Illinois gun media flourish with stories downplaying failed Jan. 6 insurrection, claiming election fraud

From new chat sites, to Facebook knock-offs, to print and radio, right-wing organizers are finding new ways to spread their message after being banned from social media following the failed Jan. 6 insurrection against the US government. 

Common messages in the media are that Donald Trump supporters weren’t responsible for the insurrection and that the presidential election was stolen from the former president, even though that is false. One magazine prints tips for armed citizens burying guns.

The Illinois Shooter and Gun News are two of the larger pro-2nd Amendment newspapers in Illinois. 

The Illinois Shooter is the Quarterly Journal of the Illinois State Rifle Association. It contains political content and the organization has lobbyists in Springfield. 

It has over 30,000 current subscribers and its Winter edition’s front page ran three featured stories: Its main was “Michigan Senate’s Election Fraud Hearing” Side bar: “Media Spikes Stories Helpful to Trump: Skews Election” and below the fold: “Justice Alito Warns of Threats to Our Rights.” 

The editor of the publication, Richard Vaughan, also runs Publishing Management Associations Inc. which specializes in Christian and conservative magazines and speciality publications. He said in an interview this past year he has seen an uptick in subscribers to the Illinois Shooter and his other publications and he attributes the increase to censorship on social media. He says there will be a print Renaissance because of it.

“I think magazines are going to have a kind of a Renaissance because people realize that it’s hard to cancel a publication because they are all owned by different companies and they’re, you know, the post office has to send it out,” Vaughan said.”So it has a bit of freedom that you don’t have when you’re under a platform like Facebook, Google, you know all the others that involve censorship.”

 The Shooter/ISRA also runs a weekly email newsletter and legislation alerts.

Gun News is another 2nd Amendment and right wing print publication in Illinois. It is published monthly by “Guns Save Life,” a lobby group founded 20 years ago in the state and separate but associated with the NRA and ISRA. It is sent to each member and distributed to businesses in Springfield, Decatur, Rantoul, Bloomington, Chicago and the Pontiac/Dwight region. It is also inside the Capitol in Springfield. It has been in publication since 1999 and the editions are typically 24 pages.

Some of the stories in their recent editions included: “The good American” a column denying the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol was a full insurrection and comparing those who called it an insurrection to “Nazis” and fascists from 1933 Germany. Another story ran next to it titled “Rep. Mo Brooks says ‘Evidence Growing’ Antifa ‘orchestrated assault on Capitol.”  Another story was headlined, “Hope for the best, prepare for the worst. Got shovel? Strategies to avoid the loss of your guns.” It had  detailed instructions on how to bury guns in safe containers made of do-it-yourself materials or piping. At the bottom of the page is a graphic with two rifles and the caption says “when democracy turns to tyranny… the armed citizen still gets to vote.” 

John Boch, executive director of Guns Save Life and editor emeritus of Gun News, said they distribute about 17,000 copies each month and the distribution network is 100% volunteer. 

When asked how he finds a balance between publishing political issues and topics relating to gun interest, Boch said he tries to shy away from politics outside of gun rights and the right to self-defense.

Boch said he doesn’t necessarily believe people are returning to print in general, but he thinks Gun News has a unique, niche market that is appealing to the gun owner demographic.

“Without that I think we would be like your local newspaper that’s shedding readers faster than a German Shepherd sheds hair. But we have had, I suppose in a sense, that upswing in political content simply because there’s more going on politically,” Boch said. “Back when Donald Trump was president, gun control was going nowhere. Back before last fall’s election we had a narrow majority in the Illinois House and Senate that blocked gun control legislation and as such there was really nothing notable or very little newsworthy. When it came to politics there was less politics on the table.”

Boch said the media is doing a “pretty good job of shooting itself in the foot.”

“The media are Democratic by line, Democratic operatives with bylines in today’s world. And as a result Americans are tuning out from media,” Boch said. “In large part the collapse in readership and viewership of print and video publication, news related to the expression get woke go broke, there’s more than a little truth to that if you watch and see what happens to the world of media out there.”

Aside from traditional forms of media such as print, those on the right are also turning to alternative forms of social media in the wake of Jan. 6 where many, including Trump, were purged from mainstream networking platforms such as Facebook and Twitter.

