just before Congress banned the sale and manufacture of alcoholic beverages, each American teen and adult was downing just under 2 gallons of alcohol a year on average.

These days it’s about 2.3 gallons, according to federal calculations. These figures work out to nearly 500 drinks, or about nine per week.

Historians say drinking was heaviest in the early 1800s, with estimates that in 1830 the average U.S. adult downed the equivalent of 7 gallons a year.

That waned as the temperance movement pushed for moderation, abstinence and, later, a national ban on the manufacture and sale of alcohol.

In 1919, Congress passed the 18th Amendment, instituting the ban. It went into effect on January 17, 1920 — 100 years ago, this Friday — and lasted 13 years.

In 1934, a year after Prohibition was repealed, per-capita consumption was under 1 gallon. It’s been up and down since then. The apex was a heavy-drinking spell in the 1970s and 1980s, when U.S. per-person alcohol consumption was 2.75 gallons.

It went down in the mid-1980s, amid growing attention to deaths from drunken driving and after Congress passed a law raising the drinking age to 21. But it began climbing again in the mid-1990s.

“I think people sort of forgot all the problems” with alcohol, said William Kerr, senior scientist at the California-based Public Health Institute’s Alcohol Research Group.

FILE - In this June 16, 2016, file photo, bottles of wine are displayed during a tour of a state liquor store, in Salt Lake City. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer, File)

FILE – In this June 16, 2016, file photo, bottles of wine are displayed during a tour of a state liquor store, in Salt Lake City. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer, File)

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Currently, there are signs that some people are taking alcohol seriously — such as the “Dry January” movement making the rounds on social media.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Marshawn Lynch uses postgame news conference time to give advice to younger players

“Beast Mode” is your new favorite philosopher.

NFL star Marshawn Lynch went viral Sunday with his post-game pep talk advocating for astute financial decisions, self-care and mental health.

“Take care y’all bodies, take care y’all chicken [money] and take care y’all mentals,” Lynch said.

Seattle Seahawks' Marshawn Lynch runs for a touchdown during the second half of an NFL divisional playoff football game against the Green Bay Packers Sunday. (AP Photo/Matt Ludtke)

Seattle Seahawks’ Marshawn Lynch runs for a touchdown during the second half of an NFL divisional playoff football game against the Green Bay Packers Sunday. (AP Photo/Matt Ludtke)

After the Seattle Seahawks were ousted in the divisional round by the Green Bay Packers in a 28-23 defeat on Sunday night, the 33-year-old running back used his cameo at the podium deep inside Lambeau Field to encourage young players in the league to be as smart as they can in a league where careers are often short-lived.

“I’ll tell y’all now while ya’ll are in it, take care of y’all bread, so when y’all done you go ahead and take care of yourself,” said Lynch, who had four touchdowns in three games for the Seahawks.

Lynch, who had 26 yards on 12 carries on Sunday, was out of football for 14 months when he rejoined the Seahawks, coming two wins short of another trip to the big game.

Lynch last appeared in a game for the Oakland Raiders on Oct. 14, 2018. Ironically, he was playing against the Seahawks. He ran for 45 yards on 13 carries and failed to score a touchdown. He stepped away from football after that but never officially signed his retirement paperwork.

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Lynch played more than five seasons with the Seahawks from the middle of 2010 to 2015, helping the team to a Super Bowl in 2013. He burst onto the scene with an incredible run in an NFC playoff game against the New Orleans Saints in 2010.

During his time in Seattle, he ran for 6,347 yards and 57 touchdowns. He joined the Oakland Raiders prior to the start of the 2017 season and played 21 games for them.

Seattle Seahawks' Marshawn Lynch sits on the bench during the second half an NFL divisional playoff football game against the Green Bay Packers Sunday. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)

Seattle Seahawks’ Marshawn Lynch sits on the bench during the second half an NFL divisional playoff football game against the Green Bay Packers Sunday. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)

“It’s a vulnerable time for a lot of these young dudes,” Lynch began his inspirational speech. “They don’t be taking care of their chicken. … So, if it was me … if I had the opportunity to let these young sahabs [homies] know something, I’d say: ‘Take care y’all money, African, because that s–t don’t last forever.’”

Lynch continued his oracle words: “Now, I done been on the other side of retirement and it’s good when you get over there and you can do what the f–k you want to. So, I’d tell y’all right now, while y’all in it: Take care of y’all bread so when y’all done, you can go ahead and take care of yourself. So while y’all at it right now, take care of your bodies. … Take care of y’all chickens. … Take care of y’all mentals because, look, we ain’t lasting that long. I had a couple players that I played with that, you know, they no longer here no more. So, start taking care of y’all mentals, y’all bodies and y’all chickens and y’all will, you know, be able to walk away and y’all will … be able to do what y’all wanna do.”

