Democracy Now!

How Cuba beat the pandemic: From developing new vaccines to sending doctors overseas to help others

Since last year, approximately 440 Cubans have died from COVID-19, giving Cuba one of the lowest death rates per capita in the world. Cuba is also developing five COVID-19 vaccines, including two which have entered stage 3 trials. Cuba has heavily invested in its medical and pharmaceutical system for decades, in part because of the six-decade U.S. embargo that has made it harder for Cuba to import equipment and raw materials from other countries. That investment, coupled with the country's free, universal healthcare system, has helped Cuba keep the virus under control and quickly develop vaccines against it, says Dr. Rolando Pérez Rodríguez, the director of science and innovation at BioCubaFarma, which oversees Cuba's medicine development. "We have long experience with these kinds of technologies," he says. We also speak with Reed Lindsay, journalist and founder of the independent, Cuba-focused media organization Belly of the Beast, who says U.S. sanctions on Cuba continue to cripple the country. "Cuba is going through an unbelievable economic crisis, and the sanctions have been absolutely devastating," says Lindsay.




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

AMY GOODMAN: As the U.S. death toll from COVID-19 tops 560,000 and Brazil records over 4,200 deaths in a single day, we begin today's show looking at how Cuba has successfully fought the pandemic. Since last year, only about 440 Cubans have died from COVID-19, giving the island one of the lowest death rates per capita in the world. Cuba is also developing five COVID-19 vaccines, including two which have entered stage 3 trials. Martinez is the president of BioCubaFarma..

EDUARDO MARTÍNEZ DÍAZ: [translated] We are very confident that our vaccines will be effective, the vaccines that are being developed. The results that we have had to date point to satisfactory results. And we maintain that before the end of 2021, our population will be immunized with the vaccines that we're developing. … Given the blockade that we are subjected to and the situation in the country, it would have been very difficult for us to get the results that we are getting in the fight against the pandemic, if we had not developed this industry more than 35 years ago in our country.

AMY GOODMAN: For decades, Cuba has heavily invested in its medical and pharmaceutical system, in part because of the six-decade-old U.S. embargo that's made it harder for Cuba to import equipment and raw materials from other countries. In the 1980s, Cuba developed the world's first meningitis B vaccine. It's also developed important cancer drugs that are now being used in the United States and elsewhere.

In a moment, we'll go to Havana, but first I want to turn to an excerpt from the recent online documentary series The War on Cuba, produced by Belly of the Beast, an independent media group in Cuba. One episode looks at Cuba's efforts to fight COVID-19 at home and abroad. It's narrated by the Cuban journalist Liz Oliva Fernández.

LIZ OLIVA FERNÁNDEZ: Every morning, tens of thousands of doctors, nurses and medical students take to the streets across Cuba. They are on the frontlines of our fight against COVID. Talía Ruíz is a first-year medical student.
TALÍA RUÍZ: [translated] I don't feel afraid. If we are careful and take the necessary measures, we won't get infected. There are doctors who have faced the disease head on, and they haven't gotten sick. For example, my dad. Hi, Dad.
LIZ OLIVA FERNÁNDEZ: Talía's father, Juan Jesús, is a family doctor who works at a small clinic next to their home. In March, he joined a group of Cuban doctors on a medical mission to Lombardy, Italy. At the time, Lombardy was the global epicenter of the pandemic.
DR. JUAN JESÚS RUIZ ALEMÁN: [translated] The number of cases overwhelmed the health system there. We helped the medical personnel who could no longer handle so many cases. And we saved some lives. As we walked to the farewell ceremony, from every home, people came out and applauded us. It was the best feeling I've had in my life. That's why you go on missions.
LIZ OLIVA FERNÁNDEZ: It wasn't the first time Juan Jesús risked his life far from home. He's part of the Henry Reeve Brigade, Cuba's medical special forces.
DR. JUAN JESÚS RUIZ ALEMÁN: [translated] Henry Reeve was a soldier from the United States who fought for Cuba against the Spanish in the 1868 war. The brigade was formed in 2005. A hurricane called Katrina destroyed New Orleans. There was a huge number of deaths. Cuba offered to send 100 doctors to work alongside U.S. doctors. We were ready to go.
LIZ OLIVA FERNÁNDEZ: George W. Bush rejected Cuba's offer to help New Orleans. Since then, Juan Jesús has treated survivors of natural disasters and epidemics around the world.

AMY GOODMAN: That's an excerpt from the video series The War on Cuba, which was produced by Belly of the Beast, an independent media organization in Cuba founded by journalist Reed Lindsay, who joins us from Havana, where we're also joined by Dr. Rolando Pérez Rodríguez, the director of science and innovation at BioCubaFarma, which oversees Cuba's medicine development, including the development of COVID-19 vaccines. He's also the founder of Cuba's Molecular Immunology Center and a member of the Cuban Academy of Science.

We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Dr. Rolando Pérez Rodríguez, why don't you talk about the latest vaccines, two of which are in trial three? Soberana-2 is one of them.

DR. ROLANDO PÉREZ RODRÍGUEZ: Good morning. I would like to thank you for this invitation to share with you our experience in facing COVID-19 pandemics.