Some of these sites include MeWe, Telegram, Gab and Parler. These are popular among the right because of the lack of censorship and the encrypted chat features they offer.

MeWe is an alternative form of social media that looks similar to Facebook and operates like a blend between Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. After the social media purges took place in January on Facebook and Twitter, many rightwing groups moved to MeWe where founder Mark Weinstein says he won’t censor posts and values privacy. 

 Posters on MeWe spread false information/conspiracy theories. Some of these include posts saying masks don’t work, others say the election was stolen and others involve hateful rhetoric towards the Black Lives Matter movement.  

One of these groups where members of the right wing and Trump supporters congregate, includes IGOT-Illinois Gun Owners Together, who moved to the platform after their Facebook pages were shut down multiple times.

Some of the posts from their group include: A photo of Kyle Rittenhouse, who is charged with killing two protesters in Wisconsin last summer, with his gun  and a depiction of Jesus over his shoulder whispering in his ear “You see that man over there? He’s a pedo. That guy over there, he beats his girl. This other kid is not a medic he’s a burglar.” The post was captioned by an administrator named “Panda Man” and said “Kyle is a god Damm hero.”

Another post by Mary Jene Howe with a photo of a statue with a woman on her knees who appears to be having sex, with the caption “They made a statue to honor Kamala Harris.”

And another captioned “Why does anybody need 30 rounds?” With a photo of 30 masked individuals who seem to be peaceful protesters.

See more: The state of Illinois’ gun advocacy networks.

Some on MeWe use the platform to buy and sell guns in much the same way as one would sell a couch on Facebook Marketplace. Southern Illinois Firearms Enthusiasts  a group with 491 members who can buy, sell or trade firearms, accessories or ammunition by making a post or using the site’s chat feature. This group also occasionally post’s information about  gun legislation.

One of the more recent posts to the site reads “WTS-VP9 Tactical, tru dot night sites, 2 – 15 round mags, grip inserts to adjust for the perfect fit. Lighlty used, safe queen since I always reach for my VP9 set up for 3 gun instead of the tactical. $600. This one isn’t optic ready. Located in Pekin/Peoria.”

MeWe is one of the fastest growing social networking sites for the right and it gained 2.5 million users in the week that followed Jan. 6, according to USA Today.      

Telegram is a text/chat site similar to WhatsApp,  rightwing groups praise its privacy because it lacks monitoring and it provides encrypted chat features that make it difficult to track and monitor. 

Free Illinois has 512 members but more join every couple days. Many users share alternative news and spread conspiracy theories. Every third or fourth message is a petition, or someone collecting signatures about legislation.

See more: Why right-wing extremists’ favorite new platform is so dangerous

Right-wing social media sites show there is a return to radio, including HAM radio and Radio Redoubt groups creating a safe haven.

The FCC warned in a statement following the insurrection that ameteur radios may be used as an alternative to social media for organizing.

A member of Illinois Gun Owners Together – a group active on MeWe – told this reporter that they use these radios to communicate during demonstrations in the event that their cell phones don’t work. The group has an IGOT Radio Operators group where they learn to use HAM radios for these situations and survival situations.

Right-wing social media also contains frequent references to AmRRON, which stands for The American Redoubt Radio Operators Network. The Redoubt movement is an anti-government movement rooted in Christianity that claims Idaho, Montana, Wyoming and the eastern parts of Washington and Oregon as the “Redoubt” region. The movement was popularized and the term coined by James Wesley Rawles, a former U.S. Army intelligence officer, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center.The content is encrypted.

Kallie Cox is a senior at  Southern Illinois University Carbondale studying political science and journalism and can be reached at Kcox@dailyegyptian.com or on Twitter @KallieECox.  

New Illinois police reform bill makes state police misconduct database secret

This reporting was supported by the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting

Illinois’ historic criminal justice reform law, hailed as a national model, contains a little-noticed loophole that seals statewide records of police misconduct and hides them from courts and the public. 

The new law requires the Illinois Law Enforcement and Training Standards Board to maintain a statewide database of police misconduct.  But the same law that requires the statewide database then closes it.  