Green Bay Packers' Jaire Alexander (23) and others try to stop Seattle Seahawks' Marshawn Lynch (24) during the first half of an NFL divisional playoff football game Sunday. (AP Photo/Mike Roemer)

Green Bay Packers’ Jaire Alexander (23) and others try to stop Seattle Seahawks’ Marshawn Lynch (24) during the first half of an NFL divisional playoff football game Sunday. (AP Photo/Mike Roemer)

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In Lynch’s typical do-it-his-own-way fashion, he offered little insight during the brief postgame interview into his interest in again deferring retirement.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

New York man charged with trafficking rare African cats

A New York man was charged Friday with importing rare and endangered African cats into the U.S. for interstate commerce.

Christopher Casacci, 38, was accused of violating the Lacey Act and the U.S. Animal Welfare Act based on his trafficking of exotic African cats, according to federal prosecutors.

Through his business, ExoticCubs.com, Casacci allegedly imported and sold dozens of caracals and servals throughout the United States between February and June 2018, according to a news release from the Justice Department.

Caracals, or “desert lynxes,” are a rare breed of cat native to Africa.

Caracals, or “desert lynxes,” are a rare breed of cat native to Africa. (nationalzoo.si.edu, File)

Caracals, also known as the “desert lynx,” are native to Africa and could grow up to 45 pounds. Servals are also native to Africa and could grow up to 40 pounds.

Both species have been protected under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora [CITES]. New York state law has restricted their commercial possession and sale.

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DOJ officials said Casacci falsely declared the rare cats as domestic breeds on shipping records to disguise his commercial activity.

Per the Animal Welfare Act, people and businesses dealing in animals have been prohibited from selling animals without a license showing minimum compliance with humane treatment standards.

Casacci pleaded not guilty. His attorney did not immediately respond to Fox News’ request for comment.

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The suspect would face up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

His next court appearance has been scheduled for Jan. 23.

Dwayne Johnson lands new TV series inspired by childhood

Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson will revisit his younger years in a new NBC series, “Young Rock.”

The network said Saturday that it’s ordered 11 episodes of the comedy inspired by Johnson, who will appear in each episode and also serve as an executive producer. He was born in Northern California and spent his childhood growing up everywhere from Hawaii to Tennessee to Connecticut with stops in between.

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“We’re going to find the Rock wreaking havoc in the streets of Hawaii getting arrested,” Johnson said via video. “We were forced to leave the island and move to all places, Nashville, Tennessee. Those were the years that were very formative and helped shape me. The confluence of wild personalities that came in and out of my life during these times are just fascinating.”

It’ll be the second NBC series tied to Johnson. He is returning for a second season as host and co-executive producer of “The Titan Games.”

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On the big screen, Johnson currently stars in “Jumanji: The Next Level,” and he next appears in “Jungle Cruise.”

Barstool Sports boss taunts Deadspin owner, offers to buy rival site out of ‘spite’

Barstool Sports founder Dave Portnoy continued his long-running feud with Deadspin on Friday, offering to buy and save the struggling website out of “spite.”

Portnoy’s taunt was in response to news that Deadspin parent G/O Media would move the website from New York to Chicago and suspended negotiations with unionized employees. G/O Media CEO Jim Spanfeller’s memo about the decision was tweeted by a Wall Street Journal reporter and Portnoy quickly offered an alternative solution.

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“Hey @JimSpanfeller call me. I will buy, save, and make @deadspin successful. Why? 1 word. Spite,” Portnoy tweeted.

G/O Media did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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Deadspin was famously a thorn in Barstool’s side, regularly posting critical stories about Portnoy and his company. As a result, Portnoy mocked Deadspin as the site crumbled last year amid a mass exodus of employees after staffers were told by new ownership to focus solely on sports.

“So by now everybody knows that Deadspin has imploded. 90% of the staff has either been fired or quit. It’s over,” Portnoy wrote in a blog post in October. “They are dead. I have destroyed them just like I have destroyed every single enemy who has ever dared cross my path.”

Portnoy even offered the site’s now-former deputy editor Barry Petchesky a $100,000 yearly salary with benefits to be his “butler” when he was fired by Deadspin for refusing to stick to sports.

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Deadspin published new content on a regular basis for the last two months as the chaos unfolded. Spanfeller’s memo said he hopes to “restart the Deadspin publication as soon as possible in a manner that provides both the editorial freedom necessary” to thrive and the “business focus to ensure its long-term suitability.”

Spanfeller announced moving the site to Chicago is part of the new plan and scrapped plans to negotiate with unionized employees because of “unreasonable and unprecedented” demands.

