Donald Trump is waging a political counterinsurgency. This week on Intercepted: Columbia University professor Bernard Harcourt lays out the multidecade history of paramilitarized politics in the U.S., how the tactics of the war on terror have come back to American soil, and why no one talks about drone strikes anymore. Academy Award-winning director Michael Moore talks about his recent visit from the FBI in connection to the pipe bomb packages and who he thinks should run against Trump in 2020. Journalist and lawyer Josie Duffy Rice analyzes the battle over vote counts in Florida and Georgia, the Republican campaign to suppress black voters, the gutting of the Voting Rights Act, and why she isn’t protesting the firing of Jeff Sessions. Jeremy Scahill explains why Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer need to go away.
Announcer: The Great American Grizzly introducing the original Trumpy bear.
Werner Herzog: And what haunts me is that in all the faces of all the bears, I discover no kinship.
Donald J. Trump: CNN should be ashamed of itself having you working for them.
WH: No understanding, no mercy.
DJT: You are a rude, terrible person. You shouldn’t be working for CNN.
WH: I see only the overwhelming indifference of nature.
DJT: That’s such a racist question. Honestly, I mean, I know you have it written down, and you’re going to tell me. Let me tell you: It’s a racist question.
WH: This blank stare speaks only of a half-bored interest in food.
DT: Where’s the pizza? How good is the pizza? I’ve heard great things.
WH: And all of a sudden this.
DT: What a stupid question that is. What a stupid question. But I watch you a lot, you ask a lot of stupid questions.
Announcer: Trumpy, the most fearless bear anywhere. Order now.
Jeremy Scahill: This is Intercepted.
I’m Jeremy Scahill, coming to you from the offices of The Intercept in New York City. And this is episode 74 of Intercepted.
DJT: I really believe she deserves that position. I also believe that Nancy Pelosi and I can work together and get a lot of things done along with Mitch and everybody else that we have to work with. I think we’ll get a lot done.
JS: I want to begin today by sharing with you the political position of someone who has absolutely no business running any institution that claims to be fighting against the authoritarianism of the Trump presidency.
Nancy Pelosi: We will have accountability and we will strive for bipartisanship, with fairness on all sides. We have a responsibility to find our common ground where we can, stand our ground where we can’t, but we must try. We’ll have a bipartisan marketplace of ideas that makes our democracy strong.
JS: That of course is the current House Minority Leader, Nancy Pelosi. Anyone who thinks that this administration is participating in the democratic marketplace for ideas is making clear that they do not understand how serious the battle is that we face right now in this country. Nancy Pelosi has been in power for 16 years. She was already speaker of the house and she has repeatedly refused to take any actions that would have held the Bush Administration responsible for its widespread crimes. Not the least of which was the invasion and occupation of Iraq or the global torture program. But you know who wants to have Nancy Pelosi as House Speaker? Yeah, this guy.
DJT: Nancy Pelosi — and I give her a lot of credit. She works very hard and she’s worked long and hard. I give her a great deal of credit for what she’s done and what she’s accomplished.
JS: Here’s the truth about Nancy Pelosi. She is an empire politician. When the emperor — whether it’s Bush, Obama, or Trump — wants to expand the state’s authorities, wants to expand the military budget, wants to conduct mass surveillance, Nancy Pelosi has aided and abetted them.
She voted for the PATRIOT Act. She voted for the blank check for the Bush-Cheney borderless war. She took impeachment off the table for Bush just as she’s doing for Trump. And now despite the ripping of children from their parents and locking them in cages, despite a disturbing rise in extremist right-wing violence and terror, despite the clear and blatant corruption of this administration, despite the declaration of the news media as an enemy of the people, Nancy Pelosi says she’s ready to find common ground with Donald Trump. This position makes no sense for anyone who truly believes that this moment we are in presents a clear and present danger, puts us at a dangerous turning point in the history of this country.
But it does make sense for an empire politician, especially an extremely wealthy one like Nancy Pelosi.
Trevor Hill: — If you think we could make a more stark contrast to right-wing economics?
NP: Well, I thank you for your question. But I have to say we’re capitalists and that is the way it is.
JS: That position from Pelosi is not shocking. It’s just true. It’s just a fact. She would represent a predictable safe loyal opposition for Trump and Mike Pence and that’s why Trump endorsed her for House Speaker. You know, who else needs to go? Chuck Schumer. This man is a political charlatan who consistently carries water for the worst actors in U.S. politics.
Chuck Schumer: I’ve always believed — I urged President Clinton, President Bush, President Obama, and President Trump to move the embassy because Israel should decide where its capital is and I continue to do that with every president.
JS: Schumer and Pelosi need to either step aside or be taken down by politicians with actual spines. Congress and the Democratic party are not the epicenter of the fight against this administration. Now, they should be. But that’s not who they are. But there is a real opportunity here. Because the Democrats took back the house, they should call Trump’s bluff when he waxes on about how he’s going to retaliate if they ratchet up investigations into him, his businesses, his administration, and all of his shady associates.
DJT: They can play that game, but we can play it better. Because we have a thing called the United States Senate.
JS: Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer are not going to do what needs to be done. And that is taking the gloves off, using the subpoena power left, right, and center and bringing the full powers that come with controlling the House of Representatives into a direct war with this administration.
CS: 90-95 percent of the time we’ll be holding his feet to the fire and holding him accountable. But we’re Democrats. We’re not going to just oppose things to oppose them.
JS: “We’re not going to oppose things just to oppose them.” See that’s the problem here. This is war. It’s a war for this country. And for the rich and powerful, Democrats and Republicans, this is just politics. You know what, some things must be opposed because they are wrong and no deal that you could make would ever remedy that. And when you make a deal with someone like Trump, you legitimize the oppressors and you act like they are honest brokers.
But Schumer and Pelosi are empire politicians completely wed to the Washington game. That’s why you can have these little Kumbaya moments between the leader of the Democrats and Donald Trump.
NP: As we go forward, we want as I said an open Congress, a bipartisan Congress, a unifying Congress. We are not here to divide. We’re here to unify.
DJT: I really think and I really respected what Nancy said last night about bipartisanship and getting together and uniting. She used the word uniting and she used the bipartisanship statement which is so important because that’s what we should be doing.
JS: Now Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is a vile creature. But he’s a vile creature who knows how to fight and he has been able to win repeatedly. And Mitch McConnell made clear what his priorities were following Barack Obama’s election in 2008.
Sen. Mitch McConnell: Our top political priority over the next two years should be to deny President Obama a second term.
JS: Mitch McConnell understands what the Pelosi’s and Schumer’s of this country do not understand. For non-powerful people in this country, this isn’t politics. This is life or death. If they really understand the stakes right now in this country the first order of business for the Democrats in Congress should be to clear their house of the Pelosi-Schumer appeasement machine and elect new leaders who actually get it.
Now, I don’t think any politician has a perfect position or a flawless track record, but there are a lot of them who better understand the moment we are in than Schumer and Pelosi. California Democrat Barbara Lee, for example. She was literally the only member of Congress, either house, to vote against the 2001 Authorization for the Use of Military Force.
Rep. Barbara Lee: Now this resolution will pass, although we all know that the president can wage a war even without it. However difficult this vote may be, some of us must urge the use of restraint. Our country is in a state of mourning. Some of us must say, “Let’s step back for a moment. Let’s just pause just for a minute and think through the implications of our actions today so that this does not spiral out of control.”
JS: That was an incredible act of principle and bravery. And Barbara Lee received dozens of death threats because of it. She has consistently fought against the war machine. She supports Medicare for All. She wants to tax Wall Street. She wants to ban private prisons and when ICE, the Immigration and Customs Enforcement, was created in 2002, Barbara Lee voted against it. Before it became the oppressive thug squad that it’s become, Barbara Lee was against it.
Now she isn’t perfect. For instance, she voted for the bank bailout, but she does have a long track record of being right before it’s politically expedient. See the recent discussion on Yemen, for example. Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer, they have the opposite record on many, many crucial issues. We’re never going to get a truly revolutionary figure leading the Democratic party certainly not as it currently exists. Corporations have far too much control over the U.S. electoral system and members of Congress. The elites and bankrollers of the Democratic Party have too much power. The process is rigged in favor of the status quo, legacy politicians, but that doesn’t mean we cannot seek out the best that this flawed corporatist party can offer at this urgent moment.