A protester was taken into custody by Springfield police officers after they spit on a counter-protester in downtown Springfield, Ill on Saturday, July 25, 2020.

A spokesperson for the Attorney General Kwame Raoul’s office defended the provision by saying the misconduct information remains an open record in the individual police stations. The reason the state database was closed, the spokesperson said, is “the records are available to anyone who wants them” from the individual departments.

The spokesperson acknowledged that anyone seeking statewide data on police misconduct would have to file FOIA requests with each of the almost 900 Illinois law enforcement agencies. 

The 2021 law strengthens the board’s Professional Conduct Database. Before it passed, departments were required to notify the board when an officer was fired or resigned under investigation for “willful violation of department policy.” The new law requires additional reporting. It requires departments to also report extended suspensions and actions that would lead to an official investigation for violating a government policy.  

In other words, this database contains alleged misconduct that did not lead to decertification, so it is much more comprehensive than a list of officers decertified.

Before the 2021 law passed there was no requirement for a department to check the database. Now there is.

“We have this misconduct database [under the old law], but there [was] no requirement that departments have to use it when they look to hire someone as part of that background check,” Sen. Elgie Sims (D-Chicago), a sponsor of the new law said in an interview. “Now you have to look to that database to check if there’s misconduct, or an individual resigned while there was an investigation going on. So those types of things, those updates are necessary; they are long overdue.”

But at the same time that the 2021 law expanded the information in the misconduct database and required local departments to check it, a last minute amendment closed the database to the public and courts.

That loophole is on pg. 669 of the text. It reads: “The database, documents, materials or other information in the possession or control of the Board that are obtained by or disclosed to the Board pursuant to this subsection shall be confidential by law and privileged and shall not be subject to discovery or admissible in evidence in any private civil action.” 

Sam Stecklow, a journalist with the Invisible Institute, said this provision in the bill creates a lack of transparency despite decades of court decisions in Illinois saying the public should have access to these records.

“When this bill came out the Attorney General’s office was like ‘well this is super transparent’ and what they were talking about was it encourages communication between law enforcement agencies, that was the transparency we are talking about. It’s not actual public transparency where the public has access to this information,” Stecklow said.

Stecklow wrote a piece for Injustice Watch about the reform bill and this loophole that can be viewed here.

Marie Dillon, policy director for the Better Government Association in Chicago, is leading the effort to amend the reform bill and make this database accessible.

Dillon said while there is no question police misconduct records in Illinois are public information, this new law makes the centralized database inaccessible to the public and forces requesters to go elsewhere to find the information.

“That’s what we’re arguing with them about right now, trying to get them to pass a trailer bill. We want language that specifically says that those documents are not redacted,” Dillon said. “We want to make sure the underlying records are FOIAable which we believe they are under the law.”

The Attorney General’s Office wrote this particular portion of the bill that deals with certification, Dillon said. She said they are working with her to fix the language.

“They, you know, said they did not intend to keep records from anybody. That was not their intent and they have been working with us on this language so you know I’m hopeful that we’re going to get it fixed. They have a pretty good record for being on the side of transparency and as I said they quickly said ‘hey we’ll work with you’ and we’ve had meetings with them so I hope they’re going to clean the language up,” Dillon said.

Dillon said she doesn’t understand why this language was placed in the law. But she believes it is partially due to fundamental misunderstanding between requesters like her and the AG’s office. 

“They didn’t understand you know why it’s important to us to feel like we should be able to get it. I feel like a public document in the hands of any public body is public,” Dillon said. “If it’s in your possession and it’s a public document I should be able to get it under FOIA you know they were more like ‘well you can still get it from the police department, you can still get it from the police force’ so that’s kind of a fundamental difference of opinion here but again they are working with us so.”

Nothing has been filed to amend the bill in the current legislative session as of publication deadline.

“Because the criminal justice bill was so big and you know they passed it in lame duck session so it was really fast too there’s a lot to clean up in it,” Dillon said. “My understanding is that will be an omnibus bill which means you know we won’t see it till right at the end again and it will roll all the fixes into one thing.”

A representative from the Attorney General’s office said the reason why the Professional Conduct Database was made private/inaccessible via FOIA was because of “pushback” and “give and take.” 

