The Trump administration seems to be crumbling — more people are leaving the administration, some are cooperating with the Mueller probe, and others face criminal indictments. Donald Trump, of course, deflected by tweeting, “There is no chaos, only great energy.”
This week on Intercepted, we’re taking a step back to look at the larger implications of the Trump administration. Rebel historian and professor Alfred McCoy breaks down the history of America’s geopolitical maneuvering and how it has shifted under Obama and Trump. He explains why Trump reminds him of disgraced former British Prime Minister Sir Anthony Eden. We also speak to acclaimed hip-hop artist Felipe Coronel, better known as Immortal Technique, on issues of American imperialism, racism, global covert actions, and capitalism — topics that his lyrics often tackle head-on. He details the connection between Black Lives Matter and opposing the drone killing of black and brown people across the world. Plus, he shares a powerful freestyle verse on the state of life in America today. And Sam Nunberg stars in “Swingers.”
Katherine Kendall (as Nikki in “Swingers”): Hi, this is Nikki, leave a message.
Jon Favreau (as Mike): Hi, uh, Nikki? I just called to say …
Sam Nunberg: Donald Trump is responsible for this investigation because he was so stupid after he fired Comey, in the right, and they probably have something on Trump. Trump did something pretty bad.
JF: Anyway, my number is 679. [Phone dialing.]
KK: Hi, this is Nikki, leave a message.
JF: It sounded like your machine might have cut me off before I finished leaving my number. Anyway, and also …
SN: I wanted Trump to lose! I didn’t care if Trump lost. I don’t care. I don’t care what he thinks.
JF: Anyhow, my number is 21 — (dials phone.)
KK: Hi, this is Nikki, leave a message.
SN: Carter Page, never spoke to him. Carter Page? Never met the guy! In my life. I think Carter Page colluded with the Russians — (dials phone.)
KK: Hi, this is Nikki, leave a message.
SN: Hope Hicks, you mean Corey’s girlfriend, his paramour? I despise Corey. If I could find Corey in an alley — (dials phone.)
KK: Hi, this is Nikki, leave a message.
SN: Sarah should shut up. It’s really not fair. She should shut her mouth — (dials phone.)
KK: Hi, this is Nikki, leave a message.
SN: Roger Stone is like a surrogate father, he’s like my father. Roger and I were treated like crap by Donald Trump, OK? We were treated like crap by Donald Trump — (dials phone.)
KK: Hi, this is Nikki, leave a message.
SN: They’re not going to send me to jail. You know what? Mr. Mueller, if he wants to send me to jail, he can send me to jail, and then I’ll laugh.
[“Don’t You (Forget About Me)” by Billy Idol plays.]
Jeremy Scahill: This is Intercepted.
JS: I’m Jeremy Scahill, coming to you from The Intercept. And this is episode 47 of Intercepted.
Saagar Enjeti: Do you believe that North Korea’s recent willingness to talk is sincere or is it an effort to buy time for their nuclear program, and to what do you owe this recent openness to talk?
President Donald J. Trump: Me. No, I think that — [scattered laughs]. Nobody got that.
JS: The Trump Administration seems to be crumbling, with more people leaving the administration, others cooperating with the Mueller probe and still others facing criminal indictments. The heat also seems to be turning up in the probes involving Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump, and then we have this whole situation about several people not being able to get a permanent security clearance even though they’re working in the Oval Office.
And then there was this absolutely bizarre flurry of interviews with this guy, Sam Nunberg, who was briefly working on the Trump campaign and describes himself as a sort of protégé of the wacky operative Roger Stone. Nunberg was hit with a subpoena by the special prosecutor Robert Mueller asking him for reams of communication that he had with a variety of people in the Trump orbit, including Steve Bannon, Roger Stone, Hope Hicks. On Monday, Nunberg called into MSNBC to say that he was not going to be complying with that subpoena.
Sam Nunberg: Why should I hand them emails from November 1, 2015? I was thinking about this today, Katie. I was preparing it. Should I spend 50 hours, going over all my emails with Roger and then with Steve Bannon?
And then they wanted emails that I had with Hope Hicks, with Corey Lewandowski, are you giving me a break? It’s ridiculous.
JS: When MSNBC ended its interview, as one show ended and another began on that network, Nunberg then picked up the phone and called CNN, and this went on and on and on and it was sort of a combination of fascinating and sad at the same time.
SN: I think Mueller has enough on Trump, he doesn’t need me to start giving his information on Roger Stone and Steve Bannon.
Jake, I communicate, I communicated with Roger Stone and Steve Bannon 15 times a day. So, I have to spend 80 hours going over emails?
Jake Tapper: Well, I agree that it seems like a lot of time, but it is law enforcement telling you that you have to do it. That’s what a subpoena is.
SN: OK, fine!
JT: You’re actually willing to go to jail for this? [Long pause.] Sam?
SN: I’m not cooperating. Arrest me.
JS: This whole escapade follows the departure of White House Communications Director Hope Hicks, which followed the Rob Porter scandal, which followed the etc., etc., etc., etc. And now it looks like National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster is going to be leaving the administration sometime in the near future. It’s hard to watch all of this and not conclude that this administration is in a free-fall.
Trump’s own cabinet officials and spokespeople, they seem to be at a loss as to how to spin much of what’s happening. In fact, Trump’s declaration that a trade war is a good thing seemed to catch even his own top advisers off guard.
Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross: He is the one who makes the decision. He has made a decision at this point, 25 and 10. If he for some reason should change his mind, then it will change his mind.
Chuck Todd: Are you — ?
WR: I have no reason to believe he’s going to change his mind.
JS: Trump’s surrogates, like press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, often fall back, and they’ve been doing this for a long time, to their line that reports of chaos are fake news and that everything is normal.
Sarah Huckabee Sanders: We’re in a great place. Look, we have an incredible story to tell. It’s been a historic first year and we’re continuing to focus on the things that President Trump campaigned on. We’re excited about what we’ve done and where we’re going and we’re going to continue working hard for the American people.
JS: Earlier this week, Donald Trump himself tweeted: “The new Fake News narrative is that there is CHAOS in the White House. Wrong! People will always come & go, and I want strong dialogue before making a final decision. I still have some people that I want to change (always seeking perfection). There is no Chaos, only great Energy!”
Well, with the kind of news cycle that all of us have been living in for well over a year now, it becomes a real challenge to follow the big picture of the global consequences of this Administration, of the Trump presidency, but also to place it in a historical context.
Yes, the outcome of the Robert Mueller investigation could have far-reaching consequences, but Trump is still the president of the United States and his actions or inactions, his tweets, reverberate across the globe on a daily basis. And it becomes a real challenge to keep track of it all.
JS: This week, I’m in Wisconsin. It’s my home state. I’m giving some talks here. And I decided since I was in town, to check in with one of the most interesting historians of our time: Alford McCoy. He is the Harrington professor of history at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He is the author of the now-classic book: “The Politics of Heroin: CIA Complicity in the Global Drug Trade.” Al McCoy’s latest book is “In the Shadows of the American Century: The Rise and Decline of U.S. Global Power.”