I have to say that we had the first case of COVID-19 in Cuba, was reported on March 11, [ 2020 ]. And in April this [last] year, we decided to start this COVID vaccine project, different several vaccine — a COVID-19 vaccine project. And in August 13, we already got the first approval to start a Phase 1 clinical trial with the first vaccine candidate. So, in a very short time, we succeeded to get to clinical development of this candidate vaccine.

Today, we have, as you said, five different vaccine candidates in clinical development, two of them in Phase 3 clinical trials. Three of these, in all of the — sorry. All of these candidate vaccines use as anti the receptor-binding domain of the S5 protein, which bind to the surface receptor, so this anti is expressed in different technology platforms. Three of the vaccines use the recombinant protein produced in mammalian cells, and the other two in geese. But all of these vaccines we are developing now, we use a platform technology that are very safe, are [inaudible] vaccines. All the formulation also benefit from all the technology we have used in Cuba for a previous prophylactic vaccine, so are very safe. We have long experience with these kind of technologies. And that's the reason we can really go so far through a clinical development.

AMY GOODMAN: Cuba will be the first country in Latin America to develop vaccines, this despite the U.S. embargo. Can you talk about how these — why you think Cuba is so far ahead?

DR. ROLANDO PÉREZ RODRÍGUEZ: No, maybe I have to say that we — in Cuba, we made a huge investment, you know, in biotechnology last century. By the '80s of last century, we had started developing a biotech industry, so early maybe. And then, in combination with a healthcare system that, you know, is free, is universal, full coverage, and this combination of a biotech industry and a good health primary care system, I think that that combination made possible to assimilate or have impact of all these biotech products in the healthcare and provide us the experience and the capacity to make so fast the development of these vaccine projects and to introduce in the healthcare system.

AMY GOODMAN: Why do you think Cuba has far surpassed the United States when it comes to COVID-19 and people surviving? I mean, the U.S. — I mean, per capita, I think Cuba has something like, over the year, between 40 and 60 times less the death toll per capita than the United States. How is this possible, with the U.S. being the wealthiest country in the world and the U.S. imposing this massive embargo against Cuba, which is not only stopping U.S. support for Cuba, but countries around the world?

DR. ROLANDO PÉREZ RODRÍGUEZ: You know, it's what I tried to explain before. There is a combination of a national pharmaceutical — biopharmaceutical industry, but also how we organize the healthcare system in Cuba, that is free, universal, full coverage, with access to all the population, and also this health primary care system that is looking for people with disease. So, we are not expecting that people come to the healthcare system; we are looking for the people, so it's a very active and preventive approach to the healthcare. And I think that this kind of organization made possible that with not so much resources, you can have a big impact on healthcare. That is the reason maybe, the way we organize all this healthcare system.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to bring journalist Reed Lindsay into this conversation, who has put out this series, founder of Belly of the Beast, called The War on Cuba. If you can talk about, overall, during the time of COVID, even beyond the vaccines, what Cuba has done, what you document in your film series, like sending doctors to places like Brazil, Bolivia, Ecuador and beyond?

REED LINDSAY: Thanks a lot, Amy.

You know, I was in Haiti for five years, and that was my first direct experience with Cuban doctors. And I found it remarkable. What the Cuban program in Haiti was doing wasn't only bringing Cuban doctors to work in the poorest areas of Haiti, it was also training Haitian doctors in Cuba. And Cuba, at that time, was graduating more doctors than the public universities in Haiti, and they were returning to Haiti and working there. And, in a sense, it was brain drain in reverse.

And living here in Cuba, you know, my doctor is just a block or two away. If I have any problem, I walk down there. It's free. I don't have to show any papers. And that's what it's like for healthcare here. It can be a little shocking not having to go in and fill out forms and showing your insurance and anything.

And, of course, when COVID hit, I knew that Cuba would be prepared. And I felt safer here, frankly, a lot safer, than I did if I had been in the United States. I remember telling my mom, who has often been worried about different places I've been around the world — I told her now I was more worried about her than she was about me.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to turn to another excerpt from your film, The War on Cuba, about Brazil's far-right President Jair Bolsonaro expelling thousands of Cuban doctors in 2018.

DR. MARIO DÍAZ: [translated] Bolsonaro has always followed the U.S. president. They call him the Latino Trump. The U.S. wants to cut off the income to choke the Cuban economy, to try to bring about a political change here on the island. When Cuba left the program, around 1,700 municipalities were suddenly left without doctors. I had a patient in Brazil, a 70-year-old man, illiterate. He made an appointment so he could say goodbye. He cried right here on my shoulder.
LIZ OLIVA FERNÁNDEZ: Millions of Brazilians in poor communities were left without healthcare. It was just the beginning. Ecuador's president became a Trump ally, and then, in November 2019, he expelled hundreds of Cuban doctors. That same month, a U.S.-supported coup ousted Bolivian President Evo Morales. Bolivia's de facto government immediately took aim at the Cuban doctors.
INTERIM PRESIDENT JEANINE ÁÑEZ: [translated] The false Cuban doctors …
DR. YOANDRA MURO VALLE: [translated] They said we weren't doctors. They accused us of being criminals.
LIZ OLIVA FERNÁNDEZ: Yoandra Muro was head of the Cuban medical mission in Bolivia.
DR. YOANDRA MURO VALLE: [translated] They threatened to burn down the Cuban doctors' homes. They took others to Interpol. They pointed guns at two brigade members. They strip-searched some of our women.

