Mueller Removed FBI Agent From Russia Probe Over Anti-Trump Messages

Department of Justice special counsel Robert Mueller (center) leaves after a closed meeting with members of the Senate Judiciary Committee on June 21, 2017, at the Capitol in Washington, D.C.

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The office of special counsel Robert Mueller removed an FBI agent from the team investigating Russia’s interference in last year’s election and possible ties between the Trump campaign and Russia, the Washington Post and the New York Times both reported Saturday.

Agent Peter Strzok exchanged politically-charged text messages with Lisa Page, who was also a member of Mueller’s investigative team at the time; the messages expressed anti-Trump views, according to both newspapers.

“Immediately upon learning of the allegations, the Special Counsel’s Office removed Peter Strzok from the investigation,” Peter Carr, a spokesman for Mueller, said in a statement. “Lisa Page completed her brief detail and had returned to the FBI weeks before our office was aware of the allegations.”

Separately, a Justice Department spokeswoman said, “we are aware of the allegations and are taking any and all appropriate steps.”

FBI headquarters declined to comment to NPR.

Strzok was removed from Mueller’s team during the summer of this year and has since been assigned to the FBI’s human resources department, according to the newspapers. Page is a lawyer for the bureau who once worked for FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe but no longer does much work for McCabe, the Post reported. In addition to both having worked on Mueller’s probe, Strzok and Page also both had roles in the FBI’s investigation of Hillary Clinton’s private email server, according to the Post.

The reports of Strzok’s removal came just a day after Mueller’s team revealed a plea deal with Michael Flynn, President Trump’s former national security adviser.

Given Flynn’s proximity to Trump during last year’s presidential race and to Trump’s inner circle until his ouster in February of this year, the agreement with Flynn and his cooperation in the Mueller probe signaled to many observers that the Justice Department’s investigation has entered a new phase — with a possible focus on those closest to the president or perhaps even Donald Trump himself.

Speaking Saturday about Flynn’s plea deal, the president reiterated that there had been no coordination between his campaign and Russia. “What has been shown is no collusion, no collusion,” Trump said, “There’s been absolutely no collusion, so we’re very happy.”

Despite his assertions throughout this year that there was no wrongdoing by himself or anyone associated with his campaign, Trump has been critical of Mueller’s probe and the FBI generally. The president has also continued his longstanding criticism of the FBI’s Clinton email server investigation which Trump initially cited as his reason for firing FBI Director James Comey in May of this year.

“Among federal law enforcement officials, there is great concern that exposure of the texts [Strzok and Page] exchanged may be used by the president and his defenders to attack the credibility of the Mueller probe, and the FBI more broadly,” the Post wrote Saturday. And both the Times and the Post noted in their reports that FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe has faced criticism from Trump and other Republicans for his role in the Clinton email investigation and his wife’s political ties to a key Clinton ally in Virginia.

Indeed, the FBI has already become a target of Republicans as the Russia imbroglio unfolds. In late October, the GOP chairmen of the House Judiciary and House Oversight Committees announced a joint inquiry into the FBI’s handling of the Clinton email server investigation.

The Justice Department’s Office of the Inspector General is already conducting a review of actions of the DOJ and the FBI during last year’s election and it said Saturday that the revelations about Strzok and Page would be included in that review. “The OIG has been reviewing allegations involving communications between certain individuals, and will report its findings regarding those allegations promptly upon completion of the review of them,” the inspector general’s office said in a statement provided to NPR.

Attempts by the Times and the Post to reach Strzok and Page were unsuccessful. “A lawyer for Mr. Strzok declined to comment,” the Times reported. The Post reported it “has repeatedly sought comment from Strzok and Page, but got no response.”

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Hawaii Initiates A New Monthly Test Of A Nuclear Siren

A Hawaii Civil Defense Warning Device, which sounds an alert siren during natural disasters, is shown in Honolulu on Wednesday.

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Caleb Jones/AP

For the first time since the Cold War, Hawaiians heard a nuclear attack warning siren test.