Last summer, Al McCoy joined us on Intercepted for a wide-ranging discussion on Trump and Russia, the history of CIA interference in elections around the world, the Iran-Contra Scandal, CIA crack-cocaine epidemic, U.S. proxy wars, narco-trafficking in Afghanistan, and much more. In that interview, Al McCoy predicted that China is set to surpass the influence of the U.S. globally, both militarily and economically and he says it’s going to happen by the year 2030. At that point, Al McCoy asserts, the United States empire as we know it will be no more. He also told us that the Trump presidency is a byproduct of the erosion of U.S. global dominance but not its root cause.
Al McCoy joins me now. Al, welcome back to Intercepted.
Al McCoy: Jeremy, wonderful to be back.
JS: I want to begin with the broad situation with Donald Trump right now. It seems on the outside, and even according to some insiders, that the administration is sort of in a crumbling phase. You’ve studied authoritarian regimes through history, what is your analysis of where we are right now with this administration? Is it crumbling?
AM: Not only is the Trump administration kind of immobilized but indeed the whole U.S. foreign policy apparatus is.
Trump is unique as an American president. First of all, as we know, he alienated all the Republican foreign policy elites so he didn’t have a very deep bench to select from. He picked a man, Rex Tillerson, whose primary objective as a secretary of state is this reorganization and downscaling of the size of the State Department. And Trump then made it very clear by humiliating Tillerson every time he tried an initiative that he was running U.S. foreign policy.
It’s a hyper-centralization in the hands of one man and that man has used that concentration of power, which is remarkable under the American executive, anyway, to kind of deliver hammer blows to U.S. foreign policy.
If you look at his two overseas trips that he’s done, his main one, in May 2017, he traveled to the Middle East and Europe and at the NATO headquarters he, first of all, attacked the allies for their failure to pay their fair share, and then very importantly, he refused there to reaffirm the principle of common defense. And without common defense, NATO is not NATO. And although the White House, later on, said, “Oh yeah, we actually meant to say that,” nonetheless that just reverberated through Europe like shock waves. That’s when all of Angela Merkel said Europe and Germany have to decide their own destiny.
Then in November, he made his big trip to Asia. At the big Asia Pacific Economic Council meeting in Vietnam, he stood up and gave a full-throated defense of his anti-trade, America-first policy. He had already, in his first week of office, canceled the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the TPP, which was going to, as Obama planned it, direct 40 percent of the world’s trade towards the United States.
At that meeting, the surviving eleven members of the TPP, actually announced that they’d made progress. They are now going to inaugurate the treaty minus the United States, because Japan says that if we don’t organize the trade, China will. And China’s got a 16-nation regional cooperation pact that’s going to direct all that trade towards China.
So, in effect, both axial ends of the massive Eurasian landmass, which is the epicenter of global power, Donald Trump has used the power of the president to deliver hammer blows to the U.S. position and NATO in the West and those four critical bilateral alliances in the East: Japan, South Korea, the Philippines, and Australia.
JS: Is there an ideology at play here? Or, is there a strategy, or is Trump just sort of doing this seat of his pants and listening to a lot to generals?
AM: First of all, Trump has no strategy per se. He has some ideas he kicks around. OK, but the trouble with relying on the military is that they’re tactically very skilled. You give them a military problem, and particularly given the sophistication of the U.S. military, they will solve it. You want to invade Iraq and rip it to pieces? They can do that for you. You want to blast Syria? They’ll do that for. You want to send troops into Afghanistan? They can, they can do that.
But what they’re not good at, and what the American military has always relied on, is the office of the president to provide the strategy, the overview. And in this case, it’s geopolitics.
And we’re in a changing world, a fundamentally changing world that nobody in Washington and very few among the American foreign policy elite appreciate at all. Look, for 70 years the U.S. global power, U.S. geopolitical power, rested on, apart from the military, the diplomacy, the dominance of the global economy, all that was important, but in the geopolitics, the integration of land, people, and power, making these movable pieces on the global chessboard, the U.S. geopolitical position rested upon an axial anchor in Western Europe, another axial anchor down the Pacific literal of Asia, and then layers of steel tying together the 6th fleet in the Mediterranean, the 5th in the Persian Gulf, the 7th in the Pacific, 100s of air bases and then in the last 10 years, 60 drone bases stretching from Sicily to Guam, these layers, successive layers of steel, and then the mutual defense pacts, all of this meant that we encircled and dominated the Eurasian landmass, the epicenter of global power. And we can find China and Russia behind the Iron Curtain. Well in the aftermath of the Cold War, we were still overwhelmingly powerful, so they even though they were free to range beyond the collapsed Iron Curtain, we still dominated Asia.
What is changing now is a fundamental rearrangement in geopolitics. That China is launching this one belt, one road strategy, $2 trillion to integrate Europe, Asia, and Africa into a unitary landmass linked by a comprehensive infrastructure of roads, rails and pipelines stretching from the Atlantic all the way the Pacific, directing all that trade and power towards China.
And moreover, with global warming, the Arctic seas are melting so that world island has now got a 360-degree ambit as China pulls it together, leaving these other islands like Greenland and North America and South America to float off in the irrelevance.
JS: What is China’s strategy right now? I want to, I want to share with you something that I read in The Financial Times. “China’s largest state-owned conglomerate has expanded its stake in Erik Prince’s private security company,” — Erik Prince being the founder of Blackwater — “with an eye to expanding operations across Asia, including western China and Pakistan … which aims to provide the expertise of U.S. special warfare veterans to Chinese state companies investing abroad.”
But China was constantly hammered on by Trump during the campaign and you would have come away, just on the surface, with believing that Trump was going to really stick it to China. Is there something I’m missing? Why would it benefit quote-unquote America to have someone like Erik Prince operating in that capacity in China?
AM: The Trump Administration has an interestingly ambiguous relationship with the emerging authoritarian challenges to U.S. global power. And, mind you, in every imperial transition, unless it’s an open war, it’s a curious mix of competition and cooperation the last one we saw was a handoff, an imperial handoff from Britain to the United States, where Britain turned over base by base, country by country, to the United States, and then reduced Britain to a tertiary power and took over the residue of its influence.
What we’re looking at right now is this eruption of Russia and China out of the functional Iron Curtain to challenge dominion over Eurasia and challenge the United States for that dominion. The economic intertwining of China and United States was — the liberal, intellectual elites in Washington thought — would actually be cooperative, China would buy into the world on our terms and they bought the world order as long as it served them and now that it’s acquired $4 trillion dollars in surplus capital and access to markets worldwide, it’s now changing the terms of that world order.
Instead of the World Bank — they don’t mind the World Bank but they’re marginal within it so they created the Asian infrastructure development bank that has 57 nations and half the money of the World Bank already.