AMY GOODMAN: That, an excerpt from The War on Cuba, Reed Lindsay, a founder of the Belly of the Beast production that made this series. Now, this is very interesting, what's happening in Brazil. And if you can talk about the effects of this? I mean, we just reported that 4,200 people died in Brazil just yesterday. That's over 10 times the number of Cubans who have died during the entire pandemic.

REED LINDSAY: Yeah, you know, and in doing the series, we spoke with numerous doctors who were part of — Cuban doctors who were in Brazil. And they were hurting, because they knew that these communities that they were helping, they weren't able to help, and that they were suffering. People were dying of COVID.

You know, what that is was part of Trump's policies to crush the Cuban economy, because Cuba sends doctors to other parts of the world, and, like Haiti, there are many cases where there's really no evidence it's anything but altruistic, but it also sends doctors to places like Brazil, and Cuba receives some money for that, and they use that money to subsidize healthcare in Cuba. And so, the Trump administration went after these programs to try to basically hurt the Cuban economy. And it wasn't the only thing they've done.

What's really remarkable about the vaccines and what Cuba has achieved in the last year is that Cuba right now is undergoing a severe economic crisis, and in part it's because of COVID. Obviously, there's no more tourism, and Cuba depended greatly on tourism for its economy. But even before then, there were people who were comparing the economic situation in Cuba to the Special Period after the fall of the Soviet Union, which was considered worse than the Great Depression. And the reason was because of the U.S. sanctions. Now, the embargo has been around for decades, but Trump — under Trump, those sanctions became far, far worse.

And, you know, that's really the story we were trying to tell with The War on Cuba. And I feel it's important to point out that this is a project — what's really unique about Belly of the Beast — and I'm very proud of being a part of it — is that it is a collaboration between U.S. journalists and filmmakers and Cuban journalists and filmmakers. Most of the people in Belly of the Beast are young Cuban journalists and filmmakers. They're telling stories about U.S. intervention in Cuba for a young audience in the United States. And we feel that's really important because people in the United States are at the forefront of pushing for change in policy in the U.S., but they don't always get information about the impact of U.S. policy in other parts of the world, such as Cuba, not only how that policy is affecting Cubans, but also how that policy affects people in the U.S. And you cited an example earlier. Cuba produces life-saving drugs that cannot be obtained in the United States because of the U.S. embargo.

AMY GOODMAN: Let me go back to Dr. Rolando Pérez Rodríguez. What plans does Cuba have for your vaccines, like Soberana? How do you plan to use it? And as with doctors, do you plan to export this vaccine? And how many people have participated in trials in Cuba?

DR. ROLANDO PÉREZ RODRÍGUEZ: OK, you know, we are expecting to get the result of the first three clinical trials by June. So, if we have ready the clinical data for the efficacy of these vaccines, we should get an authorization for emergency use from the Cuban regulatory agency. And then we can start a massive immunization program in our country.

But, in parallel, you know, with these first three clinical trials, that involve more than 80,000 people — because Soberana candidate vaccine, or vaccine candidate, has a clinical trial that should include more than 44,000 people, and the other vaccine, candidate vaccine, Abdala, has a clinical trial that should include 48,000 volunteers. But in parallel to these first three clinical trials, we are also making clinical histories of population scale in risk groups, population groups, for example, the healthcare workers, all people that are facing the disease directly. And then, in this personnel — medical doctors, nurses and employees — we are also now making a clinical history. All this data from Phase 3 and the clinical data in this population, a clinical history, that is like real work, because in that kind of history, you will not only the efficacy, but also how effective will be the vaccine in somehow stop the viral transmission, not just preventing the disease. We should have an update up by June to have this emergency use authorization from the Cuban regulatory agency.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to go to the U.S. — I want to go to the U.S. administration approach to Cuba. During his campaign, President Biden promised to lift current restrictions on remittances and travel to Cuba. But it remains unclear if he's going to pursue resetting relationships with the island. Last month, White House spokesperson Jen Psaki said a shift in U.S. policy on Cuba is not a priority for Biden, adding his administration is reviewing Trump's designation of Cuba as a state sponsor of terrorism. This is Biden speaking to a crowd in Broward County, Florida, just days before the 2020 presidential election.

JOE BIDEN: We have to vote for a new Cuba policy, as well. This administration's approach isn't working. Cuba is no closer to freedom and democracy today than it was four years ago. In fact, there are more political prisoners, and secret police are as brutal as ever. And Russia once again is a major presence in Havana.

AMY GOODMAN: So, that was Biden right before the election. Of course, during the Obama-Biden years, they were normalizing relations with Cuba. Reed Brody [sic], we're going to end with you — Reed Lindsay, we're going to end with you. If you can talk about what the effect of these U.S. sanctions has been on Cuba, and what it would mean if those sanctions were lifted?