The office declined to blame one particular group for the pushback and instead said it was part of the overall negotiations involving all of their partners on the bill.

When asked whether or not the AG’s office planned to fix the loophole and make the database accessible to the public, all the representative would say is that there have been “conversations” about it but ultimately it is “up to the legislators.”

Kallie Cox is a senior at  Southern Illinois University Carbondale studying political science and journalism and can be reached at Kcox@dailyegyptian.com or on Twitter @KallieECox. This story is part of a project on police accountability funded by the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting.

Iowa State ‘tweetstorm’ shows how Free Speech is stretched on college campuses seeking to allow diverse opinions

College Republicans at Iowa State University tweeted after the November presidential election that students should “arm up” and later encouraged students to show up to “Stop the Steal rallies” in Des Moines and Washington, DC.

The university has refused to comment on the tweets encouraging students to participate in the Jan. 6 insurrection in DC that left five people dead and the student group claimed some of its members were in DC “fighting for America.”

A group of faculty and students protested the November tweet, and the university threatened punishment before backing off after the libertarian FIRE group told the university it was violating the First Amendment and could be sued. 

Some journalism faculty members at ISU argued the group’s tweets were not protected by the First Amendment because they constituted a clear and direct threat. FIRE and the university argued that the tweets were protected because the threat was neither clear nor imminent, sparking a free speech debate that has now embroiled the campus for over two months.

This month Iowa Republican legislators introduced legislation to combat what they see as anti-conservative bias at the state’s biggest college campuses.

The controversy shows the dilemma many colleges and universities face in the aftermath of Donald Trump’s election loss to President Joseph Biden. The hate that has gripped the rest of the country has not bypassed higher education institutions. In the case at Iowa State, it was conservative students pushing claims of Free Speech in order to whip up support for Trump. But in other cases, progressive students have tried to block conservatives speakers from coming to campus.

Gene Policinski, senior fellow for the First Amendment Freedom Forum, said remarks like the ones the student Republican group made do contribute to a climate that is antagonistic to marginalized communities. But he said there isn’t a legal basis to consider these comments unprotected speech.

The U.S. Capitol building is surrounded by newly erected fencing two days after the deadly insurrection on Jan. 6. (Photo by Victoria Pickering via Flickr)

“I think legally the test for incitement of violence requires an imminence and a direct intent and effect and outcome that I don’t find present here although the words clearly are meant to be inflammatory and I can see where people would fear those remarks in the very generic sense,” Policinski said. 

The controversy at Iowa State started when the Republican student group posted its “arm up” Tweet on Nov. 7. That led to condemnation from the Iowa Federation of College Republicans. Two professors on the journalism faculty – Novotny Lawrence and Kelly Winfrey, one journalism graduate student, Julian Neely and Lindsey Moeller, from the Human Resources Department- wrote an open letter to the university’s administration calling for the organization to be disciplined. 

Lawrence and Winfrey declined to comment. Moeller did not respond to an email, call or message. 

This letter was signed by nearly 32 pages of faculty, staff, students, parents and alums of the university. It called for the university to remove its recognition of the College Republicans as an official group until the last member graduated, to amend the student code of conduct to better respond to speech by students and student organizations that “promote hate, directly or indirectly threaten the physical safety and free movement of members of the campus community, potentially incite violence, or violates the Principles of Community,” and it demands the administration reviews the university’s approved courses to ensure they are centered on diversity issues.

“Privileging the free speech of those causing harm over the safety of the historically marginalized members of our community furthers the damage and sends the message that the Iowa State University community does not value their presence, despite numerous condemnations in recent months of this exact kind of behavior,” the letter reads. “It is clear that the administration’s statements during a summer that served as a referendum on racism in this country, were merely symbolic and they now serve as further evidence of its history of denouncing some harmful behaviors, only to abdicate themselves of responsibility when given the opportunity to show their commitment through action.”

Following backlash from the tweet, the university released a statement on Nov. 7 saying:

“Iowa State University is aware of a social media post by one of its student organizations, encouraging others to ‘arm up.’ Any suggestion of armed activity by an Iowa State student organization is prohibited by university policy. Any conduct that violates university policy will be addressed in an appropriate manner.”