You know, there’s NATO so they started the Shanghai Cooperation Agreement with Russia, an alternative structure. They’re creating an alternative universe. And that alternative universe is perfect for the likes of Erik Prince: Again, economic cooperation without any of the ideological trapping that the United States has insisted that’s a mark of the U.S. liberal regime — human rights, women’s rights, gay rights, environmental protection, labor protection. With China — none of that.
JS: I want to talk about the Philippines. Trump is very fond of Duterte, specifically for the very tactics and practices that much of the world condemns and human rights organizations investigate. What is it that Duterte offers someone like Trump?
AM: Duterte is emblematic of a generation of new style, populist political leaders of which Trump is a minor addition.
AM: And they thunder a nationalist rhetoric, they have undertones of extreme violence. So, for example, Putin who was in many ways the first of this generation, more or less publicly murders his opponents. He started off doing it kind of quietly. But then he got rather public just gunning people down in Moscow as a show of power.
Well, Duterte not only harasses his enemies, but he has unleashed the Philippine police in this drug war, which between the police and related vigilante organizations, has killed about 8,000 people so far. This was a source of a breach between President Obama and President Duterte. Trump whose own rhetoric of violence and nationalism is very much of that same kind.
JS: I can murder someone on Fifth Avenue and it wouldn’t change anything. Right.
AM: Or I can run the biggest drone strike in history in Yemen, I can bomb Syria.
JS: Drop the mother of all bombs in Afghanistan.
AM: Exactly. The spectacular pyrotechnic plays of violence, but, in the words: We’re a global power. We don’t do our violence at home, we do it abroad.
Duterte, a regional power with no geopolitical reach, does it at home. But it’s this intertwining of the nationalism, the power, the blunt speech and the violence that’s a testimony to the power.
And there’s a paradoxical effect by combining the — the nationalism, the aura of personal power, and the violence. The violence is critical for this. They have a way of intimidating and captivating people.
JS: The way that Trump and Jeff Sessions and others in that administration talk about the police, they really appeal to police forces, sheriff’s departments around the country and encouraging them, “Oh, when you’re putting their head in a car, don’t worry about if you smack it against there. In fact, push ’em hard, it’s fine, I told you, you can do it.”
AM: Trump is also dealing with a Republican form of politics that was invented by Ronald Reagan. Reagan picked up Nixon’s drug war, and he gave it two distinct dimensions: One, attacking coca in the Andes, and two, increasing domestic penalties so that the U.S. prison population doubled under Ronald Reagan.
Look, from 1930 to 1980, for 50 years, one figure didn’t change in American public life, from Depression through the boom years of Eisenhower, we had 100 prisoners per 100,000. Today we have 700 prisoners per 100,000. And there is a political logic that Reagan, in his genius, never articulated but practiced.
So, you sweep the inner cities, round up the African Americans, fill the prisons, 53 percent of the federal prisoners of the United States are in for nonviolent drug offenses.
When they’re incarcerated, they’re off the voter rolls. When they come out, in 17 states, I believe it is — it changes — they are disenfranchised for life. Where do you put your prisons? Upstate New York. Northern Wisconsin. Areas with dying populations, you pack thousands of inner-city people who are enumerated in the census. You count those prisoners in that electoral district, but they don’t get to vote.
So who gets the voting power? The prison guards who are very conservative. So, it’s a genius strategy of disenfranchisement of African-Americans. That’s the Republican electoral strategy. It’s a couple of percentage points but you play out of that margin district after district, and before you know it you’ve got majority control of most of the state legislatures in the United States, the U.S. Congress, the U.S. Senate. It works.
JS: What are your thoughts about the special prosecutor Robert Mueller and the line of inquiry regarding Trump-Russia collusion, the 2016 election. How do you see this in the big picture?
AM: Yeah, it’s a part of that eruption of Europe, of Russia and China. And it’s not only a physical eruption of Soviet forces coming into Georgia, Crimea, Ukraine but it’s also Russia beginning to penetrate politics in Europe and the United States.
And this penetration involves not only electoral manipulation but also the use of finance as a political weapon to court allies and build influence. And Mueller, I think, by following the money, is going to lay down a trail that shows collusion between the Kremlin, Russian oligarchs, their surplus capital and loans to key members of the Trump firms, the Trump family — a pattern of financial collusion and intertwining that’s a part of this new world order that we’ve been talking about. Just like China’s dealing with Erik Prince in this bizarre way that was unimaginable during the bifurcation of the Cold War — well, Russia is doing the same thing.
JS: Well I mean one of the parts of the book that Michael Wolff wrote, “Fire and Fury,” that was, you know, all the rage for a while. One part of it that I found interesting was Steve Bannon saying that all of this leads to money laundering. That he was sort of pooh-poohing the idea that there was a political collusion, and you’re tracing it back to the old, original sin: Let’s make as much money as we can.
AM: The two are complimentary. One, collusive packs among elites across the border to build up influence, going into business, making loans and then also, you know, this very powerful media machine that Russia has that Putin operates, that can influence public opinion and shape elections.
I mean, let’s not forget: Carnegie Mellon University did an interesting study that found between 1946 and the year 2000, there were I think about 100 consequential elections worldwide that were influenced by either Russia or the United States, the United States’ influence through penetration, disinformation, bribes, and funding. 70 percent of those elections influenced by foreign powers. This was part of the apparatus of U.S. global power during the Cold War.
And now that our power is waning, once a superpower, we manipulated other people’s elections, now, as a fading, declining power, our elections get manipulated like other countries.
JS: I know the last time that we had you on the show, we talked a bit about Trump being kind of a symptom or a symbol of the decline of the American empire. You sort of characterized it as Trump grew out of this, rather than Trump pushing this decline at a faster rate as the primary factor that we’re discussing. How do you see the Trump presidency in the broader context of the scholarship that you’ve done on American empire and your thesis that states that it is in decline and that it will actually decline to the point that it’s recognizable to ordinary people and across the world?
AM: Who is the Trump figure in past imperial decline? Sir Anthony Eden. OK? Sir Anthony Eden was a British aristocrat, he was Winston Churchill’s acolyte, he worked his way up through the conservative party and although he was fluent in Persian, he became obsessed with Nasser, Nasser threatened him, angered him, upset him and when Nasser nationalized the Suez Canal, Anthon Eden freaked out. He lost it. And he launched one of these desperate, dangerous military operations that are the sign of a dying, declining empire, that historians called “micro-militarism.”
He sent this massive military expedition to invade and occupy the Suez Canal. He lied to Parliament about it. He concealed it from his closest ally, shattered the U.S. Alliance, he destroyed Britain’s reputation. A carefully managed imperial recessional which allowed Britain to withdraw from the world, preserving its investments, retaining its military bases, where it wanted them, suddenly that all imploded. And when it was, in a matter of months, Sir Anthony Eden had transferred Britain from a strong power moving to a strong secondary status to a kind of toothless circus lion that would roll over whenever Washington cracked the whip. Trump is that kind of man. The damage he’s doing to U.S. foreign policy, the damage he’s doing to U.S. trade relations, not only presiding of the death of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, but now with his threatened trade war, thinking trade wars are good, that slapping these tariffs, 25 percent on steel, 10 percent on aluminum, China is actually the 10th largest steel exporter of the United States. Canada’s the largest. You go down the list — Germany’s a major one. Key allies.
