First Thing: Democrats celebrate as Raphael Warnock wins

Good morning.

The Democratic incumbent, Raphael Warnock, has fended off a challenge from Republican Herschel Walker and won the Georgia Senate runoff, securing his first full term and delivering a 51st seat to bolster his party’s majority in the chamber.

The Associated Press called the race about three-and-a-half hours after polls closed in Georgia, as Warnock led Walker, by approximately 40,000 votes.

Shortly after that, Warnock took the stage at his campaign’s victory party to thank his supporters. A pastor at the Atlanta church where Martin Luther King Jr once preached, Warnock has held one of Georgia’s two Senate seats since winning a special election in 2021. As he began his remarks in Atlanta, supporters chanted: “Six more years!”

Warnock told the crowd: “After a hard-fought campaign – or should I say campaigns – it is my honor to utter the four most powerful words ever spoken in a democracy: the people have spoken.”

  • How did Walker respond? Walker conceded, acknowledging that his campaign had fallen short and expressing gratitude to his team. The Republican explicitly thanked election officials who ensured the runoff was managed effectively, quelling concerns he might refuse to accept the result.

  • Is Walker’s loss a bad omen for Trumpism? In a normal political universe, David Smith writes, Walker’s defeat would be the final nail in Trump’s political coffin. The former American football star was the ultimate Trumpian candidate. Trump, however, arguably remains the favourite for the Republican nomination in 2024. The next election could spell the rebirth or the death of Trumpism.

Trump Organization guilty of tax fraud, New York jury finds

Donald Trump
The guilty verdict for the Trump Organization represents a major blow for the former president. Photograph: Gaelen Morse/Reuters

A jury in New York has convicted the Trump Organization of criminal tax fraud in a stinging rebuke of the former US president’s company.

Although Donald Trump was not personally on trial, prosecutors in the case brought by the Manhattan district attorney insisted he was fully aware of the long-running scheme in which they said executives were enriched by off-the-books perks to make up for lower salaries, reducing the company’s tax liabilities.

“This was a case about greed and cheating,” Alvin Bragg, the Manhattan district attorney, said in a statement celebrating the guilty verdict. “In Manhattan, no corporation is above the law.”

The 12-person jury in New York’s state court was sent out to deliberate on Monday morning after a six-week trial in which Trump Organization lawyers pinned blame for the fraud solely on the greed of longtime chief financial officer Allen Weisselberg.

  • How has Trump responded? In a statement yesterday, the Trump Organization denounced the verdict, which could carry a fine of up to $1.6m, a relatively negligible sum for such a large company though it could affect future business dealings. A lawyer for the Trump Organization vowed to appeal.

German police raids target far-right extremists ‘seeking to overthrow state’

Police secure the area after one of the raids on Wednesday in Frankfurt.
Police secure the area after one of the raids on Wednesday in Frankfurt. Photograph: Tilman Blasshofer/Reuters

Twenty-five people including a 71-year-old German aristocrat, a retired military commander and former MP for the far-right Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) have been detained in Germany on suspicion of a terrorist plan to overthrow the state and re-negotiate the country’s post-second world war settlement.

Thousands of police carried out a series of raids across Germany on Wednesday morning in connection with the far-right ring.

Federal prosecutors said 3,000 officers had conducted searches at 130 sites in 11 of Germany’s 16 states against the group, whose members it said adhered to a “conglomerate of conspiracy theories” including the QAnon cult and the so-called Reich Citizens movement.

Prosecutors said 22 German citizens had been detained on suspicion of “membership in a terrorist organisation”. Three other detainees, including a female Russian citizen, were suspected of supporting the organisation, they said.

  • Who is behind the ring? German media have identified as the group’s ringleaders as Heinrich XIII, 71, a descendant of the noble Reuß family that used to rule over parts of eastern Germany in the 12th century, and a former senior field officer at the German army’s paratrooper battalion named only as Rüdiger von P.

In other news …

NAPLES, FL -30 JAN 2020- View of the Fifth Avenue South street in downtown Naples, Florida, United States.2AXR7K1 NAPLES, FL -30 JAN 2020- View of the Fifth Avenue South street in downtown Naples, Florida, United States.
Naples, Florida, where Eric Salata’s Pura Vida clinic was located. Photograph: EQRoy/Alamy
  • A doctor in Florida who recently died by suicide after being arrested on allegations that he drugged and raped two patients is now accused of similarly attacking at least three other women under his care. Five patients of Eric Salata’s Pura Vida cosmetic surgery clinic in Naples have gone to police.

  • A US human rights charity has awarded Harry and Meghan its Ripple of Hope award for their activism on racial justice and mental health. The couple received the award last night in New York, two days before the release of a tell-all Netflix show expected to include damning revelations about the royal family.