Siren tests for natural disasters like hurricanes are routine events in Hawaii, but on Friday, the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency added a new tone signaling nuclear threat.

The state says that an attention alert signal—a steady, minute-long beep—informs residents to turn on a radio or television for information and instruction for an impending emergency, and if in a coastal area, to evacuate to higher grounds. The new nuclear attack warning signal—a wailing, minute-long beep—will follow the attention alert signal, and direct residents to seek immediate shelter, and to remain sheltered until an all-clear message is broadcast over radio or television.

The tests have been scheduled since early November, and were implemented just days after North Korea claimed that a new intercontinental ballistic missile it tested has a nuclear deterrent that can reach the United States, as NPR’s Geoff Brumfiel reported.

The alarm is heard in Waikiki, a beachfront neighborhood in Honolulu.

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President Trump responded to North Korea’s first nuclear test during his presidency with a tweet saying that “major sanctions will be imposed on North Korea… This situation will be handled!”

Hawaiian officials focused on the necessity for precautions. “We believe that it is imperative that we be prepared for every disaster, and in today’s world, that includes a nuclear attack,” Gov. David Ige said this week. He added that the possibility of a nuclear strike is very slim.

“We should all prepare and exercise a plan ahead of time so we can take some comfort in knowing what our loved ones are doing,” said Vern Miyagi, administrator of the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency, in an interview with the Honolulu Star-Advertiser.

The Washington Postreported that some Hawaiian elementary schools have kept students busy working with their families to assemble “small packages of family photos and comfort foods to help keep students calm in the event of a nuclear attack during classroom hours.”

The state plans to continue testing its emergency sirens on 11:45 a.m. of the first business day of every month.

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Californian Archaeologists Unearth An Egyptian Sphinx

The 300-pound sphinx is the second recovered from the Guadalupe-Nipomo Dunes.

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Archaeologists recently unearthed a curious artifact in California: An Egyptian sphinx.

Unlike the Great Sphinx of Giza, which was made of bedrock, this sphinx was made from plastic. And it wasn’t carved by the ancient Egyptians, but molded by designers on the set of Cecil B. DeMille’s 1956 biblical epic The Ten Commandments.

Adjusting for inflation, The Ten Commandments is the seventh highest grossing film of all time—and the film set budget records, too, with DeMille spending a reported $13.2 million. The film featured thousands of actors and actresses, and the director commissioned famed art deco designer Paul Iribe to construct an ancient Egyptian palace for the film’s backdrop. Iribe’s final product was the largest set design of its time, and included more than 20 sphinxes.

After filming was complete, the 12-story set was too expensive to dismantle—and too valuable to leave for rival film studios to pilfer. In a move just as ambitious as his filmmaking, the director ordered it buried at a location unknown to the public.

A scene from the The Ten Commandments, featuring a sphinx. (Photo by Mondadori Portfolio via Getty Images)

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Mondadori Portfolio/Mondadori via Getty Images

Director Peter Brosnan and other filmmakers began searching for DeMille’s lost city in Californian dunes in the mid 1980s. In 1990, after receiving a $10,000 grant to fund his archaeology, Brosnan found the very first sphinx buried in Guadalupe, Calif., a small city about 175 miles from Los Angeles.

The Guadalupe-Nipomo Dunes Center has found several significant DeMille artifacts in the past few years. “… Even though they were only built to last for two months during filming— it really speaks to the craftsmanship and the level of skill that the artisans could build,” Doug Jenzen, executive director of the center where the recent sphinx was found, told CBS News Morning.

The center has good news for Hollywood classic buffs, faux Egyptian aestheticians, and amateur archaeologists alike: It will begin displaying the sphinx and other artifacts from DeMille’s lost city next year.

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The Resilience Of Victoria Williams

Victoria Williams performs during Stagecoach: California’s Country Music Festival in 2010. The singer continues to make music despite being diagnosed with MS more than 20 years ago.

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Victoria Williams has one of the most distinctive voices in American rock. She’s also one of its most unusual lyricists.

The singer can’t remember a time when she didn’t sing.

