Democracy Now

Workers beg Joe Manchin to save West Virginia pharma plant as his daughter walks away with $31 million

More than 1,400 workers in West Virginia are set to lose their jobs this week when the Viatris pharmaceuticals plant in Morgantown shuts down and moves operations overseas to India and Australia. Workers say they've had no response to their urgent requests for help from their Democratic senator, Joe Manchin, who is often called the most powerful man in Washington. Viatris was formed through a merger between two pharmaceutical companies, Mylan and Upjohn. Mylan's chief executive, Manchin's daughter Heather Bresch, got a $31 million payout as a result of the corporate consolidation before the new company set about cutting costs, including the closure of the Morgantown plant. Joseph Gouzd, president of United Steelworkers of America Local 8-957 and a worker at the plant, says Viatris has given little reason for the closure except to say the company is looking to "maximize the best interests of the shareholders." We also speak with investigative journalist Katherine Eban, who says moving pharmaceutical production overseas contradicts the recommendations of numerous reports that have found major safety lapses in drug manufacturing abroad, as well as concern from lawmakers about keeping a key industry within the United States. "This is pure insanity," Eban says. "It seems like it is both pharmaceutical and national security suicide to close this plant."

Transcript
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I'm Amy Goodman in New York, with Juan González in New Jersey, as we turn to West Virginia, where more than 1,400 workers are set to lose their jobs this week when Viatris pharmaceuticals plant in Morgantown shuts down and moves operations overseas to India and Australia.

Workers say they've had no response to their urgent requests for help from their senator, Democratic Senator Joe Manchin, who's often called the most powerful man in Washington.

The Viatris plant in West Virginia has been making pharmaceuticals since 1965 and was run by Mylan until a merger last November with Pfizer's Upjohn Company, which created the conglomerate Viatris.

VIATRIS AD: In a world that is perpetually changing, there is increasing need for steady leadership, companies demonstrating the courage to address the world's emerging healthcare challenges with passion and compassion. Viatris is redefining the healthcare landscape.

AMY GOODMAN: When Viatris was created, Mylan's chief executive, Senator Manchin's daughter, Heather Bresch, got a $31 million payout. During her time as CEO, Bresch drew outrage when the company raised the price of its life-saving EpiPen, used by millions to reverse fatal allergic reactions, when they raised the price by 400%.

After the merger, Viatris immediately began to cut costs, and now the plant is set to close on Friday. Some workers have already been told to clear out their lockers and leave the site after turning in their employee badges. This is Carla Shultz, who worked at the plant for 13 years and was able to get chemotherapy drugs for her mother through her job. The same medicine would otherwise cost her family $7,000 a month. She spoke to The Laura Flanders Show.

CARLA SHULTZ: I had to look at my mom, who had had major health issues over the 13 years, and tell her that, you know, I'm not going to have a job after July. And she knew I was getting her medicine there, too. And, "What about my medicine? You know, what about" — and then she had to start worrying about, of all things — you know, we want to keep her positive and keep her healthy. And I had to break that news to her. That was tough. It really was.
I'm just a year or two away from retirement, so I'm too old to go to school, I feel. And I don't know. I need to be here in the daytime to care for my mom, so I might have to try to find another midnight shift job, that, you know, is not going to pay as well, of course, and probably not going to have the benefits.

AMY GOODMAN: That's Carla Shultz, who works at the Viatris pharmaceuticals plant, now set to close during a pandemic, that has shown how much the U.S. needs to expand its domestic drug production.

For more, we go to Morgantown, West Virginia, to speak with Joseph Gouzd, who worked at the plant and is president of the United Steelworkers of America Local 8-957, which represents hundreds of workers there. Also with us, Katherine Eban, investigative journalist, author, contributing editor at Vanity Fair. Her new piece is headlined "'We Can't Reach Him': Joe Manchin Is Ghosting the West Virginia Union Workers Whose Jobs His Daughter Helped Outsource." She's also author of the book Bottle of Lies: The Inside Story of the Generic Drug Boom and Dangerous Doses: A True Story of Cops, Counterfeiters, and the Contamination of America's Drug Supply.

We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Joe Gouzd, can you talk about what's happening at the plant right now in supposedly these final days of its operation?

JOSEPH GOUZD: Good morning. Thanks for having me this morning.

Currently, the majority of the workers have been allowed to clean out their lockers — or, told to, rather, clean out their lockers, take their personal belongings and leave the facility and, upon exiting the facility, turn in their badge, their access badge, to the plant, and also their parking permit. This started approximately 11 a.m. on Sunday, and it ran through yesterday. In fact, it's probably even taking place in minimal increments now, since the majority of the members have been flushed out by management and told to exit the facility.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Joseph Gouzd, I wanted to ask you: What did the company tell the union? First of all, did they give them the 90-day WARN notice that they have to do in shutdowns like this? And also, they can't be saying that they're not making money. If any industry is making money these days, it's the pharmaceutical industry. So, what was the reason they gave you for shifting production overseas?

JOSEPH GOUZD: The WARN Act was filed according to dated deadlines, as per the regulations required.

The other situation that you asked about is what did the company say. Well, the merger took place in November of 2020. December the 11th of 2020, on a Friday, a payday Friday, two weeks — exactly two weeks before Christmas, we were on an all-inclusive employee phone call. The officers had a phone call 15 minutes prior to that here at the union hall. We were told approximately seven minutes before the all-inclusive employee phone call that Viatris had made a decision to synergize and close the Morgantown facility. Profitability and things of that nature weren't really discussed, but there was a lot of mention of the future interest of the shareholders and the investors and trying to, quote-unquote, "downsize" to maximize the interest, the best interest, of the shareholders and the stakeholders in Viatris, the new company.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And I would have to assume that as pharmaceutical jobs, unionized pharmaceutical jobs, the pay is above average, certainly for West Virginia. Could you talk about what kind of salaries were these workers — had these workers been taking home, and what kind of replacement jobs are available at that level in West Virginia?

JOSEPH GOUZD: We ratified a contract in the spring of 2017. It's fair to say, on a very modest estimate, that the cross-section was approximately $30 to $31 an hour at that time, when the contract was ratified. And then there's upwards of about 80 cents a year in terms of an incremental raise on an annual basis.

The job market in Morgantown, West Virginia, at this time, for example, there are Lowe's, which is a home improvement center, and Home Depot, a home improvement center, a little bit of West Virginia University Medicine and such. It seems as if the cross-section is basically around $17 to $18 an hour. And that's about an average.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to bring Katherine Eban into this conversation. The piece you wrote in Vanity Fair, "'We Can't Reach Him': Joe Manchin Is Ghosting the West Virginia Union Workers Whose Jobs His Daughter Helped Outsource." Can you give us the big picture here? I mean, we are talking about one of the largest generic drug manufacturing plants in the United States closing this week — this week, which the Biden administration, the White House, has declared "Made in America Week." You have a precedent in Tennessee of a similar plant that the Biden administration has stopped from closing. Can you explain the history here?

KATHERINE EBAN: Absolutely. Good to be with you, Amy and Juan. Thank you for having me again.

So, this is pure insanity. We have seen five years of congressional reports, policy reports and bipartisan agreement that we need to make as many of our own pharmaceuticals as possible. We know from data, from reporting, that the drugs that are made overseas can be full of carcinogens and toxic impurities. There is all kinds of data fraud and other quality questions that the plants overseas are riddled with, including Viatris's own plants, which are operating in India under an official action indicated warning from the FDA. So, why, in the middle of a pandemic, are we going through this exercise that every single report has told us is absolutely counterindicated to public health and our national interest?

It seems that there is a collision here of politics and corporate greed. We've seen massive payouts to the Viatris executives in the course of this merger, including, as you noted, over $30 million to Joe Manchin's daughter, Heather Bresch, who is the former CEO of Mylan, the company that merged with Upjohn. And, you know, Manchin has become this pivotal figure, called by some the most powerful man in Washington, D.C., and the only thing that is standing between this whisker-thin Senate majority for the Democrats and Senator McConnell taking up the gavel again. So, there is this sort of cone of silence that has come down over this shuttering of this critical manufacturing plant in West Virginia. It seems like it is both pharmaceutical and national security suicide to close this plant.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Katherine, could you talk about Manchin's daughter's history there — Heather Bresch — with the company and previous scandals or controversies she's been involved with?

KATHERINE EBAN: Yeah. Well, what's really remarkable about the executive team that ran Mylan over the last decade is that their compensation has just gone up and up. There was one year in which Heather Bresch's payout was $25 million, in 2014. Pay has gone up and up, even while there has been this steady drumbeat of scandals, as well as regulatory run-ins with the FDA.

So, you know, her tenure at Mylan began with this scandal in which it turned out that she had been given, awarded an MBA from West Virginia University on the basis of doctored transcripts, when she didn't do the coursework. That MBA had to be revoked. It was awarded right after Manchin became governor, that he was before senator.

Then there was, as you noted, the scandal around the EpiPen pricing, in which the price was jacked up 400%. Under Bresch's management, it was handled disastrously. You know, she sort of pulled a Marie Antoinette on national television, saying, "Nobody is more upset about this than I am," but everybody rightly noted that her compensation has just skyrocketed as Mylan CEO.

Then, once the Morgantown plant got into regulatory trouble with the FDA, based on the kinds of data manipulation that some of the executive team had been notably involved in in their previous employment, they looked to wind down the Morgantown plant. But the people who are really going to suffer here are American consumers. We need safe medication, affordable medication, and medication made within inspection distance of FDA headquarters. That's what the Morgantown plant offered for, I think, something like five decades.

AMY GOODMAN: This is then —

KATHERINE EBAN: And now —

AMY GOODMAN: This is then-Mylan CEO Heather Bresch, daughter of Senator Joe Manchin, then-head of the lobbying group the Generic Pharmaceutical Association, blamed the price hike on a broken healthcare system during a disastrous interview with CNBC's Brian Sullivan.

BRIAN SULLIVAN: Surely, you must understand the outrage. As somebody I talked to last night said, people are outraged because it seems outrageous, that the American Medical Association has said this is basically the same product it was in 2009, and yet the price has gone up 300- or 400-fold.
HEATHER BRESCH: So, the — look, no one is more frustrated than me. I've been in this business for 25 years —
BRIAN SULLIVAN: But you're — you're the one raising the price, though. How can you be frustrated?

AMY GOODMAN: That's then-Mylan CEO Heather Bresch, who went on to lie to a congressional committee when she said the profit off a two-pack of EpiPens is $100, when it was actually $166, about 60% higher. That's because Bresch cited a profit figure that included a 37.5% tax rate on the EpiPen, even though Mylan paid a tax rate of just 7% that year. An analyst told The Wall Street Journal that $100 reported profit figure "has nothing to do with reality."

But I wanted to ask you, Katherine Eban, about this Tennessee plant, because this is where Joe Biden weighs in. I mean, when you talk about President Joe, some people in Washington think you mean Joe Manchin because of his power there. What happened in Tennessee? And what could Biden do here? And then we'll talk to the union leader about whether he's spoken to Manchin. Where is he on this? But, Katherine, begin.

KATHERINE EBAN: Yeah. So, there was a really interesting Hail Mary rescue of an antibiotic plant in Tennessee. It was purchased — it was essentially about to be mothballed. It was purchased for a dollar by a U.K. company, who sent a guy named David Argyle to the Tennessee antibiotics plant to say, "Hey, is this plant viable? What did we buy?" He got there. He saw this incredible esprit de corps among the workers and among the management. You know, they had a critical mission, which was making antibiotics, amoxicillin, for the U.S. market.

So, Argyle got creative. And he's Australian. What he did, he placed the plant into Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Then he — working with Tennessee elected officials, he got the plant designated as critical infrastructure, under a federal agency called CISA, which is Cybersecurity Infrastructure — Cyber Infrastructure Security Agency [Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency], got it designated as critical infrastructure. And then, working with a team, he found an American buyer for it. And now the U.S.A. has an antibiotics plant. You know, at a time when almost 100% of our penicillin is made overseas, we now have a functioning antibiotics plant in the U.S.

So, what could be done at Morgantown? The Biden administration could designate the plant as critical infrastructure, which would stop its equipment and its intellectual property from going overseas. They could come in and rescue it under the Defense Production Act and get government involvement in the plant in order to save it. But the question is: Why, in the middle of a pandemic, when it has been clearly revealed that there has been supply chain crisis after supply chain crisis, would the Biden administration let this plant slip through America's fingers right now?

AMY GOODMAN: We're going to continue this conversation after break. We're talking to Katherine Eban, Vanity Fair writer, who's asking where Joe Manchin is in all of this, the piece, "'We Can't Reach Him': Joe Manchin Is Ghosting the West Virginia Union Workers Whose Jobs His Daughter Helped Outsource." And we'll continue talking to Joe Gouzd, who is the local chapter president of the union, USW Local 8-957. Stay with us.

[break]

AMY GOODMAN: "Wider Circles" by Rising Appalachia. This is Democracy Now! I'm Amy Goodman, with Juan González. We're speaking with Joseph Gouzd, works at the Viatris plant in Morgantown. He's president of the USW Local 8-957, represents workers there. Almost 1,500 workers are set to lose their jobs by the end of this week. Katherine Eban is with us, of Vanity Fair, wrote the piece, "'We Can't Reach Him': Joe Manchin Is Ghosting the West Virginia Union Workers Whose Jobs His Daughter Helped Outsource." Juan?

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Yes. Katherine, I wanted to ask you — Heather Bresch, Joe Manchin's daughter, is not the only person who's, to some degree or other, family member that benefits from the power and influence that Joe Manchin has. Could you talk about his wife, as well, Gayle Conelly Manchin? She was recently sworn in as co-chair of the Appalachian Regional Commission, at a $163,000-a-year job. And that commission is supposed to promote economic development. So, how is the closing of a plant, shifting it overseas, helping the economic development of West Virginia?

KATHERINE EBAN: Yeah, the ironies are really thick here. And it seems to be that this Mylan plant in Morgantown has been used as a kind of family enterprise prior to this. So, Gayle Manchin plays a cameo role in the EpiPen scandal, actually, because she was on a school commission that was trying to get the U.S. government to mandate that schools purchase the EpiPen, when it was at that inflated price. You know, so the approach to this pharmaceutical manufacturing has been to sort of milk this plant and its products for profit, which has benefited the Manchin family and benefited shareholders, but not benefited American patients to this point.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Joe Gouzd, could you talk about your efforts to try to reach Senator Manchin about this issue? And what kind of response have you gotten from him or his staff about the fact that all of these workers in his state are losing jobs?

JOSEPH GOUZD: That's a really intriguing question for Local 8-957 in Morgantown. We had a March 10th fly-in with several Senate aides and senators that accompanied us and accepted our calls. Senator Manchin, through his aides, was patched through to our call at approximately 12:30 p.m. on March the 10th. We were told that he was on the Senate floor voting. And he acknowledged and picked up the phone and said, "Hey, guys, the news is catastrophic, and we're sorry about your luck to hear of the plant closing. It sounds like they've made a corporate decision."

But prior to that, as Katherine alluded to earlier — and I want to go back to a statement she made — the majority of penicillin and such is made outside of the domestic United States of America. But Joe Manchin's first question to us was — and I was on the call with four other officers at the union hall at the same time: "Are you all still making penicillin at the facility?" We haven't made penicillin in Morgantown, West Virginia, for more than 20 years.

AMY GOODMAN: So, he was speaking to you from the floor of the Senate? How long was that call, and what did he say?

JOSEPH GOUZD: Approximately two minutes, maybe two to three minutes. And I use the word "approximately." But his first question was: "Sorry, guys, hate to hear the news. Are you all still making penicillin at that facility? And also, are you a batch production site? It sounds like corporate has made a decision to close the facility. I'm not so sure there's anything left that I can do. We'll try to help, but I'm not so sure there's anything left that I can do."

In the meantime, the gentleman had asked me a question about what we had done to try to circumvent around Senator Manchin's comments and maybe get or try to embark on a little bit more of an engagement conversation from the senator. We have spoken to Andrew Robinson in the Fairmont office. We had spoken to Andrew Robinson more than one occasion, asking for and inquiring about a meeting with Senator Manchin. Andrew Robinson has never told us or responded to us to let us know that we could not have a meeting with Senator Manchin.

AMY GOODMAN: Joe, we're going to have —

JOSEPH GOUZD: We then —

AMY GOODMAN: We're going to have to leave it there. Five seconds?