And that is not Nancy Pelosi and it’s not Chuck Schumer. They have repeatedly shown that they are incapable and unwilling to rise to the occasion and they need to go. Anyone who believes you can find common ground with Trump needs to step aside, so someone who actually understands the grave threats facing this country can get to work.
Major John Cloud: You are to disperse. You’re ordered to disperse. Go home or go to your church. This march will not continue.
JS: On March 7th, 1965 state troopers wearing helmets with Confederate emblems and carrying billy clubs advanced on marchers crossing the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Alabama. The County Sheriff, Jim Clark had his personal army there. They too were also carrying nightsticks, whips, and electric cattle prods.
[People screaming from troopers attacking them.]
The nonviolent marchers were heading to Montgomery, Alabama, the state capital, to demand the right to vote everywhere in the state. Despite passage of the Civil Rights Act in 1964, the legacy of Jim Crow persisted. In Dallas County, where African Americans made up more than half the population, they only accounted for 2 percent of registered voters.
The Board of Registrars, located in the county courthouse, made it exceptionally hard to register to vote by limiting open hours to twice a month, ignoring black visitors, and administering complicated, arbitrary oral and written exams. Historian Gary May writes, “And if that failed to dissuade black applicants, intimidation and violence were used against those who showed up to apply.”
Congressman John Lewis recounted what happened on the Edmund Pettus Bridge back in 1965.
John Lewis: And the major said, “Troopers, advance!” And you saw these guys putting on their gas masks. They came toward us, beating us with nightsticks and bullwhips, trampling us with horses. I was hit in the head by a state trooper with a nightstick. I had a concussion at the bridge. My legs went out from under me. I felt like I was going to die. I thought I saw death.
JS: All for the simple act of fighting to ensure that people’s right to vote was preserved. Brave protesters on what would come to be known as Bloody Sunday paved the way for the 1965 Voting Rights Act, prohibiting restrictions denying people the right to vote. A provision known as pre-clearance was included requiring jurisdictions to submit changes to their voting procedures to the Justice Department or a federal court. States with a history of obstructing voting rights were immediately affected.
Though the Voting Rights Act is not without its flaws, its significance is profound, especially in southern states. In Mississippi, for example, black voter registration rates increased from less than 7 percent in 1965 to nearly 60 percent in 1967. Since it was first enacted, the Voting Rights Act has been amended by Congress throughout the years to meet changing times. But in 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court invalidated the pre-clearance requirement, freeing states and cities with a history of voter discrimination from federal oversight.
Chief Justice John Roberts wrote for the majority opinion, “Our country has changed.”
On the same day the Supreme Court announced its decision, Texas moved forward with its stricter voter ID law that had previously been blocked by the Voting Rights Act. And other states soon followed with their own voter ID laws, restrictions in early voting and voter registration, among other new voting requirements and changes that would have been scrutinized under the pre-clearance provision. States like Georgia, for example, would have come under scrutiny.
My next guest, Josie Duffy Rice, wrote recently for the New York Times, “Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp, the chief elections official in the state, is a pioneer of present-day voter suppression. Mr. Kemp has a record of making it harder for people to register to vote, and more difficult for those voters to remain on the rolls.”
Brian Kemp, of course, is the Republican candidate for Governor in Georgia and is trying to have his victory over Stacey Abrams certified, even as the vote count continues. There’s a similar situation playing out in Florida as well with the contested races for Governor and a U.S. Senate seat.
Joining me now is Josie Duffy Rice. She’s a lawyer and journalist. As a senior reporter for The Appeal, she covers prosecutors, prisons, and other criminal justice issues. She also hosts the podcast Justice in America with Clint Smith.
Josie Duffy Rice, welcome to Intercepted.
Josie Duffy Rice: Thank you so much for having me.
JS: What’s the latest? Explain what’s going on.
JDR: Both Georgia and Florida are in the process of making sure that all of the votes that were cast last Tuesday are being counted. And in the midst of this, they’re facing some serious backlash by the Republican stalwarts in the state including Rick Scott who is accusing Bill Nelson of voter fraud.
Rick Scott: So, it’s clear, we’ve got some left-wing activists. We’ve got some Democrat D.C. lawyers. They’re down here for one purpose: to steal this election.
JDR: And in my state Georgia, some pushback from Brian Kemp and his campaign.
Brian Kemp: Even if she got a hundred percent of those votes. We still win with 50 percent plus one vote majority. Actually, it’s much more than that. So, we’re moving forward with the transition.
JDR: What we’re seeing here is once again that in both states, votes were not counted, the process is far too complicated and prone to error much more than it needs to be, and time after time, especially in the South, benefits Republicans. And so, it’s good to see some pushback coming from these candidates particularly Andrew Gillum and Stacey Abrams.
JS: Now you wrote recently for The New York Times that the “Georgia Secretary of State, Brian Kemp, the chief elections official in the state, is a pioneer of present-day voter suppression.” Explain what you mean by that.
JDR: So, Brian Kemp who until just a few days ago was Secretary of State — he was Secretary of State during his own election to become Governor in Georgia last Tuesday — has basically taken every single path to voter suppression that is possible. So that goes from very strict voter registration rules to making it extremely difficult to vote Election Day. But one of the things that he has encouraged — but that has actually been carried out by local prosecutors — is actually charging people, prosecuting them for voter fraud for what are minor technical offenses that have no actual impact on anyone’s vote or result in any actual fraud.
So, the case that I covered most thoroughly was a case about a woman named Olivia Pearson who’s 65. She lives in Coffee County, Georgia, which is a small town in south Georgia. They still have a Confederate statue outside of the courthouse there and she’s on the city council. She’s lived in Douglas — which is her town in Coffee County — for 60, you know, 70 years almost and she has no criminal record.
And in 2012, she was at the polls and a woman who was her first-time voting — her name was Diewanna Robinson, a black woman — asked her how to use the machine. Olivia Pearson’s also black and she described to Diewanna Robinson how to use the machine, but she did not touch her machine, go near her machine, stand with her while she voted, none of that. She just said, put the card in, press the buttons, make your selection, and then it will pop the card out and you can put it over here.
Four years later — she heard nothing about this — four years later, she was indicted for voter fraud, arrested, had to be bailed out of jail, and had to spend the next two years of her life fighting these charges because they said that what she did was tantamount to fraud, tantamount to a criminal felony. And there’s so much that’s crazy about this story, but it turned out that among other things, the charges that were brought against Ms. Pearson were not actually even in the Georgia statutes.
They were basically made up by the DA who kind of cobbled together different parts of different other statutes to make this behavior illegal and they pursued her and other people in her county, I mean, for years over this and it is the ultimate terrifying example of modern day voter suppression.
JS: Well and as you write, that Pearson’s case is a reminder that voter suppression can also take the form of aggressive prosecution, and you say that many of these cases appear motivated not by a sincere desire to address fraud but by a desire to intimidate.
JDR: Generally, we picture voter suppression to be I can’t cast my vote, right? I can’t get the right I.D. I can’t get to the polls. I can’t actually wait in that like 10-hour line. When I go up there, they say I’m not registered. The various ways that you can’t cast your vote adding on a layer to that which is the criminalization of people trying to cast their vote. Obviously, in Georgia, there’s a long history of criminalizing black people for trying to vote, punishing black people for trying to vote, and this evokes that so strongly. And really makes it clear that voter suppression, as bad as it is, can be even worse if DA’s are allowed to get away with this.
JS: You write about this case from 2010 in Quitman County, Georgia where that county elected a majority-black school board for the first time ever. And you say that Kemp’s office and the Georgia Bureau of Investigation sent armed investigators to interrogate residents about voter fraud, ultimately charging 12 organizers. One of them Debra Dennard was charged with two felonies for helping her partly blind father fill out his absentee ballot, and another woman was accused of assisting voters by carrying their sealed absentee ballots to a mailbox. She was charged, and correct me if I’m wrong, with thirty-two felony counts and if she’s convicted, she could have faced over a hundred years in prison.
