Up First briefing: Trump promises Jan. 6 pardons; Epstein document fuels conspiracies

Good morning. You’re reading the Up First newsletter. Subscribe here to get it delivered to your inbox, and listen to the Up First podcast for all the news you need to start your day.

Today’s top stories

Tomorrow marks three years since Trump supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol. More than 900 people have pleaded guilty or been convicted of criminal charges in connection with the Jan. 6 insurrection since that day, and the FBI continues to make new arrests. Former President Donald Trump has promised to pardon these defendants if he returns to the White House.

Enlarge this image

Donald Trump launched his latest presidential campaign with a rally in Waco, Texas. At the beginning of the rally, Trump played a song featuring the J6 Prison Choir, made up of defendants in jail on charges related to the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol.

Nathan Howard/AP

hide caption

toggle caption

Nathan Howard/AP

Donald Trump launched his latest presidential campaign with a rally in Waco, Texas. At the beginning of the rally, Trump played a song featuring the J6 Prison Choir, made up of defendants in jail on charges related to the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol.

Nathan Howard/AP

Trump is currently facing a criminal trial for allegedly interfering with the 2020 presidential election. NPR’s Tom Dreisbach reports on Up First that special counsel Jack Smith’s team wants to use Trump’s support of the Jan. 6 defendants against him in court. An expert on counterterrorism tells Dreisbach that “by pardoning an untold number of people who committed violent acts, the likelihood of more violence certainly goes up.”

A 17-year-old student opened fire at an Iowa high school on the first day of classes after winter break yesterday. He killed one student and injured five others. Police say the gunman died of self-inflicted wounds. A motive has not been revealed. (via Iowa Public Radio)

New conspiracy theories related to Jeffrey Epstein have emerged following the unsealing of court records that name several powerful men allegedly connected to the convicted sex offender. Some say yesterday’s school shooting in Iowa was a staged event to distract the public from the list. A contradicting rumor says the list itself is a distraction from alleged evidence of fraud in the 2020 election.

NPR’s Lisa Hagen says contradictions are common among conspiracy theories because details aren’t as important as the larger worldview that you can’t believe what you’re shown. Epstein’s case is significant because his case is ripe for what researchers often refer to as “conspiracy entrepreneurs,” who gain money and influence by spreading conspiracist beliefs.

Islamic State claimed responsibility yesterday for two bombings in Iran that killed at least 84 people and injured scores at a memorial for top commander Qassem Soleimani.

Though there were early suggestions that Israel may have been involved in the attack, NPR’s Peter Kenyon says the Islamic State’s claim, if confirmed, would eliminate the possibility. Iran credits Suleimani for having an important role in ending ISIS control in Syria and Iraq, which Kenyon says may explain in part why the Islamic State would target the memorial.

Deep dive

Climate change is driving more frequent and intense wildfires. Companies and researchers are using AI to both detect wildfires early, and to help prevent megafires.

SOPA Images/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

hide caption

toggle caption

SOPA Images/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

In 2023, many industries, including climate solutions companies, began to adopt AI tools. AI can help process data faster and more efficiently, according to Sasha Luccioni, climate lead for AI company Hugging Face. But it can also add to a company’s carbon footprint. These are four ways AI can help with climate solutions:

The U.N. uses it to track methane leaks and verify that companies’ reports on methane emissions are accurate.
A Berlin-based startup uses AI with sensors in forests to detect small fires before they turn into forest fires.
At the University of Southern California, researchers created an intelligent smart assistant to help map out “controlled burns” outside of fire season that remove excess vegetation that could fuel forest fires.
Governments, researchers and companies are using AI to detect cobalt, lithium, and copper, which are needed to make solar panels and electric vehicles. 

Weekend picks

Enlarge this image

The Brothers Sun. Michelle Yeoh as Mama Sun in episode 102 of The Brothers Sun. Cr. Michael Desmond/Netflix © 2023

Netflix

hide caption

toggle caption

Netflix

The Brothers Sun. Michelle Yeoh as Mama Sun in episode 102 of The Brothers Sun. Cr. Michael Desmond/Netflix © 2023

Netflix

Movies: Dan Levy is iconic in his comedic role as David in Schitt’s Creek. He flexes his dramatic acting skills in Good Grief, a film he directed, produced and starred in for Netflix about a recent widower who flees to Paris to come to terms with life after the death of a spouse.

TV: Michelle Yeoh a woman who married into a Taiwanese crime family raising her youngest son in the U.S. to protect him from rival gangs in The Brothers Sun. The Netflix series is a fun genre mashup of action, comedy and family.

Books: Get ahead of your reading goal this year by adding these highly anticipated books to your 2024 reading list.

Quiz: New year, new quiz. A lot has happened in the first week of the year. Test how much of it you remember.

3 things to know before you go

A Reese’s Peanut Butter Pumpkin with no carved-out face next to the open wrapper with a jack-o’-lantern design.

Cynthia Kelly v. The Hershey Company

hide caption

toggle caption

Cynthia Kelly v. The Hershey Company

A woman from Florida is suing Hershey for falsely representing its Reese’s Peanut Butter Pumpkins, which she says were missing the “cute” carved-out face seen on the packaging.
The U.S. Mint has released three new commemorative coins honoring abolitionist and human rights activist Harriet Tubman. 
A Virginia woman going by “Kala” on TikTok has gone viral for posting videos of her building tunnels beneath her home. Local officials tell her she needs to stop. (via DCist)

This newsletter was edited by Majd Al-Waheidi.