REED LINDSAY: As you mentioned, Cuba is going through an unbelievable economic crisis. And the sanctions have been absolutely devastating, and they've taken on every part of the Cuban economy. They've blocked oil shipments from Venezuela. There was an energy crisis in Cuba. They've blocked remittances. If you wanted to send me some money in Cuba, you wouldn't be able to do so. You no longer can send money via Western Union. They've basically stopped all investment. They've called Cuba a state sponsor of terror. They've stopped all U.S. tourism. Even if there wasn't COVID, there would be no U.S. tourists coming here.

And basically, Biden, although he said that he was going to implement a new Cuban policy, has not shown that he will. And just yesterday, Juan Gonzalez, who is the — basically, for the National Security Council that runs point on Latin American policy, told CNN, quote, "Biden is not Obama in Cuba policy." And he said that Biden would — that the administration would not invest the political capital necessary to change policy towards Cuba. The Biden administration is being pressured by powerful Cuban Americans. Two Cuban Americans are the chairs of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. They're getting a lot of pressure, and they're just not interested in changing policy. At least so far, they've shown they're not. So, so far, it's status quo as far as policy towards Cuba.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to thank you both for being with us, Reed Lindsay, journalist and founder of Belly of the Beast, independent media organization that covers Cuba and U.S.-Cuba relations, also the director of The War on Cuba series, which is executive produced by Danny Glover and Oliver Stone; and Dr. Rolando Pérez Rodríguez, the director of science and innovation at BioCubaFarma. He's also the founder of Cuba's Molecular Immunology Center, a member of the Cuban Academy of Science.


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The burglary that exposed COINTELPRO: Activists mark 50th anniversary of daring FBI break-in

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



AMY GOODMAN: Fifty years ago this week, a group of activists staged one of the most stunning acts of defiance of the Vietnam War era. On March 8th, 1971, eight activists, including a cab driver, a daycare director, two professors, broke into an FBI office in Media, Pennsylvania, and stole every document they found. They wanted to document how FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover was spying on citizens and actively suppressing dissent. The break-in occurred as much of the nation was fixated on a boxing match between Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier, which was billed as the "Fight of the Century." The identity of the burglars would remain a mystery for over 40 years.

Soon after stealing the documents, the activists, calling themselves the Citizens' Commission to Investigate the FBI, began leaking shocking details about FBI abuses to the media. The documents exposed COINTELPRO, the FBI's secret Counterintelligence Program, a global, clandestine, unconstitutional practice of surveillance, infiltration and disruption of groups engaged in protest, dissent and social change. Targets included the Reverend Martin Luther King, the Black Panthers, the American Indian Movement, the Young Lords, antiwar groups, Black booksellers and other groups. The leaked documents triggered congressional investigations, increased oversight and the eventual passage of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.

The FBI never knew who was involved in the break-in until 2014, when several of the burglars made their identity public to coincide with the publication of The Burglary, a book by former Washington Post reporter Betty Medsger, who had reported on the leaked documents back in '71. In 2014, Betty Medsger appeared on Democracy Now!

BETTY MEDSGER: One of the things that I remember most from those files was the truly blanket surveillance of African American people that was described. It was in Philadelphia, but it also prescribed national programs. And it was quite stunning. First, it described the surveillance. It took place in every place where people would gather — churches, classrooms, stores down the street, just everything. But it also specifically prescribed that every FBI agent was supposed to have an informer, just for the purpose of coming back every two weeks and talking to them about what they had observed about Black Americans. And in Washington, D.C., at the time, that was six informers for every FBI agent informing on Black Americans. The surveillance was so enormous that it led various people, rather sedate people in editorial offices and in Congress, to compare it to the Stasi, the dreaded secret police of East Germany.

AMY GOODMAN: Three of the burglars also appeared on Democracy Now! back in 2014 in one of their first joint interviews. Keith Forsyth served as designated lock-picker during the break-in. He hoped the break-in would speed the end of the Vietnam War.

KEITH FORSYTH: The war was escalating and not deescalating. And I think what really pushed me over the edge was, shortly after the invasion of Cambodia, there were four students killed at Kent State and two more killed at Jackson State. And — I'm sorry, I'd think I'd have this down after all these years. And that really pushed me over the edge, that it was time to do more than just — than just protest and just march with a sign.

AMY GOODMAN: John Raines was another one of the burglars. At the time of the break-in, he was a professor of religion at Temple University.

JOHN RAINES: The problem was, J. Edgar Hoover was untouchable. He was a national icon. I mean, he had presidents who were afraid of him. The people that we elected to oversee J. Edgar Hoover's FBI were either enamored of him or terrified of him. Nobody was holding him accountable. And that meant that somebody had to get objective evidence of what his FBI was doing. And that led us to the idea that Bill Davidon suggested to us: Let's break into an FBI office, get their files and get what they're doing in their own handwriting.