You know this is an attack on the economic fabric of alliances, the trade that was such a critical part of U.S. global power since the end of World War II. I mean it’s a mindless attack on that that’s provoking a revolt within the ranks of his own Republican Party, but he may plunge ahead.
And then, you know, the capacity for some kind of ill-fated micro-military operation is disastrous as the British Suez — Trump’s capacity to do one of these things is still untested. We still have three more years to go.
JS: And on that, I sometimes wonder now that we’re a year into the Trump era, if Bernie Sanders were president, and you had multiple former recent directors of the CIA, the NSA, DNI, many of the neo-conservative architects of the Bush-era foreign policy, all of those entities are in concert together in attacking Donald Trump, and this gives credibility to the notion that’s floated by Trump allies that the deep state, quote-unquote, is against Trump.
But if Bernie Sanders was president, wouldn’t you and I be sitting here saying the deep state is trying to undermine Bernie Sanders? You’ve got former directors of the CIA in bed now with the MSNBC liberals, in bed with the neo-cons and they’re all attacking Bernie Sanders? I mean there’s all sorts of caveats that need to be in place there, but we would view this, I think, as career CIA people steeped in covert action trying to undermine the democratically elected president of the United States.
AM: I think would have happened to Sanders is what happened to Obama. That Obama was two things: He was a domestic progressive and he was a very traditional American architect of global power. In fact, I put Obama up there as one of the three great American geopolitical players who tried to extend and amplify U.S. global power.
Obama had the CIA right on site. You know, he went to CIA headquarters and announced, in that controversy over torture, that that’s the past and we’re moving on. “Forget it, you guys will not be prosecuted.” I mean he was solid with the intelligence agencies. Obama was very clever in realizing that U.S. global power was declining, the defense budget was essentially unsustainable at the level and so he made a very clever shift away from expensive, heavy military. Obama’s vision was seeing the Middle East because of U.S. energy independence as a geopolitical dead end. In other words: Pull out all the forces possible out of the Middle East, reposition them to rebuild the U.S. position along the axial ends of Eurasia.
Under Obama, the Pentagon committed themselves by 2020, just eighteen months from now, that they would have 60 percent of all U.S. naval, air, space, and cyber resources, concentrated in Asia, challenging and checking China. Well, under Trump, that’s not happening.
So, Obama played a very conservative, very skillful imperial hand. He was a brilliant architect of U.S. global power. And I think Sanders, being a rationalist, would have come to the same sort of opinion. I mean, what would the calculus have been? Well the calculus has been — OK, the Trans-Pacific Partnership, maybe retrograde, but you know what? China’s treaty is even worse: the qualified environmental protections, the somewhat compromised labor protections in the Trans-Pacific Partnership — well, China’s regional cooperation has none of them. So, we may not be great, but we’re better. And so that’s what would get people on the Democratic left to play along with the idea of maintaining U.S. global power.
JS: Well then, what’s behind this strange coalition that is trying to remove Trump from power?
AM: For democratic liberals in the United States, global power is manifest in the United Nations, the World Health Organization, the International Criminal Court, this liberal apparatus of the global community.
For conservatives, it’s manifest in the other side of it, the military, the trade, the power. But both of them the can agree that America should be a major international presence, should be a world leader and they debate about the tactics but everybody agrees on the strategy and Trump is the first president that’s challenged the strategy.
So almost anybody else, you know, I think Mike Pence, I think Hillary Clinton, I think Bernie Sanders, I mean, Elizabeth Warren — you can go on and name them, they would all more or less if they were in the office, they would do as Obama did as president. They would try and become the leaders, the organizers, the preservers of power.
What’s extraordinary about Trump is that he’s not. That it’s so fundamentally misguided, that even now, in his trade policy, his party is attacking him. They have to! Because it’s devastating. It’s absolutely irrational.
JS: You have to go on a moment to go teach a course on covert action, and I wanted to just, I want to ask you to give an overview of that course for people, because I wish that it could be provided to everyone in this country that we could sort of share your teaching with the world and not just students at the University of Wisconsin, but give an overview of that course that you’re now going to teach?
AM: Sure. Within the apparatus of U.S. global power, there was that delicate duality I was just talking about between the sort of the raw power of military trade and covert operations on the one hand, and then that liberal apparatus. The United States as a global power presided over the decolonization of the globe, transforming six overseas European empires into basically 100 new nations. So this created a fundamental contradiction at the heart of the U.S. global order. The United States stood up for the UN in which every nation in the world is a member and has absolute sovereignty, inviolable sovereignty, immune to foreign intervention. And yet, as the global hegemon, the United States had to exercise asymmetric power, had to intervene.
So how do you intervene in a world order that you’ve created when you can’t intervene? You do it covertly. You do it by surrogate armies when that’s necessary. You do it by coups. Between 1958 and 1965, about a quarter of the sovereign nations on the planet changed government via military coup. The CIA was behind most of them. And then there’s the electoral manipulation.
So what we look at is all of these instruments, and the instruments are many fold: one, psychological warfare; two, covert intervention — Iran, Guatemala. And then, over time a shift via the Internet to cyber warfare, space warfare as a part of the new architecture of U.S. global power. And we’re trying to understand: What is this covert realm? This covert netherworld? And it’s this metaphysical space where criminal syndicates, the traffic and drugs and intelligence agencies that operate covertly beyond the bounds of civil society, where they interpenetrate societies.
And during the Cold War, the Soviet Union, the United States, Britain, and France they all exercised their power covertly. And as we move into the 20th century, via cyber warfare, via covert operations, U.S. Special Operations Forces are operating at any given time in 75 percent of the countries on the planet, they are the latest adjunct to this covert operettas: 70,000 strong, they give the CIA and the intelligence community boots on the ground in 140 countries in the world over the last couple of years. At any given time, they’re operating worldwide.
So we’re going to see in the 21st century, I think is more and more covert operations, the kind that we’ve seen Putin exercising, the grey men that turn up in Ukraine and in Crimea that are the cutting edge, that are sort of off-the-shelf military, the media apparatus that’s manipulating, penetrating elections in the United States.
And this part of this geopolitical contestation is going to be increasingly covert.
JS: Well, Al McCoy, thank you for giving us a seminar here that we can share with people across the country and across the world. We’ll let you get to your actual classroom. Thanks so much for joining us again on Intercepted.
AM: Jeremy, it’s been a real pleasure as always.
JS: Al McCoy is the Harrington professor of history at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He’s the author of several books. His latest is: “In the Shadows of the American Century: The Rise and Decline of U.S. Global Power.”
