US briefing: China's lockdown grows, wildfires and American neo-Nazis

Tim Walker
Photograph: Kevin Frayer/Getty Images

Good morning, I’m Tim Walker with today’s essential stories.

More than 800 infected and 26 dead amid coronavirus crisis

At least 10 cities in central China’s Hubei province have been locked down and the movement of about 33 million people restricted as Beijing seeks to slow the spread of the coronavirus that has killed 26 people and infected at least 830 more. In Wuhan, the city at the centre of the outbreak, a new, 1,000-bed hospital is being built in just six days to deal with the virus. Yet President Xi Jinping and China’s state media have sought to downplay the severity of the crisis.

Impeachment trial day three: ‘Right is supposed to matter’

Republicans apparently remained unmoved by the stirring oration of the Democratic congressman Adam Schiff, the lead prosecutor in the president’s impeachment, as the Senate trial reached the end of its third day on Thursday. “You know you can’t trust this president to do what’s right for this country,” said Schiff. “You can only trust this president to do what’s right for Donald Trump.” Far from riveted, senators passed notes back and forth, doodled, stifled yawns and laughter, and even twirled fidget spinners.

  • Muzzling Bolton. Former justice department officials and legal scholars have warned that Trump’s threat to assert executive privilege in blocking testimony from his former national security adviser, John Bolton, would undermine the constitution.

  • No limits. The behaviour of GOP senators at this sham of a trial will tear up any restraints on presidential abuses of power, argues Andrew Gawthorpe.

Trump administration played up wildfires to promote logging

A wildfire burns close to Santa Paula, California, in October last year. Photograph: Noah Berger/AP

The Trump administration’s political appointees at the US interior department sought to craft a narrative that played up the climate impact of California’s wildfires – and played down fossil fuel emissions – in a bid to promote further logging of the nation’s forests, internal emails obtained by the Guardian reveal. Experts have long refuted Trump’s claim that thinning California forests by harvesting more timber would reduce the risk of fires.

True identity of US neo-Nazi leader revealed

The FBI recently carried out raids targeting the American neo-Nazi group the Base, after uncovering its members’ plans to try to incite a race war in the US. Given the group’s culture of internal secrecy, many of those members do not even know the true identity of their leader, who goes by the aliases “Norman Spear” and “Roman Wolf” and maintains almost no public profile. But after a lengthy investigation, the Guardian can reveal that “Norman Spear” is in fact US-born Rinaldo Nazzaro, 46. Jason Wilson reports.

  • Intelligence contractor? Nazzaro has billed himself online as an intelligence, military and security contractor. Previously based in New York and New Jersey, he is now thought to live in Russia with his wife.

Cheat sheet

Must-reads

A stunned iguana after falling from a tree in Florida this week; iguana meat sells for $60 a pound online. Photograph: Joe Cavaretta/AP

Is Florida’s iguana-geddon actually a culinary windfall?

A Florida cold snap left iguanas littering the ground in the Sunshine State this week. Wildlife officials hailed it as a welcome cull of an invasive species. But for some, it was also an opportunity to dust off old recipes for iguana tacos, as Richard Luscombe reports.

How I stopped time by sitting in a forest for 24 hours

With two young children and regular deadlines making his life ever busier, Mark O’Connell felt constantly short of time. The remedy: a day and night spent alone in a remote woodland corner of southern England – a practice commonly referred to as a “wilderness solo”.

Why inmates are still giving birth cuffed and bound

Despite a federal law prohibiting the shackling of expectant mothers, Lori Teresa Yearwood finds that the 85% of the US’s incarcerated women in state prisons or county jails often remain at the mercy of guards, who may not even understand their legal rights.

Good news for Harry and Meghan: Canada respects privacy

The Duke and Duchess of Sussex are fleeing the UK for Canada, where they hope to escape the attentions of the British tabloid press. The good news, writes Selena Ross, is that Canadian media tends to turn a blind eye to intrusive stories about its public figures.

Opinion

Popular unrest exploded last year in Hong Kong, Chile, Lebanon and elsewhere. Though a common thread may not be immediately obvious, Michael Massing says these protest movements all share a root cause: the soaring inequality generated by global capitalism.

Just as the Iraq war undermined the authority of the US foreign policy establishment, so did the financial crisis discredit the bankers, asset managers, ratings agencies, and regulators responsible for running the world economy.

Sport

Serena Williams’ bid to match Margaret Court’s record of 24 majors has once again escaped her, after she was defeated in three sets by the Chinese number one Wang Qiang at the Australian Open. But at 15, rising star Coco Gauff has truly arrived, beating the defending champion Naomi Osaka 6-3, 6-4 to reach the fourth round.

ESPN and its commentary team of Mark Jackson and Jeff Van Gundy have been accused of body-shaming the NBA’s star rookie, Zion Williamson, suggesting during his debut for the New Orleans Pelicans – when he scored 17 unanswered points in one three-minute stretch – that he ought to “trim down”.

Sign up

The US morning briefing is delivered to thousands of inboxes every weekday. If you’re not already signed up, subscribe now.