AMY GOODMAN: That was John Raines speaking on Democracy Now! in 2014. He died in 2017. Raines' wife Bonnie Raines also helped break into the FBI office in Media, Pennsylvania, 50 years ago. At the time of the break-in, John and Bonnie had three young children. She's joining us now from her home in Philadelphia. We are also joined by Paul Coates, the founder and director of Black Classic Press and BCP Digital Printing. He's a former member and defense captain of the Black Panther Party in Baltimore. As a Black bookseller, he was targeted by the FBI as part of its COINTELPRO, its Counterintelligence Program. And, yes, he is also the father of the acclaimed writer Ta-Nehisi Coates.

We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Bonnie, you were the one who cased the joint — is that right? — who went to these Media FBI offices — that's Media, Pennsylvania — beforehand to get a sense of the blueprints of the two rooms, whatever it was.

BONNIE RAINES: That's right. I mean, we had cased the exterior environment, so we knew what the police patrols were. But we had to get inside the offices to see whether there were alarm systems and to see what the layout of the offices were, where the doors were that we hoped we could get through. And so, I had to call and say that I was a Swarthmore College student doing research on opportunities for women in the FBI, and I wondered if I could have an interview with the head of the office. And they very graciously gave me an appointment. And I showed up trying to look not at all like my usual identity. I disguised my appearance as much as I possibly could. But they were very gracious and gave me a half an hour or so. And that gave me the opportunity to get the layout of the office, to see that there were no alarms, to see that the file cabinets were not even locked, and to check out a second door that we might need to use to get through on the night of the burglary.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Bonnie, you told Will Bunch at The Philadelphia Inquirer in a recent interview that "Fifty years ago, we were criminals, and now we're heroes." Could you talk about how — your decision to get involved in this? At the time, you were 29 years old, a mother of three.

BONNIE RAINES: Well, my husband and I, we had been involved in the draft resistance movement, the so-called Catholic left, previously, going into draft boards in the middle of the night and removing draft files to destroy the files and try to disrupt the draft system. So, we like to say that we got our burglary skills from nuns and priests.

But when all of the protests against the War in Vietnam were not making any difference and we realized that the government was lying to citizens about the war, we thought that we needed to take another — a different kind of step in civil disobedience and get proof to show what FBI agents were doing in the Philadelphia area, things that were unconstitutional, immoral and illegal. And the only way to do that was to get our hands on documents, so that it seemed like a rational thing to do to get the truth out to the American public.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And I'd like to bring Paul Coates into the conversation and ask you, Paul: From your perspective, your involvement in the Black Panther Party at the time, what the group looked like and what the impact of this break-in, these revelations about COINTELPRO, had on you and your organization?

PAUL COATES: You know, the large impact, I think, at the time, was — we already knew that we were being infiltrated. We knew that provocateurs were all throughout. We knew that the FBI had us under constant surveillance. But I don't think anyone at the time really knew the full extent of the program, of COINTELPRO. We saw the surveillance, we saw the interference and the setups that were being done as acts that the government, as a broad government, was doing. But the break-in actually, I like to think of it as, put flesh to the bones of what became known as COINTELPRO. And they did it in a way that, like — I guess like they intended to do, they did it with the FBI's own documents. They named people. They named places. And that documentation not only served us then, but the documentation serves us — it continues to serve us today. And I think that's the major, major impact. It made visible what we knew was there but could not really see.

AMY GOODMAN: I mean, in fact, this was the first time — wasn't it? — that COINTELPRO was being made known, Bonnie, these documents that you were putting out everywhere. And then, Paul, this whole story of not only the FBI's war on the Black Power movement, but specifically — and this directly related to you — Black-owned bookstores, why they saw Black-owned bookstores, like yours, as such a target?

PAUL COATES: Yeah, this is true, Amy. I think a lot of that comes out of certainly the FBI history in following socialist groups and knowing that the bookstores were critical information centers, as they were in our community. And the store we established certainly was, because that was its intent. It was intended to be an information center, particularly for people — not just Panthers, but people who were incarcerated in jail, coming out of jail and becoming contributing members of the community. We felt we could do that with information.

And certainly, we came under a lot of — a lot of pressure from the FBI, a lot of pressure from the state and the city at the time, who saw this, perceived this as a threat. The very thought that information, the very thought that knowledge, could equip people to be better in their community and contributors in their community was a threat to them.

AMY GOODMAN: So, Juan, at the beginning of this story, we talked about the people who were targeted — Black Panthers, antiwar movement, peace activists and the Young Lords. You're one of the co-founders of the Young Lords. Can you talk about what you understood at the time?

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, I think what Paul is saying about, we understood that there were agents within our organizations, but we never understood how systematic and how widespread it was. And I recall, particularly — this is about a year before the break-in of the FBI office in Media, Pennsylvania — I was traveling with another Young Lord member, we thought secretly, to Puerto Rico to look at the possibility of opening up new branches. And we're on the plane heading to San Juan. We suddenly see a young African American attorney who we knew from Legal Aid in East Harlem. And he came over, sat by us, started joking. And we said to him, "So, Bobby, what are you doing? You're in Legal Aid. Why are you going down to Puerto Rico?" And he said, "Well, I don't work for Legal Aid anymore. I work for the U.S. Justice Department. And I've been assigned to the two of you. And I want you to know" — he looked at us directly in the eyes, and he said, "I want you to know that every second that you are in Puerto Rico, you are going to be tailed by the agents of the CIC." That's the Puerto Rico equivalent of the Red Squad in Puerto Rico. "And wherever you go in Puerto Rico, we're going to be there." And, sure enough, they were always not only following us, but interviewing anybody who we talked to or we met with, because they saw the need to appear to be everywhere.