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education then wrote a letter to the university’s administration, telling officials they had no right to punish the students and asking them to confirm that they would not. The university backed down.

The university responded to the letter written by the concerned ISU community and said they would not punish the group, would not change the student conduct code and said a working group was already focusing on diversity within the curriculum and would be giving a report to the university in December. 

“As an educational institution, it is our charge and responsibility to foster and encourage the understanding of new ideas, the development of expression and thought, and the skill of interacting in a positive way with our community and our world. This responsibility is not accomplished through suppressing speech or dictating thought,” the response letter by university administration read. “Rather, it is accomplished through education, example, discussion, debate, demonstration and building relationships. We pledge to do more in the coming year to educate the campus community on the history and benefits of the First Amendment, as well as how to exercise its freedoms responsibly, and in ways that are consistent with the Principles of Community.”

Adam Steinbaugh, director of FIRE’s Individual Rights Defense Program, said the college Republican’s statement is protected by the First Amendment because it didn’t qualify as incitement.

“It is talking about doing something in the future, but it’s not clear about when, so saying ‘you must arm up’ could be, or is likely to be perceived as saying you should buy weapons or you should acquire firearms,” Steinbaugh said. “It’s not necessarily saying you should buy firearms and use them, it’s not saying you should buy firearms and parade around with them. It’s talking about purchasing firearms sometime in the future. So even if it is encouraging illegal action and it’s not clear that it is, it’s not encouraging illegal action right now.”

Steinbaugh said because it is not likely this tweet would result in illegal action, it has an added layer of protection and still doesn’t qualify as incitement.

“I don’t think that anyone is going to read a tweet from a student organization and say ‘yes now is the moment when I am going to rise up and buy weapons and rebel against the government’ that’s pretty unlikely,” Steinbaugh said.

The co-authors of the letter from concerned ISU community members to the administration, wrote an apology   to the community blaming the university for “not standing up” to the Tweet that had made students “feel unsafe and unwelcome.”  

“To clarify, our letter asked the administration to explain why the Tweets made by the College Republicans constituted protected speech. The administration’s response states that speech is protected unless it creates “severe and pervasive harassment that substantially interferes with students’ education.” The administration did not explain why the College Republicans’ series of Tweets disparaging members of underrepresented groups and issuing a call to “arm up” does not meet this standard, even though they made students feel unsafe on campus,” they wrote.

Later in the evening on Nov. 7, after the College Republicans posted the “arm up” tweet and the “Stop the Steal” video, they posted a photo of their account calling themselves the “most oppressed group on campus” following backlash from the ISU community. 

The group’s President, Ryan Hurley, said in an email reported by the  Des Moines Register.:

“Our thought in writing the tweet was to support everyone in their right to bear arms. People have sickly twisted it. Violence is not our intent.’

Hurley said in an interview with the Register that the group received multiple death threats before and after the tweet.

“We have to walk home all of our members in groups to ensure protection,” Hurley said in the interview. “We always alert people to the rights granted to them by U.S. Constitution. This tweet is nothing to get worked up about.”

From the official email account for the Iowa State College Republicans, an unidentified person who had access to the account declined repeated requests for comment by telephone, email or video conferencing. “Heading over to your twitter, some of the stuff posted seems to indicate you are firmly a left winger, this brings about concern as we’ve had other left wingers interview us and take our words out of context,” the person told the GJR reporter in an email.  “If you would like to come to Iowa State University for an in person interview, that would be more agreeable.”

 ISU’s “Principles of Community” call for respect, purpose, cooperation, richness in diversity, freedom from discrimination and the honest and respectful expression of ideas. 

The College Republicans have a history of tweeting blatantly transphobic, homophobic and racist rhetoric, such as a tweet that parents should be charged with child abuse if their child identifies as genderqueer.  These tweets directly violate its own constitution and rules against discriminating on the basis of race, gender identity, ethnicity, national origin, religion or sexual orientation. 

More recently the group voiced its  support of Kyle Rittenhouse, calling his killings “pure self defense,” and retweeted a post from Rep. Marjorie Greene, R-Ga., where she claimed Rep. Ilhan Omar “married her brother.” 