JDR: Yeah, so she actually was acquitted as was Olivia Pearson at trial and in both cases the jury, you know, made it pretty clear that they found this to be ridiculous, but they both actually had to go to trial a couple of times. This is like part and parcel of what we’re talking about, right, where this woman took some ballots to a mailbox. I mean, that was like most of what she was being accused of. And the frame of that as engaging in voter fraud is not only a way to punish black people for voting, to keep black people from the polls, but it’s also a way to kind of perpetuate this narrative that any sort of get-out-the-vote activity, any sort of trying to encourage people to actually show up to the polls and make sure that their votes are counted is seen as sinister and fraudulent.
Rick Scott: Senator Nelson is clearly trying, to find, trying to commit fraud to try to win this election. That’s all this is.
DJT: All of a sudden, they’re finding voters out of nowhere, and Rick Scott, who won by you know, it was close, but he won by a comfortable margin, every couple of hours, it goes down a little bit.
JDR: It has ratcheted up so much in the past couple days even from the right, and I fear is only going to get worse.
JS: This pattern is not exclusive to Georgia. Talk about it from a national perspective, the voter suppression efforts that we’re seeing from powerful right-wing establishments, or politicians, or political machines.
JDR: Yeah, you know, it is not unique to Georgia. But I do want to differentiate between the two kinds of spheres of voter suppression. Because there’s the one there’s the Kris Kobach, the Brian Kemp, this sort of narrative on the right of: If people are voting, if there is high turnout, we lose. Right? That’s like something that Brian Kemp has said essentially.
Brian Kemp: Literally tens of millions of dollars that they are putting behind get-out-the-vote efforts to their base a lot of that with absentee ballot request. They have just unprecedented number of that which is something that continues to concern us, especially if everybody uses and exercises their right to vote which they absolutely can. The mail those ballots in, we’ve got to have a big turnout to offset that.
JDR: There’s also — and this I think is what is particularly terrifying about the Olivia Pearson story. There is the local prosecutors, right, bringing these charges — often in places that are rural, often in offices run by white men when the population is majority, or at least significantly black, and often in situations where no one will ever hear about this — and this is the other side of voter suppression. It’s not just the stuff we hear about. It’s the other side of this where the person being prosecuted for fraud doesn’t have an audience or a way to tell this story because often local prosecutors get so little attention and so little scrutiny that they can get away with so much. And so, it’s very possible that nobody ever hears the story of Olivia Pearson, right?
You know, she happened to get lawyers from the Southern Center for Human Rights here in Atlanta. She had more resources to bring some attention to it, but generally, these stories go unnoticed. And to me, that’s a much more terrifying layer of how the day-to-day small actions of people at the voter booth are criminalized.
JS: In 2013, the Supreme Court gutted a key section of the Voting Rights Act and it required places with a history of voter suppression to receive clearance from the Department of Justice or from a federal court before making any changes to voting procedures that could be moving a polling place or redrawing electoral districts. What was the impact of that 2013 Supreme Court gutting of this section of the Voting Rights Act?
JDR: Oh, it’s been massive. It’s been tragic, almost immeasurable. We live in an, or I live, in an area of this country that still does not value people getting to cast their ballot on Election Day. They don’t value it and you hear about it all the time and there’s, you know, kind of this battle of it’s not racism. It’s political strategy or whatever, you know, kind of the excuse of the moment is when people are at least willing to admit that it’s political.
Regardless, like the way that this plays out is punishing poor people, and punishing people of color, and punishing people in rural areas. And since Shelby, we’ve seen wait times increase at polling places. We’ve seen tons of polling places shut down. We’ve seen behavior like the exact-match policy that Brian Kemp’s office implemented that was actually ended up being struck down by a court anyway, but not through the Voting Rights Act. And you know, it’s interesting to think about like what would that oversight look like right now anyway? Because obviously Jeff Sessions was running DOJ, and he himself has been in trouble for this, you know, has been criticized for these exact same suppression policies.
So, I don’t want to overstate what any DOJ would do in light of voter suppression. But having an oversight mechanism to manage the ways that states are executing their election procedures and everything from registration to counting ballots is critical.
JS: When Jeff sessions was fired and then replaced by Matt Whitaker who Trump doesn’t know but does know —
JS: — There were these big protests that broke out across the country with people protesting, not out of any love for Jeff Sessions, but because they fear that this means that Whitaker — who has made clear that he thinks that the Russian investigation and the Mueller investigation is illegitimate — that he might, in a political move, shut the whole thing down. On Twitter, you responded to those protests in all-caps saying “Guys, I get why they’re protesting but this is still complicated.” Explain what you mean.
JDR: Jeff Sessions, to me, is one of the most terrifying architects of racist policy that our country has seen. He is a relic of times before we began to think about how we value people and how we think about equality in this country. And so, I understand that this Matt Whitaker guy might shut down the Russia investigation. I understand that that’s a problem. That being said, like I don’t have it in me to ever march in protest of Jeff Sessions getting fired from anything. I felt gleeful when he got fired. I think having him in charge of the DOJ is just a recipe for disaster, and sort of increased government presence in the lives of people who the government is already way, way, way to present in their lives. And so, I’m glad he’s out of the DOJ. I’m not sad about it at all. I have nothing but contempt for Jeff Sessions, to be honest with you.
JS: You know, I think this situation is sort of a — it’s a microcosm of a much broader dynamic that has emerged in the Trump era where you have overwhelmingly white pundits or Democratic party activists who are mono-focused on Trump-Russia at the expense of everything else. And there’s been this embrace of individuals who served in some of the most repressive, shady institutions of the U.S. government, particularly the FBI This notion that the great noble, you know, G-Men of the FBI are protecting our democracy. The idea that Comey could be held up as some kind of a hero negates, ignores, crushes, you know, out of existence the entire context of what the FBI has stood for, for its entire time in existence from J. Edgar Hoover to the present.
It’s the federal entrapment agency targeting vulnerable communities for decades. And so, to me, this notion that “Oh, we’re going to hit the streets to protest against a default-Grand Cyclops of the Ku Klux Klan being fired, because oh it’s about Mueller and it’s about Russia,” to me, it’s just an insult to anyone who has ever had to deal with the iron fist of the FBI.
JDR: I think you’re entirely right. I think it’s myopic. I think it’s poor strategy also. We don’t have any results from this investigation and the Democratic Party’s trust in these institutions has been rising. I mean, not only should we not be embracing them as an institution the way that we are but we’re embracing them prematurely even for the reasons that we’ve stated. The fascinating thing, for me —who, most of my work centers around prosecutors — and watching the right talk about prosecutorial misconduct, limits to prosecutorial power in a way to defend President Trump, and then the left sort of calling for Mueller and the people who work with him to have all the power in the world, it’s just sort of bizarre to me because we are so willing to expand these harmful institutions given the individual scenarios that benefit us. And I find it really problematic.
I’m skeptical of conspiracy laws, obstruction of justice laws. Often, these are legal doctrines that have been expanded, and warped, and mutated to punish as many people for as innocuous behavior as possible. I’m not claiming that Trump’s behavior is innocuous or was innocuous, but I do think that our encouragement of these institutions, these roles is so short-sighted. And the people who are going to end up hurting from this are black people, poor people, and immigrants, people living in rural areas. These are the people who actually suffer when we’re not critical of these institutions.
JS: Josie, we only have a little bit of time left, but I did want to make sure to ask you about Bernie Sanders giving this interview to The Daily Beast in which he said the following: “I think you know there are a lot of white folks out there who are not necessarily racist, who felt uncomfortable for the first time in their lives about whether or not they wanted to vote for an African American.” What’s your response to that comment by Bernie Sanders?
JDR: You know, I think that Bernie Sanders is shrewd. I don’t think that that was a mistake. I think he wants to run again in 2020. I think he has a following and I think part of what he has to do to keep part of his coalition together is call out racism without calling people racist.
Obviously, that takes, sort of, a maneuvering that he did not execute very well recently and that like might not actually end up working for him. But I find it inarguable that if you’re uncomfortable voting for black people, you are racist. I mean, and the question I think is whether or not that’s a binary, whether that’s a spectrum, whether everybody’s somewhat racist, or how much more racist does that make you than the next person. But that’s racism if you are not going to vote for me because of the color of my skin.