Immortal Technique: They got a new housing plan for the ghetto eventually, projects for a New American century, false-flag terrorism controlling you mentally, the gospel in the hands of people with no empathy, a mixture of dangerous social chemistry, between law enforcement and a military entity. Cameras on a corner of every corner you’re facing, testing out a future Gestapo on immigration. Power consolidation, information restricted, just like the iron law of oligarchy predicted. Incarcerating the poor among the drug addicted, but not the families of the ruling class that’s afflicted, because it’s a fucking caste system like corrupted Hinduism. I think you should listen, I’ve been to the system, I’ve been through prison, I carry the cross as a Christian for antidisestablishmentarianism, until the seeds of despotism arrested my vision, lyricism with cynicism and syllogisms, until they Pedro Albizu Campos and kill me in prison, chem trail conditions, stem cells of Leo Strauss’s philosophy, the birth of neo-con policy, but I laugh at America’s fear of a New World Order controlling the hemisphere, because my people been living that shit for the past 500 years.
JS: Those are the worlds of Felipe Coronel, now he’s better known as Immortal Technique. He’s a hip-hop artist whose work is actually rooted in some of the same history and life experience that Al McCoy has documented and unearthed throughout his career as a historian. Having been directly influenced by what our colleague Juan Gonzalez calls “The Harvest of Empire,” Immortal Technique was born in Peru but he came to Harlem in the 1980s, his family settled there. And that was a time when the U.S. was waging its dirty wars throughout Central and Latin America.
Peru itself was the subject of U.S. imperial influence and interference. In the 1990s, the CIA backed the feared national intelligence service in Peru that was run by Vladimiro Montesinos. He was the corrupt de facto chief of secret police under President Alberto Fujimori.
Immortal Technique’s music often tells the stories of people of struggle: of covert wars, guerrilla warfare and it’s deeply rooted in the experiences of the people of the global south and the actions of the U.S. government and its allies. Immortal Technique finished high school at a top public school in New York City and he was ready to begin his studies at Penn State, but after a series of violent episodes in the 1990s, he was imprisoned after being hit with multiple aggravated assault charges. He ended up serving a 1 to 2-year sentence before returning to New York on parole in 1999, and it was during his time in prison that Immortal Technique began to hone his political knowledge and principles and he was inspired by the economic and colonial struggles and revolutionary uprisings in Latin America, Africa and elsewhere across the globe. And he poured himself into the study of U.S. imperialism.
Through rap battles and his first two albums, they were titled: “Revolutionary Vol. 1″ and “Revolutionary Vol. 2,” he gained a huge following, particularly for an unsigned hip-hop artist. His lyrics on the album “The Third World” are often brutal, biting and they weave in the history and actions of colonial forces, racist, domestic and foreign policy, U.S. imperialism and ultimately capitalism.
On several occasions, Immortal Technique has dropped full-length albums on the internet for free, and he travels the U.S. and the world performing not just in concert venues but also at protests and demonstrations, including at Standing Rock against the Dakota Access Pipeline.
IT: (Performing at Standing Rock.) Genocide pros like old hickories, the green leaves all made of bigotry. The Fed, the Reserve, ain’t shit to me. It’s symmetry to tyranny with freedom as its imagery, so I’m firing artillery at every possibility. When my moment comes, fuck sympathy. You just keep fighting with dignity. I love you!
JS: Immortal Technique is now in the studio finishing up work on his highly anticipated album, “The Middle Passage.”
And Immortal Technique joins me now. Welcome to Intercepted.
IT: Thank you very much for having me here at Intercepted.
JS: Before we get started talking about politics and the State of the music industry, I just wanted to share with people a story that I think about so much, and at some point last year, you and I were talking and you said, “Hey, I’m working on a new track for my forthcoming album, but I want to do some fact-checking on it.”
IT: Yeah. That’s right.
JS: And you came in, and then we pulled together people that have knowledge on different topics relating to war and mercenaries, etc. I don’t know, is that a common thing in the hip-hop world, where you go and fact-check your album?
IT: No. Not at all. Not at all, but that song is off “The Middle Passage” and it’s called “Contract Killers” and it was basically off the idea that the left and right-wing communities have this thing in common where they want to call something by a different name. Right? However, just expressing it how it is dangerous in the political atmosphere because the name itself is, it has the aura of horror.
So if you say, “Oh, we’re going to send 50,000 mercenaries to Afghanistan, well then it sounds like you’re sending a bunch of killers and thieves who aren’t beholden to any Geneva Convention and they’re just going to go there and shoot things up. But if you say, “Yo, we’re going to send contractors,” well then it sounds like you’re sending license professionals with white hats that are going to build stuff for people. It does have an air of ringing false. And it wasn’t just you that I spoke to. I also spoke to lots of people who are ex-military, who had gotten into the contracting game and told me exactly why they did it, what the purpose of that. I learned a lot from talking to these people and from talking to the people in this office, too.
[“Bin Laden” by Immortal Technique plays.]
IT: You’re right, maybe more rappers should fact check, but I think that hip-hop has always had this loose air of, it’s the bastard child of jazz and the blues, it comes out, you know, with this sort of spontaneity where sometimes people are rapping about shit that’s not even real or it’s not true.
But I think you make a distinction between fantasy and when you’re doing lyrics like that, and in between music like I guess what I do.
JS: You know, I’m a big fan of the late folk singer Phil Ochs, who probably his most famous album was called, “All the News That’s Fit To Sing.”
Phil Ochs: (Singing “One More Parade”) So young, so strong, so ready for the war. So willing to go and die on a foreign shore. All march together, everybody looks the same. So there is no one you can blame. Don’t be ashamed. Light the flame, one more parade.”
JS: He was a radical guy who used his platform as a singer, and this was generations and generations ago, but he also was sort of a journalist of sorts in the work that he did in music. I see you as a kind of descendant of that tradition also, where you can listen to some of your albums and you cover so much historical and political ground that it’s something between a hybrid of a teacher and a journalist.
Is there any way in which you see yourself in that way?
IT: Well, I mean in terms of being a teacher I guess there’s some literal component to that. I started teaching a couple of years ago and a place called Horizons. There used to be two youth detention facilities here in New York, one was Spofford, which was notorious for human rights abuses and torture and COs hurting people, kids getting cut and raped and all kinds of stuff, and then there was another one, Horizons and I started teaching there with my friend Carmen Perez, and this was arranged by Mr. Belafonte. He understood that I came from a background where I was incarcerated as a child and perhaps it would be easier to get through to a lot of the kids there.
We share a similarity, you know? We know that even though we may come out of this unscathed in the eyes of other inmates, prison did leave us with something that we never really speak about, even the big scary motherfuckers, everybody had to get naked in front of another man on command every time that you had a visit. You know? People were allowed to touch your stuff and touch you at any particular time they felt so capable to do. And for a grown man, even a very big scary-looking dude, that’s absolutely humiliating and denigrating.