On Jan. 5 the group retweeted another College Republican organization with instructions  on how to drive to DC and photos of a map with the caption “Just checked and it’s true. Maps app won’t give directions to DC, but will give them to Baltimore, despite the routes being practically identical. They don’t want you in DC tomorrow!”

The ISU College Republicans then posted a thread saying: “Rally in Des Moines TOMORROW @ the State Capitol 12pm. If you can’t make it to DC, show up in Des Moines!!!” followed by a link to all “Stop the Steal” events. 

This was followed by a retweet from the “Real Iowa Republicans” account saying: “ALL PATRIOTS MUST SHOW UP!!!”

Jan. 6 the group posted at 10:34 a.m.: “The brave people fighting on the front lines in DC (many are members of our club) are brave Patriots!”

At 11:09 a.m. they tweeted “America First!” with a photo from DC at Trump’s rally. 

At 12:31 they tweeted “Destroy the RINOS” in response to a retweet by Henry Rodgers, a congressional correspondent, that read: “ANOTHER Hill source weighs in: “House GOP leadership is fully engaged in a knock-down-drag-out effort to keep Trump’s fighters away from the mics. They are literally aiding Dems in opposing objections.”

At 12:47 p.m. they posted: “WE ARE IN DC AND DES MOINES FIGHTING FOR AMERICA” with two photos of what appears to be a group inside of the Iowa State Capitol. The group later claimed this was a prayer circle. 

Later in the day at 6:33 p.m. they retweeted a post that read: “This is not your country anymore, American patriots.This regime has nothing but hatred for you.” In response to a tweet by Darren J. Beattie that read: “As curfew passes, police go in hard on trump supporters. Of course we never saw this sort of reaction when BLM set the city on fire and looted hundreds of businesses.” The tweet also included a video of protesters clashing with police.

Policinski, of the Freedom Institute, said the tweets did not rise to the level of incitement.

“There are three elements that have to be there for direct incitement,” Policinski said. “First is the intent of the speaker, can it be demonstrated the speaker intended to cause violent impact. And then was the act, did it actually occur as a result of that intent? And the third thing was it imminent? Is it a direct causation from those first two actions? That I intended to do it, did it come about and was it directly connected.”

While the university wouldn’t have the right to punish the College Republicans, nothing is stopping them from condemning their rhetoric, Steinbaugh said.

“The First Amendment doesn’t mean that a university has to sit on its hands and it doesn’t shield someone from criticism for their speech, that’s a form of more speech,” Steinbaugh said. “That is what the First Amendment prefers instead of censorship. So the fact that speech is protected really only means that it’s protected against government action. It doesn’t save you from criticism by others and it doesn’t mean that what you say is good or wise or right, it just means that the government can’t punish you for it and a university is part of the government. Or a public university is part of the government.”

Steinbaugh said free speech is a neutral principle.

“The rules that we apply to speech that we hate winds up being the rules that we apply to the speech that we love,” Steinbaugh said.

Kallie Cox is the editor-in-chief of The Daily Egyptian, the student newspaper of Southern Illinois University Carbondale and can be reached at Kcox@dailyegyptian.com or on Twitter @KallieECox.

Some Illinois media outlets push back against late night passage of major criminal justice reform bill

Some news media are smarting from the late night passage of a groundbreaking Illinois criminal justice bill last month that left them without a chance to report on the substance of sweeping legislation that is now before the governor awaiting his signature. Police have launched a media campaign claiming the “dark of night” legislation endangers citizens. But members of the Black Caucus and civil rights activists who pushed for the passage of the bill said the criticisms are misleading.

The 764-page omnibus bill that packaged several other measures passed the Illinois Senate around 4 a.m. on Jan. 12, the last day of a lame duck session. The House approved the measure later that morning.

The bill would mandate the use of body cameras, implement strict use of force laws, eliminate the sworn affidavit currently required to make a complaint against an officer, reinvent the state’s law enforcement certification process and end gerrymandering that excludes prisoners.   

Jeff Egbert, publisher and co-owner of the Pinckneyville Press in southern Illinois, said his newsroom of three people didn’t do a lot of coverage of the bill because of how it passed.