I think that like he also did a great job of identifying that these two campaigns Brian Kemp and Ron DeSantis had run pretty explicitly racist campaigns which is important. But that does not absolve people’s unwillingness to vote for a black candidate. There’s plenty of blame and reckoning to go around here and I think saying that those people are not necessarily racist is frankly just inaccurate.
JS: That argument that you’re making, there is a huge swath of the Democratic party that would say “Oh, you’re carrying water for Bernie Sanders and Bernie Sanders doesn’t understand the problems facing ordinary black people in this country.”
JDR: Well, you know, I would say that like while I understand the strategic reasons that he may have, you know, that he may be walking this line between saying x, y, and z are racist but a, b, and c are not racist people — I understand the logic there. I think it kind of replicates a pattern we see throughout American politics, which is pandering to a white electorate at the expense of truth often and also at the expense of the black community. And I think that I would be frustrated if I thought that Bernie just didn’t get it. I don’t think that that’s it. I think he is trying to walk a line, which I understand, but I find worse I think, as far as morals go than him just not getting it at all.
JS: And the other, the final thing I wanted to ask you about is this whole kerfuffle over the protests at Tucker Carlson’s house. When the news first emerged about it and Tucker Carlson was dominating the narrative, we were given this portrayal that like a horde of people had descended on his house, that they were pounding on his door, that they had cracked his door, and that there was like an imminent threat of violence against his family. The police account of that incident is quite different than Tucker Carlson’s, and someone, it seems, did spray paint an anarchist symbol in his driveway and that seems to be the main focus of the police investigation. But there now are these two narratives. One put forward by Tucker Carlson where it’s basically like Antifa and the new Black Panthers were about to do a home invasion. And you had a lot of liberals saying, “Oh this is, you know, this is terrible,” and immediately believing Tucker Carlson. What’s your reaction to all of this and you know, should people feel empowered, or that they have the right to go and protest at the home of someone like Tucker Carlson who for all practical purposes is white nationalist television encouraging a demonization of many people in our society?
JDR: There are kind of two questions here, right? One is like do they have the right? Should they be able to? And the answer is like, yes. Obviously, there are regulations about private property, and trespassing, and destruction of property. But that doesn’t seem to be what happened here, other than obviously the spray painting the driveway, and it actually seems like this was pretty tame, or certainly much more tame than it was framed.
I don’t think that this changes anybody’s mind. I don’t think anybody was like very pro-Tucker Carlson and they saw this protest and now they’re not. I don’t know that that’s the purpose, right? And I do think that whether or not it is the best decision because I don’t think there’s a clear answer to that. I do think that like there is an irony in this sort of fear that someone like Tucker Carlson spends hours following an incident like this, talking about, obviously, he’s using it. It’s just he’s manipulating his audience. This is a sort of fear that so many people experience day-to-day in this country. You know, he’s on TV spouting extremely racist and egregious lies day after day that are enabling other people and sort of allowing other people to act in ways that make it scary to go outside if you’re an immigrant, make it terrifying to go outside if you’re Muslim, or black, or a woman, and he is directly responsible for a lot of that.
So, I’m not losing any sleep over Tucker Carlson, you know, people protesting outside of his house. The entire narrative around like boundaries coming from a party that has overstepped them repeatedly and bragged about it, you know, done it intentionally, not even tried to hide it, is just kind of like a little farcical to me.
Tucker Carlson: White supremacy is not ubiquitous in America. It’s not a crisis. It’s not even a meaningful category. It is incredibly rare. You could easily live your entire life in this country without meeting a single person who believes anything like that. Most of us have lived lives like that. I have. In fact, this is a generous tolerant country. It always has been that. People who tell you otherwise are either delusional or trying to control you with fear, likely both.
JS: This is a person who himself, but also the network that he works for has repeatedly named individuals, misportrayed their positions, put a huge spotlight on them and they, including people that are not big public figures, have had to seek out ways of protecting themselves from the hate, the threats that they receive as a result of the Bill O’Reillys, the Sean Hannitys, the Glenn Becks, and the Tucker Carlsons of the world, focusing the spotlight on them. And if Tucker Carlson thinks it’s wrong to have people’s families frightened because of a protest then he himself should reflect on how he’s using his infinitely bigger platform to target far more vulnerable people with far less resources than he himself has.
JDR: If I were Tucker Carlson, I could imagine that I would be expecting this and also see it as fair game. Like I don’t like it. If I have kids at home, you know I have a kid at home, I don’t want someone protesting outside of my house. Like I would not like that, right? But like if this is what you’re doing every day, if you’re bringing in millions of people, if you’re one of the most polarizing figures, you know, in media then like this is kind of par for the course. Like you’re not being physically harmed. You’re not scared for your life. This is maybe unnerving and annoying, but it’s not threatening.
But the reality is Tucker Carlson does not see this as inevitable or par for the course because like he doesn’t actually think the people that he’s doing that to are people. He thinks that they are, you know, lower than people, kind of scum of the earth and functionally, just like mechanisms through which he can get across his point.
So, it does not surprise me that he is outraged by this even if it’s genuine outrage. You know, even the stuff that’s not manufactured I think, is unsurprising because obviously, Tucker Carlson doesn’t think that he, like the rules apply to him. That is clear.
JS: The best response I think, there is to all the concern trolling about the protest at Tucker Carlson’s house, particularly from liberals, is to refer back to that brilliant James Baldwin quote where he said, “We can disagree and still love each other unless your disagreement is rooted in my oppression, and denial of my humanity, and right to exist.”
That is in a nutshell what we’re talking about here. This isn’t just disagreements. This is someone who believes that there are certain people whose lives are worth more than others, whose humanity is worth less than others. This is not just a basic disagreement on politics. This has to do with believing there are certain people in our society who are subhuman and that is the position Tucker Carlson takes. This is not just can we all get along and be civil? He is the least civil person on TV right now, maybe Sean Hannity beats him out a little bit. But these are people that don’t recognize the humanity of large swaths of the globe, not to mention this country.
JDR: Yeah, absolutely. And they’re okay with them suffering. They often want them to suffer. They’re justifying families being separated, you know, kids being held in cages. The politics on the right are so horrifying, so, so anti-human, so barbaric that there is no way to engage on cordial terms. Like you said, quoting James Baldwin, you know, there is no way to call this like a disagreement between gentlemen that you kind of move on from. It just — there is no middle ground here. There is no playing nice. There is no not protesting. Just like thinking last Tuesday there was no not voting, if you could vote in Georgia. It’s just not on the table. For Tucker Carlson to act like protesting outside of his house is off-limits when kids are in cages and our president is lying to us in front of our face every single second of the day is just irrational.
JS: Josie Duffy Rice, thank you so much for joining us.
JDR: Thank you so much for having me.
JS: Josie Duffy Rice is a lawyer and a journalist. As senior reporter for The Appeal, she covers prosecutors, prisons, and other criminal justice issues. She also hosts the podcast Justice in America. You can find Josie on Twitter @jduffyrice.
JS: Donald Trump ran a campaign promising to refill up the notorious Guantanamo Bay Prison, to bring back torture, to ban Muslims from entering this country, and to build a wall along the US-Mexico border. His predecessor, Barack Obama, continued some of the worst policies of the Bush administration, expanded the global battlefield post 9/11 into at least seven countries. He used drone strikes as the liberal panacea for fighting those “terrorists” saying it was preferable to boots on the ground. But he also expanded the number of boots on the ground in Afghanistan. He deported a record number of immigrants. And then there were the “Terror Tuesday” meetings where Obama national security officials would order pizza and Coke and review the list of potential targets on their secret assassination list.
George W. Bush in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks took a hatchet to our civil liberties, expanding NSA surveillance on overseas communications and created a system for unprecedented levels of surveilled communications of American citizens. Much of this with the support of leading Democrats. Mosques across the country and in New York City were spied on. The Authorization for the Use of Military Force, which I mentioned earlier, was passed in 2001 with the full backing of every Democrat not named Barbara Lee. The bill created the justification for the forever wars that still rage on 17 years later. And steadily, all of these foreign wars and their tactics have creeped back home.
