Barack Obama has scaled back plans for a big 60th birthday party this weekend, paring down a guest list of the rich and famous numbering in the hundreds due to the spread of the Delta variant of the coronavirus, a spokeswoman said Wednesday.
"The outdoor event was planned months ago in accordance with all public guidelines and Covid safeguards in place," Hannah Hankins said in a statement issued a day after the planned bash drew criticism, mainly from conservatives.
"Due to the new spread of the Delta variant over the past week, the president and Mrs Obama have decided to significantly scale back the event to include only family and close friends," Jenkins said.
The celebration is to take place Saturday on the upscale island of Martha's Vineyard, and it had been expected to draw hundreds of former Obama administration officials, Democratic donors and celebrities, reportedly including George Clooney, Steven Spielberg and Oprah Winfrey, according to The Washington Post.
It is to be held outdoors at an oceanside estate in full compliance with guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, with all guests needing to be vaccinated and test negative for the virus, news reports said.
Still, conservatives lashed out at Obama.
Republican congressman Jim Jordan, a loyalist of Obama's successor Donald Trump, took to Twitter to joke that "if this was President Trump's birthday," Democrats would be saying "How can someone be so reckless?" or "They're killing people."
"Is there an exception for parties attended by rich liberal celebrities?" demanded Ronna McDaniel, the Republican National Committee chairwoman.
The Trump administration made headlines on numerous occasions for organizing maskless events in the White House or in government departments, or holding campaign rallies, including at the height of the pandemic and before vaccines were widely available.
Barack Obama, pictured riding his bike on Martha's Vineyard in August 2015, will celebrate his 60th birthday on the upscale island BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI AFP/File
In particular, a ceremony in honor of Amy Coney Barrett, whom Trump appointed to the Supreme Court, was suspected of being a superspreader event that led to the infection of a dozen people, including Trump himself.
Eighteen Trump campaign rallies were the source of more than 30,000 coronavirus cases and likely led to more than 700 deaths, according to a December 2020 study by researchers at Stanford University.
President Joe Biden -- who served as Obama's vice president -- was not expected to attend the Obama party.
© 2021 AFP
On Wednesday, CBS News reported that the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra has fired Emily Skala, their principal flutist for more than three decades, after she repeatedly promoted conspiracy theories on social media.
"Principal Flutist Emily Skala has been dismissed from the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra in accordance with the progressive discipline policy agreed to in our collective bargaining agreement with the Musicians' Association of Metropolitan Baltimore Local 40-543, AFM," said Peter Kjome, the BSO President. "Ms. Skala has had discipline imposed upon her over these past few months; unfortunately, she has repeated the conduct for which she had been previously disciplined, and dismissal was the necessary and appropriate reaction to this behavior."
"Skala had a history of sharing conspiracy theories about COVID-19 and the 2020 election," noted the report. "She'd claimed COVID-19 was made in a lab in North Carolina and sold to a lab in Wuhan, China, where it was then planted in a wet market ... Skala reportedly also made incendiary comments in internal emails. She defended herself in a March letter to The Baltimore Sun, claiming management had created a hostile work environment."
Skala, who admits she went maskless in her workplace when dropping off tax forms, told the Sun that the BSO has "repeatedly violated my constitutional rights in response to audience and donor and subscriber pressure," and "committed many crimes against me."
The world of music is currently facing a reckoning with COVID-19 deniers in their midst, as the Delta variant raises new questions about the safety of large public events. The 90s punk-rock group The Offspring recently announced they are parting ways with their drummer Pete Parada after he declined to be vaccinated.
QAnon follower to plead guilty after threatening 'crazy stupid' attack in DC tied to Trump's 'reinstatement'
A QAnon follower from Wisconsin is set to plead guilty, after threatening a "crazy stupid" attack in Washington, D.C. on March 3 – a day before some who adhere to the conspiracy theory believed former president Donald Trump would be inaugurated again, the Journal Sentinel reports.
Ian Olson, 31, was arrested 12 days later after he drove a car spray-painted with QAnon slogans to an Army Reserve Center in Wisconsin, before getting out and firing paintballs at two Reservists while screaming, "This is for America!" until his AR-15-style rifle jammed.
FBI terrorism agents subsequently began investigating Olson, who vowed to cause a "mass casualty" event if he was released from jail, and said he'd just returned from Washington where he "attempted to deliver a message."
The Department of Homeland Security has repeatedly warned about possible violence associated with the QAnon belief that Trump will somehow be reinstated, and numerous QAnon followers have been arrested on charges stemming from the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection.
After Olson's arrest, authorities discovered a variety of weapons and other gear in his car and home, including a real AR-15, seven magazines of ammunition, a gas mask, throwing knives, two-way radios, military-style vest plates, and a three-page, hand-written "manifesto" with a number of comments referencing "Q" and "my plan," the local Fox affiliate reported.
In Washington, Olson had approached some National Guardsmen and announced he was "maybe going to do something crazy stupid tomorrow," asking them not to shoot him. Olson said he wanted to "test the National Guard to see if they were loyal to the people or to the president," and that he was "willing to die to fulfill this mission." He also claimed he had been "taken over by the Spirit of Christ to lead the people to unity."
Capitol police officers took Olson into custody for a psychiatric evaluation. He was hospitalized for four days and diagnosed with a "brief psychotic disorder," before being given medication and released — whereupon he returned to Wisconsin.
Olson faces a maximum sentence of two years in prison, a $10,000 fine and one year of supervised release on federal charges related to his attack on the Army Reserve center. His plea hearing is set for Aug. 18.
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