“I kind of unconsciously sang before I’d go to bed. I would be singing to where my brother would knock on the wall and say, ‘Shut up,'” Williams tells NPR’s Alex Cohen.

Eventually, she grew a bit more conscious of her talent and started performing with local bands around her hometown of Forbing, Louisiana. But Williams never really thought of it as a career — until one night, when she played at a gig at a deer camp for a gathering of hunters.

“The band went on break and I went and I sang a song,” says Williams. “And this hunter came up and he says, ‘I’ll give you a hundred dollars if you sing another song.'”

Soon after, Williams began writing songs like “Happy Come Home,” a tune inspired by one of her neighbors who lost her dog.

“It touches me because of the lyric, ‘Happy come home.’ Maybe it’s not even a dog… maybe it’s just happiness,” says Williams.

From there, Williams built a loyal following on simple songs that strike a deeper chord.

“To me, empathy is the main instrument of our very existence… The ordinary human condition in all of its comedy and tragedy — and she had all of that in a pronounced way,” says pianist and composer Van Dyke Parks, who has worked with such notable artists as The Beach Boys, U2 and Skrillex and arranged Williams’ 1987 debut album.

That album caught the attention of the famed filmmaker D. A. Pennebaker, who had already made documentaries about Bob Dylan and the epochal Monterey Pop Festival. Pennebaker shot a short film about Williams and her music.

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By 1993, she had earned a coveted spot as the opening act for Neil Young. At first, the tour was going great — until her career almost came to an end.

“I was like on the 23rd show,” says Williams. “All of a sudden my hands were numb and I couldn’t play the guitar, so I’m just standing there sitting and singing a capella. So his manager said, ‘You’ve got to go to the hospital and figure out what’s wrong with you.'”

Williams was eventually diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, a degenerative disease of the central nervous system. She had to stop performing to regain her health and, before long, the singer was overwhelmed by medical bills. Luckily, Williams had earned some fans through an appearance years before on a cable access show in New York City.

“I was mesmerized,” says Sylvia Reed, second wife of the late Lou Reed. “Her voice and the song, the lyrics were amazing. And I called Lou over and said ‘Look at this, look at this…'”

The couple wound up befriending Williams and when the singer fell ill. “We felt this immediate need to help her…and I think a lot of people felt that way.”

Reed says it wasn’t too hard to get some people to record Williams’ songs for a benefit album Reed helped organize, Sweet Relief: A Benefit for Victoria Williams featured a dozen artists including Pearl Jam, Lucinda Williams, and Reed’s husband. Victoria Williams says she’ll never forget the first time she heard it.

“I was in Louisiana and I was down on this long road and lots of trees. I was just listening to it and just crying, crying out of joy.”

Sweet Relief helped bring Williams’ music to a much wider audience and raised so much money she wound up with a surplus. She used it to establish a foundation for other musicians struggling with medical costs.

With her health back on track, Victoria Williams hit the road again in 1995. A fan recorded one of her New York shows and posted the audio to YouTube nearly 20 years later.

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Now, Williams’ record label has released it, although Williams says she barely remembers this show.

These days, she lives in Joshua Tree, California, where she still struggles with MS – there is no cure, but her Sweet Relief Foundation is still in operation, helping other musicians. Williams has been well enough to work on new material with the help of a Chinese zither she discovered in a music store.

“I think it’s kind of gone back to what it was at the very, very beginning of singing. Singing words that I don’t know what they mean. It’s like singing in tongues,” she says.

Victoria Williams hopes to release a record of these songs. It would be her first album of new material in more than 15 years.

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Mogadishu Truck Bomb's Death Toll Now Tops 500, Probe Committee Says

A picture taken on Oct. 15 at the scene of the first explosion in the Oct. 14 Mogadishu terrorist attacks.

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The death toll in what Somalis have described as their 9/11 has risen even higher.

On Oct. 20, the government said the toll had reached 358, making it Somalia’s deadliest terrorist attack ever. The Zobe Rescue Committee, created by the Somali government in the wake of the attack, spoke with relatives of those at the denotation sites in efforts to establish a more accurate death toll.