Now, you can make the argument that these people did something humiliating and denigrating to someone else. However, I think that what we miss is the way that we act in this country versus how we act in other places and even the reversal of that. Right? So let’s say that there’s a guy who holds his family hostage in a cab tomorrow, and he says, “I’m going to shoot my wife and children, I’m going to shoot this cab driver and the person in the in the passenger seat unless you give me everything I want.” And the cops came. And instead of talking the guy down, they came and dropped a bomb on his car and shot everybody inside. They wouldn’t be in The New York Daily News as heroes the next day. They say, “Cops fumble hostage situation, kill everybody.”
And then you start to realize that that’s exactly what we do overseas. That we’re not interested in getting the bad guys, we’re interested in getting everyone that could potentially be a bad guy. And when you start doing that, you start playing God.
And in many ways, we had this conversation earlier when I came here, about metadata and how that was used as the primary tool for locking in drone target strikes, and how the legacy of Obama is something that’s glanced over. And yes, there are a lot of artists who give him a lot of praise and it’s great to have the image of someone that looks like you in a position of power. And I understand that — believe me, I’m from Harlem, people were celebrating when he was elected. And believe me, the people who argue the hardest with me are not black people, they’re white liberals who need to hold on to that instead of acknowledging that everyone in some way shape or form has been affected by racism and you just choose to not acknowledge yours because you think that being a fan of a black president does that for you.
Well, then I’ll tell you the same thing that I told Obama: If you really do think black lives matter, sure I can hold up pictures of Trayvon, Mike Brown and a series of other people, but you know what brother? You know that I got lots of other pictures and you got those pictures too, of other little brown and black faces from East Africa and from the Middle East that were blown apart by drone strikes that were caused by that administration and not just that, but then I get to hear the same excuses that racist white people make about young black children from white Democrats about why these children needed to get blown up on a beach in Gaza somewhere! Or on a mountain range in Afghanistan! As if you just didn’t do what those cops did when they shot that entire family in the cab. And, you know, as an artist it was the ability to have, you know, a complete thought or sentence, then moving forward into a concept and then into an entire story that took structure within, you know, some kind of rhythmic pentameter but without substance, the people don’t gravitate to that.
[“The 4th Branch” by Immortal Technique plays.]
JS: Talk about the story of your growing up and how you ended up going from, how you ended up being born in Peru, but also how you ended up in Harlem.
IT: For me, it’s kind of a crazy story that my family was living through a time in which there was like a virtual civil war between these Maoist paramilitary guerrillas and these paid mercenaries from the CIA, and people who were involved in a right-wing political structure in Peru, under the dictator, Alberto Fujimori, and before him, a series of other people who were extremely brutal and cold to the indigenous people such as Alan Garcia.
[Shouts of protestors in Peru]
IT: But regardless, my father said that it wasn’t just the military issue that caused the problem, that it was an economic issue. And he said that Peru at that particular time was experiencing almost 1,200 percent inflation a year.
Now, I think that people in this country don’t really understand what that means. So, I guess, for the younger people I’m just going to break it down for you like this: Imagine going to the store with $100, and they tell you your $100 bill is worth only $20, and then you go to the store a couple of months later and that $100 bill is now only worth $5, and then the next time you go a couple months later, they laugh at you and they say, “We don’t even use these bills anymore. What are you talking about? They’re worthless. Go have — good look at the bank trading those for some relevant currency now.” So, in order to find peace and quiet and economic stability, my dad moved us to Harlem in the 1980s. And believe me, there was a little bit more stability, some hot water came out when you turn the faucet, but there wasn’t really like some peace of mind. You know I mean? Like when I played, I played in the park in front of Grant projects, we used to build castles with the crack vials like that, just all kinds of crazy stuff.
[“Goonies Never Die” by Immortal Technique plays]
IT: I did a lot of really ignorant things, and that’s why I always tell people, especially when I talk about young artists or young people, I reserve my judgment on them because I remember, look, when I was nineteen I was subway surfing, and we were just wild-ass kids, like writing graffiti, jumping, you know, into manholes when we got chased by the cops.
So believe me, yeah I lived a really reckless and irresponsible life. But also I learned a lot of really valuable lessons. I learned very, very early about drug addiction. I saw crackheads, I saw people in the street and I said to myself, “Listen, dude, I might smoke a little weed and drink a beer here and there but I’m not down with this. I’m sorry.”
Believe me, I was not a choirboy. I was robbing people with a mask on. You know? If you’re sitting there harmlessly getting high by yourself and the only person that you’re endangering is yourself, that’s, you know, a little bit step above where the fuck I was. And I think that’s one of the biggest lessons that I got from seeing all those things in Harlem. That I said to myself: Wow, OK, well now it helps me understand other things that when these school shootings are so shocking versus children getting blown up in Syria or Iraq or somewhere and the difference is that in our fuckin’, twisted minds this government has taught us to believe that that should be happening.
The reason it’s so shocking that it happened in Florida is because it’s not supposed to happen there. The reason we’re not shocked when all those kids die in Syria is because it should be happening there, it’s supposed to happen there. You know? And I’m not saying that we think it, maliciously, like it should be happening, ha ha ha, but we think of it as if it’s just something that was always happening, as if we didn’t create those tumultuous situations in the developing world, which is ironic because the developing world is also code for a country that we destabilized and destroyed and stole the natural resources from during the 20th century, who’s now finally recovering from that and a million different —the worst record deal in the world. You know I mean? It’s just like, what the fuck can you possibly say about it?
JS: The first two albums that you released were “Revolutionary: Vol. 1″ and “Revolutionary: Vol. 2″ and, “Vol. 1″ was written in prison, if I recall. Is that correct? Or part of it?
IT: Yeah, a big percentage of it, and even one or two songs from “Vol. 2″ I kind of conceptualized there.
JS: What landed you in prison?
IT: Well I’mma be honest with you, when I was a kid I got robbed when I was about twelve years old, by people with razors. So, I had learned to box but I’d never learned to fight multiple people, and I didn’t really learn to fight with weapons until I was a teenager. So, I went to go study jiu-jitsu. I told my mom, “Listen, Mom, I’m going to go get a gun or I’m going to have to learn to fight.”
And my mom was like, terrified, she didn’t want me to go get a gun, so she sent me to study jiu-jitsu and I just learn to fight really well. You know, I had a very short temper and I think a lot of it was contributed by my own ego and by my inability to look past other people’s insecurities. Because I think one of the main reasons that I ever got into fights with people is because they made fun of me for going to a good school or for being smart. And I still think that’s a big problem, not just in the black and Latino community, but in the community among children in general.
JS: Yeah, you went to high school with Chris Hayes.
IT: Being smart is not cool. Yeah, I went to school with him, with Lin Manuel-Miranda, with a lot of people that apparently were terrified of me when I was a kid. But my life was so different than a lot of the people I went to school with. Like I went home to Harlem in the ’80s and ’90s, you know what I mean? Which was not a gentrified paradise that it is now, quote-unquote.
[“Harlem Streets & Obnoxious” by Immortal Technique plays.]