JOSEPH GOUZD: We went on to Anna Engle in Washington, D.C., at his other office, requesting meetings, and never received a response there, either.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Joseph Gouzd works at the Viatris plant, set to close Friday, in Morgantown, West Virginia, president of the United Steelworkers Local 8-957 that represents workers there. And thanks to Katherine Eban, contributing editor at Vanity Fair. Her piece, we'll link to, "'We Can't Reach Him': Joe Manchin Is Ghosting the West Virginia Union Workers Whose Jobs His Daughter Helped Outsource." I'm Amy Goodman, with Juan González.


Billionaires race to privatize space as Earth burns — and workers organize

As the world's richest man flies his Blue Origin rocket into suborbital space, here on Earth calls are growing to tax the rich and let Amazon unionize. Billionaire Jeff Bezos has faced strong criticism after Tuesday's flight, for which he thanked Amazon workers and customers who "paid for all of this." Bezos traveled to the edge of space just days after another billionaire, Virgin Group founder Richard Branson, took a similar trip on a Virgin Galactic spacecraft. "The richest and most powerful people in the world are turning their eyes away from the planet and to the stars," says Paris Marx, a writer and host of the podcast "Tech Won't Save Us." "We need to question whether we should be dedicating so much resources to this kind of grand vision of a future that may never arrive," Marx says. We also speak with journalist Peter Ward, author of the book "The Consequential Frontier: Challenging the Privatization of Space," who says billionaires who have monopolized large sectors of the economy are seeking to do the same for space infrastructure. "It's not the worst thing to have the private sector involved. It's just it can't be where they have complete control," Ward says.

Transcript
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We begin today's show with a look at how the world's richest man completed a 10-minute suborbital flight aboard his Blue Origin spacecraft Tuesday. Jeff Bezos spoke at a news conference after his crew landed.

JEFF BEZOS: I want to thank every Amazon employee and every Amazon customer, because you guys paid for all of this. So, seriously, for every Amazon customer out there and every Amazon employee, thank you from the bottom of my heart very much.

AMY GOODMAN: The billionaire Amazon founder Bezos's remarks drew sharp rebuke. Washington Congressmember Pramila Jayapal tweeted, "If Amazon paid its workers fairly and did not fight unionization, workers would not be funding the expensive hobbies of billionaires. They would be taking care of their families and living dignified and fulfilling lives." Jayapal also noted that the 11-minute "joyride" cost over $2.5 million a minute. "Yes, it's time to tax the rich," she said.

Stuart Appelbaum, president of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union that tried to unionize Amazon's warehouse in Bessemer, Alabama, also responded to Bezos' comments thanking Amazon customers and employees for paying for his spaceflight.

STUART APPELBAUM: These are people who put their lives on the line during the pandemic and did not receive adequate support from Jeff Bezos. In the middle of the pandemic, he even cut people's wages, when he didn't need to. People are being forced to work in conditions where their health and safety is not being adequately protected. There is so much more Jeff Bezos should be doing for his employees.

AMY GOODMAN: Bezos rocketed into suborbital space with his brother, as well as an 82-year-old aviation pioneer named Wally Funk and 18-year-old Oliver Daemen of the Netherlands, who was his first paying customer. Daemen is the son of Joes Daemen, the CEO and founder of hedge fund Somerset Capital Partners. It's unclear just how many millions Daemen paid for the seat.

For more, we're joined by two guests. In St. John, Canada, Paris Marx is with us, host of the podcast Tech Won't Save Us and writer whose article in Jacobin is headlined "Leave the Billionaires in Space." And joining us from the U.K. is journalist Peter Ward, author of the book The Consequential Frontier: Challenging the Privatization of Space.

We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Paris Marx, as you watched the richest man on Earth rocket away from it for just a few minutes, talk about your thoughts.

PARIS MARX: Yeah, it was — first of all, it's great to join you, Amy and Nermeen. It was wild to watch that, right? You know, for so long people have been criticizing this, have been saying that it's not something that we should do. But to watch this, the richest man in the world, a man who admitted after his flight that all of his wealth comes from the workers who, you know, work for Amazon, who have been underpaid, who have been mistreated for so, so long, and then to compare that with the stories that we've been seeing in recent weeks about, you know, the fires in British Columbia burning a whole town to the ground, the wet-bulb temperatures in Pakistan, the flooding that's happening in Europe, it's just wild to put these stories next to one another and to see that at a moment when we have so many crises, even beyond the climate crisis, that we need to be dealing with, that the richest and most powerful people in the world are turning their eyes away from the planet into the stars.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: And, Peter Ward, you've written a book on the privatization of space, so just could you give us some broader context? When did this begin? Who is Peter Diamandis, the founder of X Prize? What is that? And where do you see this going? It's only been 20 years or so since this idea began, is that correct?

PETER WARD: Yeah, yeah, that's correct. So, it actually goes back. The first example of space tourism happened in Russia, actually. The Russians tried to do things when they were thinking of decommissioning the Mir space station. So, while I was writing the book, I looked into the history of that and saw how — it was surprising, obviously, that Russia did it first. I think that was the source of some embarrassment for some of the American space enthusiasts.

Peter Diamandis launched an X Prize to try and get some — essentially, an easier way to get to space so we could have space tourism. And one of the entries was the vehicle that Richard Branson eventually used to get into space.

So, I think, in terms of the future, where this is going, obviously there will be more flights to space taking extremely wealthy people on 12-minute or 11-minute journeys into space. It's not going to slow down. This was obviously the proof that if Jeff Bezos and Richard Branson will try it themselves, then they believe it's safe. I can't see the price ever going down to the point where, like Jeff Bezos says, everyone will have access to space. That just doesn't seem realistic. This is always going to be something for the wealthy. And it's kind of sad. I mean, if you compare yesterday's event to, say, the moon landing, you know, that was a source of great pride for the whole world. Yesterday we just kind of saw a man having a midlife crisis in front of us, possibly the most expensive midlife crisis ever.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Well, I also want to ask Peter about the potential militarization of space, not just its commercialization. A comment made by Peter Diamandis — he said, "Bezos doesn't need" to compete — "to beat Elon" — Elon Musk — "he needs to beat Lockheed Martin and Boeing. Having the number one and number three wealthiest people on the planet using their money to open space is extraordinary." So, can you explain, what exactly does he mean by that? "He needs to beat Lockheed Martin and Boeing"?

PETER WARD: I think what he's referring to is that the majority of the money in space is still from military contracts. So, you see SpaceX and Blue Origin now have a massive lobbying kitty that they spend. They have a lot of people on Capitol Hill. They're going after those military contracts. They've been going after them for a long time. But that's where the money is. That's why they're essentially taking the public money and using it to fund their own space tourism.

AMY GOODMAN: After his suborbital flight on Tuesday, Jeff Bezos told MSNBC the trip reinforced his commitment to addressing the climate crisis by moving polluting industries to space.

JEFF BEZOS: We need to take all heavy industry, all polluting industry, and move it into space and keep Earth as this beautiful gem of a planet that it is. But that's going to take decades and decades to achieve. But you have to start, and big things start with small steps.

AMY GOODMAN: So, Paris Marx, if you could respond to we'll just send the polluting industries, not deal with polluting industries, stop them from polluting, but we'll just pollute space. What does that mean?

PARIS MARX: Yeah, it's an absolutely wild statement, right? And especially his admission there that it will take decades to do. Like, you know, as I was saying, in this moment, we're seeing the climate crisis accelerating. Climate change is not something that's coming in decades down the road. It's here right now, and it's getting worse with every single passing year. So I think that we should see that statement as the climate denial that it is.

If we are serious about addressing the climate crisis, then by the time moving industries to space becomes realistic — and I don't even think that will be in decades, I think that is wildly optimistic — then we will already have transformed the production systems, the transportation systems, the other systems that we rely on, to make them sustainable so that we can live on this planet. So, then, why would we even need to move them to space in the first place? It's just a statement that makes no sense.

And as Jeff Bezos is saying these things, it's important to understand that, you know, he is personally still living the life of a billionaire, has massive personal carbon emissions, but his company, the company that built his $200 billion of wealth, Amazon, increased its emissions by 19% last year alone. So, you know, I think that we can see this as a way to distract from the real problems that we face in the here and now, with solutions that are never really going to come.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, during his news conference on Tuesday — and just again to point out, the amount of coverage this got — CNN, I thought, moved their entire operation down to West Texas to cover this, minute by minute, so that you didn't miss anything. And let's compare that to the climate crisis, right? The coverage of the shows on broadcast television for those few minutes got more coverage, the hours leading up to it and after it, than a year of coverage of the climate crisis. But let's go back to another clip of Jeff Bezos. This is Jeff Bezos talking about infrastructure. I want to turn to the news conference, where he called the flight a small step toward building a "road to space."

JEFF BEZOS: You can tell when you're on to something. And this is important. We're going to build a road to space so that our kids and their kids can build the future. And we need to do that. We need to do that to solve the problems here on Earth. This is not about escaping Earth. … We are going to build an infrastructure. Just like when I started Amazon, I didn't have to build the Postal Service or Royal Mail or Deutsche Post. There were people to — there were already gigantic, worldwide infrastructure to deliver packages. That infrastructure today is, for space, just way too expensive and doesn't work.

AMY GOODMAN: I mean, Peter Ward, to say that he spent this money — I mean, he's making the point he built Amazon on the roads that existed, the mail system that existed. And yet, what taxes does he pay? This is really a public-funded flight, the amount of millions that he saved in not paying taxes.

PETER WARD: Yeah, absolutely. It's pretty outrageous. And obviously, when he's talking about the road to space, a lot of these people think of themselves as the kind of railroad industry in America when America was being colonized. It was, obviously, they put the railroads down, and then you had all the industry and economy blossomed around it. They obviously are — not many people mention, you know, the destruction of the Indigenous population and the effects that had on the environment. But luckily, you don't have that in space.

But the really scary thing is, if someone like Jeff Bezos were to lay down that infrastructure, what would that be to stop him conducting the monopolization of the space economy, if there was one? And if he wants to move the entire industry off planet and he controls the entire infrastructure — you know, he has had antitrust issues with Amazon, questions asked — what's to stop him doing the same thing in space?

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Paris Marx, can you talk about what the defenders of these spaceflights, people who have come out in defense of Bezos and Richard Branson, presumably also Elon Musk, saying that their efforts could set the stage for an expansion of space travel that could — and technology, that could eventually affect everyone, presumably favorably?

PARIS MARX: Certainly. You know, there are a lot of people who say the very same things that Jeff Bezos said in that clip that you just played — right? — that this is about the future, it's about making it so everybody can go to space, and it's also about laying the infrastructure so that we can start to develop, you know, whether it's colonies or economies that exist in space. And I think that we really need to see this as, you know, the kind of grand visions for space that are not really realistic. It's not something that we are going to see in our lifetimes.

And we need to question whether we should be dedicating so much resources to this kind of grand vision of a future that may never arrive, when we're dealing with so many crises in the here and now, whether it's climate crises, housing crises, the crisis of inequality that we're dealing with, and whether we should be refocusing on those. You know, as the earlier clip that you played at the beginning of Jeff Bezos saying that his wealth comes from the Amazon workers, you know, imagine if that wealth had not been taken from the workers and was still controlled by them or controlled by a representative government, that could then deploy those resources to address these serious crises instead of building a potential space economy or space colony in decades or centuries to come.

AMY GOODMAN: He is now the world's richest man, but Jeff Bezos has spent much of his life focused on going into space. In 1982, the Miami Herald summarized part of his high school valedictory, writing, quote, "[Bezos] wants to build space hotels, amusement parks, yachts and colonies for two or three million people orbiting around the earth … saying 'The whole idea is to preserve the earth.'" His, quote, "final objective is to get all people off the earth and see it turned into a huge national park." That was from a summary of valedictory addresses that year in high school. Paris Marx, your response?

PARIS MARX: Yeah, you know, that's the same thing that he says today, all these decades later. And we should realize that those ideas come from his college professor, Gerard O'Neill, who developed the idea for these space colonies that, you know, he thinks that we should be living in. You know, Jeff Bezos's plan is not to colonize Mars, like Elon Musk would have us do, but to live in these space colonies that would be orbiting around Earth or in the vicinity of Earth, and we would leave the planet, as you said, and return to it sometimes for vacations, to see the wonderful world where we used to live.

It's important, when Jeff Bezos talks about the future that we could have in space, that he imagines that the reason we need to go to space is because economic growth needs to continue. And in order to achieve that, we are eventually going to run out of energy and resources here on Earth, so we need to leave the planet. And he says it's a choice between stasis and rationing or growth and dynamism. And I think that is a false choice.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Peter, can you talk about that, this idea that Bezos has of colonizing space, versus Elon Musk's plan to make Mars self-sustaining, part of the justification for which he says that "If there's a third world war we want to make sure there's enough of a seed of human civilization somewhere else to bring it back and shorten the length of the dark ages"? Peter Ward?

PETER WARD: Yeah. So, the pair of them have differing views. Bezos obviously has this idea that we need to preserve the Earth. Musk, it's more of a — it's called the Plan B option. He thinks that we should go to Mars and have some kind of human presence on Mars just in case we destroy the entire planet, civilization, species here on Earth.

And I have to say I agree with what Paris said earlier in terms of the climate crisis. There's no time to execute these plans. There's absolutely no time. It will be too late by the time any of these are done. So, while I do see that there is — I mean, I believe that there is merit in space exploration. It's not done like this, not done with billionaires heading the way, not with scenes like we saw yesterday. It's just not what we need to save the planet. It's like Paris said. It's a false choice.

AMY GOODMAN: Paris Marx, how is the U.S. federal government enabling this? You've got Musk's SpaceX, which won a $149 million contract from the Pentagon to build missile tracking systems. So these are private companies that are — heavily rely on public government funding. You write, "This is the real face of the private space industry: billions of dollars in contracts from NASA, the military, and increasingly for telecommunications that are helping companies like SpaceX and Blue Origin control the infrastructure of space." Talk more about this.

PARIS MARX: Absolutely. And, you know, I would start by agreeing with what Peter said, is that I think that there is good reason to want to explore space, but the way that it's happening is not one that we should want to see. And I think what we have, especially in the past few years, is that the U.S. government has kind of embraced these visions from people like Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos. You know, under Donald Trump, there was talk about going to Mars, how he kind of adopted that idea from Elon Musk and from the private space industry. And Joe Biden has said similar things about wanting to embrace the private space industry.

And so, I think we need to be concerned about the direction that this is heading us down, because there is worry in the United States about the rise of China. And one of the ways that the United States seems to be wanting to push back on that, through militarization and showing its technological power, is by doing more in space. And instead of in the past where it would have done that through NASA — and, you know, NASA still gave contracts to companies like Lockheed and other defense contractors — but in this period, we're looking at more of a privatization of space, where companies like SpaceX and Blue Origin are trying to be the face of that mission. And they are, as you said, heavily reliant on public contracts, even as they claim that they are private companies and this is entrepreneurial and all these kind of narratives that we're used to hearing. And so, I think we need to be concerned. We need to be watching as this happens, because, really, this private space industry that is being built is being built on public dollars, and billions of public dollars.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Peter Ward, could you explain — both you and Paris have now said that there are many benefits to space exploration. Could you explain what some of those benefits are and in whose hands that exploration ought to be? And also, as you mentioned, Peter, that earlier it was Russia that began this commercialization, what are the other countries that are doing this, space exploration, and even — I'm sorry, the commercialization of space exploration?

PETER WARD: Yeah, sure. So, I mean, the advantages of space exploration, I think number one is a greater understanding of who we are and where we come from, which I think is important. You inspire people to take up science and technology to learn more about the world and how they can potentially help it. There are more practical reasons. None of us want to get hit by an asteroid anytime soon, so it is good to have plans like that in place. Obviously, we rely on the space industry for all our communications. Satellites are vitally important. So there are key reasons why we should be doing space exploration.

And it's not the worst thing to have the private sector involved. It's just it can't be where they have complete control. That is only going to end one way, and it starts with the huge egos of someone like Jeff Bezos, and it ends with us having all the issues of capitalism here on Earth just being sent up to space. One of the most appealing things about space to most people is that it's almost like a blank canvas. It's a place, you know, where potentially we could go, and we could have this Star Trek-style utopia. But if we do let the private sector do what they want, quickly you get a kind of Star Wars-ish nightmare. Yeah, so it's a scary thought, obviously, and something —

AMY GOODMAN: Peter, before we go, you write about mining. There are resources in space. Historically, when humans find resources, we must — we almost always kill each other to get them. Talk about, for example, minerals on the moon.

PETER WARD: Yeah. So, we can mine resources on asteroids. We haven't found a way to do it in a cost-effective enough way to go and do that. There would be a case if we found elements on the moon. If we found water on the moon, you can convert that to fuel, so it could fuel up a rocket which is on its way further into the solar system. But, of course, we have this history throughout our species where when we find resources, we inevitably fight over it. And, you know, you don't have to be a huge sci-fi fan to see the potential where this is going. You know, you could have companies fighting over resources on the moon, over Mars. If you had a colony on Mars which was run by a company, you would literally rely on the CEO of that company or the shareholders of that company to provide you oxygen. So, the potential of some kind of horrible dystopian nightmare out in space is really, really huge.

AMY GOODMAN: Well,, we're going to leave it there for now. We talk about Jeff Bezos as the richest man on Earth, who founded Amazon. He also owns The Washington Post. He bought it in 2013 for $250 million. And it's interesting to see how they covered his spaceflight. One headline read, "Jeff Bezos blasts into space on own rocket: 'Best day ever!'" One op-ed was headlined "The billionaires' space efforts may seem tone-deaf, but they're important milestones." Another headline, "The billionaires' space race benefits the rest of us. Really."

Well, I want to thank Paris Marx, host of the podcast Tech Won't Save Us and Jacobin article, we'll link to, "Leave the Billionaires in Space." And Peter Ward, journalist and author of The Consequential Frontier: Challenging the Privatization of Space.

Next up, as white men dominate the airwaves on climate coverage, we'll speak with the co-editors of the book All We Can Save, an anthology of essays by 60 women at the forefront of the climate movement. Stay with us.


Palestinian Authority faces protests over critic's death in custody

We look at growing opposition to the Palestinian Authority after the killing of a prominent activist, Nizar Banat, a vocal critic of the ruling body who died in PA custody after security forces violently arrested him at his home. Banat's killing has sparked protests calling for President Mahmoud Abbas to step down. "The Palestinian Authority now is acting like a police state without the state," says Palestinian writer Mariam Barghouti. "The Palestinian Authority has often collaborated with Israel at the expense of Palestinians."

Transcript
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I'm Amy Goodman, with Nermeen Shaikh.

We turn now to the occupied West Bank, where the Palestinian Authority is facing intense criticism for violently cracking down on Palestinian protesters in recent weeks, following the death of the human rights activist Nizar Banat in Palestinian Authority custody. Banat was a vocal critic of the PA. He was arrested June 24th by PA forces, who broke into a relative's house where he was staying in the town of Dura. Relatives who witnessed the attack say Banat was beaten before his arrest. Hours after his detention, he was declared dead. This is Nizar Banat's wife, Jihan Banat, and relative, Hussein Banat.

JIHAN BANAT: [translated] Two months ago, there was a shooting toward us from unknown people. They wanted to kill Nizar, because they targeted our bedroom. For two months, he has been away from home. We didn't see him. We heard at 3 a.m. that he was arrested. They took all his belongings and laptop. Two hours later, he was announced dead.
HUSSEIN BANAT: [translated] We were at home at 3:30 a.m. Suddenly, we heard noise of breakthrough. They broke the windows and opened the door of the room where we were sleeping. And they were from the preventative forces. When they broke in, we were sleeping, and Nizar, too. We woke up while they were beating Nizar with their metal sticks on his head.

AMY GOODMAN: Nizar Banat had run on behalf of an opposition party in the parliamentary elections that President Mahmoud Abbas would eventually call off. On Saturday, hundreds of Palestinians protested in Ramallah, calling for Abbas to step down. This comes as the Israeli newspaper Ynet reported last week the Palestinian Authority is attempting to buy tear gas canisters, stun grenades and other nonlethal munitions from Israel.

For more, we go to Ramallah, where we're joined by Mariam Barghouti, Palestinian writer. Her recent op-ed in The Washington Post is headlined "Who is the Palestinian Authority protecting? Not us."

OK, why don't you lay out who is the Palestinian Authority, and who are they protecting, Mariam?

MARIAM BARGHOUTI: Hi. Thank you for having me, Amy.

The Palestinian Authority is a regime that was created through the 1994 Oslo Accords, and it was meant to serve as an interim government for civil administration of Palestinian affairs. The Palestinian Authority now is acting like a police state without the state. And what is happening is a complete assault on Palestinian rights, on Palestinian lives, on Palestinian voices. And the only thing that is being protected are the security forces, the regime complex.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Mariam, you write in your piece that, quote, "The horrors, like those of Israeli crimes, are too ubiquitous to describe. The only consistency is that the violence, in all of its forms and different uniforms, sustains Israeli colonialism." Could you explain why you think that's the case? And also, respond to the argument by the Palestinian Authority that their fear is centered around Hamas.

MARIAM BARGHOUTI: Right. So, the Palestinian Authority has often collaborated with Israel at the expense of Palestinians. The Palestinian Authority has adhered to the agreement of security coordination with Israel based on the Oslo Accords. And it was a one-way street, where Palestinians are being handed over to Israel for vocalizing their complete refusal of anything that means colonialism, of anything that means ethnic cleansing. And the Palestinian Authority did this for Israel. The Palestinian Authority put sanctions on Gaza when Gaza was being brutally attacked by Israel, when it was being starved by Israel, when its electricity was being also cut by Israel. They colluded with Israeli colonialism against Palestinians in Gaza.

When we hear the Palestinian Authority say fears like it's Hamas, it reminds me a lot of the same narrative that Israel officials say: "Well Hamas." Palestinians are resisting, but, "No, it's Hamas." And it's this attempt to criminalize us. Nizar Banat wasn't Hamas. I'm not Hamas. We're Palestinians who want to be Palestinian, who want to say "Palestinian from the river to the sea." And the Palestinian Authority allowed Israel to confine us to the West Bank and Gaza. It has even negated the right of return for refugees. It has ignored Palestinians with Israeli citizenship in terms of representation and demands.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Mariam, could you explain who funds the Palestinian Authority and what you think needs to happen?

MARIAM BARGHOUTI: Well, the Palestinian Authority is funded from different actors and parties, namely international states within the EU, the U.S. and other actors, as well. So, we shouldn't just confine to who is funding. The bigger focus is what is being funded.

Most of the funding is coming under the emblem of capacity building of Palestinians, but it's really going to the security forces. This is where the money is being flooded. Every year, I just see newer police cars instead of more schools. And that's because this is what Israel also wants. It wants us to turn into watchdogs so it can become a cheaper occupation and a cheaper colonialism on that front.

The PA is not just being funded in material value. It is being supported by tolerating the repression. We have been speaking about this for over a decade. Over a decade, Palestinians were getting beaten in the streets. Every time this happens, a little media attention comes at this, but the support and the tolerance of it continues. And now we're being politically assassinated.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk, Mariam Barghouti, about just who Nizar Banat was, how he died, and why this is so significant when talking about the role of the Palestinian Authority?

MARIAM BARGHOUTI: Nizar Banat was a very vocal critic of corruption, namely the Palestinian Authority. He was attacked in Hebron by security forces, taken under the pretext of being arrested, but he was beaten so brutally that the images of his corpse were covered in purple and blue. I personally couldn't even look at the images, so I can't even imagine his family and close friends.

He was a Palestinian that said something, that said something about an authority that is pretending to represent us but is actually forcing us into our homes, into whispers, into fear of wanting to live in dignity, of wanting to live justly, of wanting to live as Palestinians.

Nizar was also a father. Nizar was also a husband. He wasn't just the critic of the Palestinian Authority. He wasn't just a Palestinian that refused Israeli colonialism. In the end, he was also a person just like all of us, where we're learning all of these different dynamics because our lives are on the line. We can't afford to not know.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: And, Mariam, could you say — at the moment, of course, this repression is taking place in the midst of the pandemic. Could you explain what the situation is in terms of vaccination and how the Palestinian Authority has been dealing with the pandemic?

MARIAM BARGHOUTI: The Palestinian Authority initially began their response to the pandemic well — according to polling and surveying, well. And then it slowly started showing how the state of emergency was also being used to enforce new legislations, new laws that repress Palestinians, and continued to solidify the grasp that they have on our right to express, on our right to change.

And what is happening right now, not just in vaccinations, where the Palestinian Authority and Israel had an agreement to exchange Pfizer vaccines, but it turned out that the ones that Israel was going to give were actually about to expire soon — beyond that recklessness and beyond that sinister move by Israel, the pandemic is being also used to enforce new laws to repress Palestinians within a legal framework. And it is very dangerous, because if they won't politically assassinate us, they will shove us in jails, just like Israel does with its military detention.

AMY GOODMAN: Mariam, we just have less than a minute, but I wanted to ask you both about the new government and the continued now bombing of the Gaza Strip on Saturday in what Israel's military called retaliation for incendiary balloons launched from the besieged Palestinian territory, latest violation of the tenuous ceasefire on May 21st. Your final comments?

MARIAM BARGHOUTI: No new government in Israel is going to bring change. What's going to bring change is ending the ethnic cleansing and calling out apartheid and persecution for what it is. This new government is doing the same thing that the old government did. Just because the uniform changes, just because the waves change, doesn't mean it isn't what it is, which is ethnic cleansing.

AMY GOODMAN: We want to thank you so much for being with us, Mariam, again. Mariam Barghouti, Palestinian writer and researcher based in Ramallah. We'll link to her piece in The Washington Post headlined "Who is the Palestinian Authority protecting? Not us."

And that does it for our show. Today, a fond farewell to Democracy Now! senior producer Carla Wills. Carla, your brilliance, your humor, your compassion and your passion for social justice reporting certainly helped to make Democracy Now! what it is today. It is never goodbye, just thank you, thank you, thank you so much.

Well, Democracy Now! is produced with Renée Feltz, Mike Burke, Deena Guzder, Messiah Rhodes, Nermeen Shaikh, María Taracena, Tami Woronoff, Charina Nadura, Sam Alcoff, Tey-Marie Astudillo, John Hamilton, Robby Karran, Hany Massoud and Adriano Contreras. Our general manager is Julie Crosby. Special thanks to Becca Staley, Miriam Barnard, Paul Powell, Mike DiFilippo, Miguel Nogueira, Hugh Gran, Denis Moynihan. I'm Amy Goodman, with Nermeen Shaikh.

The racist history behind the Second Amendment

As gun violence soars in the United States, we look at the Second Amendment and its racist roots with Carol Anderson, author of the new book, "The Second: Race and Guns in a Fatally Unequal America." In the book, Anderson details how the Second Amendment was written to empower local militia groups to put down slave revolts and protect plantation owners. She writes the Second Amendment is "rooted in fear of Black people, to deny them their rights, to keep them from tasting liberty." Carol Anderson joined us from Atlanta, where she is a professor at Emory University. She is also the author of "One Person, No Vote: How Voter Suppression Is Destroying Our Democracy" and "White Rage: The Unspoken Truth of Our Racial Divide."

Transcript
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org. I'm Amy Goodman.

As gun violence soars in the United States, we spend the rest of the hour looking at the Second Amendment and its racist roots. Democracy Now!'s Nermeen Shaikh and I recently interviewed Carol Anderson, author of the new book, The Second: Race and Guns in a Fatally Unequal America. In the book, Professor Anderson details how the Second Amendment was written to empower local militia groups to put down slave revolts and protect plantation owners. She writes the Second Amendment is, quote, "rooted in fear of Black people, to deny them their rights, to keep them from tasting liberty."

Professor Anderson joined us from Atlanta, where she teaches at Emory University. She's also the author of One Person, No Vote: How Voter Suppression Is Destroying Our Democracy and also White Rage: The Unspoken Truth of Our Racial Divide. I began by asking her to go back in time and talk about where the Second Amendment came from.

CAROL ANDERSON: This emerged out of the fear of Black people, from slavery, that there was this massive fear about the slave revolt, Black people demanding their freedom, being willing to have an uprising to gain their freedom. And what that meant then was that you had this language of "We've got to keep this ferocious monster in chains." And you saw, with each revolt, with each uprising, a series of statutes being put in place to say that African — that the enslaved, that Black people could not own weapons, that they could not have access to weapons. And you also saw the rise in the structure of slave patrols and militias, that were there and designed to contain that Black population.
As the nation began to develop, as you had this war of independence, there was this fear of arming Black people, the fear that even freed Blacks who were armed would get — would provide a kind of sense of what freedom looked like to the enslaved. But the exigencies of war required that arming, required having Black folks in the Continental Army. But as the nation developed after that war, one of the things that you had happening was with the Constitution, with the drafting of the Constitution. Because the militias themselves had proven so untrustworthy, unreliable as a force to fight against the British invasion, that James Madison, in drafting the Constitution, had language in there that you would have federal control of the militias.
Well, when the Constitution went up for ratification to the states, by the time it got to Virginia, the Anti-Federalists in Virginia were in an uproar. George Mason and Patrick Henry were thinking about this militia being under the control of the federal government. They were like, "We will be left defenseless. We cannot trust the federal government, that has these folks from Pennsylvania and these folks from Massachusetts, to be willing to engage the militia when the slaves revolt. We cannot trust the federal government to protect us. We will be left defenseless." And they began to demand a Bill of Rights that would provide protection, that would curtail federal power. And they began to demand, as well, a new constitutional convention.
That threat of what that meant sent James Madison into the 1st Congress determined to write a Bill of Rights that would quell that dissent, that would short-circuit that movement for a new constitutional convention. And we've already seen what the power of the South has meant, in terms of the — when the Constitution was being drafted itself, how the South said that "We will not sign on to become part of this United States of America if we don't get the three-fifths clause, if we don't get 20 additional years on the Atlantic slave trade, if we don't get a Fugitive Slave Clause." And so the South had already wielded its power in terms of being willing to scuttle the United States of America. And Madison believed strongly that this threat coming out of the Anti-Federalists in the South, out of Virginia, would do the same thing. And that becomes the basis for the Second Amendment.
AMY GOODMAN: And can you talk about all of the players — I mean, you just mentioned James Madison, Patrick Henry, the slave states — and how this country came together based on this terror of slaves rebelling?
CAROL ANDERSON: Yes. I mean, so —
AMY GOODMAN: Enslaved people rebelling?
CAROL ANDERSON: Yeah, enslaved people rebelling. And that fear that — you know, so you have George Washington, who is a slave owner, who brings, in fact, some of his enslaved people to Philadelphia for the Constitutional Convention. You have Thomas Jefferson, who is not there, but he is writing in to Madison, and Madison is writing to him. And one of the things that Jefferson is concerned about is slavery, is the way that it will be depicted.
And so you have this silence. There is a silence in the Constitution. It's hovering over the formation of the Constitution, like Banquo's ghost, haunting it, in shaping it, but not being explicitly said. But it is the power that is creating this sophistry, this really weird "We believe in freedom and equality, but we want 20 additional years on the Atlantic slave trade." What they said in South Carolina was that "South Carolina would be just a backward place. Our wealth comes from the Negroes. That is our natural resource. And we must protect it at all cost." So, this is what is part of the tectonic plates moving at this time in this founding of this nation.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: Professor Anderson, could you also explain the significance of the Uniform Militia Act of 1792 and its role in ensuring that weapons and guns remained in the hands of white people?
CAROL ANDERSON: Yes. And so, one of the first laws passed by Congress was the Uniform Militia Act of 1792. What it said was that all able-bodied white men between the ages of 18 and 45 would have to be part of the militia. And so, here in the law, it is specifying white men. And it said that they must own a gun. This is part of — the militia is part of citizenship. It is how you give your service to the nation, how you provide your bona fides, as it were, as an American citizen. And so, white men are the definition of American citizen in this framing, and that they must own a gun. And so, what you see here is that the militia is given this high status in terms of what it means to be able to control a unruly population, what is seen as a dangerous population.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: Professor Anderson, could —
CAROL ANDERSON: And interestingly enough — I'm sorry.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: No, please go ahead.
CAROL ANDERSON: Interestingly enough for me is that we have had Shays' Rebellion, that happened right before the Constitutional Convention, where white men gathered together to attack the government because they didn't like a taxation policy, and that the militia would not put down these white men. In fact, you had members of the militia joining this rebellion. And you had to have Boston merchants basically finance a mercenary army to put down Shays' Rebellion.
But what you didn't see coming out of that was a law saying, you know, "White men with arms are dangerous. White men with arms attack the government. So we need to ban white men from having access to weapons." You don't see that happening. But you do see that happening with slave revolts. You see the language, the laws coming in place, saying they shall not have access, Black people shall not have access to weapons, and that the militia and the slave patrol are there to ensure that Black people do not have access to weapons.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: And, Professor Anderson, it seems — I mean, you begin your book by talking about the police murders of Philando Castile, as well as Alton Sterling, and you point out that the NRA did not come to their defense, despite the fact that they were also killed for having guns in their possession, whereas in a comparable violence perpetrated by white mass violence, the NRA immediately leapt to the defense of the people responsible for that violence, who were white men.
CAROL ANDERSON: Absolutely. And so, there was a basic silence on Philando Castile. There was nothing said about Alton Sterling. And what was said about Philando Castile from the NRA was — and this was only after being pushed by their African American members — was that "We believe that everyone, regardless of race, sexual orientation, should have access to guns, to arms," but nothing really substantive.
What happened after Ruby Ridge and Waco, Texas, with the Branch Davidians, was that Wayne LaPierre called out federal officers as being jackbooted government thugs who believe they have the right to storm into people's homes and take their guns and kill law-abiding citizens. Several officers had been killed in those events.
And so, to then label the response as jackbooted thugs, when you get silence with Philando Castile, it really led me to — you know, as journalists were asking, "Don't African Americans have Second Amendment rights?" And that's what sent me down this path, all the way to the 17th century, to be able to answer that question.
AMY GOODMAN: So, let's go back to 2016. And this, you write in your book, Carol Anderson, about how this inspired you to write this whole book. The immediate aftermath of the police shooting of Philando Castile was broadcast live on Facebook by his girlfriend, Diamond Reynolds, who's speaking in the car next to her dying boyfriend as a police officer continues to point the gun into the car. Her little child is in the backseat. A warning to our viewers: The content is deeply disturbing.
DIAMOND REYNOLDS: They killed my boyfriend. He's licensed. He's carried to — he's licensed to carry. He was trying to get out his ID in his wallet out his pocket, and he let the officer know that he was — he had a firearm, and he was reaching for his wallet. And the officer just shot him in his arm.
AMY GOODMAN: So, dashcam video released nearly a year later shows the 4-year-old daughter of Diamond Reynolds consoling her heartbroken mother, who's handcuffed in the back of a police squad car minutes after the St. Anthony police officer Jeronimo Yanez shot and killed Philando.
DAE'ANNE REYNOLDS: Mom, please stop saying cusses and screaming, 'cause I don't want you to get shooted.
DIAMOND REYNOLDS: OK. Give me a kiss. My phone just died. That's all.
DAE'ANNE REYNOLDS: I can keep you safe.
DIAMOND REYNOLDS: It's OK. I got it, OK? Come here. I can't believe they just did that.
AMY GOODMAN: There we hear the crying of Diamond's daughter. The video was released just days after the police officer, Jeronimo Yanez, was acquitted of manslaughter. I wanted to ask you, Carol Anderson, to take us on that journey that you took, experiencing all of this, taking it in, telling us who Philando was, talking about the fact that he had a gun — legally had a gun — and told the police officer about it — in fact, had told his mother before, "I'm thinking of not carrying the gun, though it's legal," because of — well, I mean, just the day before, another African American man, Alton Sterling, had been killed by police in Louisiana. But you take us on this journey that led to this book.
CAROL ANDERSON: Yes. And so, it was the killing of Philando Castile. You know, I start off the book going, you know, it was like a snuff film, because we all saw that video image. And it was horrific. It was jarring. And to then get the back story, that this was a man who followed NRA guidelines, saying — letting the officer know that "I have a licensed-carry weapon with me. You have asked for my ID. I am reaching for my ID." And the officer begins to shoot. So he is killed because he has a weapon, not that he is brandishing the weapon, not that he is threatening anyone. He simply has a weapon.
And that really led me to begin on this journey — as I saw the NRA's virtual silence on this — on this journey to figure out: Do African Americans have Second Amendment rights? You know, we're in this moment where the Second Amendment is like hallowed ground. It is sacred. It is one of those things that has been defined as the bedrock of citizenship. And so I started looking.
And as I went on this journey, what I saw was that it wasn't about guns. It was about the fear of Black people. It was about the fear of Blackness. It was about the societal labeling of Black people as dangerous, as a threat to whites, and that this architecture comes in place in order to contain this Black population, in order to provide security and safety to the white community from this fear of Black people. And you get this really weird matrix happening where Black people are feared but needed. And so, it is the "How do we contain them? How do we snuff out their quest for freedom? How do we snuff out their quest for their basic human rights, while also keeping them as labor without rights? How do we do that? How do we make that subjugation happen? How do we talk about — in this land of the United States of America, how do we talk about freedom but try to keep it contained from this Black population? We don't want them getting the ether that we're talking about in this revolutionary moment about freedom and democracy and justice. We don't want them hearing the words about equality. How do we do that?"
And when there was a revolt in Virginia in 1800 with Gabriel, and Gabriel had fed on the language, the revolutionary language from the United States, from the French Revolution and from the Haitian Revolution, that sent shock waves — shock waves — throughout the United States. And Virginia was trembling at the expansiveness of Gabriel's revolt. And the response was, you know, the wrong people are getting the word about freedom and democracy. The wrong people are hearing this revolutionary language and thinking that it applies to them.
So, this was the journey that I was on to hear and to get into this milieu of how frightening, how dangerous Black people were seen as, and then to follow it all the way through to the 21st century by looking at: Do Black people have the right to bear arms? Do they have the right to a well-regulated militia? Do they have the right to self-defense? And seeing how in each of those, it has been used against Black people, and that the status, the legal status of Black folk, has not altered that significantly. So, whether enslaved, whether free Black, whether denizen — which was that halfway limbo land between enslaved and citizen — whether newly emancipated freed people, whether Jim Crow Black or whether post-civil rights African American, the right to bear arms, the right to a well-regulated militia and the right to self-defense are in fact fractured. That citizenship is fractured. It is hobbled by this intense anti-Blackness, this fear of Black people, this sense of Black people as a danger to white American society.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: So, Professor Anderson, could you talk about that, in particular, the role of Black militias, which you talk about in the book, their role in the early 19th century, to what use they were deployed, and then how it is that whites stripped Black militias of their official standing?
CAROL ANDERSON: Yes. And so, in Louisiana, when it was still the Louisiana Territory — it was before the U.S. had purchased it, but it was on its way, it was on its way — you had a well-heeled, well-trained Black militia that had been very effective. Well, as the U.S. came in, one of the first cries coming out of white New Orleans was to strip the Black militia, disband the Black militia. Well, the governor, William Claiborne at the time, you know, at first he's like, "Yes, you know, asking for more arms, because we have all of these free Blacks, and we've got these Black folks with arms," and so he's asking for more arms from the federal government. But then he starts noticing how effective this Black militia is, and so he tries to square the circle — white fear and the sense that the Black militia is the only real effective fighting force there, given all of the challenges that are happening in that territory at the time. And so, what he comes up with is to remove the Black officer class from this Black militia and put in white officers, thinking that that will be enough for whites in New Orleans who want the Black militia disbanded.
But then there is a massive, massive slave revolt coming from Charles Deslondes. And this massive slave revolt, that included somewhere between 150 to 500 people, headed to New Orleans, headed to what they believed was freedom, just sent terror through what is called the German Coast of Louisiana. And so, William Claiborne, seeing this massive movement, this massive slave revolt, in fact, begins to enlist the Black militia as part of the forces to take on this slave revolt. And the slave revolt is crushed. I mean, the U.S. Army comes in. The U.S. Navy comes in. You have the white militia that is there, but the Black militia is very effective. And so you have a Black militia fighting against Black folk who are enslaved and trying to be free. The reward that the Black militia received for this was a further push to be disbanded, further push to not have access to be able to purchase arms. They put a law in place that folks of color, Black people, could not buy arms.
Then came the War of 1812, and Andrew Jackson is the leader, the military leader, and he sees the British coming in this Battle of New Orleans. And he sees this Black militia, and he's telling Claiborne, "We need them. This is an effective fighting force." And Claiborne is like, "Yes, they are. But I'm telling you, they're just not feeling it right now, because of the way we treat them." And he's like, "I will treat them equally. I will treat them with the honor that all soldiers should have. And they will be paid equal to whites. They will receive the same pay. And besides the Black militia, I want two additional battalions." Claiborne came back, and he said, "You can get the Black militia, but getting two additional battalions is going to be difficult, because whites in this area believe that arming them is arming the enemy." So, you have Black folks who are identified as the enemy. And in that fighting force, that force beat the British. It was like 3,000 or so of Andrew Jackson's troops against 8,000 British troops, and they won. And Andrew Jackson was like, "Wow! I knew you guys were good. I just didn't know how good." But the response, the reaction to that then, was to send them off as a labor battalion to work in the swamps, that white men didn't want to go into to do the work.
So, you have this denigration of Black military contributions to fighting for America. And that was a consistent theme that we saw. So you get this erasure of this history and this erasure for the men themselves who are doing the fighting, who are being wounded, who are dealing with the loss of their fighting brethren. That has been the sense that Black men under arms, they're a threat, and Black men who are trained how to use arms, they're really a threat. So they must be disarmed after they have served our purpose.
AMY GOODMAN: Professor Anderson, I just wanted to follow up on the term you used, "anti-Blackness," that you're actually saying that the Second Amendment is not about guns, but it's about anti-Blackness. Explain.
CAROL ANDERSON: Yes. It is about the fear. So, and the best way to do this is to talk about the kind of history that we have about the Second Amendment. We hear the history of the militia, about being this really effective fighting force to fend off a foreign invasion and also being there to fend off domestic tyranny. But what they knew at the time was that the militia had proven to be uneven, unreliable in the war of independence, the war for independence. George Washington was beside himself at the lack of reliability of the militias. Sometimes they would show up, sometimes they wouldn't. Sometimes they'd fight, sometimes they wouldn't. Sometimes they would just take off and run away. It's really difficult to form a battle plan when your fighting force is like, "Mmm, I'm not feeling it today." And it led Gouverneur Morris, who was out of New York and one of the Founding Fathers, to say, "To rely upon the militia against a foreign invasion is like to depend upon a broken reed." And so, they knew that the militia was really not strong against a professional army. And then there was Shays' Rebellion. What they saw with Shays' Rebellion is that you could not really rely upon the militia in order to deal with an uprising and insurrections against government. You could not rely upon them for that.
Where the militia was consistently good was in slave revolts, in crushing slave revolts. And so, this is what led George Mason and Patrick Henry to talk about "We must control our militia. We will be left defenseless against slave revolts if the federal government controls it." And so, it is that fear of slave revolts, that fear of Black rebellion, the fear of Blacks as a dangerous population that must be controlled by these militias, that was essential in the drafting of the Second Amendment.
When you think about the Bill of Rights, how you've got the right to freedom of the press, how you have no state-sponsored religion, how you have freedom of assembly, the right not to be illegally searched and seized, the right to a speedy and fair trial, the right not to have cruel and unusual punishment — and so you see these incredible rights. And then you've got this well-regulated militia? The right to bear arms for the security of the state? That amendment is an outlier in this Bill of Rights. And that outlier is because it was the payoff to the South to have a force under state control that could contain Black aspirations, Black freedom quests, that could contain what is seen as a dangerous Black population.

AMY GOODMAN: That's Carol Anderson, professor at Emory University in Atlanta. Her new book is The Second: Race and Guns in a Fatally Unequal America. We'll be back with her after a short break.

[break]

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org. I'm Amy Goodman. We return to our conversation with Carol Anderson, professor at Emory University in Atlanta. She's author of the new book The Second: Race and Guns in a Fatally Unequal America. I recently interviewed her with Democracy Now!'s Nermeen Shaikh.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Professor Anderson, another issue that you raise in the book as absolutely critical has to do with the denial of the rights of citizenship to Blacks. So, if you could explain the crucial Supreme Court decision here, Dred Scott v. Sandford in 1857, and how even after the 14th Amendment was passed, Dred Scott continued to take precedence?
CAROL ANDERSON: Yes. And so, the Dred Scott decision was designed to try to stop the explosion that was happening, the secessionist crisis that was happening in the United States, because there had been a series of events — the Missouri Compromise, the war for Texas, the Kansas — and Bleeding Kansas. All of these things were about the expansion of slavery and the fight to contract slavery.
And so, the Dred Scott decision — so, Dred Scott was a Black man who was enslaved. And his owner had taken him to free-soil states, Wisconsin and to Illinois. And then he was taken to Missouri, which was a slave state. He had argued that because he had been on free soil for years, that he was free.
What this decision said, written by Chief Justice Roger Taney, was that Black people were never considered citizens of the United States. They weren't considered citizens at the founding, with the Constitution. They weren't considered citizens in that there's — with the Uniform Militia Act of 1792. They weren't considered citizens when the secretary of state refused to issue Black people passports, saying they're not citizens. They're denied the ability to carry the mail. All of these things prove that they're not citizens. He said, in this decision, "If they were citizens, they would be able to go easily from state to state. But there were laws that prevented that." And he said, "And they would be able to carry arms wherever they went." And so, in there, you see that being able to carry arms is a sign of citizenship in this framing, and is saying they're not citizens. Dred Scott was the one that said that a Black man has no rights that a white man is bound to respect. Dred Scott, in fact, did not stop the crisis. In fact, it added to it. And it helped lead to the Civil War.
After the Civil War, you had Andrew Johnson, as the president of the United States, basically issuing these mass amnesties to the Confederacy, to Confederate leaders, who then reassumed their positions in these states. And they passed constitutions and laws that denied Black people their rights. One of the laws that they passed were the Black Codes. The Black Codes — among other things, besides trying to control labor, the Black Codes said that Black people could not bear arms, they could not have weapons, and that they needed to be disarmed. You had the rise of these paramilitary groups working in league with these neo-Confederate states trying to disarm Black people. You had a bloody massacre, one right after the next. There's a travelogue of carnage by Carl Schurz, who writes on the report of the conditions in the South that is just harrowing. Historian and legal scholar Annette Gordon-Reed calls it a "slow-motion genocide."
And you have Black troops, Black Union troops, U.S. troops, who are part of the occupying army in the South. You have white Southerners absolutely outraged that you would have Black soldiers — Black soldiers — as an occupying force in what they see as their space. And so they begin to talk about the violence that we're seeing, the violence that is happening, is because these Black soldiers are here. And if these Black soldiers weren't here, then this killing wouldn't be happening. And so Andrew Johnson removes the Black soldiers. First he removes them from the interior of the South and puts them on coastal fortifications, and then, shortly thereafter, removes them as an occupying force in the South altogether. Those Black soldiers saw themselves as a line of defense protecting the newly freed people from the terror that was raining down on them.
So, the denigration of Black soldiers, the attempt to disarm Black people after the war, the language that Black people aren't really citizens, that Black people are dangerous, and they cannot have access to weapons because it challenges the safety and the security of white Southerners, I mean, that's what was going on at this time.
AMY GOODMAN: Professor Anderson, I wanted to leap forward to ask about how authorities responded to the Black Panthers, which urged Black people to arm themselves in the '60s. This is Bobby Seale, co-founder of the Black Panther Self-Defense Party, speaking in 1967.
BOBBY SEALE: The Black Panther Party for Self-Defense calls upon the American people in general, and the Black people in particular, to take full note of the racist California Legislature, which is now considering legislation aimed at keeping the Black people disarmed and powerless at the very same time that racist police agencies throughout the country are intensifying the terror, brutality, murder and repression of Black people.
AMY GOODMAN: So, if you could respond to this, Carol Anderson, to respond to Bobby Seale?
CAROL ANDERSON: Yeah, so, what Bobby Seale is talking about is the depth of the police violence and brutality that was raining down on the Black community. The uprisings that we saw in Watts, in Cleveland, in Newark, in Detroit were all fueled not only by those horrific conditions in those places, but also by police brutality. And the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense was founded as a response to the brutality of the Oakland Police Department.
And so, what the Black Panthers did, they said, "We will police the police." They knew what the law said about open carry in California. And they also knew what the law said about the distance that you had to maintain from a police officer arresting someone. So the Black Panthers would come to those arrests fully armed with the kinds of legal weapons that they were allowed to have. And the police did not like it. They did not like it.
And so, the Oakland Police Department went to Don Mulford, an assemblyman, a California assemblyman, and said, "We need your help. We need to make what the Black Panthers are doing illegal, because currently it's legal. We stop them, but they've got the right kinds of weapons. We can't arrest them for what they're doing. We need to be able to make their work illegal."
And so, what Mulford did, with the help of the NRA, was to write the Mulford Act, which banned open carry, which was a gun control act. And it was a gun control act targeted at the Black Panthers. So, Mulford said, "No, there's no racial targeting in this at all. This is about the Klan, as well." But it wasn't. The letters make it really clear that the genesis for this, the catalyst for it, was the "How do we curtail the Black Panthers? How do we make them illegal?"
AMY GOODMAN: Fascinatingly, moving forward 20 years, I want to go to former Supreme Court Chief Justice Warren Burger, 1991, appearing on The MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour.
WARREN BURGER: If I were writing the Bill of Rights now, there wouldn't be any such thing as the Second Amendment.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Which says?
WARREN BURGER: That a well-regulated militia being necessary for the defense of the state, the people's rights to bear arms. This has been the subject of one of the greatest pieces of fraud — I repeat the word "fraud" — on the American public by special interest groups that I have ever seen in my lifetime.
AMY GOODMAN: This has been the greatest fraud. We're going to have to end with this final comment of yours, Professor Anderson.
CAROL ANDERSON: Yes. And that fraud has been that swaddling of the Second Amendment in the flag, in patriotism, in a sense of — that the militias were there to protect and defend democracy, when in fact the militia were there, designed to control Black people and deny Black people their rights. So, in the Second Amendment, what we have in the Bill of Rights is the right to destroy Black people's rights. That is anathema. That is what has been committed.
AMY GOODMAN: What most shocked you in your research?
CAROL ANDERSON: How consistent this anti-Blackness was and how it carries through to today with "stand your ground" laws, how it carries through with the ways that Black people are seen as threats, as monsters, as dangerous, simply because of their very being, and that puts a crosshairs on them. That is — writing this book was hard, because writing about the past and carrying it to the future, in the midst of the killing of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, was just — in the midst of the pandemic, was just a lot.

AMY GOODMAN: That's Emory University professor Carol Anderson, author of the new book The Second: Race and Guns in a Fatally Unequal America. Her other books include One Person, No Vote: How Voter Suppression Is Destroying Our Democracy and White Rage: The Unspoken Truth of Our Racial Divide.

And that does it for today's show. Democracy Now! is produced with Renée Feltz, Mike Burke, Deena Guzder, Nermeen Shaikh, María Taracena, Carla Wills, Tami Woronoff, Charina Nadura, Sam Alcoff, Tey-Marie Astudillo, John Hamilton, Robby Karran, Hany Massoud and Adriano Contreras. Our general manager is Julie Crosby; our director, Becca Staley. Special thanks to Miriam Barnard, Paul Powell, Mike DiFilippo, Miguel Nogueira, Hugh Gran, Denis Moynihan, David Prude and Dennis McCormick. I'm Amy Goodman. Thanks so much for joining us.

Trump biographer says the ex-president is 'all over' his company's indictment — even if he isn't named

The Manhattan District Attorney's Office has charged former President Donald Trump's family business with operating a 15-year tax fraud scheme, accusing the Trump Organization of helping executives evade taxes by giving them compensation off the books. Allen Weisselberg, the company's chief financial officer, who has worked with Trump for decades, was also charged with grand larceny for avoiding taxes on $1.7 million in perks that he did not report as income. Weisselberg surrendered Thursday and pleaded not guilty, and he could face up to a decade in prison if convicted. Legal experts suggest prosecutors targeted Weisselberg with the hope he will flip and help investigators in other ongoing probes into the former president's company. "Donald Trump, while not named in the indictment, is all over the document in terms of actions he had to take," says David Cay Johnston, a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative reporter who has followed Donald Trump and his finances for more than 30 years. "Donald Trump and the people around him believe that they shouldn't be subject to the law."

Transcript
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I'm Amy Goodman.

The Manhattan District Attorney's Office has charged former President Donald Trump's family business with operating a 15-year tax fraud scheme by helping executives evade taxes by giving them compensation off the books. The company has been charged with criminal tax fraud, falsifying business records and committing a scheme to defraud.

The chief financial officer of the Trump Organization, Allen Weisselberg, was also charged with grand larceny for avoiding taxes on $1.7 million in perks that he did not report as income. Weisselberg surrendered Thursday and pled not guilty. He could face up to a decade in prison if convicted. Many legal experts are speculating prosecutors targeted Weisselberg with the hope he'll flip and help investigators in other ongoing probes into the former president's company.

During arraignment Thursday, prosecutor Carey Dunne said, quote, "To put it bluntly, this was a sweeping and audacious illegal payments scheme," he said. Prosecutors accused the Trump Organization of helping executives avoid paying taxes on fringe benefits, including cars, apartments and private school tuition.

We're joined now by David Cay Johnston, Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative reporter who's followed Donald Trump and his taxes for more than 30 years, previously at The New York Times, now co-founder and editor of DCReport.org. His most recent book, It's Even Worse Than You Think: What the Trump Administration Is Doing to America.

So, David, can you explain what these charges are about, against both Weisselberg, the CFO, and the Trump Organization, which is the Trump family business?

DAVID CAY JOHNSTON: This indictment lays out a calculated scheme, over 15 years, to pay large sums of money, $1.7 million, to Allen Weisselberg that was not included in the compensation he reported for tax purposes, also for him to claim that he did not live in New York City, when he did, which helped him evade $220,000 of New York City taxes over the period in question.

And it shows that Donald Trump, while not named in the indictment, is all over the document in terms of actions he had to take, including, in the very last count, the alteration of records just before the 2016 election to remove an indication of an illegal act.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Alan Futerfas, a lawyer for the Trump Organization, criticizing the prosecutor's case.

ALAN FUTERFAS: People across the country, we believe, have heard of corporate apartments, have heard of corporate cars. All of this is on the books and records of the company. That's how they know about it. And so, it's — in my view, my personal view, it's not appropriate. And, quite frankly, it sets a precedent. I think, in 244 years, we have not had a local prosecutor go after a former president of the United States or his employees or his company. And that is a — that is a significant line to cross.

AMY GOODMAN: So, talk about that line to cross. And also, he said the reason the government knows about all of this is we kept the books. But, in fact, they kept two sets of books, is that right, David?

DAVID CAY JOHNSTON: They kept two sets of books, which is, of course, a classic sign of tax fraud. The prosecutors had to go to the U.S. Supreme Court twice to get access to these records.

And fundamentally here, neither Donald Trump, in the statement he issued through the Trump Organization, or his lawyers are saying, "We didn't do it. It's not true." What they're saying is, "We're special, and we're privileged."

There's a man in Alabama serving a life sentence for stealing $9. There was a man in California sentenced to consecutive 25-year terms because he was broke and hungry and he stole a slice of pizza from some children — 55 years. And the U.S. Supreme Court said, "That's OK. That's a reasonable sentence."

But Donald Trump and the people around him believe that they shouldn't be subject to the law. "It's OK. Everybody does this." Everybody doesn't do this. But what an awful position for someone who took an oath to uphold the Constitution and faithfully execute the law.

AMY GOODMAN: So, the indictment alleges that Weisselberg evaded, oh, more than $1.7 million in taxes over a period beginning in 2005. So, instead of getting, you know, direct payment that he pays taxes on, he's getting his grandchildren's private school paid for, he's getting an apartment and other things. Can you talk about why this investigation took so long? And is this just a way to flip him to get to Donald Trump? And what do we know, since you've been investigating Trump for 30 years, about Donald Trump and his children?

DAVID CAY JOHNSTON: Well, first of all, let me just correct something: The taxes actually come to $880,211. The $1.7 million is the income. And a big portion of it is city taxes in New York, because Weisselberg claimed not to live in the city of New York when he did.

The investigation took so long for a very simple reason: Donald Trump fought the release and examination of his records from before he was president. In fact, his lawyer, George Consovoy, told a federal judge that if Donald Trump actually shot someone on Fifth Avenue — you'll recall he said he could do that and not lose a vote — if he actually shot someone on Fifth Avenue, the New York City police would be prohibited from investigating that murder. His position here is entirely, "I am above the law. I am special."

Now, the Trump children are not named in the indictment, but the older three are all executives of the Trump Organization, and there's every reason to believe that the future indictments — this is only the first indictment, not the case — will involve at some point the Trump children, and perhaps Allen Weisselberg's son Barry, for similar crimes. And there are hints of that in this indictment.

Now, the effort by prosecutors is fundamentally to get Allen Weisselberg to break with Donald Trump after 48 years of working for Donald and his father. At this point, Allen Weisselberg, who's about to turn 74, is a wholly owned psychological subsidiary of Donald Trump's criminal mind. It will be very difficult for him to break with Trump. And the case currently pending, while he could get, theoretically, 15 years, there is no requirement of any sentence higher than probation. So I think it's reasonable to expect that Allen Weisselberg and his lawyers at the moment are pondering running the risk of a trial and a conviction and then a judge simply saying, "Well, go home, sir, and report to the probation department once a month."

That suggests there will be other charges that will have much tougher penalties. And I think the record is increasingly showing that something I've been saying for about a year is going to happen, that eventually there will be an indictment for New York state racketeering enterprise. The state has a RICO law, like the federal government. It requires showing three felonies. This indictment shows numerous felonies. And it would allow prosecutors to have a judge appoint a receiver to take control of the Trump Organization as a criminal enterprise.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, before we end, can you, David, talk about one of your most recent articles, headlined "DCReport Uncovers a Huge Secret Tax Favor for Super Wealthy"? And in that, tell us just who Charles Rettig is.

DAVID CAY JOHNSTON: Donald Trump appointed Charles Rettig to be the commissioner of the IRS. He is the first person to hold that job who made his name and spent decades helping rich people avoid and perhaps evade taxes, and, if they got caught, negotiating secret settlements that never hit the public record for the taxes they cheated the government out of. He has said that the actual tax cap in the U.S. is more than twice the official number. It's probably over a trillion dollars. The government doesn't collect $3 trillion in taxes, so that makes it a huge number. And most of this is among very wealthy people who own their own businesses.

What's happened now is that in the Trump era, they got an approval to expand the number of auditors for gift and estate taxes. And there's plenty of evidence of massive, massive cheating in gifts and estates, after people die. But the new hires will not be lawyers. They'll get the same pay lawyers get. Effectively, the job is being downgraded from colonels to corporals, but at colonel pay. And these new hires will simply not have the legal knowledge to take apart the complex, multilayered structures that people like Charles Rettig have created so that billions of dollars appear to the IRS to be mere pennies.

The Biden administration could stop this with one phone call. This whole scheme is based on the Trump administration's legal advice that you can't hire any more lawyers to do this work. All they have to do is undo that decision. I've repeatedly emailed the White House. They told me they didn't know anything about this, which isn't surprising. This is a scheme we uncovered. But they haven't gotten back to us about whether President Biden will, or his staff will, see to it that this is at least stopped until they understand what's going on, and hopefully permanently stopped, because it's just a big giveaway to the most aggressive efforts by people and their lawyers to avoid taxes, Amy.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, David Cay Johnston, we thank you for being with us. We're going to link to that article at democracynow.org. David Cay Johnston, Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative reporter, co-founder and editor of DCReport.org. The exposé, "DCReport Uncovers a Huge Secret Tax Favor for Super Wealthy." His most recent book, It's Even Worse Than You Think: What the Trump Administration Is Doing to America.

Coming up, we go to Minnesota to look at the Indigenous-led resistance to block the Enbridge Line 3 pipeline. Stay with us.

'Dems have to start playing the game': Legal writer explains how to prevent a 7-2 conservative Supreme Court majority

We speak with legal writer and author Adam Cohen about the growing question of whether liberal Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer should step down so that he can be replaced while there is a Democratic president and Senate. Justice Breyer is 82 and the oldest member of the high court. "If Breyer doesn't step down now, there's a very real chance that Republicans will eventually fill that seat and maybe turn a 6-3 conservative majority, which has already been terrible, into a 7-2 conservative majority," Cohen says.

Transcript
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now! I'm Amy Goodman, as we turn to prize-winning author Adam Cohen, who has a new piece in The Atlantic headlined "Justice Breyer's Legacy-Defining Decision." It examines the growing question of whether the Supreme Court justice should step down so that he can be replaced while there's a Democratic president and a Democratic-run Senate. Justice Breyer is now 82 years old, the oldest member of the high court. Adam Cohen is also author of Supreme Inequality: The Supreme Court's Fifty-Year Battle for a More Unjust America.
Adam, welcome back to Democracy Now!

Why don't you lay out what this growing argument is.

ADAM COHEN: Great to be here, Amy. Great to see you.

Sure. As you mentioned, Justice Breyer is 82 years old, the oldest member of the court. This is a moment where if he retires, President Biden will be able to replace him. The Democrats control the Senate. They could put a much younger person in place. And President Biden has said, in fact, that he would appoint a Black woman. That would be the first Black woman on the Supreme Court.

If Breyer does not retire now, there's a very real danger that the Democrats will lose their control of the Senate. It's a razor-thin majority right now. Literally, if something were, God forbid, to happen to Sherrod Brown or Pat Leahy or any of the Democratic senators who are from states with a Republican governor, who would appoint a replacement — if anything happened to any of those senators, the Democrats would lose control of the Senate. And we know that Mitch McConnell just will not confirm any Democratic appointments to the court. So, if Breyer doesn't step down now, there's a very real chance that Republicans will eventually fill that seat and maybe turn a 6-to-3 conservative majority, which has already been terrible, into a 7-to-2 conservative majority.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to quote from Dahlia Lithwick's piece in Slate headlined "Stop Telling Justice Breyer to Retire," saying, quote, "Not only is it counterproductive, but it misses the point." Lithwick argues, "Replacing a liberal justice with another liberal justice on a 6–3 court is important, but it's also small ball. If we do (or don't) want justices to time their own retirements in exceedingly political ways, there is a way to fix that: implementing mandatory retirement ages or 18-year terms." Adam Cohen, your response?

ADAM COHEN: Yeah, I'm a great fan of Dahlia's, and I do disagree with her on this, for a couple reasons. One is, yes, it would be great to have fundamental reform of the court along the lines that she mentioned. It would be great to have term limits, to expand the court, so we could get, you know, out of this 6-to-3 conservative majority, which I have to emphasize is not representative of where the American public is. It's far to the right of the general public, as we've seen in the last presidential and congressional elections. The problem is, that is not going to happen. The Senate right now is so reluctant to do even mainstream Democratic things, like, say, pass a good infrastructure bill. The Senate is just not going to go along with expanding the court or term limits anytime soon.

So that means Democrats have to start playing the same game the Republicans have. The Republicans have been amazingly effective at the kind of small-bore politics of the court that Dahlia mentions, like, in 2018, Justice Kennedy stepped down when he was 81, a year younger than Breyer, and that allowed President Trump to fill that seat. Republicans hand off their seats very effectively. Ruth Bader Ginsburg, when she was still on the court, there were calls from progressives for her to step down when Obama was president, when the Democrats controlled the Senate. She did not step down, and her seat has now been filled by President Trump with Amy Coney Barrett, who could cast the deciding vote to overturn Roe v. Wade. So, I agree with Dahlia that it would be great to have these big reforms, but Democrats need to play the small-bore game, too.


Republicans won't even debate 'For the People Act' as they flood states with voter suppression bills

Senate Republicans are expected to use the filibuster to block debate on the For the People Act, a sweeping bill that would protect voting rights across the United States and improve ballot access. The Senate vote comes as Republican state lawmakers are passing sweeping measures to suppress the vote. According to the Voting Rights Lab, 18 states have enacted more than 30 laws to restrict voting since the November election. The For the People Act is "the most important voting rights bill since the Voting Rights Act of 1965," says Mother Jones reporter Ari Berman. "It just goes to show you how afraid the Republican Party is of democracy that they won't even debate legislation to make it easier to vote, let alone vote on the actual bill."

Transcript
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We begin today's show looking at the fight over voting rights. Senate Republicans are expected to use the filibuster today to block the For the People Act, a sweeping bill that would restore protections of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, which was gutted by the Supreme Court in 2013. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has scheduled the first procedural vote on the legislation today even though Democrats do not have the votes to move it forward. That's because two Democratic senators — Joe Manchin of West Virginia, Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona — oppose eliminating the filibuster. Last week, Manchin offered a watered-down voting bill, but that, too, faced opposition from Republicans.

The Senate vote comes as Republican state lawmakers are passing sweeping measures to suppress the vote around the country. According to the Voting Rights Lab, 18 states have enacted more than 30 laws to restrict voting since the November election. On Monday, Senate Majority Leader Schumer accused Republicans of backing voter suppression.

MAJORITY LEADER CHUCK SCHUMER: Let's dispense with this nonsense. There is no real principle behind these policies. They're not about election integrity. They're not about voter fraud. These policies have one purpose and one purpose only: making it harder for younger, poorer, nonwhite and typically Democratic voters to have — to access the ballot.

AMY GOODMAN: While today's Senate vote on the For the People Act is expected to fail, voting rights advocates say the fight has just begun. More than 70 groups have backed a national campaign called "Deadline for Democracy" to push senators to protect voting rights during the upcoming Senate recess.

We're joined now by Ari Berman, reporter for Mother Jones, his new cover story for the magazine headlined "Jim Crow Killed Voting Rights for Generations. Now the GOP Is Repeating History." He is author of Give Us the Ballot: The Modern Struggle for Voting Rights in America.

Welcome back to Democracy Now!, Ari. Why don't you start off —

ARI BERMAN: Hi, Amy. Good to see you again.

AMY GOODMAN: It's great to have you with us. Start off by explaining what the For the People Act is and exactly what is happening today.

ARI BERMAN: The For the People Act is the most important voting rights bill since the Voting Rights Act of 1965. It would expand voting access for millions of Americans through policies like automatic and Election Day registration, two weeks of early voting, no-excuse absentee voting, restoring voting rights to people with past felony convictions, preventing discriminatory voter ID laws and voter purging, public financing of elections, a ban on partisan gerrymandering — all of that for federal elections. So, it would set really expansive rules for federal elections in all 50 states, so you have the same right to vote if you live in Oregon compared to if you live in Texas.

And what's happening is that Republicans are going to block a vote on whether to even debate this bill. The vote today in the Senate is not a vote on the For the People Act; it's a vote to even debate the For the People Act. And so, it just goes to show you how afraid the Republican Party is of democracy that they won't even debate legislation to make it easier to vote, let alone vote on the actual bill.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: So, Ari, given the fact that the Republicans have signaled that they're going to do everything possible to kill the bill, why do you feel — what's the sense of why the Democrats have decided to press for a vote?

ARI BERMAN: Well, they want to show how obstructionist Republicans are being. And Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer is building a case here that Republicans have now blocked the January 6 commission, which had strong bipartisan support. They have blocked votes on paycheck fairness. They are blocking votes on gun control, on climate change and a whole host of other popular issues. And they are blocking a vote on the most fundamental right in democracy, the right to vote. And so, he wants to lay out a case of all of the Republican obstruction to convince Democrats that they need to either abolish or pare down the filibuster in order to pass these critical bills. Now, I don't know if they're going to succeed in doing that. Joe Manchin, Kyrsten Sinema, some other Democrats have been very steadfast they will not weaken or get rid of the filibuster. Nonetheless, Schumer is hoping that Republican obstruction will give them no other choice.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And you mentioned Manchin. He was backing another voting rights act, the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act. Could you talk about the differences between the two and what's happened with even the one that Manchin was backing?

ARI BERMAN: The John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act would restore a key part of the Voting Rights Act, that was gutted by the Supreme Court in 2013, that requires states with a long history of discrimination, like Georgia and Texas, to once again have to approve their voting changes with the federal government. Now, what the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act does is it blocks new voter suppression efforts in states with a history of discrimination, both in the past and present, but it would not block voter suppression laws that are already on the books, nor would it put in place policies to make it easier to vote nationwide. That's what the For the People Act does.

And so, these bills are really meant to work together. The For the People Act is meant to expand voting access all across the board, and the John Lewis Voting Rights Act is supposed to stop voter suppression in the places where voter suppression has historically been most prevalent. It's not an either/or thing. That's what Manchin has said, that he wants one bill, not the other, although now he's backing a revised For the People Act. But these bills really were viewed by voting rights advocates as two bills that were supposed to work together so that there would be expansive federal legislation protecting the right to vote.

AMY GOODMAN: And if you can explain — in what Manchin has proposed, Stacey Abrams, the leading voting rights activist in the country, from Georgia, has come out and endorsed, saying this would be acceptable — though McConnell says he wouldn't accept it — and accepted his idea of voter ID, though that voter ID could be any number of kinds of ID. Is that right, Ari? Can you explain this, the significance of Abrams endorsing Manchin's revision of the bill?

ARI BERMAN: Yeah, I think most Democrats would rather see something passed rather than nothing, when it comes to protecting voting rights. And Manchin's proposal is a mixed bag, but it has a lot of policies that voting rights advocates support. Manchin wants Election Day to be a national holiday. He wants a ban on partisan gerrymandering. He wants automatic voter registration. He wants two weeks of early voting. He wants more disclosure of dark money. Those are all things that voting rights advocates strongly support.

Now, there are some things that they're not so crazy about. Manchin supports a less restrictive version of voter ID. It's not the same voter ID laws that have been implemented in places like Texas, but it basically says, if you don't have photo ID, you can still vote with things like utility bills. So, that's not quite as bad as strict ID. He would still allow some version of voter purging.

So, there are things in there that are good in Manchin's proposal. There are things in there that are bad. But the point is, no Republicans have come out to support his proposal, so the question is: Why are Democrats compromising over voting rights, when Republicans won't even support that compromise to begin with? Why not introduce and pass legislation to actually solve the problem, if Republicans aren't going to support it to begin with? Use the power you have, because the other side is not going to accommodate you regardless.

AMY GOODMAN: Ari, you recently reported about how dark money groups are writing Republican voter suppression bills across the country. Your piece featured leaked video of Jessica Anderson, the executive director of Heritage Action for America, a former Trump administration staffer, speaking at a gathering in Tucson, Arizona, in April.

JESSICA ANDERSON: Iowa was the first state that we got to work in, and we did it quickly, and we did it quietly. Honestly, nobody noticed. At the end of the day, the bill that Governor Kemp signed and the Georgia Legislature marshaled through had eight key provisions that Heritage recommended. … We're working with these state legislators to make sure they have all of the information they need to draft the bills. In some cases, we actually draft them for them, or we have a sentinel, on our behalf, give them the model legislation, so it has that grassroots, you know, from-the-bottom-up type of vibe.

AMY GOODMAN: OK. So that's leaked video of Jessica Anderson, the executive director of Heritage Action for America, a former Trump administration staffer. Explain the significance of what she's saying.

ARI BERMAN: This was a really explosive video that Mother Jones published in conjunction with the watchdog group Documented, who obtained the video, showing that Heritage Action, the sister group of the Heritage Foundation, one of the largest right-wing think tanks, was actually writing model legislation for the states to make it harder to vote. They brag in the video that they wrote 19 provisions of a Texas bill, eight provisions of a Georgia bill, three provisions of an Iowa bill.

So you have a dark money group — we don't know its donors — raising millions of dollars from secret billionaire donors, who are writing legislation making it harder to vote all across the country. And Republicans have portrayed this legislation as organic, bottom-up legislation responding to the worries of their constituents, when in fact you have dark money groups in Washington that are exporting a voter suppression agenda to the states.

And that's the exact thing that the For the People Act would stop. The connection between dark money and voter suppression is exactly what the For the People Act targets. And what Heritage is doing is they are spending $24 million to make it harder to vote in eight battleground states. And they are trying to block H.R. 1, which they say will destroy our democracy. And they are specifically targeting people like Joe Manchin to get them to oppose H.R. 1 and to keep the filibuster to prevent voting rights legislation from passing.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, Ari, you mentioned the $24 million that are being raised for suppression. There was a report in The New York Times today that a Democratic-leaning PAC, Priorities USA, is putting up $20 million for voter education and registration before the upcoming midterm elections. Could you talk about this whole battle over voter suppression in a historical context, its relationship to past efforts to suppress the vote in American history?

ARI BERMAN: Yeah, well, there's a lot of echoes about the voter suppression that's happening right now and the voter suppression that happened in the past. That's what my Mother Jones cover story about Jim Crow was about. The pattern that existed during the Jim Crow era and during Reconstruction was that you had new voters turn out — Black voters were enfranchised; that was followed by violence, fraud, intimidation to try to prevent Blacks from voting; then that was followed by attempts to change the laws to prevent Blacks from voting altogether, when states like Mississippi rushed to change their constitutions. And the same pattern is playing out today, which you had much higher turnout in 2020; you had new people turn out; that was followed by an attempt to try to overturn the election; then that was followed by states rewriting their laws to achieve the same outcomes as the insurrection.

And one of the key parallels between the Jim Crow era and today was that Congress had an opportunity to protect voting rights. They passed a bill in 1890 to protect voting rights. It passed the House; it was killed by a filibuster in the Senate. And that's why disenfranchisement laws were allowed to go forward in places like Mississippi and Georgia and Alabama and all across the Jim Crow South. And the same kind of pattern is playing out today, which is that Republicans are rushing to disenfranchise voters, the House has passed legislation to stop it, but it's going to be killed by a Senate filibuster. If that happens, Republicans are going to be able to undermine voting rights in the states for decades, and Democrats are going to be virtually powerless to be able to stop it.

AMY GOODMAN: Finally, I wanted to ask you about Georgia and Arizona. Arizona is finishing up, they say, this week their — what some call their "fraudit," the audit of so-called voter fraud. And many are concerned that's going to be used as a model around the country, including Georgia. At the same time, you have Georgia's Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger saying he's removed over 100,000 names from the state voter rolls, saying most of them were linked to change of address or from residences where election mail had been returned to sender. And you have the Georgia governor, Brian Kemp, saying there's "nothing Jim Crow" about the recent voter suppression law passed in Georgia. Put all of that together.

ARI BERMAN: Well, what Republicans are doing is they are weaponizing the big lie on every front. They are keeping alive the lie that the election was stolen, through these bogus audits. They are making it harder to vote in so many different ways. The Georgia law that Brian Kemp says has nothing to do with Jim Crow has 16 different provisions making it harder for Democratic constituencies and communities of color to be able to vote, which is why Stacey Abrams calls it "Jim Crow in a suit and tie." They're actually making it easier to overturn election results. They are purging local election officials. They're taking over county election boards. They're taking over state election boards. In 14 different states, they are politicizing election administration in an unprecedented way.

So, it's a "flood the zone" strategy when it comes to voter suppression. It's not one tactic; it's not another tactic. It's all of these different tactics to make it harder to vote. And that's why federal legislation is so important, because if the Congress doesn't step in to block these voter suppression efforts, these attempts to overturn elections, Republicans are just going to be emboldened, and they're going to go further and further and further. And the crazy things we're seeing in Arizona, the crazy things we're seeing in Georgia, these are going to become the new normal, if Congress doesn't act.

AMY GOODMAN: Ari Berman, thanks so much for being with us, reporter for Mother Jones, author of Give Us the Ballot: The Modern Struggle for Voting Rights in America. We will link to your piece, "Jim Crow Killed Voting Rights for Generations. Now the GOP Is Repeating History."

Next up, we look at the climate crisis and the debate over infrastructure spending. Stay with us.


'Here I am': Meet a descendant of one of 272 enslaved people sold on June 19, 1838 by Georgetown U

We look at another significant June 19 in the history of slavery in the United States: June 19, 1838, when Jesuit priests who ran what is now Georgetown University sold 272 enslaved people to pay off the school's debts. In 2016, Georgetown University announced it would give preferential admissions treatment to descendants of the Africans it enslaved and sold. "Ours, as Americans, is an uninterrupted line of inheritance that many of us refuse to believe that we are descendants of," says Mélisande Short-Colomb, who is one of the first two Georgetown University students to benefit from legacy admission for direct descendants and serves on the Board of Advisors for the Georgetown Memory Project.


This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now! I'm Amy Goodman.

We look now at another June 19th: 1838, when Jesuit priests who ran what's now Georgetown University sold 272 enslaved men, women and children to pay off the school's debts. In 2016, Georgetown University announced it would give preferential admissions treatment to descendants of the Africans it enslaved and sold.

In 2017, The New York Times published the only known photograph of Frank Campbell, one of the enslaved people sold by the Maryland Jesuits in 1838.

In March, the Jesuits pledged $100 million to atone for their participation in slavery, in a deal with a small representative group of descendants, the Catholic Church and corporate partners. A wider group of descendants opposed the deal, saying it was done in private and doesn't go far enough to repair the harms done.

In a minute, we'll be joined by Mélisande Short-Colomb, one of the first two Georgetown University students to benefit from legacy admission for direct descendants. First, though, this is a trailer of her one-woman play, Here I Am.

MÉLISANDE SHORT-COLOMB: I feel like my whole life and all of the lives that have come before me are balled up inside of me. The New York Times broke a story in April 2016 revealing that the Jesuits had sold 272 enslaved persons in 1838 to raise funds to keep Georgetown University going. A few months later, I discovered that I descended from two families in the sale: the Queens and the Mahoneys. By September 2017, I had entered Georgetown College as an undergraduate student at the age of 63.
Here I am, paying homage to 11 generations of the women who have come into me and who are part of me. I am here to tell their story, handed down over more than 300 years. Our ancestors have waited patiently, through centuries, for us to come to the table of acknowledgment. I am Mélisande Short-Colomb. Here I am. Here we are.

AMY GOODMAN: The trailer for the one-woman play, Here I Am, by Mélisande Short-Colomb, who joins us now, one of the first two students to benefit from legacy admission for direct descendants of the enslaved by the Jesuits at Georgetown University, where she's also a community engagement associate and serves on the Board of Advisors for the Georgetown Memory Project.

Welcome to Democracy Now!, Mélisande. It's such an honor to have you with us. Your thoughts today on this first federal holiday of Juneteenth? And if you can talk about that other June 19th, 1838, and what happened?

MÉLISANDE SHORT-COLOMB: Good morning, Amy. Thank you for having me here.

Juneteenth 2021, here we are, acknowledging injustices of the past in the present, for the future. Yes, it did take enslaved people two-and-a-half years in Texas to learn that they had been freed. But it's taken us 156 years as Americans to acknowledge that event. So, we are the turners of the wheels of progress and change.

June 19th, 1838, 183 years ago, my family, two sides of my family — my young great-great-great-grandparents met on a boat on their way to Louisiana and started a family that results in me and many of my cousins in Louisiana. We were part of the human trafficking trade in the United States of America — not the theoretical Middle Passage, which was very true and brought people — more people to the Caribbean and South America than to the United States of America. Yes, I am a Black woman in 2021, who the institution of slavery was built in the wombs of my grandmothers, because every child that they brought into this world, in this life, in this place, from 1677 until 1865, were slaves at birth. What kind of people do that?

Which brings us to the Jesuits, to the founders of the United States of America, to 1868, to 1865, to 1921, to 2021. So, ours, as Americans, is an uninterrupted line of inheritance that many of us refuse to believe that we are descendants of. Black people are not just the descendants of enslavement here in America. We are all the descendants of enslaved here in America. And that is if you got here in 1570, 1619, 1677 or somebody threw you over the fence yesterday. We are here in this place that is 245 years old, plus the colonial period. This belongs to all of us.

AMY GOODMAN: Mélisande, if you can talk about how Georgetown was saved, prevented from going into bankruptcy, by the sale of nearly 300 enslaved people? Of course, I hate to use the word "saved" — in fact, that was a damning of the university.

MÉLISANDE SHORT-COLOMB: Well, the university, the Jesuits owned property in human beings and in land. In all of their dealings and sales and building of economic wealth here in America, they always had a choice: We can sell people, we can rent out people, or we can sell land. And they always chose to sell the people and not the land. The Jesuits still own all the land that they have always owned in Maryland and in the District of Columbia. The Catholic Church — it's not just the Jesuits. The Archdiocese of Baltimore got money from this sale. The Catholic Church, up until 1865, in the United States of America were slave-owning Confederates.

AMY GOODMAN: So, I want to go for a moment to Reverend Tim Kesicki, the president of the Jesuit Conference of Canada and the United States, speaking at Georgetown University's "Liturgy of Remembrance, Contrition, and Hope."

REV. TIM KESICKI: Today, the Society of Jesus, who helped to establish Georgetown University and whose leaders enslaved and mercilessly sold your ancestors, stands before you to say that we have greatly sinned. … We pray with you today because we have greatly sinned and because we are profoundly sorry.

AMY GOODMAN: So, Mélisande Short-Colomb, if you can talk about what this $100 million deal is? Where does this money go? And how did you determine that you were one of the descendants? And then, the larger group of people who are understanding where they come from?

MÉLISANDE SHORT-COLOMB: I cannot actually speak to the details of this agreement between the Jesuits and this group of descendants. I am not part of that group, nor was I privy to those conversations, decisions and agreements that were met. I'm outside of that. I appreciate the effort, the five-year effort that went into creating this concept, because what they've done is make it a GoFundMe. So, we have to raise money — the Jesuits have to raise money to correct the economic disparities of the past. This is within the framework of the Catholic Church and not the wider descendant community. Is it a good thing? Yes, it is. I just don't know and cannot opine, other than to say, "Good. Do your work."

AMY GOODMAN: And then, there was, in 2019, the students of Georgetown voting to create a reparations fund for the descendants of enslaved people sold by the Jesuits, adding a fee of $27.20 to tuition. What happened after this?

MÉLISANDE SHORT-COLOMB: Nothing. It was taken over by the administration. And this was the first time in the United States of America that a voting body voted to go into their own pockets, $27.20. The opposition to that was, it should be charitable, which is the position that the administration has taken over and made it a GoFundMe. So, what the students said was, "We're going to go into our pockets as undergraduate students, in perpetuity, to create an endowment, a student endowment, to engage as Georgetown undergraduate students with the larger descendant community."

AMY GOODMAN: Finally, your play, Here I Am, your one-woman play, what is your message?

MÉLISANDE SHORT-COLOMB: I think, "Here we all are." And my hope with Here I Am was that we have something, we have created something, that can instigate and initiate conversations in the larger context of who we are.

AMY GOODMAN: And those conversations will definitely continue here. I want to thank you so much, Mélisande Short-Colomb, one of the first two Georgetown University students to benefit from legacy admissions for direct descendants enslaved by the Jesuits. I'm Amy Goodman. Stay safe.

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Is Biden leading the US into a new Cold War?

China says NATO is adopting a "Cold War mentality" after the military alliance singled out China and Russia for criticism during a summit in Brussels. In its final communiqué, NATO leaders said, "China's stated ambitions and assertive behavior present systemic challenges to the rules-based international order." NATO leaders also criticized Russia and called on Moscow to withdraw troops from Ukraine, Georgia and the Republic of Moldova. Stephen Wertheim, a historian of U.S. foreign policy, says he is concerned that the Biden administration is "moving toward a quite hostile posture toward China and Russia simultaneously." He also says policymakers need to urgently reevaluate the purpose of NATO, which he says could fuel greater conflict. "Is that really what the American people need for the rest of the 21st century?" he asks.



Transcript
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now! I'm Amy Goodman, with Juan González.

China is warning NATO is adopting a "Cold War mentality" after the military alliance singled out China and Russia for criticism during the NATO summit in Brussels that just wrapped. President Biden successfully pushed NATO, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, to declare China to be a security risk for the first time. In its final communiqué, NATO leaders said, quote, "China's stated ambitions and assertive behavior present systemic challenges to the rules-based international order," unquote. NATO leaders also criticized Russia and called on Moscow to withdraw troops from Ukraine, Georgia and the Republic of Moldova.

This is President Biden speaking in Brussels Monday.

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: There is a growing recognition over the last couple years that we have new challenges. And we have Russia that is not acting in a way that is consistent with what we had hoped, and as well as China.

AMY GOODMAN: President Biden spoke alongside NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, who also criticized China.

JENS STOLTENBERG: We are concerned by China's coercive policies, which stand in contrast to the fundamental values enshrined in the Washington Treaty. China is rapidly expanding its nuclear arsenal with more warheads and a large number of sophisticated delivery systems. … NATO leaders called on China to uphold its international commitments and to act responsibly in the international system, including in space, cyber and maritime domains, in keeping with its role as a major power.

AMY GOODMAN: The Chinese Mission to the European Union responded to the NATO summit by saying, quote, "NATO is slandering China's peaceful development and misjudging the international situation and its own role," end-quote.

Today, President Biden is meeting with European Union leaders before heading to Geneva for his summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

We're joined now by the historian Stephen Wertheim, director of grand strategy at the Quincy Institute and a visiting faculty fellow at the Center for Global Legal Challenges at Yale Law School, author of the book Tomorrow, the World: The Birth of U.S. Global Supremacy. He has a new article in The New York Times headlined "Sorry, Liberals. But You Really Shouldn't Love NATO."

Welcome to Democracy Now!, Stephen Wertheim. Why don't you talk about the NATO summit, this first-ever hit on China, in the way it was framed in the communiqué? Is President Biden leading to a new Cold War, both with China and Russia?

STEPHEN WERTHEIM: It's nice to be with you.

I am concerned that, indeed, the administration may be moving toward a quite hostile posture toward China and Russia simultaneously. If it is doing so, it would be merely continuing a trend from the Trump administration, I must say.

That said, though I think you are right to spotlight what was most remarkable about the outcome of yesterday's NATO summit — namely, the identification of China as posing, quote-unquote, "systemic challenges" to the so-called rules-based international order — I do think it's actually quite worrying, as far as the European members of NATO are concerned. Europe has, for quite some time, been reluctant to cast China as a threat, for understandable reasons. Many Europeans, including the leading powers of Germany and France, don't want to make a choice, economically or otherwise, between the United States and China or between the United States and Russia. And it has been the United States that has been most concerned about the threats from both countries. And so, I think the NATO communiqué reflects NATO's desire to at least look like the European members are as concerned about China as the United States. But to the extent that the United States will indeed focus on competition with China, in the longer term, that heralds a turn toward Asia and, therefore, away from Europe.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Stephen Wertheim, I wanted to ask you about this whole issue of this systemic challenge. The last time I looked, the United States had 800 military bases and installations in about 70 countries around the world. And apparently, China only has four military bases anywhere in the world. They've got one in Argentina. They've got a small one in Djibouti, which is part of the whole international campaign against piracy. They've got one in Myanmar, and they've got one in Tajikistan. This doesn't sound like much of a threat to NATO or to the United States. And we're not even mentioning that Turkey has expended all kinds of military bases, as a member nation of NATO, all around the world in recent years. So, why is this obsession with presidents of the U.S., whether it's Biden or Trump, in continuing to paint China as some kind of a threat — not an economic competitor, which it is, and a growing economic competitor, but as a threat?

STEPHEN WERTHEIM: Well, it is worrying for the reason you say. The language of systemic competition and challenge to the rules-based international order seems to lump all of the issues that China's rise throws up. It lumps them together into one thing that seems to require a response in every domain. But China's record militarily is vastly different from that of even the United States over the last few decades, I'm sorry to say. It's not China that has scattered its troops all around the world on bases, as you say, or pursued missions to overturn regimes.

China's behavior is very worrying in a lot of respects. And I do actually think that the United States and Europe have a lot to cooperate on in terms of setting standards for technologies, for digital, to set rules economically that might constrain Chinese action to cooperate on climate change. There's plenty of things for the United States and Europe to do together. That's valuable. And that will, to some degree, constrain Chinese action, and that's a good thing.

But NATO is a military alliance. We have to remember that. And so, for NATO to be casting China in this way suggests that it does view China as something of a threat, although the NATO communiqué was careful to use the word "threat" toward Russia, but to use the lesser — less intense word "challenge" when it came to China.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And I'm wondering if you could comment on the G7, the new initiative they're calling Build Back Better for the World, or B3W, as a possible alternative to China's Belt and Road Initiative, because I don't think many people in the United States appreciate the impact that China's Belt and Road Initiative has had in the developing world, and also, in the period of the pandemic, its efforts to export vaccines. I think it's now — China has already exported 700 million doses to the rest of the world, which is about what the G7 is promising to do in the future. And it's already, my understanding is, providing 20 million vaccinations per day to its own people. Whereas here in the United States we're at 1, 2 million vaccinations per day, they're doing 20 million per day. How does this, both the Belt and Road Initiative and its vaccine diplomacy, having an impact on how the rest of the world sees China?

STEPHEN WERTHEIM: We saw the G7 on Friday act as though it needs to really meet China's activity in both of these domains — vaccines and development aid. And that could be a good thing if it ends up generating productive forms of competition, if it means that the G7 become more generous with their provision of vaccine doses, if it means that development aid becomes more plentiful, which it has not been, from the West.

This Build Back Better for the World thing is mostly a slogan or a hashtag at this point. It's got an abbreviation, the three Bs or whatever it is, before it really has substance. So we'll have to see what actually comes of it.

The worrying aspect, though, would be that rather than create a kind of a race to the top, we have a race to the bottom. And for the developing world, there are increasing strings attached, whether they make a choice between China's aid or U.S.-led Western aid.

So, we need only to think back to the Cold War to think about what may be in store going forward, if indeed this kind of intense security competition, something like a Cold War, does set in between the West and China. On the one hand, in the Cold War, some members of the Global South were able to use their leverage, to use the interest of both sides to try to play them off each other and obtain more benefits. That could be good in certain circumstances. But then sometimes they found out that the superpowers were not pleased if they would take aid from one side, and such aid was cast as a threat to the other side and could lead to even the overthrow of governments.

So, at this early stage, I don't think we know which dynamic will prevail, but I have to say that the G7 did not come up with a terribly impressive number of vaccines that the members pledged to provide to the international facility that will be distributing vaccines. It was under a billion doses. Many, many more doses are needed, multiples of that number, in order to vaccinate the world. Now, perhaps this meeting will generate some momentum and further gains going forward, but it disappointed a lot of people, and there was a lot of criticism from, you know, the former U.K. leader, Gordon Brown, and WHO officials.

AMY GOODMAN: You have, for example, in Trinidad and Tobago, the United States pledged something like 500 vaccines to Trinidad and Tobago; China, 200,000. But I wanted to ask you — in your piece in The New York Times, you write, "The danger of permanent subordination to America has started to register in European capitals, long solicitous of American commitment. President [Emmanuel] Macron of France has accused NATO of experiencing 'brain death' and proposed creating an independent European army," independent of the United States. Can you talk about this? While there's a lot of backslapping and "Oh, we're back together again" in this 72-year-old military alliance that Trump said he wanted to get rid of, you also have a lot of tension here between European leaders and the United States, especially in the push against the pushback against China and Russia.

STEPHEN WERTHEIM: Yeah, I think this is the main story, actually, of the NATO summit. The narrative that NATO wants to tell is about all these actions that will be taken against China and Russia, but very little under the surface was this notion that America's commitment to NATO has come under question. And on both sides of the Atlantic, there's a reckoning with whether the interests of the United States and the interests of Europe and its leading powers really do align so closely as to bind them into this military alliance.

And so, President Biden was intent on having a clear statement that America is back, and he repeated that America has a "sacred obligation," "sacred" commitment — his words — to the collective defense provision of NATO. But this comes after, you know, not only the Trump presidency, but stirrings within European capitals to realize that, as German Chancellor Angela Merkel put it, Europe must truly take its destiny into its own hands. And now "strategic autonomy" has become the watchword in Brussels, where the idea is that, in some fashion, it would be that EU, independent of the United States, outside of NATO, that would become more of a force in security and military affairs. I think that's quite a sensible idea at this point in history. And I think even Biden understands that his words about a "sacred" commitment matter much less than what America actually does, not just under his administration, but long after.

And in addition to that, I think we've come to a kind of inflection point in the history of NATO after the collapse of the Soviet Union. It's now very hard to see how NATO could possibly expand any further. And yesterday, the Ukrainian president, Zelensky, tried to send out a tweet that he had gotten these assurances that Ukraine would indeed become a member of NATO, which it's been on a path to becoming — a very slow path, we should say — since 2008. And Biden was not very thrilled with that, it seemed, from the subsequent press conference, in which he said, "Well, Ukraine has to meet its obligations to become a member. We'll see." You know, the jury is not out, essentially. And I think we have come to a point where it's just very implausible, frankly, that Ukraine and Georgia would become NATO members and really pose a risk of direct conflict with Russia.

So, what the Biden administration has not done is close the door on further expansion of NATO. And that might be, frankly, a valuable step, not just for the United States and for the other members of NATO, but even for Ukraine itself, which is hoping for membership, but I fear it's being led down a false path, because the fact is that Germany and France oppose Ukraine's membership. They oppose it for very good reasons, because it risks conflict and further conflict, given that there is an ongoing conflict in eastern Ukraine.

AMY GOODMAN: So, president —

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And I'm wondering —

AMY GOODMAN: Go ahead, Juan.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Yeah, I'm wondering — back in October, you wrote a piece headlined "America Has No Reason to Be So Powerful." And I'm wondering what the — given the fact, as I mentioned before, this continued huge military footprint of the United States around the world, once you have such a humongous military-industrial complex, it must always find enemies, doesn't it, to be able to justify its continued existence? And to what degree can the public, or even some political leaders, break away from this sense that the United States must be the policeman of the world?

STEPHEN WERTHEIM: I share that concern. And I think the fact that the United States had built up not just its military-industrial complex domestically, but also its relationships and military positions globally, that explains a lot of the kind of inertia that we saw after the collapse of the Soviet Union, when you would think that the reason for being of this massive national security state had gone away.

That said, I think we are seeing stirrings, at least, of change over the last decade or so. Everybody has to understand now that we are no longer living in the unipolar moment of the 1990s, when the United States was utterly dominant. Through that decade, it could cut its defense spending as a percentage of GDP only to emerge in a more unrivaled position than ever before by the end of the decade. Well, the rest of the world has not exactly caught up, but other countries have asserted themselves, and China, most of all, has dramatically risen economically, with military growth to match its economic growth.

So, I think that, you know, most people in Washington, even if they don't agree with some of what I write, understand that real change is necessary, and the United States cannot possibly continue to be the guarantor of about half of the world against the other half of the world where most of humanity are, thus turning that half into explicit or implicit threats.

AMY GOODMAN: Stephen Wertheim, I wanted to ask you about what's about to happen on Wednesday. That's the Biden-Putin summit in Geneva. In a new interview on NBC, Putin criticized the United States for placing troops near the Russian border.

PRESIDENT VLADIMIR PUTIN: [translated] Imagine that we sent our troops into direct proximity to your borders. What would be your response? We didn't do that. We did it in our territory. You conducted war games in Alaska. Well, God bless you, but you crossed an ocean close to our borders, brought thousands of personnel and thousands of units of military equipment. And yet you believe that we are acting aggressively and somehow you're not. Just look at that: pot calling the kettle black.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you respond to this and also this back-and-forth? You know, President Biden calling Putin a killer, then NBC asked Putin about that, he laughed. And then, when Biden was asked about Putin laughing, Biden laughed.

STEPHEN WERTHEIM: Well, I do think that both leaders are somewhat toning down their rhetorical barrages in advance of their summit, and that's probably a good thing. I do want to give credit to the Biden administration and the president, in particular, for staunchly defending the value of diplomacy and making a point that the point of diplomacy is to meet with leaders of countries with whom we have issues; otherwise, we can pack it up, in terms of our diplomacy. So, that's exactly right. And he's trying to kind of tone down the, I would say, overheated rhetoric and personal rhetoric toward Vladimir Putin.

I hope that the summit will prove productive beyond the symbolism, which is not without value itself. But the broader pattern, I think, needs to be considered, of U.S. policy, where indeed the United States has placed troops and made defense commitments that now span most of Europe, going right up to the borders of Russia in the cases of the Baltics and with Ukraine having a path, a potential path, toward membership in the U.S.-led NATO alliance.

And it isn't surprising, and indeed was predicted by many people, left and right and center, back in the 1990s, when NATO expansion was first put on the table and first endorsed — the Senate in 1998 held a vote to admit the first three new members of NATO. It was predicted at that time by many people — my piece in yesterday's New York Times cites the Minnesota Senator Paul Wellstone, that the expansion of NATO would be seen by Russia, could not be seen otherwise by Russia, except as a threat to itself, even if, for some period of time, it wouldn't have the capacity to respond, given its economic travails in the wake of the collapse of the Soviet Union. And now that expansion has been taken, I fear, too far.

And so, we've created a kind of self-fulfilling prophecy. And this is not to defend many of the actions that Russia has taken, including the annexation of Crimea, its support for separatists in the Donbas region of Ukraine, but, you know, wise diplomats and political leaders will understand how other countries view their vital interests and listen to those countries when they repeatedly make clear what those vital interests are. So, I fear that we've set ourselves on a path of a self-fulfilling prophecy in generating conflict. And what I worry about is that if the United States, in particular, doesn't break this pattern, it sets us up for the next two, three decades — my lifetime, my children's lifetime — to be, at best, involved in intense standoffs with Russia and China, and perhaps others around the world. And at worst, it sets us up for a great power war, for World War III. Is that really what the American people need for the rest of the 21st century?

AMY GOODMAN: Historian Stephen Wertheim, I want to thank you for being with us, director of grand strategy at the Quincy Institute, visiting faculty fellow at the Center for Global Legal Challenges at Yale Law School. We'll link to your piece in The New York Times, "Sorry, Liberals. But You Really Shouldn't Love NATO." His book, Tomorrow, the World: The Birth of U.S. Global Supremacy.

Coming up, we go to Puerto Rico, which suffered a massive blackout in the last days, just days after the island's electrical system was privatized. Back in 30 seconds.


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US Marks 100th anniversary of Tulsa Race Massacre, when white mob destroyed Black Wall Street

Memorial Day marks the 100th anniversary of the 1921 Tulsa race massacre, one of the deadliest episodes of racial violence in U.S. history, when the thriving African American neighborhood of Greenwood in Tulsa, Oklahoma — known as "Black Wall Street" — was burned to the ground by a white mob.

An estimated 300 African Americans were killed and over 1,000 injured. Whites in Tulsa actively suppressed the truth, and African Americans were intimidated into silence. But efforts to restore the horrific event to its rightful place in U.S. history are having an impact.

Survivors testified last week before Congress, calling for reparations. President Biden is set to visit Tulsa on Tuesday. We speak with documentary filmmaker Stanley Nelson, whose new film premiering this weekend explores how Black residents sought out freedom in Oklahoma and built a thriving community in Greenwood, and how it was all destroyed over two days of horrific violence. Nelson notes many African Americans migrated westward after the Civil War "to start a new life" with dignity.

"Greenwood was one of over 100 African American communities in the West," he says. "Greenwood was the biggest and the baddest of those communities."

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: "Mother Africa" by jazz saxophonist Hal Singer and Jef Gilson. Singer was one of the last remaining survivors of the Tulsa race massacre. He died in August at the age of 100. This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The Quarantine Report. I'm Amy Goodman.

This Monday, Memorial Day, marks the hundredth anniversary of the Tulsa race massacre, one of the single greatest acts of racist terror in U.S. history. In 1921, the thriving African American neighborhood of Greenwood in Tulsa, Oklahoma, was known as "Black Wall Street" for its concentration of successful Black-owned businesses, before it was burned to the ground by a white mob.

The violence grew from a confrontation at the Tulsa courthouse where whites had gathered to abduct and lynch a jailed Black man who had been wrongfully accused of assaulting a white woman. Black residents of Greenwood arrived to stop the lynching. Gunshots erupted, after which the white mob set upon Greenwood for 18 hours of mass murder, arson and looting that would become known as the 1921 Tulsa race massacre.

An estimated 300 African Americans were killed, over a thousand injured. Ten thousand were left homeless as the racist mob, some of them deputized and armed by Tulsa law enforcement, along with members of the Ku Klux Klan, terrorized the Black population. Airplanes were used to drop dynamite and crude incendiary bombs on Greenwood, ultimately burning over 35 city blocks. Over 1,200 homes were destroyed, along with countless businesses. The actual number of dead will never be known, as bodies were tossed into mass graves or thrown in the river.

Last week, a House Judiciary subcommittee held a hearing to address the ongoing impacts of the Tulsa massacre. Three African American survivors testified in favor of reparations: Viola Fletcher; her younger brother, Hughes Van Ellis, who's 100 years old; and 105-year-old Lessie Benningfield Randle. This is part of their testimony, beginning with Viola Fletcher.

VIOLA FLETCHER: I'm a survivor of the Tulsa race massacre. Two weeks ago, I celebrated my 107th birthday. Today I am visiting Washington, D.C., for the first time in my life. I'm here seeking justice, and I'm asking my country to acknowledge what happened in Tulsa in 1921. …
The night of the massacre, I was awakened by my family. My parents and five siblings were there. I was told we had to leave, and that was it. I will never forget the violence of the white mob when we left our home. I still see Black men being shot, Black bodies lying in the street. I still smell smoke and see fire. I still see Black businesses being burned. I still hear airplanes flying overhead. I hear the screams. I have lived through the massacre every day. Our country may forget this history, but I cannot. I will not. And other survivors do not. And our descendants do not.
HUGHES VAN ELLIS: We live with it every day, and the thought of what Greenwood was and what it could have been. We aren't just black-and-white pictures on a screen. We are flesh and blood. I was there when it happened. I'm still here.
LESSIE BENNINGFIELD RANDLE: It seems like justice in America is always so slow or not possible for Black people.

AMY GOODMAN: Three African American survivors of the Tulsa race massacre, making history as they testified before Congress just ahead of the centennial of the race massacre this Monday. The Department of Homeland Security has said events commemorating the massacre could be a target for white supremacists. President Joe Biden still plans to travel to Tulsa on Tuesday.

This Sunday, a documentary by award-winning filmmaker Stanley Nelson premieres on the History Channel. This is the trailer for Tulsa Burning: The 1921 Race Massacre.

JAMES S. HIRSCH: The destruction was so complete. The suffering was so biblical. The betrayal was so profound.
UNIDENTIFIED: Black communities deserve the opportunity to confront the past.
UNIDENTIFIED: Our city has been stuck since then. We've never recovered.
DAMARIO SOLOMON-SIMMONS: Tulsa was the best place in the nation for African Americans.
MICHELE MITCHELL: We have everything, from hotels, theaters.
SCOTT ELLSWORTH: Doctors, lawyers.
MICHELE MITCHELL: People referred to it as "Black Wall Street."
UNIDENTIFIED: Showing Black people that a new world was possible.
HANNIBAL JOHNSON: The Tribune published a story titled "Nabbed Negro for Attacking Girl in an Elevator." It was a false narrative to keep Black people in their place, to reinforce white supremacy.
SCOTT ELLSWORTH: All across Tulsa, angry whites are now organizing.
JAMES S. HIRSCH: They get their guns. They get their torches.
SCOTT ELLSWORTH: At that point, they start moving towards Greenwood.
JAMES S. HIRSCH: All hell broke loose.
ELDORIS McCONDICHIE: The white folks are killing the colored folks.
UNIDENTIFIED: Firing into homes.
UNIDENTIFIED: Bombs dropping from the air.
UNIDENTIFIED: It was just an all-out massacre.
REV. ROBERT TURNER: Not one of those men who participated in the race massacre were ever brought to justice.
SCOTT ELLSWORTH: The Tulsa Tribune refused to write anything about the massacre for more than 50 years. Victims were being buried in unmarked graves across the city. The reason we understand the history of the massacre is that certain survivors decided to talk about it.
GEORGE MONROE: My mother saw four men coming toward our house, and all of them had torches.
BRENDA ALFORD: We will be looking for the remains of those who were lost so tragically.
UNIDENTIFIED: This is so beautiful, and sad at the same time.
UNIDENTIFIED: We need to do something about what happened in Tulsa.
DAMARIO SOLOMON-SIMMONS: There cannot be any justice 'til there is proper respect, restitution and repair.

AMY GOODMAN: The trailer for Tulsa Burning: The 1921 Race Massacre. The executive producer of the film, NBA star Russell Westbrook, who played for the Oklahoma City Thunder for over a decade.

We're joined now by one of the documentary's directors, Stanley Nelson. His previous films include Freedom Summer, Freedom Riders, The Murder of Emmett Till.

Stanley, welcome back to Democracy Now! It's an honor to have you with us again. Lay this out. I mean, this is a story that, as we can see throughout this film, and of course from our own education, was so suppressed for so many decades. Go back in time. Talk to us about Black Wall Street and why so many African Americans came to Oklahoma.

STANLEY NELSON: Yeah, I think one of the things that's so fascinating about the story is that African Americans, in the decades after the Civil War, migrated west. You know, we think of that famous saying, "Go west, young man." Well, African Americans went west. You know, when we think about Americans in covered wagons, we don't think about — usually think about African Americans, but African Americans went west, in covered wagons, on horseback, on foot, to try to start a new life and try to start a life where they could live with dignity and peace.

And they did that. And they did that in Greenwood. And Greenwood was one of over a hundred African American communities in the West, some small, some a little larger, but Greenwood was the biggest and the baddest of those communities. It was a very, very successful community that had businesses, you know, a skating rink, movie theaters, grocery stores, lawyers, doctors, everything. It was really a self-contained community. And that may have been one of the problems with their white neighbors.

AMY GOODMAN: Yeah, I was so struck by the history, where you talked about African Americans coming north from the oppression of the Deep South, and actually a number of them — and they called it Indian Country, going to Oklahoma — a number concerned about Oklahoma becoming a state, that it would reinforce the racist laws of the rest of the United States.

STANLEY NELSON: Yeah, one of the things that's so fascinating is that Oklahoma was a territory, and so it was kind of free. You know, it was the home of the Land Rush, and Black people took part in that. And there was a move to make Oklahoma kind of a home, a Black state for African Americans. But once Oklahoma became a state, then the racist Jim Crow laws took effect, and Black people, that had kind of been free in Oklahoma, were then persecuted.

AMY GOODMAN: This is another clip from your documentary, Tulsa Burning, that features several historians and descendants describing Greenwood's history as the Black Wall Street.

HANNIBAL JOHNSON: Greenwood was a community of necessity. It was a segregated enclave. Black folks couldn't ply their trades or purchase goods and services in the larger white economy, so they created their own economy. That economy became successful because Black folks did business with one another and kept dollars largely in the Black community.
MICHELE MITCHELL: What happens in Greenwood is that segregation, which is not necessarily desired, segregation actually enables Black businesses to thrive, Black professionals to thrive.
UNIDENTIFIED: It was a district where, in fact, money, dollars, could turn over five or six times.
KARLOS HILL: In Greenwood, you could — as a Black person, you could advance. And you had a number of individuals in the community that were prospering.
WILHELMINA GUESS HOWELL: "My uncle, he was a physician. His name was Andrew Jackson, lived up on Detroit Street in the 500 block, sort of a hill right up that street. Detroit in those days had the nicest houses. The Negroes did. The principal of the school lived up there. We had dentists up there. We had wonderful doctors. And my uncle, I told you, his name was Dr. Jackson."
JOHN W. ROGERS JR.: My great-grandfather's name was J.B. Stradford. He grew up in Kentucky. His parents were slaves. And he was able to get a law degree, go to Oberlin College and really start his entrepreneurial career in Tulsa, Oklahoma. The Stradford Hotel was one of the largest Black-owned hotels in the United States. It was a beautiful building. And leaders from throughout the country, when they came through the Midwest, would often stay at the Stradford Hotel.
MICHELE MITCHELL: You have Black entertainers that are playing there, jazz being a really important scene. We think about jazz in Kansas, in Kansas City. It's also important in Greenwood.
KARLOS HILL: Because of the success of Greenwood, Booker T. Washington coined the phrase, Greenwood as the "Black Wall Street" or the "Negro Wall Street" of America.

AMY GOODMAN: A clip from Tulsa Burning, that's going to air on History Channel on Sunday. Stanley Nelson, talk about why you chose to take on this subject, to add to your remarkable opus of work.

STANLEY NELSON: Yeah, I mean, I think it's more reasons than one. One, it's an incredible American story that needs to be known — you know, the building of Black Wall Street, the building of Greenwood, and also the devastation and destruction. But also, it was really challenging, because we're telling two stories at once. So we're also telling the story of 2020, 2021, as Greenwood searches for the remains of African Americans who were buried in mass graves, unmarked. And we didn't know what we would find or what they would find. And so, we're telling the story of 1921, of Greenwood, and also 2021 in Greenwood.

AMY GOODMAN: And, of course, 2020, because when Trump went on the 99th anniversary of Tulsa, so much was raised. I want to go to another clip from your documentary, Tulsa Burning, of Reverend Robert Turner of the Vernon AME Church on Greenwood Avenue in Tulsa, the only surviving structure from before the massacre.

REV. ROBERT TURNER: When I came to pastor Vernon Church in Tulsa, I knew nothing about the history of this church. One of my trustees gave me a tour. And when I saw the cornerstone outside — and the cornerstone is still there — it reads, "Basement erected 1919." I said, "Is that the same one we have?" He said, "Yes, that's the same basement that you just walked through." "So, it survived the 1921 race massacre." He was like, "Yes." I was like, "Do you know what this is?" He was like, "What?" I said, "We have something left. Right? All is not lost."

AMY GOODMAN: And nearly 100 years after the Tulsa race massacre, a team of scholars is working to uncover the unmarked graves, that Stanley Nelson just referred to, of victims, with hopes of identifying some of their bodies. In this clip of Tulsa Burning, we hear from Brenda Nails Alford, a descendant of James and Henry Nails, who owned businesses in Black Wall Street.

BRENDA NAILS ALFORD: I always knew that my grandmother had to hide in a church for some reason, but I never knew what that meant. Family members would come to town. My great-uncles would come to town. And maybe we'd be driving around, and we would pass Oaklawn Cemetery. Someone in the car would always say, "You know they're still over there," the victims of the race massacre. And everybody in the car would agree. And I always had a little thing about that cemetery, growing up as a kid, because I was like, "What's over there?" And I would find out so many, many years later that the family member and community members were there.
REV. ROBERT TURNER: But in 1921, the people who were killed, people who lost lives, loved ones, they never had the benefit of having a funeral. That touches me at the core — and it should, any conscious human being — the fact that we just dumped bodies of human beings, of patriots, of veterans, of teachers, of husbands, of wives, children in mass graves. Nobody ever had a chance to say goodbye.

AMY GOODMAN: That last voice, Reverend Robert Turner of Tulsa's Vernon AME Church. Stanley Nelson, what most surprised you as you did this research?

STANLEY NELSON: I think one of the things that was so surprising is that there's film footage of the building of Tulsa. You know, the people were so prosperous and so proud of what they were building that in 1920, early in 1921, they made movies and took pictures of their homes and their businesses. And that's really rare. And there's also still pictures and movies of the destruction, so that we see it. And so, you know, as a filmmaker, it was a gift, because it's really a window into what happened. And that really surprised me, because you don't often find film footage of just African American communities, you know, being themselves, from the early '20s.

AMY GOODMAN: This is another clip from Tulsa Burning. It features Brenda Nails Alford, descendant of James and Henry Nails.

KARLOS HILL: This is not just a story of victimization. It's also a story of resistance. It's also a story of courage and resilience. And that can't be forgotten.
BRENDA NAILS ALFORD: My grandfather, he was a very proud, college-educated shoemaker, who did everything he was, quote-unquote, "supposed to do." He got his education. He worked hard. He started the businesses. And still that wasn't enough. And so, in this day and time, my question is: When is it enough? When are we enough as a people? They did everything that they could do. They wanted to be successful. These were proud, upstanding members of our community, who simply wanted a piece of the American dream — and truly received a nightmare.
HANNIBAL JOHNSON: At the end of this experience, no white person was convicted of an offense related to killing people or destroying the property in the Greenwood District. None. And that is not surprising. And really, you know, when you think about the context, it's not surprising at all.

AMY GOODMAN: That last voice, historian Hannibal Johnson. And finally, this clip from Tulsa Burning about the aftermath of the deadly attack.

SCOTT ELLSWORTH: They're being led away at gunpoint to these so-called internment centers around town, the fairgrounds, the municipal auditorium, the baseball park.
HANNIBAL JOHNSON: To get out of these centers, people generally had to have a green identification card, countersigned by a white person that was willing to vouch for them.
SCOTT ELLSWORTH: So, here you are. You've been illegally arrested by white civilians. You have no idea what's happened to your loved ones if you've been separated from them. If that was your uncle, your brother, your son, your father, you're going to never know what happened to them.
KARLOS HILL: We have to acknowledge that the destruction to the community was intentional. It was conscious. It was systematic.
HANNIBAL JOHNSON: When the dust settled, somewhere between 100 and 300 people were killed. At least 1,250 homes in the Black community were destroyed.
MICHELE MITCHELL: Thirty-five square blocks, 36 square blocks, 40 square blocks, just obliterated.
SCOTT ELLSWORTH: You could see the iron, you know, metal bed stands where there used to be homes.
KARLOS HILL: Two million dollars in Black wealth went up in flames. Right? That was never recouped.
SCOTT ELLSWORTH: And for people who didn't know what happened to their loved ones, identified as well as unidentified, African American massacre victims were being buried in unmarked graves across the city.

AMY GOODMAN: Yet another clip from Tulsa Burning. Stanley Nelson, as we wrap up, the issue of reparations, 100 years later?

STANLEY NELSON: Yeah, I mean, I think one of the things the film does, and does so well, is it makes you think about reparations. You know, it's such a fraught word. But I think that you understand what people mean and why people ask for reparations, once you see the film and know the story of Tulsa, which is a real representation of the problems that Black communities suffered through.

AMY GOODMAN: And you certainly help us do this in this remarkable documentary. Stanley Nelson, the award-winning director of the new documentary Tulsa Burning: The 1921 Race Massacre, premieres Sunday at 8 p.m. Eastern on the History Channel.

And that does it for our show. Our condolences to our dear colleague Miriam Barnard. I'm Amy Goodman. Thanks so much for joining us. Stay safe.

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