Now, the committee reports that 512 people were killed, 312 were wounded, and that 62 remain missing, according to the Associated Press.

Two truck bombs blasted the capital city of Mogadishu on Oct. 14. The first detonated outside a hotel at a busy junction lined with restaurants and government offices. A fuel tanker next to the bomb greatly increased the denotation’s intensity, burning many bodies beyond recognition and destroying entire buildings. The second blast struck the district of Medina just two hours later.

The AP reported that the initial bomb—which weighed between 1,300 and 1,700 pounds—was meant to target a highly-traveled airport, but instead detonated in one of the Somali capital’s busiest intersections after soldiers opened fire on the truck.

Islamist militant group al Shabaab began an insurgency in Somalia a decade ago. The group, which regularly orchestrates acts of terrorism throughout the country and particularly in the city of Mogadishu, has not claimed responsibility for the attacks.

But Abdirahman Omar Osman, Somalia’s minister of information for the federal, told NPR in October that he blames al Shabaab.

“Since we have put more pressure on them, since we are winning the war, they are trying to cause as many civilian casualties as possible,” the minister said.

“Today’s horrific attack proves our enemy will stop at nothing,” President Mohamed Farmaajo said hours after the blasts. “Let’s unite against terror.”

United States officials condemned “in the strongest terms the October 14 terrorist attacks that killed and injured scores of innocent Somalis in Mogadishu” in a statement. “Such cowardly attacks reinvigorate the commitment of the United States to assist our Somali and African Union partners to combat the scourge of terrorism,” the United States Mission to Somalia statement read.

NPR’s East Africa correspondent Eyder Peralta reported that Somalia will likely seek deeper involvement from the U.S. as it works to flush out the terrorist group from its strongholds.

The AP reported a U.S. drone strike against al Shabaab two days after the attack about 35 miles outside Mogadishu. The U.S. has carried out at least 30 drone strikes in Somalia this year, according to data compiled by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism.

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Emily Wilson's 'Odyssey' Scrapes The Barnacles Off Homer's Hull

In the 17th century, the poet John Dryden satirized the deep anxiety around letting women learn the Classics:

But of all Plagues, the greatest is untold;

The Book-Learn’d Wife in Greek and Latin bold.

The Critick-Dame, who at her Table sits:

Homer and Virgil quotes, and weighs their Wits;

Alas! We Critick-Dames abound. But we were a long time coming. Because the classics were so closely associated with elite institutions, they came to symbolize a certain kind of cultural and political power, a power men were loath to give up. Besides, the gospels were in Greek. Homer was in Greek. Would it be wise to let women have unmediated access to so much wisdom all at once? Who knows what seditious secondary readings they might attempt?

“‘I dare say, if I could read the original Greek, I should find that many of the words have been wrongly translated, perhaps misapprehended altogether,” says Caroline Helstone in Charlotte Bronte’s novel Shirley, after being scolded with a passage from the New Testament, “It would be possible, I doubt not, with a little ingenuity, to give the passage quite a contrary turn; to make it say, “Let the woman speak out whenever she sees fit to make an objection.”

It’s hard to believe now, but women learning the classics was a genuine threat to male power. Against this long background of misogyny and fear, it is surprising, but not astonishing, that the first English translation of the Odyssey by a woman has only now come out.

Classicist Emily Wilson’s brisk and understated new version sweeps away much of the nostalgic detritus from the story of Odysseus’s wandering way home after the Trojan war. The original poem was not written, but oral, probably composed by many different poets, who passed it down performance by performance. Wilson’s metre — friendly iambic pentameter — helps retain that storytelling feel. Without contortions, the lines run quickly, better allowing for drama and suspense. Here, Odysseus surveys the banquet hall after he has slaughtered his wife’s suitors:

Odysseus scanned his property for survivors

who might be hiding to escape destruction.

He saw them fallen, all of them, so many,

lying in blood and dust, like fish hauled up

out of the dark-gray sea in fine-mesh nets.