IT: So, when I was living in that kind of world, in that mentality I felt everything got resolved with fighting. I identified with the idea that conflict was necessary for personal growth, instead of saying, no, no, it’s not conflict it’s necessary, it’s your inner conflict that’s necessary for personal growth: not punching people in the face, but coming to terms with why you feel as enraged as you do until you start to recognize that your personality is a combination of all of these traumas and these victories and these positive and negative things that you’ve experienced in your life. So when you peel away the positive and the negative, you ask yourself: Who are you really as a person? Are you a good person? Are you a bad person? Are you selfish at your core? What are you?
And, you know what I mean? I guess I had to have everything in my life stripped away from me to learn that.
JS: When you titled the two albums, “Revolutionary: Vol. 1″ and “Revolutionary: Vol. 2,” did you already view yourself as a committed revolutionary when you, when those albums were released?
IT: The title of “revolutionary” is one that we hear people use in car commercials nowadays, so it’s lost —
JS: Well, we also hear Martin Luther King [Jr.] in Dodge Ram commercials, so —
IT: — its impact and security. So, I went to school with a lot of theater kids. Right? So I learned about theater. And there’s three walls: There’s the backstage, there’s left and right and then they call this the fourth wall. The fourth wall is when you break it open, and you say to yourself: OK, I’m going to talk to the audience. The fifth wall is when you say to yourself: No, I’m not just going to be an actor in this drama, I’m going to be a participant, I’m going to be a revolutionary. I’m not going to be just a reactionary; I’m going to be a person that’s proactive about the things that I’m doing. And I want to get my message out there to people, whether that’s educating them, whether that’s supporting artists’ collectives, whether that’s just working with homeless shelters, donating to shelters where women are abused and hiding there with their kids, whatever we could do with this.
But then, of course, what’s the sixth wall? Well, the sixth wall is when you don’t have to do these things anymore, but now your music has influenced people to do their own version of these revolutionary actions.
[“The Martyr” by Immortal Technique plays]
JS: One of my favorite tracks you’ve ever done is “The Martyr,” actually. And I love the way that you weave history and politics, and you seem to also find, in a kind of Howard Zinn-type way, off-the-beaten-path stories and then bring them into the modern time. But talk about the song, “The Martyr,” and what you were doing there.
IT: I think I just wanted to show people that a revolutionary isn’t a person that necessarily has a pedigree. They don’t necessarily have to have a mother and father who were revolutionaries. They were average, ordinary people who just got up one day and said, “I’ve had enough. No. This is, this is bullshit. This shouldn’t be this way.”
I think “The Martyr” was sort of way of saying that if we don’t fear death, right? Then what’s to stop us from doing anything? You know, if you knew that you wouldn’t fail doing something, what would you do? You know? What would you finally accomplish in our lives? And it kind of told a story of an economic downturn in America. You know, saying: OK, if you going to tell me communism failed, then technically didn’t capitalism fail because we had to bail ourselves out?
You know it’s kind of like playing a video game and you say, “I don’t like the way the game is going right now, so I’m going to change it.” Well, wait a minute. Didn’t you just cheat? OK, well then everyone else is allowed to cheat.
And when a government that’s, happens to be from a socialist or communist perspective fails, we automatically blame the economic system, not the regime. And yet when it’s a capitalistic system, we automatically blame the regime and not the system.
Well, I mean, even the laws of Newton don’t work in certain areas, I remind people. If it’s a subatomic particle or it’s a planetary-sized thing, the numbers don’t add up. If it’s a ball rolling down a fuckin’, a little hill in a classroom somewhere, well then Newton’s numbers seem to add up perfectly.
But revolutionary politics don’t live in a vacuum. You know? They are personal issues, there are people that have their own agendas, and I think that the empire or whatever imperial force understands that, and they’ve understood more about people and how to manipulate them than ever in the past. They know how to isolate individuals to work towards them or against them. So I, they’ve had a lot of experience dealing with revolutionaries over the years, so they know how to.
The question is that when you finally do become a martyr, who writes your legacy? So I figured I’d write my own.
[“The Martyr” by Immortal Technique plays.]
JS: In “Peruvian Cocaine” you use samples from Scarface, and parts of it are told from the perspective of people on the ground, who are part of this transnational drug trade that is, the profits are ultimately being reaped in the United States and you know among certain cartel leaders, but talk about that style of sort of putting yourself into the life experience of someone that you’re telling the story of.
IT: Sometimes that’s the only way that you can tell that story because the person begins to identify with you as a human being, and it also says something about people that have lived next to people for so long and know absolutely nothing about them.
“I’m on the border of Bolivia, working for pennies, treated like a slave.”
[“Peruvian Cocaine” by Immortal Technique plays.]
IT: The idea that the people who are involved in this trade make any money on the ground is nonsense. They live in abject servitude. These are people who basically are living in a condition of slavery, being forced to make this product somewhere in the mountains or in the jungle, and then the benefits are definitely reaped by an upper class of people that are here. The thing that’s never talked about though I think is that there have been a lot of successes from countries that have legalized these substances, legalized weed, legalized everything, because then it takes the power out of those people’s hands who run that kind of, you know, underworld society.
And it also takes away from the power of the CIA and other people who pay people in those formats. You know what I mean? That can’t be discussed enough: the ’60s, ’70s, ’80s, even up to the ’90s, what was going on in Central and South America with the drug trade, and its close links to our government’s infrastructure, and the secret societies that are inside our own government.
JS: You were at Standing Rock, you’ve been to Afghanistan, you’ve been to Haiti, you do a lot of traveling. How do you see your role in all of these struggles where you, you visit, you’re on the ground, sometimes you’re performing to boost the voices of other people but sometimes you’re there as —
JS: — as a humanitarian on the ground, as in the case of Afghanistan.
IT: There, and even in Standing Rock I did a performance, but for the other week that I was there all I did was work as a taxi. I basically ferried activists back and forth. Did whatever they needed. “Do you need…?” “We need a supply run.” And I said, “Alright, cool,” would bring two people with me and we went and got supplies.
I think that the question is a very, very good one because it gives me an opportunity to tell people around the world on this show, that if you’re going somewhere to do an action it’s really the best thing to take direction from the local people that are there and understand the situation a lot better than you do. I know that you have dreams and aspirations of helping, but unless you’re willing to help them and what they need, you’re not really there for them, you’re there for you and that’s not what it should be. You should be there for them if that’s what you’re doing and you want to be sincere about it.
So other than risking your life unnecessarily or doing things that would put your family in harm, it’s better to take your cues from those people who understand the situation that they’re dealing with. And, instead of going there and saying, “Hey, I’ve come here to lead you to freedom,” you know, you go there and you say, “Hey, how can I help? What do you need from me?”
And, you know, that’s the reason why I had such a positive relationship with the people in Haiti because I had no secrets. I said, “Yeah, I’m just here to help out.” “Where are you from?” “I’m from Peru, and dah dah dah.” Je parle français un peu [“I speak a little French”], so I had a good conversation with them.
But they also told me that people were stealing their children out of the rubble, and they had a song called, “Où Est les Enfants?” — “Where Are the Children?” And they said the children have been stolen.