We are in the midst of an unprecedented paramilitarization of state and local law enforcement agencies in this country. Police at protests and demonstrations now often look like they’re SEAL Team 6 getting ready to raid Osama bin Laden’s compound again. Many agencies have, in fact, received literal military equipment through a Homeland Security Defense Department program that allows them to obtain military equipment after it’s been used in foreign war zones.
In a new book, all of these post 9/11 policies and actions are placed within the deeper history of modern warfare and counterinsurgency doctrine. That became popularized in the 1950s and 60s as so-called COIN tactics emerged to fight small rebellions, the colonial struggles for freedom in Algeria and Indochina against France, the Vietcong fighting against the United States in Vietnam.
The book is called, “The Counterrevolution: How Our Government Went to War Against its Own Citizens.” And it’s by Bernard Harcourt, a professor at Columbia University, and it connects the dots on how the counterinsurgency-style of war began and finally has come to roost on U.S. soil.
Here to discuss all of this is Bernard Harcourt, professor of law and political science at Columbia. He is also the founding director of the Columbia Center for Contemporary Critical Thought.
Bernard, welcome to Intercepted.
Bernard Harcourt: Thanks, Jeremy.
JS: So, I want to start off by asking you about a phrase that you use in your latest book. You say that we now have a counterinsurgency warfare model of politics. What do you mean by that?
BH: So, what I mean by that is that basically all of the way in which we govern abroad and at home is now funneled through a particular way of thinking about the world. It’s a way of thinking about society that triggers particular kinds of strategies and politics that result from that. And the way of thinking about society is this counterinsurgency paradigm of warfare.
Counterinsurgency started in the 1950s – well, it started long before then, but it kind of crystallized with Western powers in the 1950s and 60s in Algeria, and Indochina before then, and in Vietnam for the Americans. And it was a particular way of thinking about society, the way society is structured into three groups. With on the one hand, a small active minority who are the insurgents, and a large passive majority who can be swayed one way or the other, and then a small minority of counterinsurgents.
Many in America, but certainly our political leaders are looking at the world through that lens when they look at other countries, when they look domestically at their own population, and as a result of that it triggers particular kinds of counterinsurgency practices, really. And three practices particularly that I think, when you look at what we’re doing both abroad and at home, you see resonances of them everywhere. The first is the idea of getting total information awareness. That’s always been the key linchpin of counterinsurgency theory, is to get total information on the total population.
And that’s what distinguishes it from just getting good intelligence. It’s that you have to get total intelligence on the total population, not just targeted to people who you suspect, but on the total population. So that you can make a distinction between or you can identify that small group of active insurgents, right. And you need the information on everyone so that you can make that separation, those fine distinctions between someone who is in that active minority or someone who’s just [in the] you know, passive masses. So that’s the first strategy. The second strategy is then that you have to rid of the active minority that you identified just that small group of individuals, the insurgents and you do that through any means possible. And then the third strategy is to win the hearts and minds of the masses, basically.
And I think that starting after 9/11. We saw that way of thinking become the dominant way of governing abroad particularly with the war in Iraq, but then more generally with the use of drones outside of war zones et cetera, use of total information through the NSA in the way in which everything was captured about everyone to the most minor detail. And then also trying to pacify the masses in Iraq through kind of some provision of services or just distribution of cash. But then eventually, when this way of thinking comes back to the United States through different forms of pacification of the masses. Particularly right now, I would say through forms of distraction, really.
JS: How does this counterinsurgency warfare model of politics apply in the Trump era?
BH: The Trump Administration is kind of a crystallization, or it seals the deal, really on this on this model of governing. But what I want to emphasize though is that it wasn’t unique to Trump, right. And so, it goes back and it threaded through the Obama Administration and the Bush Administration.
I’ll come back to that in a second. But when you see it today what you see predominantly is through Trump’s creation of an internal enemy. So, one of the things that drives counterinsurgency ways of thinking is having an internal enemy that, the internal enemy which is that identifiable small class of the active insurgents.
And I think that Trump [has] really rested his entire way of governing us by creating internal enemies out of whole cloth, really, in this case. It started with the Muslims and Muslim Americans.
DJT: Donald J. Trump is calling for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country’s representatives can figure out what the hell is going on.
BH: When you listen to the rhetoric that surrounded the Muslim ban, it was this rhetoric about, “Muslims are coming into the country. We got to keep them out and even the ones who are here aren’t patriots. We need a registry for them.” And so, all of that was the creation of a dangerous element in this country, which were the Muslim Americans. And we saw it, of course with Mexican Americans with talking about Mexicans as criminals, as rapists. You saw it just recently with the whole caravan episode, right. I mean, I think that the caravan episode was an effort to create an internal enemy because it was not only identifying and indexing this real group of individuals, but I think it was, through those groups of individuals, it was pointing at all of the undocumented persons who are in this country and who substantiate that threat.
JS: If that philosophy is as you say, what is the purpose then of identifying these people as you say, as sort of the insurgents?
BH: It’s a coherent strategy that not only kind of identifies the danger and then, of course, tries to eliminate the danger, right. But is doing that in part to pacify the masses to win the support of the masses to bring them on Trump’s side. That was exactly a strategy for the whole week preceding the midterm elections, right? It was to win the hearts and minds of Americans by targeting this dangerous internal enemy that was coming to the border but that also is in the country, is in the country already. It’s these undocumented residents.
So, when you read all of the text by the great counterinsurgency commanders — the French, and British, and some Americans, and texts that were written for and by the RAND corporation on counterinsurgency — one of the central pillars of this way of thinking is that the battle is over the population. It’s over the masses.
JS: Well and this was popularized with David Petraeus, Stanley McChrystal and the whole notion of COIN, the counterinsurgency doctrine.
Gen. David Petraeus: You know, there are people that say “Gosh, all you guys do is counterinsurgency stability and support operations. You know, you can’t do real combat the way we used to do real combat.” Let me tell you first of all, that our troopers can do real combat, number one. But number two, we do it differently.
BH: And when that got popularized, so when Petraeus actually publishes the new field manual for counterinsurgency, you know field manual 24, which is an important event kind of crystallizing all of this thought. Petraeus — who really had his hands in the writing of the document and was overseeing a team of people trying to crystallize counterinsurgency theory — goes back to the original thinkers of counterinsurgent in the 1950s and 60s, goes back to the French counterinsurgency theorist David Galula, goes back to Thompson, the British counterinsurgency theorist. And tries to kind of crystallize and update that theory and turn it into the dominant paradigm of warfare for America in these times.
JS: We’re talking about the French in Indochina, but also in Algeria.
BH: Specifically, in Algeria. In France, for instance, you can kind of distribute the counterinsurgency theorists into two camps. There were those who were much more explicitly brutal. So, somebody like Roger Trinquier, or later the general Paul Aussaresses who essentially praised torture and very brutal forms of summary execution. So, people who openly embraced those kinds of extreme terroristic acts as a way to accomplish these ends, as a way to eliminate the small minority, but also somewhat terrorize the masses so that they didn’t get radicalized.
So, what you end up with, and what is particularly interesting about the Algerian experience, is two camps, two different variations on counterinsurgency theory. And that’s, I think, what we’ve seen over the course of American history since 9/11. Starting in 9/11 really there was a much more systematic turn to that way of thinking and governing.
JS: It was not only tolerated by Democrats and Republicans alike, but there was an almost entirely unified House, so to speak, where you had one example being Barbara Lee being the only member of Congress to vote against the Authorization for the Use of Military Force. The PATRIOT Act — one Senator, Russ Feingold standing up and voting against it when it was initially promoted.
Sen. Russ Feingold: And my first and most powerful emotion was a solemn resolve to stop these terrorists. And that remains my principal reaction to these events. But I also quickly realized, as many of us did, that two cautions were necessary and I raised them on the senate floor the day after the attacks. The first caution was that we must continue to respect our Constitution and protect our civil liberties in the wake of the attacks.
JS: It was a very effective consolidation of thinking and this bipartisan embrace of counterinsurgency as a normal part of American politics.