All tipped out on the curving beach’s sand

They gasp for water from the salty sea.

The sun shines down and takes their life away.

So lay the suitors, piled up on each other.

Wilson dispenses gracefully with unnecessary archaisms and flourishes. If you read enough classics in translation, you may come away with the vague idea that much of the Greek literary canon took place in some idyllic part of pre-contemporary England, what with the harks and hails, thous and thees, woes and alases, fair maids and noble lords, and the puzzling fact that everyone’s first initial seems to be O.

Wilson’s project is basically a progressive one: to scrape away all the centuries of verbal and ideological buildup — the Christianizing (Homer predates Christianity), the nostalgia, the added sexism (the epics are sexist enough as they are), and the Victorian euphemisms — to reveal something fresh and clean. Why call them “handmaidens” when they were slaves? Why insist, as so many translators do, on 19th-century diction when that time had no more in common with Homer’s than ours?

Though it’s silly to ascribe too much to her gender rather than her skill, Wilson does have a certain double sensibility that often translates male grandeur with a female half-smile. The first book opens, “Tell me about a complicated man.” Complicated is her translation for the Greek word polytropos — literally, “of many turns.” Complicated means something folded together, something intricate, and layered, so it suits the meaning beautifully. But it also carries the faintest of eyerolls — he’s complicated.

Wilson’s flashes of humor feel like meeting the eye of a friend over some very distinguished speaker who has droned on a little long. Take a scene from the final book, in which Odysseus and his son are engaging in some pre-battle bravado. In E.V. Rieu’s translation, Odysseus’s father exclaims, “What a day this is to warm my heart! My son and grandson competing in valor!” Compare Wilson’s quietly cutting lines: “Laertes, thrilled, cried out, ‘Ah, gods!/A happy day for me! My son and grandson/are arguing about how tough they are!'” Is she changing the tone? Perhaps. Or just giving Homer credit for having a sense of humor.

Wilson’s nuance suits Homer’s tricksy, layered tale of Odysseus’ voyage, which is told in nested stories that often contradict each other, and is accompanied by the fantastic lies he tells his hosts as he is washed from island to island. Matthew Arnold famously called Homer “eminently plain.” But if you let them, as Wilson does, the complexities can bloom.

Bronte’s heroine would be disappointed to find out that, even in a woman’s translation, the men of the Odyssey still tell the women to go upstairs and be quiet. But she was right about something: the rebellious and wild potential of translation. In all its morphing and slippery layers, its winks and double meanings, Wilson’s Odyssey contains a laughing, democratic undercurrent. And it belongs there. “Homer,” after all, was multitudes.

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Group Uses Marriage Counseling Methods To Help Bridge Political Divide

“Reds” share some of their concerns with fellow conservatives during a so-called “fishbowl” exercise run by Better Angels.

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In the rough-hewn parlor of a creaky, 19th-century farmhouse in Brentwood, 13 people are sitting in a pair of concentric circles.

Six “reds” — or conservatives — are in the middle.

Around them on the outside, sit seven “blues” — or liberals.

“Don’t look at them. Don’t talk to them. We’ll just talk among ourselves,” commands Bill Doherty, a family therapist who teaches at the University of Minnesota. “Those of you who are in the blue group, your job is to listen and learn something here.”

Doherty challenges the red group to name some of the things about their fellow conservatives that bother them.

“Uh, OK then, I’ll throw out a name,” says one man. “Trump. The populist side doesn’t necessarily equate to conservatism.”

Over the next 10 minutes, they list the various factions within the conservative movement that bug them: anti-government radicals, people who are religiously intolerant, and media that seem slavish to the president.

The left-leaning blues in the outer ring silently take notes.

There’s no question the country’s political gaps are widening. Increasingly, Americans socialize with, worship alongside and even date only people who share their ideology.

Figuring out how to talk across this divide is hard. But there’s one group of professionals that has a long history helping people find common ground — marriage and family therapists.