(Photo by Randy von Liski via Flickr)

“You know we are a weekly newspaper, and it fell sort of in between our deadlines and again in the middle of the night,” Egbert said.

Egbert said he can guarantee passing the bill at this hour negatively impacted other small town papers like his own.

“Some of us may and some of us may not have web presences you know and you know some of us may rely on our Facebook pages, or on Twitter feeds or whatever to be able to get critical information out you know in between our deadlines,” Egbert said. “It’s still a situation where, how many of us have reporters at the statehouse and we simply don’t. We are not, we are in a position where we can barely get enough staff to cover what we have to do in our own communities and that’s a situation where I think a lot of people in Illinois didn’t realize what had happened until it was done and over.”

Egbert said because his publication can’t spare the resources to have reporters at the state capitol reporting on the legislature full-time, he has to rely on the Capitol News Service with the Illinois Press Association. He said he isn’t against police reform and is up to journalists to work to weed out bad cops, but the way the legislature passed the bill in the middle of the night, was wrong.

“They can say all day long all of this stuff was going on, and maybe that was on us as journalists that we weren’t on top of that. But as you know in your role a lot of times we’re playing whack a mole and while we are working and focused on something over here, six other things are happening and we basically have to triage and prioritize what stories we’re going to do,” Egbert said. 

In an editorial, the Chicago Tribune criticized the process by which the bill passed and urged Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker not to sign it, calling it “rushed” and “a slap to transparency.” 

Raymon Troncoso, a reporter for Capitol News Illinois, said he was one of the only reporters focusing on the reform bill when it passed on the last day of the lame duck session. Overall, he said there were just a handful of journalists reporting on the entire session. 

“Newspapers can’t afford to send someone full time to Springfield to cover everything that’s going on in the State House. You know they barely have the resources to cover what’s going on in their communities,” Troncoso said. 

More on GJR’s coverage of statehouse reporting in Illinois

Most of the news organizations that were at the State House during the lame duck session were focused on covering the race to replace House Speaker Mike Madigan and the session as a whole, he said.

“I don’t think people really had the resources unless you’re a really big paper like the Tribune or the Chicago Sun-Times to devote looking at individual pieces of legislation in the night,” Troncoso said. “I think a lot of people covered it afterward.”

Sen. Kimberly Lightford,  the leader of the Black Caucus, said the Caucus intentionally left the media out of the process before passing the bill.  

“We had to leave the media out of it because we needed to control our own narrative, which is very important because if we would have let loose earlier and let the media start talking about what it is we were working on, then it would have gotten too far out of our control in terms of what knew we needed for our community,” Lightford said in an interview.

Reformers say the late night passage resulted in part from their willingness to compromise with law enforcement. And the elimination of cash bail does not free dangerous prisoners, as police claim.

Illinois Sen. Jason Plummer who opposed the bill, wrote on Facebook the night it was passed, noting that legislators received the bill at 3:04 a.m., and debate started at 4:01 a.m. “Who could’ve possibly read and reviewed this bill in less than an hour?” he wrote in the post. “This issue deserves a thorough and serious discussion. Sadly, it was instead jammed through the legislature during the early morning hours of this lame duck session.

“This is not how our system of government is supposed to work. These types of shenanigans do not lead to a healthy democracy and, in this instance, they make our law enforcement personnel, our families, and our communities less safe.”

The Illinois Law Enforcement Coalition, made up of the Illinois Fraternal Order of Police State Lodge, FOP Labor Council, FOP Chicago Lodge 7, Illinois Sheriffs’ Association and the Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police, issued a statement criticizing the late night passage of the legislation. “We had been working in good faith with the Attorney General on a bill that would make great strides to modernize law enforcement, but that legislation was dumped into this monster bill and the result is a betrayal of the public trust that gives many more advantages to criminals than the police. It ties the hands of police officers while pursuing suspects and making arrests, and allows criminals to run free while out on bail.”

The leaders of the Black Caucus, including Lightford, Sen. Elgie Sims and Rep. Justin Slaughter said this narrative is false.