And I want to ask Paul, because people don't realize the psychological impact it had on these organizations to know that there were agents within them but not know who they were. And often people were targeted who were innocent people but were mistaken for agents, and the real agents were still providing information on a regular basis and creating dissension within the groups.

PAUL COATES: Yeah, Juan, you're so right. You're so on. It was like a double whammy, because, on the one hand, you would have agents who would make themselves known, and then you knew there were plenty of other agents who were unknown, but you would — let's say if you're doing something today, information on that would be broadcast in multiple ways the next day, and so you know someone from the inside did it.

And, Juan, you probably have this experience, as well. Certainly, COINTELPRO had its impact when the events were taking place. But now we're talking about 50 years later, five decades later, Juan, and we're still trying to figure out who were agents at the time. You have to — it's that going on, but also the rumors that were started, the identification of people who weren't — like you were saying, who weren't agents, but they were labeled as agents. And even today, among comrades in the Panther Party, you'll have a conversation with someone, a name will come up, and you say, "Well, you know he was a snitch, don't you? Or he was an agent, don't you?" And that may not be the case at all. We're still living through and picking through the rumors that literally split our movement at the time. We're still living through those rumors now, and they still split us.

AMY GOODMAN: So, I wanted to also bring in Bonnie Raines to talk about the latest member of the Media 8, the burglars, including you, who has just come forward in a piece in the San Francisco Chronicle, "50 years after an FBI office burglary, a San Rafael man reveals his role."

And it says, "Before the Pentagon Papers, before WikiLeaks, before Edward Snowden's NSA files, a group of eight Vietnam War protesters teamed up to steal FBI records from a Pennsylvania office." And it goes on to say, "Ralph Daniel squeezed himself through the door and looked around the dark room. They had cased this small FBI office in the Philadelphia suburb of Media for months. Now he was inside. Rows of file cabinets beckoned. This was the moment the group of eight had planned. They had long suspected FBI malfeasance and were convinced these records would prove it." Daniel was 26 at the time, "rolled out the first metal cabinet drawer, scooped up the files and threw them into a suitcase. His gloved hands shook. The burglars had to hurry. They had chosen March 8, 1971, because Muhammad Ali's title fight against Joe Frazier at Madison Square Garden would keep most of the country and world — and most importantly, FBI agents and police — glued to closed-circuit screens and radios for a few hours. One of the intruders could hear the broadcast in nearby apartments."

So, they thought that the sound of the fight would cover your actions, is that right, Bonnie? And were you surprised to see that Ralph Daniel has come forward?

BONNIE RAINES: Well, I'm delighted that Ralph has. He played a key role in the burglary. And he was reluctant to come forward earlier because he was afraid that it would affect his professional life. But he's always been in communication with us, since 2014. And it's great to have him be able to tell his story now, which is significant.

We scooped up every single document, I think about a thousand documents. We didn't leave anything behind. And going back to what we were talking about a few minutes ago in the broadcast, one of the memos that we discovered, a document said that agents should increase the paranoia among the left to have them believe that there's an FBI agent behind every mailbox. So they wanted to give this impression that everyone everywhere was under surveillance and no one could believe that their constitutional rights would be protected.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Bonnie, we only have about 30 seconds, but could you — the lessons for today, for the Black Lives Matter movement and other activists, of this COINTELPRO era?

BONNIE RAINES: Well, we've just come through a Trump era, and I think we saw the effects of a lack of transparency and accountability. And now we really have to insist that the powers that be are transparent and accountable. And it's up to the average citizen to pay attention, be informed and be vigilant, and then call the powers that be to account for their decisions.

AMY GOODMAN: We're going to have to leave it there. And I thank you so much for being with us, Bonnie Raines, one of the 1971 break-in burglars at the FBI office in Media, Pennsylvania, and Paul Coates, founder and director of Black Classic Press. I'm Amy Goodman, with Juan González.

The original content of this program is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License. Please attribute legal copies of this work to democracynow.org. Some of the work(s) that this program incorporates, however, may be separately licensed. For further information or additional permissions, contact us.

How Octavia Butler’s visions of the future have transformed a generation of readers

The visionary Black science-fiction writer Octavia Butler died 15 years ago on February 24, 2006, but her influence and readership has only continued to grow since then. In September, Butler's novel "Parable of the Sower" became her first to reach the New York Times best-seller list. We speak with adrienne maree brown, a writer and Octavia Butler scholar, who says Butler had a remarkable talent for universalizing Black stories. "She wrote about Black women and about Black feminism, about Black futures, but she wrote in a way that appealed to all human beings," says Brown.