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Meanwhile, Barstool’s Chicago-based blogger, “Barstool Carl,” sarcastically welcomed Deadspin to the Windy City.

“We’re the sports guys in town,” he wrote. “You don’t get to put your feet up on our coffee table while we’re out here interviewing Jeff Fisher about how to fly-fish steelhead salmon … but I don’t want to discourage you as that would be very Un-Midwestern. So let me instead just say I’m very excited to see your Chicago Fire and expanded MLS coverage.”

Planned $45M Pulse memorial faces resistance by some shooting victims: ‘They’re treating it like a circus’

ORLANDO, Fla. — At 1912 S. Orange Avenue, hundreds of visitors a day pay their respects as rainbow flags dance in the wind.

Some stop by and gaze at the dozens of faces making up the memorial’s bright, colorful walls. Others scrawl messages like “love wins” on the tall, towering sign at the property’s edge — a sign that reads just one word: “Pulse.”

Once a gay nightclub just down the road from Orlando Regional Medical Center, Pulse has been transformed into a shrine: honoring the lives of 49 people killed and another 53 injured after gunman Omar Mateen burst into the nightclub on June 12, 2016 and opened fire as the club celebrated Latin night.

The Pulse Interim Memorial at the club's original site.

The Pulse Interim Memorial at the club’s original site.

The current Pulse memorial is a temporary one. Barbara Poma, the club’s owner, has since founded the onePULSE Foundation, which is in the process of putting the finishing touches on a $45 million plan to build a permanent memorial.

But the ambitious and costly plan is meeting resistance by some family members of Pulse victims, who feel it’s a tad exploitative.

“It’s obnoxious!” said Christine Leinonen, whose son, Christopher Leinonen, 32, was killed in the attack. “It’s an obnoxious thing to do!”

Her fear is that the project will become just another Orlando tourist attraction, standing in the shadows of the huge theme parks the home of Disney World has to offer.

Leinonen is in favor of a modest memorial that yields individual reflection — not a massive endeavor that she believes will glamorize her son’s death and profit off of the tragedy.

“Build another volcano ride…or slide. Build another Space Mountain ride,” said Leinonen. “But don’t capitalize on my son’s brutal murder.”

Christine Leinonen (right) pictured next to her son, Christopher, who was killed in the Pulse nightclub shooting (Christine Leinonen).

Christine Leinonen (right) pictured next to her son, Christopher, who was killed in the Pulse nightclub shooting (Christine Leinonen).

But proponents of the project believe the site of the mass shooting deserves a permanent marker that honors the victims. Poma said that some details still must be fleshed out but the vision would be to build a brand new memorial where the nightclub once stood and a museum just a block away.

“What’s most important is that we make sure what happened here is always remembered. Never erased,” said Poma. “The most important thing we do is preserve that. Preserve the history and the story of those that were not only killed but survived.”

When asked about the accusations made regarding the project, Poma defended the decision to move forward.

“Museums are not tourist attractions,” she said. “They’re educational institutions. And that is what the museum will be.”

Barbara Poma, owner of the Pulse nightclub and Founder/CEO of the onePULSE Foundation standing in front of the Pulse Interim Memorial (onePULSE Foundation)

Barbara Poma, owner of the Pulse nightclub and Founder/CEO of the onePULSE Foundation standing in front of the Pulse Interim Memorial (onePULSE Foundation)

Poma said that since the beginning, a primary focus has been to work closely with the affected families. While she acknowledges that not everyone will come to a complete agreement, she claims the majority of families who lost loved ones in the attack are in favor of the project.

That includes Mayra Alvear, whose daughter Amanda Alvear, 25, went to the club that night and never came home. Alvear describes her late daughter as “smart” and “tough” and was looking toward the future with wide eyes.

Conception drawing of the Pulse Museum, slated to open in 2023 (Coldefy & Associés with RDAI/onePULSE Foundation)

Conception drawing of the Pulse Museum, slated to open in 2023 (Coldefy & Associés with RDAI/onePULSE Foundation)

“She wanted to find a cure for cancer because my older son died of cancer when he was 11 years old,” said Alvear. “She wanted to do that. And I know she would have done it if it weren’t for what happened.”

Alvear serves as a victim’s liaison with the onePULSE Foundation.

“The Pulse Memorial site, it’s sacred ground. It’s where our loved ones took their last breath,” said Alvear. “It’s a solemn peaceful place where I feel this strong force.”

Alvear said there is ample — if not absolute — support among many of the victims’ families for the Pulse Museum. She’s hopeful that the project, once completed, will not only help tell her daughter’s story but will also spread a message of love.

Mayra Alvear (right) pictured with her daughter, Amanda Alvear, 25, who was killed in the Pulse attack (Photo courtesy of Mayra Alvear).