  • A US judge has dismissed a lawsuit against Saudi Arabia’s Mohammed bin Salman that claimed he conspired to kill the journalist Jamal Khashoggi, saying the crown prince was entitled to sovereign immunity despite “credible allegations” that he was involved in the murder.

  • China’s government has said people with Covid-19 who have mild or no symptoms can quarantine at home, in a significant shift towards living with the virus. The directives, issued on Wednesday afternoon by China’s national health commission, also instructed officials to stop launching temporary lockdowns.

World Cup 2022: A beautiful day for Morocco as the quarter-final ties are set

Yassine ‘Bono’ Bounou is thrown in the air by his Morocco teammates after the penalty shootout win against Spain.
Yassine ‘Bono’ Bounou is thrown in the air by his Morocco teammates after the penalty shootout win against Spain. Photograph: Alex Livesey/Danehouse/Getty Images

The round of 16 in Qatar had progressed smoothly and with a distinct lack of upsets until Tuesday. That all changed when Morocco knocked out 2010 champions Spain in a penalty shootout, in which the visibly nervous Spanish players failed to convert a single kick. Spain are making a habit of this: they went out at this stage in the last World Cup on penalties, too. Morocco are only the fourth African team to reach the quarter-finals of the World Cup and the first since Ghana in 2010. Their fans were understandably ecstatic.

The day’s other game was slightly less tense as Portugal thrashed Switzerland 6-1. It was a formidable performance from the Portuguese and all the more remarkable given that Cristiano Ronaldo, who has dominated the team for nearly two decades, was benched before the game. How did his replacement, 21-year-old Gonçalo Ramos, fare? He scored a brilliant hat-trick.

Elsewhere at the World Cup

  • There are two soccer-free days in Qatar now before the quarter-finals, which take place on Friday and Saturday. First up on Friday is Croatia v Brazil (10am ET) followed by Netherlands v Argentina (2pm ET). Saturday’s first game is Morocco v Portugal (10am) before England v France (2pm ET) rounds things off.

  • There’s been a minor storm around Brazil’s samba-inspired celebrations against South Korea on Monday. The former Ireland midfielder turned TV pundit Roy Keane thought the dancing was disrespectful to the Koreans. That has made Keane very unpopular in Brazil. The Guardian’s Ed Aarons breaks down the intertwined history of soccer and samba in Brazilian life.

Stat of the day: Is Facebook losing its $100bn gamble on virtual reality?

Meta Zuckerberg avatar illustration
Meta has spent staggering amounts on creating an immersive successor to the traditional 2D internet. But what has it got to show for it, apart from 11,000 job losses? Composite: Guardian Design/AFP/Getty/Reuters

What a difference a year makes. Last October, Facebook supremo Mark Zuckerberg could barely wait to show the world what he was up to as he guided us through his vision for the virtual-reality future. This month, we saw a more subdued Zuckerberg on display: “I wanna say upfront that I take full responsibility for this decision,” he told employees morosely. Meta was laying off 11,000 people – 13% of its workforce. After poor third-quarter results Meta’s share price dropped by 25%, wiping $80bn off the company’s value. Reality Labs, Meta’s metaverse division, has lost $3.7bn in the past three months, with worse expected to come.

Don’t miss this: Kirstie Alley was celebrated not because she was flawless – but because her flaws were so visible

Kirstie Alley
From the 80s sitcom Cheers to the semi-autobiographical Fat Actress, the actor brought unscripted intimacy to both her best roles and her life. Photograph: Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Kirstie Alley was so widely celebrated not because she was flawless but because her flaws were so visible, writes Veronica Esposito – she was among those celebrities who are compelling because they eschew the carefully managed image of the famous in favour of offering something that feels completely unfiltered and thus far more intimate. Alley achieved prominence at a time when actors such as Roseanne Barr and Rosie O’Donnell courted controversy in large part by defying sexist expectations of how a female celebrity should come off in public life, and how she should portray characters in film and TV.

Climate check: Humanity has become ‘weapon of mass extinction’, UN head tells Cop15 launch

António Guterres
António Guterres calls for end to destruction of nature as Canada pushes proposal to protect 30% of Earth. Photograph: Andrej Ivanov/AFP/Getty Images

Humanity has become a weapon of mass extinction and governments must end the “orgy of destruction”, the UN secretary general, António Guterres, has said at the beginning of the biodiversity Cop15. “We are out of harmony with nature. In fact, we are playing an entirely different song. Around the world, for hundreds of years, we have conducted a cacophony of chaos, played with instruments of destruction. Deforestation and desertification are creating wastelands of once-thriving ecosystems,” he said.

Sign up

Sign up for the US morning briefing

First Thing is delivered to thousands of inboxes every weekday. If you’re not already signed up, subscribe now.

Get in touch

If you have any questions or comments about any of our newsletters please email [email protected]