Transcript:

MY GOODMAN: To talk more about Octavia Butler's legacy, we're joined by the writer and activist adrienne maree brown. She and the musician Toshi Reagon co-host Octavia's Parables, a podcast that dives deeply into Octavia Butler's books Parable of the Sower and Parable of the Talents. adrienne maree brown is also co-editor of the book Octavia's Brood: Science Fiction Stories from Social Justice Movements. She's joining us from Detroit.

It's great to have you with us, adrienne. In fact, the last time we had you on, we were talking about Octavia. If you can just briefly talk about her biography and then her significance in the world of literature, but also this visionary look at what's happening today?

adrienne maree brown: Yes. Well, thanks for the opportunity to share. I love speaking about Octavia. I'll talk about her every day if I can.

She gave us 12 novels and a collection of short stories. And she took us, as she took herself, from California. She drove across country to get her story for Kindred. She took herself north to Seattle. And one of the most famous stories, that we just heard about, The Parables, is her protagonist character making her way north.

And as Octavia learned and as she questioned and as she wondered how were humans going to find a way to survive on this planet, she asked those questions and brought them into the text. And in her text, we see all the ways that she was trying to answer those questions, trying to trouble the waters, trying to give us nothing easy, but something super compelling to look forward to. So, the work that she did, Walidah Imarisha and I, when we did Octavia's Brood, Walidah called it "visionary fiction," to look ahead at the future and then write ourselves in. And that's what Octavia was doing with all of her work.

AMY GOODMAN: And talk about her life, what led her to write. We've heard some of her describing that herself.

adrienne maree brown: Yes.

AMY GOODMAN: And the whole genre of Afrofuturism, what that means?

adrienne maree brown: Yeah. So, she talks about this, that when she was, I think, 9, 10 years old, she saw The Devil Girl from Mars, and she said, "I could write something better than that." And so she started to write things. She started to write her own short stories, her own novels.

And she had the idea for the Patternist series when she was quite young, and kept writing it, kept writing it. It ended up being her first novel. She wrote the series backwards. So, if you read the stories — I always love knowing that, that when you read The Patternmaster, that was the first one, but then she wrote backwards to find out the source of that story, how we would get there.

But she was a worker, so she was a laborer. She was always working. And her writing process would be waking up at 3:00 in the morning, because she needed to do it. She had what she called "positive obsession," a positive obsession with moving these stories out.

And I think it would be remiss of me not to say that, just like many of us, she was looking at the world around her and feeling terrified and feeling like, "How are we going to change this? What happens if this goes on?" And it led her to write things that ended up feeling very prophetic. You know, in the Parables, there's a president who runs for office on the slogan "Make America great." And there's a way that she took what was happening around her, what she saw as a very shy, introverted, powerful Black woman — with a super sexy underbite — she was looking at the world around her and figuring out, like, "How do I think about community? How do I think about organizing? How do I think about change?" And so, that's how she did it in her lifetime. She wrote it onto these pages for us.

Afrofuturism, I will say, is a thrilling — to me, a thrilling arena. And now there's African futurism. There's Black speculative fiction. There's all these arenas where, basically, Black people and people of African lineage are saying, "We were almost erased from the lineage. Right? People wanted to erase us and have us just be labor. We're writing ourselves back in. We're writing ourselves back in. We're creating stories that are rooted in African heritage and that articulate an African future." So, it's an exciting place. It's an exciting arc to be inside of as a creator.

AMY GOODMAN: She is also seen, obviously, as a deeply feminist writer. How are women, especially Black women, represented in her work? And how do they grapple with the real-world power structures? I mean, even the publishing world, you have this example of, in 1987, the publisher still insisted on putting two white women on the jacket of her novel Dawn, whose main character is Black.

adrienne maree brown: Yes. I mean, so much has changed there because of the work of Octavia, because of the work of Nnedi Okorafor, because of the work of Tananarive Due.

But I think one of the things that was so powerful to me when I first picked up Octavia is that she wrote these strong Black feminine characters, these protagonists, who now you might look back and see the nonbinary, see the queerness, see other things in them, but at the time, she was writing these characters, and it was like, "Oh, there's young Black women, and they're leading."

And what happened over and over again in the stories, and you see this over and over again, is that people doubted their capacity not only to lead, but to be of use in any way. And then, her characters, rather than pushing, rather than fighting, they would turn inward. They would gather themselves and get aligned with what they thought. So, in the Parables, it's the Earthseed belief system. They would get aligned and be like, "I have a greater destiny than your oppression. And my destiny will take me beyond anything that your oppression can hold me from."

And then, over and over again, we watch those characters follow that path of destiny and take themselves and anyone who wants to come with them beyond, which I also think is important, because she wrote about Black women and about Black feminism, about Black futures, but she wrote in a way that appealed to all human beings. And I think that that, to me, is one of the essences of feminism. It's like, we're not saying we're better than or beyond. We're saying we are right here, equal to anyone else and able to lead as much as anyone else. So, she understood that. She wrote it beautifully.

AMY GOODMAN: adrienne maree brown, we want to thank you for being with us, co-host of the podcast Octavia's Parables — we will link to your podcast — and also co-editor of the book Octavia's Brood: Science Fiction Stories from Social Justice Movements.