BH: Right, also the idea of indefinite detention, right. And I think a lot of people didn’t connect the dots in part and didn’t fully understand that these were actually coherent pieces of a counterinsurgency strategy, you know, and that’s the purpose of the book is to try and connect the dots.
But what we did see was, as you were suggesting with the passage of the PATRIOT Act, total information awareness coming into place on Americans, right, at that time. But the use of torture, the use of indefinite detention as a way to eliminate these suspected minority, beginnings of the use of drones as a way to kind of target and eliminate, again, suspects.
These were all pieces that fit perfectly in a counterinsurgency theory. Now, what we saw over time with the changing of the administration was not the end of a dominant counterinsurgency mentality but a slightly different variation on the theme. As we transition to Obama, we see for instance, yes, a repudiation of torture. Although never any kind of accountability for the tortures, with the exception of, you know, a female officer at Abu Ghraib, and you know, [a] few underlings who get prosecuted. No one was held accountable for that. Although, there was a statement that we wouldn’t engage in torture, OK.
JS: Quickly before you go on with that: To me, one of the most telling and under-told stories about the very point that you’re making, the Obama administration’s posture on terrorism, is that you had civil litigation brought against Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Bush himself, but specifically for the torture and alleged extrajudicial killings at Guantanamo.
And when either the family members of survivors or prisoners themselves filed this civil litigation seeking damages from the U.S. government, the Obama justice department repeatedly intervened in the cases and filed briefs saying that even if Rumsfeld had participated in genocide as Defense Secretary, for instance, that it would have been within the official scope of his duties. And these were papers filed by Eric Holder as the Attorney General. Those cases, and it’s a little bit complicated legally, but the short of it is that that intervention removed those officials as defendants in those cases.
It was then just the individual suing the entirety of the U.S. government bureaucracy and they were all dismissed. So, it wasn’t just that Obama said “Well, we need to look forward not backwards,” or failed to take any action, his justice department actively intervened to protect the very people at the top who were authorizing torture and potentially extrajudicial killings.
BH: With the Obama Administration, we see those departures that end up actually, as you were suggesting, protecting and immunizing. But we also see the use of very deliberate, what are counterinsurgency practices, like the drone strikes which go up dramatically once Obama takes office in Pakistan, for instance. And that of course, is a different way of eliminating and targeting the small minority.
It’s odd to go back to Obama or Bush when it feels so unique what’s going on today and as we worry about a kind of encroaching authoritarianism – or what is it? Is it fascism or what, exactly? Where are we headed? You can’t think about Trump’s penchant for authoritarian executive power without thinking about all of the theorists during the W. Bush Administration — very well-recognized law professors at the elite schools, who were talking about unbounded executive power as a good thing. And insofar as the Trump Administration marks a separate moment, you have to identify it within those logics, within the logic of a way of governing that we’ve had since 9/11. We’ve had [it] for a long, long time, 17 years of this.
So, then the question becomes what is unique about the Trump formulation of this? Some things are not unique. When he says on the campaign trail, he’s ready to waterboard or worse, you know, torture the family members etc.
DJT: I would bring back waterboarding and I’d bring back a hell of a lot worse than waterboarding.
BH: It’s not that unique, right? We had that when we had water – I mean, you know, a hundred-and-eighty-three application of water on one individual under the Bush Administration. So, we had that –
JS: It’s what Cheney was referring to when he told Tim Russert on Meet the Press, you know, that we’re going to have to be doing work on the dark side.
Dick Cheney: We also have to work those, sort of, the dark side, if you will. We want to spend time in the shadows, in the intelligence world. A lot of what needs to be done here will have to be done quietly without any discussion using sources and methods that are available to our intelligence agencies if we’re going to be successful. That’s the world these folks operate in and so it’s going to be vital for us to use any means at our disposable, the disposal, basically, to achieve our objective.
JS: You know, you had Cofer Black, senior CIA official telling Congress there was a before 9/11, and an after 9/11.
Cofer Black: This is a very highly classified area, but I have to say that all you need to know is that there was a before 9/11 and there was an after 9/11. After 9/11, the gloves come off.
JS: I mean what they’re talking about there is torture and so-called targeted assassination in addition to the big scale military maneuvers.
BH: Absolutely, right. But then so what is unique — I think that one of the things that’s unique is this creation of an internal enemy in terms of all Muslims, for instance. And the language that Trump used about Muslims — well, I would not have imagined anyone in post-Nazi Germany ever being able to use that kind of language about a religious group. So the creation of Muslims as a group, the demonization also of the undocumented and Mexicans which, the demonization, the way in which it’s used as a way to pull the masses on his side, and the way in which some of the kind of militarized policing has now become routine in this county are all aspects that make it somewhat unique or the variation of counterinsurgency more extreme today.
JS: Well, there’s this, Department of Homeland Security program working with DOD to transfer the weaponry and vehicles of war to local law enforcement agencies across the country, which has enhanced the progress of the para-militarization slash militarization of the police, the 1033 program.
BH: Exactly, right. You’re putting your finger right on the right spot which is kind of, how does this counterinsurgency theory in practice makes its way back into the domestic governing context? And it’s precisely through material distribution. So, the fact that all of this counterinsurgency equipment that’s basically created for Iraq and Afghanistan, all of that equipment actually comes back to ordinary police departments to become hyper-militarized. Through the private security firms at Standing Rock, you know, TigerSwan that The Intercept exposed some of their documents, and the mentality that was in the security, in the private security there, of thinking of the water carriers as you know, Jihadists –
JS: Oh, yeah, it was straight out of the CIA targeted killing program.
BH: Yeah, it’s straight out of counterinsurgency way of thinking in the Middle East brought back into this country. And then it’s become dominant domestically in a time when there is no longer, there is no insurgent minority. There is no insurgency, right? These techniques were developed mostly at times of revolutions, independence movements, many communist movements in the South whether it was in Algeria or in Indochina, et cetera, when there was, in fact, a war to be fought. There were, you know, there were armed insurgents trying to liberate the countries.
Now, you can have a whole debate about counterinsurgency in that context. All of those movements for independence, all of those anti-colonial struggles prevailed. So, you can have an independent conversation among the military strategists as to whether or not counterinsurgency is a good thing, but what’s so unique about it now is that its operating in this country as a mode of governing, a filter through which we govern in this country, and there’s no insurgency, right?
There’s no active group, I mean, there are there are as we see practically every week now, you know, very unstable individuals who are engaging in violent acts, and who are appealing to the most attractive ideologies now for someone who is in an extreme violent condition, and that’s that tends to be white supremacy, on the one hand, or you know, the Islamic state, on the other. And you have these individuals, but you don’t have an insurgent minority in this country.
JS: You wrote that “Trump ratcheted up and accelerated the counterrevolution on every front.” What do you mean by that?
BH: When you take all of the different elements that I’ve suggested: the use of torture, the use of indefinite detention. So, torture we don’t know of use of torture under the Trump Administration, but during the campaign this kind of embrace of torture worse than what was done during the Bush Administration –
JS: It is perfectly plausible that many of those programs have been reactivated particularly when you have Gina Haspel now running the CIA. We hear almost nothing about any of the tactics that are being used.
JS: I’m not even sure that Trump outside of saying “Well, let’s pull some fingernails out,” has any sort of involvement in the tick-tock of counter-terrorist policy, whereas Obama was like babysitting the whole thing, you know, and was getting briefings on every aspect of it.
It does seem like Trump is very hands-off and is letting the most unsavory players within the intelligence community run the show. So, I just want to point out we have no idea what tactics have been reauthorized or newly authorized under this administration. Zero idea.
BH: Yeah, so you’ve got all of these different aspects. Increased use of drones, so we’ve seen a spike since the Trump Administration’s [came] into power, but — and this is the key point here — we don’t even talk about the increase in drones anymore. We don’t even talk about drones anymore. Not just because this Administration has stopped the flow of information, and not because we’re used to drones, but because of the distraction techniques that Trump is so agile at that preoccupy us with other things. So, it’s almost as if there isn’t any air space to debate drones, to even write about drones, or to draw our attention to this escalating problem with drones because all of our time and attention and energy is being distracted with you know, who got fired? These distraction techniques of which Trump is a master, right?
Day after the midterm Democrats gained the house, you know, it was pretty eventful: Bam! Sessions gets fired.
JS: Well Sessions gets fired and then the whole thing with Jim Acosta and CNN, and then Trump right now is basically going after every black White House correspondent calling them either a racist or stupid right.
Yamiche Alcindor: On the campaign trail, you called yourself a nationalist. Some people saw that as emboldening white nationalists. Now people are also saying —
DJT: I don’t know why you say that. That’s such a racist question.
YA: There’s some people that say —
Abby Phillip: Do you want him to reign in Robert Mueller?
DJT: What a stupid question that is. What a stupid question but I watch you a lot. You ask a lot of stupid questions.
BH: And that, those forms of distraction that he is so masterful at is, I believe, our newest way of winning hearts and minds. Our hearts and minds are not so much one as they are, they are pacified because we are glued to our devices figuring out what happened next. Before President Trump was inaugurated, I believe he told his team, you know, I want my presidency to be like a reality TV show with one episode a day where I conquer my enemies, right? That’s the way in which we are now being, I would say, most pacified under this counterinsurgency form of governing because we can’t even pay attention to the important things anymore.
We can’t even pay attention for instance to how many drones we’ve used in the last month and how many civilians have been killed as a result. You won’t find that anywhere in the news, right, or in the conversation because we just don’t have time for that.
JS: We’re going to leave it there. Professor Bernard Harcourt, thank you so much for joining us.
BH: Thank you, Jeremy Scahill.
JS: That was Bernard Harcourt. He is a professor of law and political science at Columbia University. His latest book is: “The Counterrevolution: How our government went to war against its own citizens.” He is the author of several other books including, Exposed: Desire and Disobedience in the Digital Age, and Occupy: Three Inquiries in Disobedience. If you’re in New York City, you can join Professor Harcourt Wednesday night at the Heyman Center at Columbia University. It starts at 6:15 pm. The event is called The Alt-Right. It’s going to feature some readings and a discussion and it’s free and open to the public.
JS: The Donald Trump supporter accused of mailing pipe bombs across the country to former President Barack Obama, George Soros, former CIA Director John Brennan, former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and other perceived opponents of President Trump was officially charged last week in a 30-count indictment. Fifty-six-year-old Cesar Sayoc was charged with the use of a weapon of mass destruction, interstate transportation of an explosive, and other crimes. He is now facing life in prison if convicted. Thankfully none of his devices exploded.
But after Sayoc was arrested in Florida and his van, which was like a mobile terror lab covered with pictures of Trump and Pence as well as those of some of his targets, was confiscated, the FBI paid a visit to Academy Award-winning filmmaker Michael Moore. The Feds said they had information that Sayoc had been researching Michael Moore and wanted to know if Michael had received a package.
Last week, I was with Michael Moore at a documentary film festival in New York doing a public interview with him after a showing of his film Fahrenheit 11/9. The Field of Vision film, A Night at the Garden, also played. It tells the story of an American Nazi gathering in 1939 in New York City where more than 20,000 people attended. It was directed by Marshall Curry. I highly recommend watching both films. I began my interview with Michael by asking him about the FBI visit to his home.
Michael Moore: Last week, I received a visit in my door from two FBI agents who wanted to inform me that they had discovered in this man’s van in Florida what they call “abundance of research on me,” both on his computer and in his van. I think mostly they seemed confused as they wanted to know where the package bomb was to me because it had not arrived yet.
And so, because it appeared from their investigation that I was high on his list, you know, I couldn’t help them because I’m fortunate enough to not have that happen. But I’ve dealt with this for a couple of decades really, of people either saying they were going to kill me or trying to kill me, you know. I’ve been assaulted a number of times on the street, speaking on the stage and if I won the Oscar for Bowling for Columbine and gave that speech on the fourth night of the Iraq War –
MM (2003): We live in fictitious times. We live in a time where we have fictitious election results that elects a fictitious president. We live in a time where we have a man sending us to war for fictitious reason. Whether it’s the fictitious of duct tape or the fictitious of orange alerts. We are against this war, Mr. Bush. Shame on you, Mr. Bush. Shame on you and anytime you’ve got the Pope and the Dixie Chicks against you, your time is up –
MM: The man built a fertilizer bomb in Oklahoma, Oklahoma City to blow my house in Michigan. And he was cleaning his AK-47 and it accidentally went off, and a neighbor heard it, and police came and arrested him, and in his diary found his hit list and I was at the top of that list. After me, it was Janet Reno, Hillary Clinton, Rosie O’Donnell, and when the police told me this my first thought was “How did I make the lesbian list?”
I mean, I was honored don’t get me wrong. So, you know, always look for the silver lining in these dark clouds. But the same thing happened too when they, the day they arrested him and he’s got a picture of me on the side of his van in Florida. Literally, my first thought was “Jeez, he actually picked a really good picture of me” because I don’t really photograph that well. And the target, the gun sight was not right over my face was kind of more of my neck and shoulder, and I thought “I consider that a concession on his part.”
But no, you know, I’m fine. I’m alive. I will be fine and the only terrorist threat to me really is just heard the McDonald’s was bringing back the McRib so that’s what I have to worry about.
JS: You also – I understand you also found footage as you were – well, I don’t think it happened while you were doing the film. But after this happened in his identity was known –
MM: No, the very first shoot that we did last year, this was Trump’s first rally for his reelection in 2020, four weeks after his inauguration. And so, the idea was to go down there, and film not Trump because we all know what he has to say, film the people who were there. And so, they train their cameras on the mostly white, angry, male audience and there was, there he was right in the front row, right on the metal barricades. Cesar Sayoc, the man with the package bombs in the van. But that’s kind of, you know this from working with us, we tend to show up at things. You know, we were following Alexandria [Ocasio-Cortez] around in the Bronx and Queens months before the election when she was polling at negative three percent. You know, we’re always trying to just pay attention to what’s going on.
And if we had a wider scope to our vision in, I mean that literally and you know, symbolically, but I think we would see more of what’s about to happen to us sooner. And I think what we need to be listening to and paying attention to is the stuff that’s over there. And that’s why for so many years, the culture, the society, the film industry has ignored women, has ignored LGBTQ people, has ignored out people of color, has ignored young people. The people who really make up America.
America is right now I think 68, 69 percent women, people of color, or young adults between the ages of 18 and 35. That’s the vast majority of the country. When you say America. You need to think that’s what it is. It’s not me. It’s not the white guy who’s still running it. It’s the people that are in the peripheral vision. The people that have been kept out and that is both the crime and the solution. The crime being they’re kept over and out there and the solution – they are the solution and they, a goodly number of them, on Tuesday proved that they could do this.
If there are people in here who went up knocking on doors for Antonio Delgado. That is a district, there’s a rural District New York 19, I believe right? And they elected a black man to represent them and I’m certain that there were people in the Democratic party structure, the apparatus, the hacks that run the party that’s kept us down, kept us away from defeating the enemy all these years.
I’m sure they did not want him to win the primary. I know for a fact, I know for you – Well, you heard Alexandria say 15 minutes after she dropped off her petitions there in the Bronx, the Democratic party lawyers were in there trying to rip it apart and trying to make sure she didn’t make it on the ballot.
That’s who the Democratic – capital D, capital P – party is. Not Democrats. Not you know, people who vote for Democrats. I vote for Democrats, but I’m talking about this party structure that is going to try to tamp down the Alexandria’s and the Rashida’s as soon as they go into session on January 2nd, and it’s our job to make sure that they are the ones leading the new Congress, not the old hacks who have compromised and sold us out for so long. Our real problem is going to be them.
We already know that what the problem with Trump is and he’s already spinning out of control. They have got to fight this and when you saw Nancy Pelosi saying “Well now, don’t talk impeachment. You know, we don’t have the Senate. We wouldn’t win it anyways.” That’s crazy-making and she has made herself to me, at least, ineligible to be the House Speaker with her inability to really understand the moment, we’re in right now. And that moment has to be led by the Antonio Delgado’s, by the Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s and the Rashida Tlaib’s.
JS: You know Michael, I appreciate it at the end of your film that you didn’t just leave us with the impression that Trump is just a descendant of the sort of fascists but is a product of a mythology that is embraced about what America is and that you’re saying I’m fighting for an America that hasn’t yet existed. To what extent is Trump driving the agenda right now in all of the authoritarianism that you showcased here and to what extent is this just how the Republican party is and this is their best shot they’ve had in generations to ram all of it through because Trump is delivering? He’s like a Trojan horse for them.
MM: Trump was always treated very poorly by the uber-rich of New York City. Wall Street didn’t like him. The big banks didn’t like him and he always felt slighted by them. They treated him as if he was like the trailer trash of millionaires, from Queens, still talked like he was from Queens, you know, the whole thing. And they certainly were not that excited about him running. They immediately figured out how he could be a useful tool for them, for capitalism. And that’s why not only has there not been a peep out of them since he gave them their tax cut and it’s done all the other things in terms of gutting EPA regulations, and things that we don’t even know about that happen on a daily basis in each federal government department. Because you just could never keep up with it. If you actually knew what was going on every day.
Two weeks ago, you got rid of the department at the EPA that’s responsible for the environmental health of children. Fired the woman, got rid of the people. That’s it. Gone. Hardly anything on it in the news. You have no idea how many millions of acres of land he gave away today to the oil and gas companies. This happens every single day and he is doing the work now of Wall Street and the big banks in corporate America and they are the main beneficiaries of what he’s doing to dismantle from inside the federal government.
The Yale professor that’s in the film at the end, Timothy Snyder. He said something to me. It’s not in the film: Democracy does not have a self-correcting mechanism. It’s not like the modern automobile that when your car goes into a skid now, the brakes, there’s a self-correcting mechanism. It’ll kind of steer you out of the skid. Democracy is a piece of paper and it’s always about whether how the people of that certain era decide to treat that piece of paper and either amended it, make it better, ignore it and if someone is taking us on a skid to the precipice: It does not have a self-correcting mechanism other than We the People.
And I’ve always felt as I’ve gone through the years of making my films for these studios, for these network entities that the only reason they allow me to keep making these movies. The only reason they give me the money to make these movies is because they make money off it for themselves. That’s it. If people stop going I would be not getting money. But more important than the money is they are confident that if a million people have seen this film already, which is I’m guessing roughly how many have seen it, they are so confident that they have dumbed down or numbed down the population that no one is getting up after seeing this movie and starting the revolution. They’re so confident. We won’t do that because they’ve made our lives so fucking miserable, because you’re living from paycheck to paycheck. You’ve got to get that second job. You don’t know if the kids are going to be able to get into college.
They’ve got everybody so wound up. They can’t pay for their parents’ health bills. Everybody in here knows what I’m talking about because everybody’s living it and you’ve got to think of your family first. You got to take care of yourself first and they’ve got everybody focused on that so that you can’t get political.
You can’t do anything about it. And so, they could let Michael Moore keep making his little movies because they know no one will do anything about it. And the game that’s going on here is that I believe the opposite. I believe they made a bad bet on me. They’re convinced that I’m good for business because they make money and nobody here will do anything.
I’m convinced that one or 100, or 1,000, or 100,000, or those kids that I went down to see in Parkland the week or two after the shooting. Man, oh man. That’s what’s really going on. And that’s what they need to be afraid of but they don’t even know. They don’t even know what’s coming down the pike.
The people are going to rise up. They already have. They don’t see it because it’s in the periphery because they’re transgender, because they’re women, because they’re not what they’re used to. They don’t look like Tom Friedman. They don’t look like Nick Kristof.
You know and to their detriment they’ve made a bad bet on me because I keep doing this because I believe eventually the dam will break and somebody is going to lose their job when they find — “Who the fuck gave him the money to make that movie? Don’t ever give him any money again!” And that’s when you see the last of me which will be good because that will mean hundreds of thousands, millions will have risen up and done the job and I can go have a McRib and shut the fuck up. [Audience laughs and applauds.]
JS: Who would beat Trump? Who do you think should run because as it is, it’s going to be Kamala Harris, Cory Booker, Elizabeth Warren, maybe is talking about it, Joe Biden. I mean, you know the whole — Chuck Todd talks about it all the time. But who would you like to see run? Who could beat him?
MM: You mean, the question implies other than me, right?
JS: I’m including you in it and Oprah.
MM: I would love to do it only because I would love to just do the debate. You know, that alone would be you know, it will —
Crowd: Do it!
JS: If you decide not to run —
MM: — I’m not here for your entertainment pleasure, just to run against Trump. We have to run a beloved American. We have to win. So ask yourself as you process who this person is. Is this person a beloved American? Who is a beloved American that has our politics?
MM: Beto O’Rourke. Yes, I agree with that. Somebody who’s not a politician. American people wanted a bartender from the Bronx, not a politician. They wanted a Palestinian American from Detroit, the single mom. Think of who is not a politician and a beloved American?
MM: Obviously Oprah. Everyone loves Oprah and my deal with her would be we would give her show back at 4 p.m in the afternoon, except it would come from the Oval Office. Tom Hanks, I’ve twice asked Tom Hanks to run. Who the fuck doesn’t like Tom Hanks? Come on. No, no. No, the guy he’s got great politics. He’s a smart guy. Michelle Obama would win. Michelle Obama would win. She’s more, she’s to the left of her husband. She is beloved. I’m sure she doesn’t want to get within 10 feet of the White House.
Nonetheless, man, she’s got the fire in her. She should be the template, if she doesn’t run. It should be who’s our Michelle Obama that could win? Why can’t we start thinking like this? See I’m watching people’s faces. You can’t see this on your podcast, but it’s the look of “No, wait a minute. Why do we have to do a celebrity thing? That’s – we’re the smarter party. We’re the smarter people. You know, why does it have to be that?” Because, it’s America! If you don’t want to live here, you can go to other countries where you don’t have to have a reality show to get into the White House.
I can name those countries for you. But if you’re gonna friggin’ stay here, you’ve got to, we’ve got to win. If we get the right person in there, they can help bring us back to a more intellectual place. But first we’ve got to get in there and we’ve gotta win. I can’t name that person tonight as to who that is. And I love Elizabeth Warren and I love Kamala Harris and Cory [Booker] seems like a good guy and all that, but I hear people say “We can’t run a woman.”
Why not? In fact, I think we have to run a woman, if possible. It should be a woman. Why? Because of Hillary? She won! We still don’t know that we won. We still don’t know that our side came out three million votes ahead. Ten million votes ahead in the Senate races on Tuesday. We’d have a much harder time if we were Martin Luther King in the 50s, or Gloria Steinem, or Betty Friedan in the 60s. They had to actually convince people to stop thinking the way you thought for hundreds of years. We don’t have to do that. We don’t have to convince people to be pro-choice, or the climate change is real, or that the minimum wage is too low, or that women should be paid the same as men. We don’t have to do any convincing. That’s the hard part.
It’s handed to us, the silver platter, it’s called the American public. Why don’t we use that? Why don’t we start acting like the winners and the majority that we are and let’s run somebody who’s going to win. I’m sorry I don’t have a better answer by coming up with the magic person right now and maybe it’s too soon but you know, I will go out and I will work for that person and I’ll do everything I can. What was the second part of your question? [Crowd laughs.]
JS: I think the workers need to go home now. So, with that –
MM: Yes, let them go home. [Applause.]
JS: Thank you to Marshall Curry and to Michael Moore.
MM: Thank you.
JS: From NYC Docs, Laura Poitras, Field of Vision, and The Intercept.
MM: Thank you, Jeremy. Thank you, Laura. Thank you, everybody.
JS: Michael Moore is an Academy Award-winning director. His latest film is Fahrenheit 11/9. I was speaking with him at the NYC Doc Festival in New York alongside Marshall Curry, director of the Field of Vision short film, A Night at the Garden. You can watch that film at fieldofvision.org.
JS: And that does it for this week’s show. If you are not yet a sustaining member of Intercepted, log on to theintercept.com/join. 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. Rick Kwan mixed the show with help from Brian Pugh. Our music, as always, was composed by DJ Spooky.
Until next week, I’m Jeremy Scahill.