And no one believed them until the story broke a year later on CNN, Fox, MSNBC, that foreign aid workers were stealing children for the purposes of selling them into sexual servitude and somewhere in Eastern Europe or somewhere in Southeast Asia.
And that’s a sad reality. And unless you’re going to listen to only mainstream news and you’re not going to be in a place like this or somewhere else that gives you kind of unfiltered shit.
JS: I wanted to get your take on this label that now is being spread around as a kind of new emerging threat, the black identity extremists, that Jeff Sessions and the Justice Department are applying to, presumably to any black people who protest against police killings of black people.
IT: I tell people not to oversimplify things because they’re very complicated, but I think this one is very simple. For those of you who are still confused and say: Well, how can a person who is that small-minded be in a position of power? It’s because one monkey doesn’t stop the show. And even though we have one monkey in the White House, he needs other monkeys to keep the show. So, one monkey is not going to stop the show.
Jeff Sessions is a bitter racist and that’s his character, that’s who he is. It doesn’t matter what he says in the hearings, that’s who that person is. And in his mind, if he can do anything to make the lives of the people that he looks down upon any harder, he will.
He is the person who still thinks that drug addiction is a moral failing, rather than a disease. He’s a person who’s behind in just about anything, and he was put there only because he guaranteed Trump these low-info voters or no college, white-collar votes that really kind of voted against their own interest.
I mean that’s one interesting thing about the concept of revolution. You know, white people in this country, they need revolution, too. They’ve been taken advantage of. When we talk about the seven-day work week, and if you’re white and you’re listening to this, and you say to yourself, Well, what is this guy talking about?
OK, well let me ask you something: The fact that your wife isn’t forced to lose her job or go to work when she’s pregnant, that you only have to work 40 hours a week and you aren’t forced to work 80 hours, that your children don’t have to go to work instead of school? Where is that filed in American history? Is that in the “commie” section, or is that in the “rich people taking advantage of poor white people by keeping them fuckin’ stupid and ignorant” section, because that’s where it should be?
So we all need revolution in some way shape or form. But I think that besides a physical one, an economic one, I think that people of color and white people would both benefit from a cultural revolution. Someone to realize, OK, my real enemy this entire time has not been these poor people, it’s been these people that have been keeping me like a dog this whole time and sticking me on these poor black people, when, in reality, they just tested all these illegal laws on them, and now they’re testing them on us. Now we’re the real prize! They’re just testing this on immigrants and everybody else: Can we throw them in jail?
Or what about the FEMA camps we were screaming about on Alex Jones’ channel. I went there and I talked to him. This was before he was a Trumper, you know when I just wanted to break down things. I said, “Well, what about the FEMA stuff? Where are the people that are talking about that now?” It’s on YouTube when I asked him. I was like, “What about the FEMA …?”
The problem is, people are cheering, now that the FEMA camp or that immigration detention facility is full of people, just brown people. But, you see they’re being denied human rights, civil rights. There’s a piece of paper that says that they don’t deserve these things. Well, what if I take away your piece of paper now?
See, you haven’t thought about the end game. You know? You’re sitting there crying about losing a pawn, you don’t realize that your queen is in danger, your king’s being pushed into checkmate, your rooks are gone. You know what I mean? The bishops are running the board, which they shouldn’t be. The knights have no idea how to move. Your game is a mess! And you’re not going to win anything by doing this!
And the question then becomes, what are we trying to win? Where are we trying to move as a human society? Are we going towards the direction where we just accept that we’re a brutal race of killers and a blood-soaked ape?
Is that what we are? A superstitious, blood-soaked ape? Is that we’re gonna be, like the moniker. Is that the future? Because if that’s it, then it’s sad, and it’s pathetic. And, you know, do we really deserve existence? That’s the great question. And does existence somehow imply spiritual immortality, you know? That’s the scary part.
But it’s scary for different people. For some people that like life, man the idea that when you die and there’s just the blackness, that’s horrible, that’s frightening but for some people that have done nothing but suffer their whole fuckin’ life here on this planet, you have to realize that that’s a blessing to them: the blackness. To not come back. To not do this over again. You know?
You know the reason you’re scared of not doing this over again? Because you had a decent life. But if you had a really fucked up life and you’re listening to this program and you’re thinking, “Man, it’s like I shouldn’t even be here: Well, now you know how everybody else in the world feels.”
But I got good news for you: That there’s a way out of that hole. And there’s a way out of every hole. And I think the way that I got out of my hole is not just by burying myself in work, but honestly, Jeremy, by confronting all the negative things that I had done. And not just confronting the things that I had done, but the mentality that I took when I did them.
So then, the tears of freedom, you know I mean? Not tears like, lágrimas coming out of your eyes, but, no, tears, that’s another thing I learned, absorbed: OK, I thought I was free outside. Nah, nah, nah, nah, nah. Fuck. Nah, nah, nah. I have all these limitations on life.
Well now I’m thrown in jail and now I think, well, now I lost my freedom. Well, wait a minute? Now they threw me in the hole. Shit! Now I really lost my freedom. I’m in here 23 hours a day, I don’t see the sun, I’m only allowed to talk to one person who is a trustee, who happens to come by. You know? And now I’m out, I’m out of the hole, and I think I’m free? No. I’m still in jail.
Well, now I get out of jail, and I think I’m free, well I’m still on parole. Naw, I get off parole, I think I’m free, and then no.
Hell no, you ain’t free motherfucker! Nothing’s free! How ’bout that? Welcome to America. You think you’re free? No, no, no, no. Welcome to America. Nothing’s free. Including you. You know? And the only free lunch is you. You’re somebody’s free lunch, motherfucker. That’s what it is, man!
So, I mean, I just wonder about the direction that this country is going, and I think that “The Middle Passage” is a record that doesn’t just talk about problems, but it talks about some solutions. And I think that’s one of the things that people have been really waiting on: to hear about the problems and also to hear commentary about what I think some of the solutions to these problems are going to be, which I’m hoping to get across as well as I can.
JS: Immortal Technique, thanks so much for being with us on Intercepted.
IT: Thank you very much for having me here.
JS: Immortal Technique is an independent hip-hop artist and one of the most successful underground rappers in history. Check out all of his work and be on the lookout for the new album “The Middle Passage.” It’s supposed to come out sometime later this year.
JS: And that does it for this week’s show. If you’re not yet a sustaining member of Intercepted, log onto theintercept.com/join. Sam Sabzehzar is our honorary producer, and we thank you for your generous support.
Intercepted is a production of First Look Media and The Intercept. We’re distributed by Panoply. Our producer is Jack D’Isidoro, and our executive producer is Leital Molad. Laura Flynn is associate producer. Elise Swain is our assistant producer and graphic designer. Emily Kennedy does our transcripts. Rick Kwan mixed the show. Special thanks to the crew at Wisconsin Public Radio in Madison. Our music, as always, was composed by DJ Spooky.
Until next week, I’m Jeremy Scahill.