Lightford said they began holding subject matter hearings about the bill in September and spent over 30 hours bringing in experts and researchers to discuss the things that came out in the legislation.

“There were recommendations from advocacy groups and civil right activist groups, and groups that have been just working in the space of law enforcement,” Lightford said “And actually there were some recommendations from the law enforcement side of it as well. They had a lot of input.”

Sims said even before the subject matter hearings, they were participating in marches and protests and having conversations with their colleagues. He said the first committee hearing was Sept. 1 and the bill was introduced on Jan. 5, 126 days of ongoing conversations and negotiations.

“Even after the bill was introduced I continued to negotiate,” Sims said in an interview. “There’s another narrative that’s been created that this bill was introduced or passed in the dead of night, well it was passed in the middle of the night because we continued to negotiate. And even though we continued to negotiate, if we were negotiating this bill, the goal line kept getting moved.”

Ultimately it came to a point where Sims said he and Leader Lightford decided to pull the trigger and call the bill to a vote. 

“It’s harmful to say that this process was rushed, or that it excluded the opinions of law enforcement intentionally because that’s not so,” Lightford said. “We listened, we negotiated with police groups, and they won quite a few key concessions. So you can’t sit at the table and negotiate and win concessions and then say you were not part of any negotiations of the process. So I cannot comprehend how they can complain at all that they were shut out when their lobbyists were getting things changed on their behalf.”

According to polling data from the ACLU, nine out of 10 Illinois voters were strongly supportive last fall of legislative efforts to hold police accountable for misconduct. 

Opponents of the bill, including Republican House Leader Rep. Jim Durkin, said its passage will put public safety at risk by eliminating cash bail.

“The elimination of cash bail basically says that we respect the honor system for violent criminals and gang members,” Durkin said in a press conference about the bill.

Durkin said the Democrats who worked on this bill and advocates have said over and over again that this bill was fully vetted and everyone was aware of what was in the bill, but that’s not accurate.

“Over the past summer and fall leading up to the lame duck session, advocates only revealed talking points, bullet points, but not the actual language,” Durkin said. “All we heard about were concepts. The first time we saw the bill in its final form was at the 11th hour of a lame duck session, at the end of a lame duck session.”

Durkin said the new bill is especially troubling for victims of violent crime because it can compel victims to testify at bond hearings.Rape victims of all ages, domestic violence victims, family members of a murdered loved one are all considered complaining witnesses, he said.

“A defendant must appear before a judge within 72 hours of arrest for a bond hearing and often that arrest of the attacker happens not only days but hours or minutes after the offense,” Durkin said. “So imagine this, a bond hearing is ordered for a person who has been charged with rape and the court orders that rape victim to appear at that bond hearing which could have been hours or days after the attack to stand in front of the judge and also within a few feet of her attacker. This is not how we should treat victims of crime in Illinois. It is morally wrong and it also is in direct conflict with the rights of crime victims and witnesses under our Illinois constitution.”

Amanda Pyron, who serves as the executive director of The Network: Advocating Against Domestic Violence, said the bill actually protects survivors. 

“Safety looks like listening to survivors during a bond hearing. It looks like listening to survivors when they have a difficult interaction with local law enforcement and this bill absolutely does not in any way give extensive rights that go to cause harm in our communities, it protects survivors. It gives survivors the opportunity to meet with the state’s attorney to get an order of protection at a bond hearing,” Pyron said at a town hall about the bill.

Lightford said the Black Caucus created a transformative piece of legislation and they didn’t need anyone’s permission to do it.

“The thing here that I witness is that you know they want us to allow them to tell us it’s ok when it’s our communities that have received poor treatment for generations,” Lightford said. “This is nothing new, and we’ve waited far too long for meaningful change to happen and we know that uplifting Black and marginalized communities will ultimately benefit the entire state and any opposition is nothing more than a desperate attempt to halt the progress and continue the legacy of systemic racism and oppression in this year and beyond and we aren’t willing to settle for that.”

Kallie Cox is the editor-in-chief of The Daily Egyptian, the student newspaper of Southern Illinois University Carbondale and can be reached at Kcox@dailyegyptian.com or on Twitter @KallieECox. This story is part of a project on police accountability funded by the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting.