We Are Not Your Firewall: Nina Turner and Briahna Joy Gray on South Carolina and the Attacks They Endure

Nina Turner and Briahna Joy Gray of the Bernie Sanders campaign are guests on this Intercepted special episode.

Photo illustration: Elise Swain/The Intercepted; Photos: Getty Images (3)

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As the presidential campaign of Sen. Bernie Sanders gains momentum, the attacks against him are intensifying. The billionaire former mayor of New York City, Michael Bloomberg, has announced that he is going to unleash a spate of attack ads against Sanders, while Pete Buttigieg and Joe Biden are harping about comments Sanders made on “60 Minutes” in the 1980s, where he praised Cuba’s literacy efforts. The red-baiting attacks on Sanders are certain to increase this week ahead of the South Carolina primary on Saturday and next week’s Super Tuesday contest. As Sanders has been battling his primary challengers, he is also facing attacks from an often openly hostile corporate media culture. On MSNBC, his victory in Nevada was compared to the Nazi invasion of France; one of the network’s paid pundits referred to the Sanders national campaign press secretary as coming from the “island of misfit black girls”; and host Chuck Todd compared Sanders’s Twitter followers to Nazi “brown shirts.” Meanwhile, a surrogate for Buttigieg called on Sanders to “muzzle” his top African American campaign representative, while Bloomberg’s campaign put out a statement accusing Sanders of being “Trump’s new bro” and focused overwhelmingly on attacking the comments of senior black women on the Sanders campaign. In this Intercepted special, Sanders’s top national surrogate, Nina Turner, and campaign press secretary Briahna Joy Gray discuss the attacks against them, the red-baiting against Sanders, and why they believe Sanders could pull off a major upset in South Carolina.


Jeremy Scahill: This is Intercepted.

[Music interlude.]

JS: I’m Jeremy Scahill coming to you from the offices of The Intercept in New York City and this is a special bonus episode of Intercepted.

Bernie Sanders: If we stand together, if we fight for an agenda that works for working families and the middle class, if we get involved in the political process, if we stand for justice, if we stand for compassion, if we understand that we are all in this together, that my family has to care about your family, your family cares about my family. Brothers and sisters, if we stand together, we will not only defeat Trump, we will transform this country and create a government and an economy that works for all of us, not wealthy campaign contributors.

JS: As the presidential campaign of Senator Bernie Sanders gains momentum, the attacks against him are intensifying. Billionaire former mayor of New York City Michael Bloomberg has announced that he’s going to unleash a spate of attack ads against Bernie Sanders, while Pete Buttigieg and Joe Biden are harping on about comments that Sanders made on 60 minutes where he praised Cuba’s literacy efforts.

BS: We’re very opposed to the authoritarian nature of Cuba. But you know, it’s unfair to simply say everything is bad. You know, when Fidel Castro came into office, you know what he did? He had a massive literacy program. Is that a bad thing, even though Fidel Castro did it?

Anderson Cooper: A lot of dissidents imprisoned in Cuba.

BS: That’s right and we condemned that.

JS: The red baiting attacks on Bernie Sanders, which by the way, also existed when he ran against Hillary Clinton in 2016, are most definitely going to increase this week ahead of the South Carolina primary on Saturday, and next week’s Super Tuesday contest. It’s worth pointing out that what Sanders said about Cuba under Fidel Castro is very similar to what Joe Biden’s former boss, Barack Obama, said while Biden was his VP.

Barack Obama: I said this to President Castro in Cuba. I said, “Look, you’ve made great progress in educating young people. Every child in Cuba gets a basic education. That’s a huge improvement from where it was. Medical care, now, the life expectancy of Cubans is equivalent to the United States despite it being a very poor country because they have access to health care. That’s a huge achievement. They should be congratulated. But you drive around Havana, this economy is not working.

JS: Now, I don’t recall Joe Biden attacking Barack Obama at the time Obama made this statement when Obama was president and Biden was vice president. Funny how that works. We have seen an apocalyptic meltdown in recent days on MSNBC and frankly, on other news networks following the Sanders victory in the Nevada caucus.

Jimmy Williams: If you don’t speak up now, then we’re going to have Bernie Sanders as our nominee and that is a disaster for the country.

Chris Matthews: I’m wondering whether the Democratic moderates want Bernie Sanders to be president.

James Carville: The happiest person right now — it’s about 1:15 Moscow time? This thing is going very well for Vladimir Putin.

JS: And there’s still this endless harping in the news on the notion that Bernie Sanders’ online supporters are uniquely hostile and awful people with Chuck Todd of NBC actually comparing them to the brown shirts in Nazi Germany.

Chuck Todd: And Ruth, we’ve all been on the receiving end of the Bernie online brigade. And here’s what he says, he says “No other candidate has anything like this sort of digital brown shirt brigade, I mean, except for Donald Trump.”

JS: But this framing from Chuck Todd and other people, the so-called Bernie Bro tag, it’s propaganda. It’s a propaganda effort that seeks to erase the diversity of the Sanders coalition and to erase the existence of some of his most prominent surrogates and campaign officials. It’s also meant to send the message that Bernie Sanders’ support is mostly made up of angry extremely online white men. At the same time, paid media pundits and surrogates for opposing presidential campaigns in the Democratic primary, have also engaged in disgraceful attacks against black women in senior positions on the Sanders campaign. One surrogate for Mayor Pete Buttigieg called on Sanders to show real leadership by “muzzling” a senior black woman on the Sanders campaign, Senator Nina Turner. An MSNBC pundit said that Sanders national campaign press secretary Briahna Joy Gray came from the “island of misfit black girls.”

Jason Johnson: And I don’t care how many people from the island of misfit black girls that you throw out there to defend you on a regular basis, it doesn’t mean that your campaign is serious.

Karen Hunter: That’s where you have crossed the line, sir.

JJ: I don’t care. I don’t care.

JS: Well to discuss all of this and the South Carolina primary, we are joined now by Senator Nina Turner and Briahna Joy Gray. Senator Turner, of course, is the senior national surrogate for Senator Bernie Sanders. And she joins us on the phone from a car where she is crisscrossing South Carolina right now. Senator Turner, thank you so much for joining us on Intercepted.

Nina Turner: It’s a pleasure.

JS: And we are also joined by Briahna Joy Gray national campaign press secretary for Bernie Sanders. And I should add in the spirit of full disclosure, a former journalist at The Intercept. Brie, thank you so much for being with us.

Briahna Joy Gray: Thank you. It’s good to be here.

JS: Senator Turner, you are there on the ground right now in South Carolina. Give us a sense of the argument that you and the Sanders campaign are making to South Carolina voters in general but also specifically to African American voters. Because of course, Joe Biden has said that South Carolina is his firewall. He keeps citing his support among African American voters in the Democratic primary.

Interviewer: You are relying on African Americans to carry that victory if you win here, correct?

Joe Biden: In large part, yes.

Interviewer: Do you think they’re going to stick with you even through what’s been a pretty rough season for you?

JB: Yeah, because they know me. They know me really well. 

JS: What is the ground game looking like right now for Senator Sanders in South Carolina?

NT: Jeremy, the ground game for Senator Sanders is looking very strong. The senator has been in and out of the state almost 20 times since 2018. He’s been to almost 60 events in this state himself. And that’s not counting having people like me, people like Brie Joy, people like Killer Mike, people like Dr. Cornel West, people like Mr. Danny Glover, people like Philip Agnew, people like Dr. Victoria Dooley, who’s a medical doctor and a champion, and activists for Medicare for All who have come in and out of this state to really spread the good news about Senator Bernie Sanders and his commitment to the African American community and to every community by extension.

The policies that he is pushing whether we take Medicare for all, college for all, canceling student debt and let me lean into canceling student debt, canceling that debt had it been done in 2016, it would have closed the racial wealth gap between blacks and whites from twelve to one to five to one. And so when we talk about changing the material conditions of the black community what Senator Sanders is fighting for, has always fought for and the policies that he is unabashedly pushing will have a unique disproportionate positive impact for change on the lives, vitality, hopes, and dreams of the Black community.

And Jeremy, before we go to Brie Joy, I want to say about the firewall, it is incredibly insulting to the African American community that any elected official consider us their firewall. And it is shameful in the United States of America because this is not just about Vice President Biden. It really is about how people navigate politics in this country when it comes to the African American voting bloc, that somehow we’re thought of as somebody’s firewall. We are the only ethnic group, the only racial group in this country where Democrats already lay out there that we’re the firewall for this party and it needs to come to a stop. It is insulting. Anybody that is running for office, whether it’s our beloved Senator, or whether somebody’s running for dog catcher, they need to earn the vote of the black community and not assume just because we vote overwhelmingly Democrat or because of their proximity to the first black president, that they are somehow owed our vote. What are you going to do for us? Or to quote the incredible Janet Jackson, what have you done for me lately?

[“What Have You Done For Me Lately?” by Janet Jackson plays.]

JS: Part of the dominant narrative in the corporate media from establishment Democrats, even from some of the people running against Senator Sanders is that Bernie Sanders can’t win the support of black voters. Now, they said the same thing about Nevada, and Sanders won a pretty decisive victory there in a very crowded field. But what is your response to that narrative that has gone on since the 2016 race that Bernie Sanders doesn’t do well among black voters?

BJG: Frankly, it’s completely out of date. And anyone still peddling, it should take a look at today’s Morning Consult poll which shows, again, that Bernie Sanders is in fact, number one in national polls with black voters. So, he is now number one with Latino voters, number one with white voters, number one with black voters. And I for one, think that that’s a pretty strong indication that he has the broad base of support, a broad, multiracial working class coalition with enthusiasm behind it which is exactly what you need to go up against someone like Donald Trump. And when you look at what’s going on in South Carolina, as well, with people like Dolly Meyers, local politicians who once supported Joe Biden, but who looked to their constituents and looked at the enthusiasm that they’re seeing in their own community and they said, “Look, I can’t ignore the fact that the groundswell of support among my community members, including my African American community members, is behind Bernie Sanders.”

And I think that part of it is because we’ve seen Bernie when these first three contests, the only candidate to win the popular vote in those first three contests in history, and they see in that someone who can go the distance. On top of that, we all know that he has the fundraising longevity, but nobody else in this race can match. And that is even more impressive, given that that fundraising is still coming from small dollar donors, you know, not solicitous of corporate PAC money. And he is now even more dramatically than before, the only one in this race who can really claim that status, including throughout during the general election.

JS: Now, Senator Turner, we are are seeing once again, a major attack strategy on the part of Senator Sanders opponents, including Mike Bloomberg, who has as we all know a tremendous amount of money that is aimed clearly at red baiting, at taking out of context things that Bernie Sanders said about the CIA in the 1970s about the Contra death squads in Nicaragua in the 1980s.

BS: One of the things that concerned me was the way that the United States government had always treated Latin America. And basically, as you know, our history has always been that we have the right to unilaterally get involved and overthrow governments that we don’t like.

JS: Now, there’s this big focus on Senator Sanders’s comments about Cuba’s literacy program. How are you planning to respond to now this announcement from Mike Bloomberg, that he’s going to pour even more money solely aimed at attacking Senator Bernie Sanders?

NT: It shows their desperation. And it shows that we’re winning quite frankly, because what Mayor Bloomberg and his team can’t do or won’t do is stay on the issues. You know, they want to bring up some comments that Senator Sanders made about Cuba and its progressive nature of his education program, where the majority of that population even though they don’t enjoy nearly as much wealth as a nation as our nation, not even close, but that they have nearly 100% literacy in that country. Our beloved President Obama talked about that, too. So while he’s rolling the tapes on Senator Bernard Sanders, I guess by default, he’s also rolling the tape on our beloved President Barack Obama. Listen, desperate men will take desperate measures and Mayor Bloomberg is desperate. He’s desperate because his record is the antithesis of Senator Sanders. He’s desperate because as mayor he pushed, propagated, propped up a racist policy called stop and frisk that at-will stopped black men and brown men, no matter what. Destroying lives, generationally, black and brown men, not just them as individuals, but also the community and the people they love not being able to rebound. This is the same man that is caught on tape saying that white folks are targeted too much, and minority people not enough. This is this man. This is the same man that blamed the Great Recession on rules that were being put in place to stop banks from red lining. This is this man.

And then all of the unsavory things that he’s been accused of in terms of when it comes to his relationship with women and sexism in the workplace. So he has some nerve. He can’t stand up. So he can’t stand up for the issues. What are the issues? Medicare for All. Are we gonna make sure in this nation that people have health care as a human right? College for all, canceling student debt, the Green New Deal, you name it on and on. So, he can’t stand up to those issues, so they got to find distractions. Even with all of the beltway people talking this nonsense, there is nobody on the ground to everyday people in this nation, asking about what Senator Sanders had to say about Fidel Castro and the education program in his country.

JS: It seems like you Senator Turner and Brie have both been chosen targets for political campaigns. We had a supporter and surrogate for Mayor Pete Buttigieg calling for you, Senator Turner to be “muzzled.” We had Mike Bloomberg’s campaign putting out an attack email going after you Senator Turner for labeling him an oligarch on MSNBC. And I couldn’t help but notice that the majority of the citations in the Bloomberg attack were against two senior black women in the Bernie Sanders campaign, and that’s who they’re choosing to focus on. But talk about what you are up against as you go around the country, advocating for Senator Sanders and all of these issues in the corporate media, but also from these rival campaigns and the language they use to attack you in particular.

BJG: You know what’s so ironic is that in 2016, we were told that Bernie Sanders couldn’t possibly reflect the interests of a diverse and increasingly diversifying country because his constituency was too white. And now that he has the least white base of supporters in this race, the attacks have shifted in a really interesting direction. So other campaigns still attempt to hold on to this mantle of being the most friendly toward women or friendly to people of color as they struggle to get out of single digits with people of color. And while at the same time focusing their attacks on as you pointed out, two senior black women who are accurately pointing out the imbalance of power that’s happening this election. So Senator Turner very accurately describing Mayor Bloomberg as an oligarch elicited the ire of a large number of people on MSNBC and others in the pundit class who spent more energy, it seems, defending Bloomberg who has $60 billion worth of wealth against the accurate charge that he’s an oligarch than energy spent, decrying his record of racism, stop-and-frisk, attempts to cut social security and other issues that directly affect working class people in this country.

JJ: Calling Mike Bloomberg an oligarch has implications in this country that I think are unfair and unreasonable. I disagree with a lot of things Mike Bloomberg has done as a mayor, but oligarchy in our particular terminology, it makes you think of some rich person who got their money off of oil in Russia, who’s taking advantage of a broken and dysfunctional system.

BJG: And so I think that what this whole election cycle has really revealed is that it’s taking the mask off of those who were interested in identity only insofar as it could be weaponized to advance corporate interests. And now that there is actually a party, there is a candidate who has managed to put together that rainbow coalition, that coalition of working class people, the culinary workers who came out in force for Bernie Sanders in Nevada, people, frankly, don’t know what to do with themselves. So we’re seeing a lot of this wild lashing out that yes, it’s disproportionately focused on Senator Turner and I, but what I am really heartened by is the extent to which most people, it seems, see right through these kinds of attacks. It’s very transparent what’s happening.

And as you saw from a supporter, a voter in New Hampshire shortly before that primary who was being interviewed on MSNBC, the kind of bias that you see on MSNBC and similar programs is actually driving people toward the Bernie camp in understanding exactly that the systems of power that he has been describing for the 30 years of his career, the negative effects of oligarch and corporate ownership on the media have borne fruit and it’s very clear and it’s making folks understand that he is the leader that we need to push back against some of those forces.

JS: Steve McElroy, this surrogate for Mayor Pete Buttigieg, former chief of staff to the West Virginia Senate and Lieutenant Governor. He tweeted that Sanders doesn’t show any leadership unless he quote, “muzzles you.” He then posted a tweet purporting to apologize to you and saying I know people won’t believe this, but actually I was hacked. What is your response to that attack on you? And to that well purported apology from the Buttigieg surrogate.

NT: Yeah, I mean, it’s sad and really sometimes to cope with it, you just got to shake your head and chuckle a little bit. It is OK for liberal Democrats to attack black women in America if we don’t agree with them. In other words, black women lead and Black Lives Matter. Our lives only matter and black women only lead when we’re doing exactly what you want us to do and saying with that exactly what you want us to say. You know, the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. warned us about white liberals. And he laid it out and I’m paraphrasing him. But basically he was saying that as we look at the Klu Klux Klan, and all of the people who visually we can look at and know that they are racist and anti-black, those people we get, but the hardest part is to deal with liberals who pretend, on one hand, and doing all of the dastardly, nasty, negative things behind the scenes to stunt the voices and the growth of black America.