Healing divisions

This exercise is called a fishbowl. It’s been used in group therapy sessions for decades.

“What happens is, people in the middle forget about the other group,” Doherty explains. “They’re just talking to each other. And so it’s a chance to kind of eavesdrop on a group that you’d never have a chance to do before, and then you get some things from that that you can’t get any other way.”

The fishbowl is one part of a day-long workshop. Participants also discuss stereotypes — both of themselves and of the other side — and they engage in question-and-answer sessions.

All of these exercises are drawn from Doherty’s experience as a counselor. They’re meant to heal divisions within a family or other social group.

This workshop applies them to the political divide.

“These are not mostly purples,” says Doherty. “These are reds and blues. But they are willing to listen, and what I believe is that a lot of Americans are willing to listen.”

Liberals and conservatives list some of the stereotypes they face — as well as how they might arise — during a Better Angels exercise.

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Chas Sisk/Nashville Public Radio

Doherty has been running these workshops since late last year — just a few weeks after the election — on behalf of a program called Better Angels.

The organization’s name refers to a line in President Abraham Lincoln’s First Inaugural Address — the voice of conscience that prizes unity over division. It was delivered less than six weeks before the outbreak of the Civil War, another time when Americans were deeply divided.

Better Angels hopes to bridge this era’s political chasm.

“Just about every issue you can think of — not just a few, but every issue — is just gridlocked,” says David Blankenhorn, the organization’s president and founder. “We don’t even agree on our ability to talk to each other any more.”

19th-century approach

Better Angels holds itself out as a political movement in the making. It’s held 40 workshops so far across the Midwest, the Northeast and the South, and it draws inspiration from the Farmer’s Alliance, which began at the grassroots in the 1800s and eventually became a third party, the Populists. The Alliance faded away shortly after the turn of the 20th century, but only after shaking up the political landscape.

Similarly, Better Angels wants to change the way politics is conducted today.

“We’d ultimately like to bring together political leaders and everybody else,” says Blankenhorn. “But beginning at the level of just citizen-to-citizen, can we talk to one another? … Can we at least recognize the goodwill of the other side?”

But organizers admit, one of the biggest challenges they face is selection bias. Participants have to want to hear the other side, and although the workshops are free of charge, they have the means to spend a day getting it.

The group meeting that met in Brentwood on a recent Saturday was overwhelmingly white, Judeo-Christian and middle class. They’re not tasked with finding issues they agree on, but through the discussions, it nonetheless emerges that many share some common views, on topics like opposing welfare fraud and supporting some level of immigration.

Even one of the participants, Brentwood resident Beth Malow, wonders whether she’s truly hearing the other side. She describes herself as a moderate, fiscally conservative Democrat.

“For me, that was really understanding somebody who, let’s say, voted for Donald Trump, and what it was that motivated him. Was it wanting change?”

But none of the conservatives who attended Malow’s workshop were ardent Trump supporters. Several from the red group confess they didn’t even vote for him; those that did, generally aren’t happy with his performance.

Still, Malow says the conversation has widened understanding of what people mean when they call themselves “conservatives.”

Better Angels participants Lynn Heady and Gene Wisdom chat during a break.

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Chas Sisk/Nashville Public Radio

“One thing we don’t want to do is consider ourselves to be uni-dimensional. People are multidimensional. People have many different sides.”

Another person who’s on hand is Greg Smith. Despite an ailing back, he’s driven all the way from southwestern Ohio to sit in as an observer. In the spring, Smith took part in one of the first red/blue workshops.

“I was what one might consider a real hardcore conservative,” he recalls. “And just kind of immovable.”

But through Better Angels, Smith met a Muslim man who also lives in southwestern Ohio. Smith says they’ve become friends, meeting for lunch and even going to a service at his Pentecostal church. Soon they plan to visit a mosque.

“It’s been an eye-opener. I’ve actually changed my viewpoint of some people, even President Obama,” he says. “I’ve changed the way I’ve looked at some things.”

Smith is now training to becoming a Better Angels moderator.

He wants to learn how to lead these conversations in his community.

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