Mayra Alvear (right) pictured with her daughter, Amanda Alvear, 25, who was killed in the Pulse attack (Photo courtesy of Mayra Alvear).

“It will be a place to honor their legacy. A legacy of love. To educate, to bring people together, to teach each other about our differences,” Alvear said. “The museum is something that is really special. It’s going to be a beacon of life. A beacon of hope. A beacon of learning and changing peoples’ lives and peoples’ hearts.”

But the project has pitted Pulse survivors and family members of those who died against each other. And victims of gun violence across the country have also weighed in.

Leinonen founded the Community Coalition Against a Pulse Museum, which has collected more than 100 signatures from people tied to mass shootings across the county who want the project stopped. More than 30 of those who signed it are directly or indirectly related to the shooting at Pulse.

Michael Morales is one of them.

“They’re treating it like a circus and I don’t like that,” Morales said.

Michael Morales (right) pictured with his then-fiance, Martin Benitez, who was killed in the Pulse shooting (Michael Morales).

Michael Morales (right) pictured with his then-fiance, Martin Benitez, who was killed in the Pulse shooting (Michael Morales).

He was at the club that night with his then-fiance, Martin Benitez, 33. Their wedding was slated to be held in 2018, but Benitez was killed during the shooting.

“I miss him every day,” said Morales. “I have a little corner in my house with his pictures.”

Morales may have survived the attack, but the shooting left him severely injured. He said that later this month, he will be having his thirteenth surgery. Morales said that he would prefer to see the foundation place more of an emphasis on helping survivors.

He, like Leinonen, is hoping to see the victims respectfully honored but also fears the museum will inevitably profit off of the attack. In his eyes, the project, in its current form, has not helped heal his physical or emotional pain.

“Instead of doing a museum and all of these flashy things, tear down the club and do a real memorial,” Morales said. “A place where you can go and think about what happened.”

A conceptual drawing of the soon-to-be built Pulse Memorial which will replace the Interim Pulse Memorial (Coldefy & Associés with RDAI/onePULSE Foundation).

A conceptual drawing of the soon-to-be built Pulse Memorial which will replace the Interim Pulse Memorial (Coldefy & Associés with RDAI/onePULSE Foundation).

Currently, the onePULSE foundation estimates that 300 people visit the Pulse Interim Memorial each day. Those visitation numbers are expected to rise when the project is complete.

Poma is hopeful that with more visitors, more people can leave with a valuable takeaway. She said organizers hope to break ground on the project in 2021. They’re hopeful the new memorial and museum will be completed in 2022 and 2023, respectively.

“I think coming here,” Poma said, “to see what hate does — but how love wins — can inspire change.”

Steve Daines’ pro-Second Amendment bill aims to protect law-abiding gun owners taking firearms across state lines

Sen. Steve Daines, R-Mont., introduced a pro-Second Amendment bill to the Senate last month aimed at easing restrictions on gun owners transporting their firearms across state lines.

The bill would reform the Firearm Owners Protection Act (FOPA), clarifying the term “transport” to include “staying in temporary lodging overnight, stopping for food, fuel, vehicle maintenance, an emergency, medical treatment, and any other activity incidental.”

Daines said Americans should not be afraid to transport their legally owned firearms.

“This is about protecting law-abiding gun owners and their constitutional right to safely transport their firearms,” he told Fox News. “Montanans want their Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms protected, and that’s what I’m fighting for.”

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The bill would seek to ensure gun owners could not be arrested for violating local laws regarding “the possession, transportation, or carrying of firearms” unless police had probable cause.

Daines said he wanted the burden of proof to be on the states to prove that a traveler violated the law beyond a reasonable doubt. He also aimed to clarify that the transportation of firearms, magazines, and ammunition has been a federally protected right.

Senate Democrats generally have pushed for a focus on gun safety. Last year they pushed a bill passed by the House that would expand background checks on gun purchases. “The time is not for a moment of silence. The time for the Senate is to act. The time is to listen to the American people,” House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., said last summer. Rep. Debby Dingell, D-Mich., added: “We can’t keep going to our corners and not figuring out what we are going to do.”

The GOP-led Senate effectively killed the measure later that year.

The executive director of the National Rifle Association’s Institute for Legislative Action, Jason Ouimet, offered a statement of support for Daines’ bill.

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“Law-abiding Americans traveling with unloaded, secured firearms have continually been harassed with malicious arrests and prosecutions when traveling through anti-gun jurisdictions,” he said.

“Senator Daines’ legislation ensures such outrageous actions will no longer be tolerated under the law,” Ouimet continued. “On behalf of the NRA’s five million members, we thank Senator Daines for having the legislative courage to stand and fight against local bullies who were hoping to suppress our Second Amendment rights.”