And so had that been a Trumper, who said that, the neoliberals would be all over it. In the 21st century, this man who had a prominent role within the Democratic Party in his state, a role on the Pete Buttigieg campaign, had that been a Sanders person? They would still be crying bloody murder. But because it happened to me, Nina Turner, national surrogate of Senator Bernie Sanders’ campaign, a progressive woman that comes from a tradition of liberation fighters, Brie Joy and myself, throughout history as our sister Kathy wrote, that article laid out the Fannie Lou Hamer’s, the Ella Baker’s of the world, the Erica Garner’s of the world — if I can throw that out there and bless her soul because she’s not here with us — and all the other freedom fighters from generations past and the freedom fighters who live right here today. Because we don’t subscribe, and we don’t kowtow to them, then we’re fair game.

And Jeremy, what hurt so much, the muzzling of black women, muzzle me, and when I think about all that my foremothers went through so that I could have the positions and the spaces that I have so that Brie Joy and other women who may not even agree with us who are black women, our bodies and our mind subjugated to racism, us told that we’re not pretty enough, smart enough, to do some of the very things that because of our foremothers and our forefathers we are doing today, it is disheartening on so many levels. And this has nothing to do with me being prominent in Senator Sanders’ campaign. This has everything to do with me being a black woman in America and we deal with this shit every single day of our lives both covertly and overtly.

You know, Dr. Victoria Dooley who’s a medical doctor threw out a stat about heart disease among black women, and she said that half of black women in America have some type of heart disease, complication, half of us. That there’s so many micro aggressions and the stressors that black women are under that our hearts are broken literally in this country at higher rates than any other group of people, black men, white men, white women, Latinx folks, Asian folks, that black women have the highest incidences of heart disease, our hearts are broken. And part of that says to me, is that all of the hell that we catch on a regular basis whether it’s us worried about ourselves as black women, or worrying about the black children that we love, the black men that we love, the black community that we love and carry on our shoulders and backs is literally killing us.

Had this been said about a neoliberal anybody else, those pearl clutching folks would have been crying bloody murder. Had it been said about any of the women by a Trumper, we talk about Trumpsters now. We talk about people — I mean, wrap your mind around this. We talk about people who support Donald J. Trump. We talk about people who purport to be part of the Democratic Party, and this party is lifted up. Black folks, we are the only group in this country that disproportionately votes for them over 90% of the time, no matter what. Now, other groups of color they come in and out of the Democratic Party, but black folks we there come hell or high water, and this is what this man said about me.

Likening it to when Trump called Omarosa “a dog.” Now, I don’t believe in the politics of Trump obviously but you know, when Omarosa worked for him, that was her right to do it. What I don’t like and she’s a sister of mine, from Buckeye, from Ohio, but nobody spoke up. You know why? Because it was Omarosa, because she had worked for Donald Trump they thought it was OK for that man to call her a dog. If we don’t stand up for women and stand up for black woman and keep talking about black women are the backbone no matter how we sway politically, you have to come out and speak out against anti-blackness and misogyny targeted towards black women.

Brie Joy and I are not asking you to be, you know to jump on the bandwagon of Senator Bernie Sanders. But what you need to do is think about humanity, and whether it’s right or wrong. When people are wrong, you gotta call them out. And this is the double standard in this country when it comes to black women. No black lives don’t matter and particularly black women’s lives don’t matter because we are supposed to be subjected to. We’re only supposed to talk about what neoliberals tell us to talk about and be on the side that they tell us to be on the side of. And when we don’t do that we are scorned and hunted.

Put a muzzle on me, really? And then they’re asking a white man. You know, my beloved Senator, think about that. I mean, it wouldn’t be acceptable even if they were asking a black man to do it. But think about that. They’re asking a white man to put a muzzle on me. You know what? My ancestors were muzzled. Literally muzzled in the United States of America under slavery — bodies, minds, hearts, spirits muzzled. What I have to deal with is the fact that young black women after me have to endure this. It don’t matter how many degrees you have. It don’t matter how many titles you have, you ain’t never good enough.

JS: Well, I think anyone who is watching you and has watched these years of your fight, anyone who is an intellectually honest or moral person stands in awe of you and your presence. You know, it may not be objective, but I am in that camp of people who have watched you over these years and I stand in awe of what you stand for and the struggle that you represent.

NT: Thank you, Jeremy.

JS: You know, Brie, on this issue, because you are the national campaign secretary has Pete Buttigieg himself reached out about the language that his surrogate used in this attack against Senator Nina Turner?

BJG: No, not as of yet. Not that I’m aware of. And it’s frustrating because both Pete Buttigieg and some other candidates in this race right now have claimed that every candidate should be entirely responsible for the actions of every single person who speaks in their name.

Elizabeth Warren: Look, I have said many times before, we are all responsible for our supporters and we need to step up. That’s what leadership is all about.

BJG: And so that was a really convenient posture to take as long as the media wasn’t covering what has always been. To be clear, this isn’t new. The media just has been indifferent to the attacks which has always been equally distributed, if not disproportionately directed at historically marginalized groups, including a lot of people of color on the left. You might recall that, you know, while there are a bunch of anonymous people who are being tied to the Sanders campaign, it was a Daily Kos reporter, a journalist who had to be fired because of remarks that he made about Senator Turner last year. The highest profile official people who have been making these kinds of racist comments have not been from the Bernie camp at all.

And yet, we continue to see complete and total silence from those who just as recently as last week, you know, I am old enough to remember when a candidate stood on that stage last week, and said that everyone was responsible for everyone who supported them. And why I certainly don’t think that’s the standard that should apply because it’s spatially absurd. I think that the hypocrisy deserves calling out.

JS: There have been several paid MSNBC contributors, pundits, even some people that are hosts who have also engaged in ad hominem attacks against senior members of the Sanders campaign who happen to be black women. One of them for instance, Dr. Jason Johnson was debating Senator Turner on the air when she first raised the Mike Bloomberg oligarch issue. And then later on Sirius XM he referred to the black women that are working on Senator Sanders campaign as “coming from the island of misfit black girls.” He apologized on Twitter and I’ll just read his apology and then I want you to respond not just to him but to MSNBC in general and the way they cover your campaign: “Earlier this week in a conversation about the Sanders campaign and the behavior of his staff and supporters, I referred to his campaign spokesperson, as coming from the island of misfit black girls. It was a harmful and unnecessary comment and I apologize.” Your response, Brie.

BJG: I am glad that he made a statement. I don’t know that it’s particularly productive for me to continue to relitigate how I feel about it in particular, but what it is frustrating is to see him right back on the internet today calling people out for attacking black women without any kind of introspection of how he is among those ranks, right? So again, it’s just the ongoing hypocrisy is a problem and more importantly, a broader audience then than just kind of these interpersonal disputes is the fact that if you turn on the news, the mainstream news, if you turn on The View — I was just watching a clip from this morning — the way the questions are framed is very explicitly, how can we stop Bernie Sanders?

Sunny Hostin: When do you think is the time where your old boss, President Barack Obama, is going to weigh in? Because there are reports that President Obama does not think that Bernie should be the nominee.

BJG: There’s no hiding the ball. They had Rahm Emanuel on The View earlier today, and they asked him, “Well, can we stop Bernie Sanders? How can we stop Bernie Sanders?” As though Bernie Sanders was the Republican candidate that we’re trying to unseat from the White House. And so that posture which has gone largely unchecked I will say there have been some welcome examples of clarity, rationality over the last couple of days, especially, you know, post-Nevada, Joy Ann Reid had a really lovely segment actually following the Nevada win. Anand Giridharadas had a wonderful segment that went viral yesterday. I mean, there are these moments. I don’t want to indict everybody with a broad brush.

But I think it’s incumbent on all of us to question why the framing is which one of these moderates can take out Bernie Sanders? How many of these votes can we stack on top of each other to claim that moderates actually have a greater percentage of the electorate than Bernie Sanders? How long are we going to ignore statistics that show that Bernie Sanders actually did better with self described moderates in Nevada than any of these other so-called moderates?

How long are we going to ask “What’s motivating black voters? What’s motivating Latino voters?” Without taking into account that Latinos are the most underinsured group in this country and thinking that maybe possibly this constituency groups have priorities that are broadly shared with a majority of Americans and that in fact, the most electable candidate is the candidate whose policies aligned substantively with overwhelming majorities of working class Americans of all colors, all creeds, all stripes.

JS: Senator Turner, I know you have to go in a minute but I just want to ask you in the aftermath of your labeling of Michael Bloomberg as an oligarch, which, by the way, I think is a factually correct statement, whatever anyone thinks about how you said it, you were saying something that I think is indisputably true that Michael Bloomberg is an oligarch. On that issue, though, you mentioned stop-and-frisk. There was also the Muslim surveillance program. There’s Bloomberg’s positions on workers, on the minimum wage, on social security, on Medicare, his support for the Iraq war which he continues to just say “Oh, it was an innocent mistake and and well meaning people just made a mistake, and oops, we got a war.” With all that we know about Mike Bloomberg, from his public record, from also his refusal to speak clearly about what has been alleged by numerous women about him and his companies, do you believe that Mike Bloomberg would be in any way a positive alternative to Donald Trump in the White House?

NT: I mean, we’re talking about the different sides of the same coin. And Senator Elizabeth Warren laid that out very clearly on the debate stage.

JS: Do you believe that the public record of Michael Bloomberg supports the notion that he has been a racist policy maker?

NT: It’s very clear it has. I mean, that is irrefutable. When you are the person that has the power in your hands, when the police department answers to you and what you decide to do, instead of being just-on-crime and smart-on-crime and use the best tools that we haven’t talked to experts about what it would be necessary to both make a city safe but make it just and to not feed into generational stereotypes about black men being more criminal than anybody else and then brown men by extension. He had the power to do all of those things. But what did he do? He went to the worst side of this thing and over policed black and brown communities and clearly targeted capital-T, targeted not by accident, but on purpose this policy was made and executed by him and his police force. He once called the New York Police his own personal force, but he put forth a policy under his watch that destroyed lives. It is a racist policy to its core. That is irrefutable.

We’re talking about the actions that one took when they had the power and time and time again, Jeremy, based on all that you have just enumerated up into and including stop-and-frisk, every time for the most part, Michael Bloomberg had the power to go in a direction that was more liberating. He chose the worst path and he used his power to suffocate the poor. 

At one time New York was seen as the playground and still is for the wealthy. Homelessness went up under this man’s watch. Okay, again, he had the power, not in the city council. He wasn’t a member of the legislature. He is a mayor. And so what we have seen from Mike Bloomberg is a forecasting of how he will act as president. I mean, this is the man who changed the rules to get another term, y’all hear me? Another term in New York, and he changed the rules back after he left so that nobody else could do the same thing. He doesn’t go out and build coalition with people. He makes a demand. He believes that his money can buy this democracy. He did it in New York, and he’s doing it again. This man, even right now in deciding to run for president, decided to ignore Iowa, ignore New Hampshire, ignoring Nevada, even though he had the gall to be up on the stage, ignoring all of the early states, banking everything literally on Super Tuesday, pouring 350 million of his dollars into buying the democracy.

And so we have to ask ourselves two very important questions. Number one, is that the kind of country we want to be, where the wealthiest people can continue to buy this democracy? That’s number one. And number two, whose side are these people on? Are they on their own side of just trying to gobble up more power, more power, more power at the expense of the many? Or are they on the side of the workaday people of this nation from all walks of life? Senator Bernie Sanders is on the side and has proven to be all throughout his life, while elected and not elected, to certainly be on a justice journey. Mike Bloomberg, who was in the same generation has not proven himself to be on the justice journey. And even when he had pure power, he used that power to hurt.

JS: Final question for both of you, Tom Perez, the chair of the DNC, do you believe that he is actively trying to stop Bernie Sanders from getting the nomination?

BJG: What we’re focused on is the fact that we have the grassroots enthusiasm, an unprecedented number of volunteers, a donor base of small dollar donors that can take us through, strong through the general and compete with Donald Trump, and a record so far and the selection that suggests that we might not have to deal with anything at the convention at all. We can win this cleanly if people who support this campaign and this movement continue to invest in it in the way that they have. What’s important is that we aren’t relying on any institutional factors. We’re not relying on support from any establishment figures to win this thing. We are unique in being able to say that and that is exactly why we have a platform that is unlike any other candidate in this race, there is a direct correlation between our financial and institutional independence. And the fact that we’re actually fighting for and putting forward policies that Americans have wanted for decades, but which haven’t been delivered to them because our politicians haven’t been independent and free enough to actually do the bidding of their constituents as opposed to the bidding of the special interests who support their campaign.

So that’s what we’re focused on. We want to keep people really galvanized and optimistic and excited about what we’ve accomplished so far. And not to get too mired down, I know we’ve had a lot of passionate discourse over the course of this conversation and it’s real and it’s true, and it’s cathartic, frankly, to be able to talk about it because living online the way that Senator Turner and I do can be somewhat exhausting. But at the end of the day, it is so innervating to know that we have the people at our backs, and to have a victory like the one in Nevada which was brought to us on the backs of these working class people on the strip, these culinary workers, these people who know more than anybody else what corruption is, who know more than anybody else what it is to be exploited by the corporate entities that have bought our democracy, and to know that we can ride that tidal wave of enthusiasm and support all the way through and get Donald Trump out of the White House.

JS: Well Brie, as you as you well know, the reason I’m asking about Tom Perez, and I’ll put this to you, Senator Nina Turner, is because we know that there were very dirty tricks pulled against the Sanders campaign in the 2016 primary. There has been controversy over rules changing under the DNC and Tom Perez that seemed to benefit candidates like oh, Michael Bloomberg, and I’m wondering, given that Senator Sanders said very publicly that the Republican and Democratic establishments can’t stop the campaign. I’m wondering how you are strategizing, dealing with the kind of war within — where you have the establishment of the party pretty clearly to those of us paying attention, trying to stop Bernie Sanders from winning this nomination even going so far as a brokered convention?

NT: Well, I want to Amen everything that Brie Joy said, Jeremy. So yeah, we know exactly what happened in 2016. We had a Unity Reform Commission, as you both know, that was formed out of an agreement between Senator Sanders and Secretary Clinton. I was one of the members on that Unity Reform Commission. We did lots of good work, certainly in many areas. We didn’t go as far enough as the Bernie Eight as we called ourselves, wanted it to go but the fact that the super delegates cannot vote on the first ballot is certainly something monumental. I mean, if the Democratic Party wants to continue to grow and build out its base and be the big tent party that it should be in that it can be, Senator Bernie Sanders is the candidate to do that. And as Brie Joy laid out, we’ve already done so much on the ground in terms of the synergy and energy of people from all walks of life who are gravitating to this campaign, because they know that Senator Bernie Sanders is on their side.

In other words, they’re rocking with him because he’s rocking with them. And they understand that he believes that not me, us. So we’re going to continue with our grassroots base that is going to continue to build and be enormous. The win is gonna be so epic that nobody can deny — they can’t deny it. And if they do something like that, you know, it just would be the antithesis of what the Democratic Party purports to stand for. And then lastly, those very people that Brie Joy just enumerated helped our campaign, helped Senator Bernie Sanders make history in this country by winning the first three states: The popular votes of Iowa, the popular vote of New Hampshire, the popular vote of Nevada, and no other presidential candidate has done that, not Democrat and not Republican. So those people are speaking very loudly and clearly in terms of who they believe not only is the best candidate to defeat President Donald J. Trump, also the candidate who has the vision to turn things around in this country and the courage to bring hope to bring synergy and to bring the change that the working class people of all backgrounds deserve and need for times such as this.

JS: Senator Nina Turner, I know you are campaigning on the ground there in South Carolina. Thanks so much for taking time out to speak with us.

NT: Thank you for having us. Jeremy.

JS: Briahna Joy Gray, thank you so much for being with us as well.

BJG: Thank you. It’s a pleasure.

JS: Senator Nina Turner is senior national campaign surrogate for senator Bernie Sanders. Briahna Joy Gray is the national campaign press secretary for Bernie Sanders and a former journalist for The Intercept.

[Music interlude.]

JS: And that does it for this special bonus episode of Intercepted. We will be back with our regular program on Wednesday. You can follow us on Twitter @intercepted and Instagram @interceptedpodcast. If you like what we do on this show, you can support it by going to TheIntercept.com/join to become a sustaining member.

Intercepted is a production of First Look Media and The Intercept. Our lead producer is Jack D’Isidoro, our producer is Laura Flynn. Elise Swain is our associate producer and graphic designer. Betsy Reed is editor in chief of The Intercept. Rick Kwan mixed this special episode. Transcription for this program is done by Nuria Marquez Martinez. Our music, as always, was composed by DJ Spooky. Until Wednesday, I’m Jeremy Scahill.

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