On Wednesday, Symphony Space in New York will present an all-star celebration of Octavia Butler to mark the 15th anniversary of her death, and that will be virtually. You can check it out online.

'Work won't love you back': Inside toxic US work culture and the fight against inequality

Amid the economic crisis and precarious working conditions for millions of people during the pandemic, we look at a new book by Sarah Jaffe, an independent journalist and author who covers labor and economic justice. "Work Won't Love You Back: How Devotion to Our Jobs Keeps Us Exploited, Exhausted, and Alone" looks at the unsustainable expectations of fulfillment around work and how the "labor of love" myth has contributed to the rise of toxic workplaces. Jaffe says the pandemic has shown that work can always get worse, and that more and more people are pushing back. "It's not just that it's a bad, grinding, slow, miserable job, but it's also a bad, grinding, slow, miserable job that could kill you now."

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

AMY GOODMAN: As Congress debates whether to raise the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour, fast-food workers in 15 cities held a Black History Month strike Tuesday as part of the Fight for 15 campaign and to emphasize the, quote, "crisis among Black communities who have faced generations of low pay and insufficient protections on the job." These are some of their voices.

MARK LOGAN: Hi. My name is Mark Logan. I'm from Detroit, Michigan, a fast-food worker at McDonald's. Minimum wage is $9.45. That's not enough. I'm going on strike today for $15 an hour and a union job.
SYLCORIA CARROLL: My name is Sylcoria Carrroll. I'm a member of McDonald's and a member of the NC Fight for 15. I've been in this organization for six years. I'm doing this because my kids need me. I'm pregnant with a baby on the way. It's the third baby, and I already have two kids. I can't take this no more. There was times when I didn't have a break. I came in on my day off. And then my own manager didn't tell me how much I'm getting paid an hour. The highest check I ever got was literally $291. I can't take it no more. I'm halfway homeless. I need this $15 an hour, not only for me, but for everybody.
ERICA HUNT: I was 16 years old, first day working in fast food. Just like the young lady that spoke today, fresh on the job, I didn't understand what was going on. … So I learned to put an armor on. I continued to smile and be friendly with my customers. And I teach the crew to put on the same armor that I wear. But this armor gets heavy, real heavy, when you can't pay your bills.

AMY GOODMAN: That last voice, Taco Bell worker Erica Hunt at a Fight for 15 protest in Wisconsin Tuesday.

For more on fast-food workers, teachers, nurses, gig workers, many others organizing to improve conditions, we're joined by Sarah Jaffe, longtime labor, economic justice reporter, who writes about all of this in her new book, Work Won't Love You Back: How Devotion to Our Jobs Keeps Us Exploited, Exhausted, and Alone. Her feature in the new issue of The Nation magazine is headlined "First, Nurses Saved Our Lives—Now They're Saving Our Health Care."

Sarah, you are following our first discussion about the teachers' unions fighting for safe workplaces for kids to return to around the country, to their schools. And then we talked about this first-time union vote organizing effort in Bessemer, Alabama, at an Amazon warehouse. Your thoughts on jobs right now?

SARAH JAFFE: I think pretty much everyone's job has gotten a lot worse in the last year — right? — whether you're like me and suddenly you're trapped in this tiny little box here that you see me in pretty much, you know, for 10 hours a day every day, or you're like those fast-food workers or Amazon workers you were just talking to who have to go into a workplace knowing that that workplace has just gotten a lot more dangerous. I think we're all realizing how much worse things can get.

And it's making some of those workers more willing to stand up and speak out, when, you know, it's not just that it's a bad, grinding, slow, miserable job, but it's also a bad, grinding, slow, miserable job that could kill you now.

AMY GOODMAN: You talk about the irony of the term "Amazon fulfillment centers."

SARAH JAFFE: Yeah, it's so interesting, right? Because now we're all expected, like I write about in this book, to find fulfillment from our jobs. But, actually, you know, when it comes down to it, we don't work because we're bored and just need something to do with our day. We work, like that last worker who was just speaking was saying, because we have bills to pay. And when that work isn't covering the expenses that people have to feed their families, it's a really big disconnect that we're still expected to show up.

And what that last fast-food worker was saying about putting on that armor every day was so striking, right? Because, like, you do — I remember from my time working in the service industry — sort of have to go in and push all your feelings down and put on that smile.

AMY GOODMAN: You write in your book, "Once upon a time, it was assumed, to put it bluntly, that work sucked." What changed? Describe the evolution of the labor of love myth.

SARAH JAFFE: Yeah. So, I trace this in the book through the history of sort of women's unpaid work in the home and also the creative work of the artists, both of which are sort of always assumed to not be work at all. And as the decline of industrial labor, through outsourcing, through automation, through changes in the shape of capitalism, what we got instead was much more work, like the people that we've just been talking about, like those Amazon workers, like those fast-food workers, like the nurses and other healthcare workers that I wrote about in that Nation piece you mentioned, whose job is to provide the services that keep us all going, who are doing that so-called essential work that we've heard so much about since the pandemic.

And this is work that often requires you to show up and put on that smile, that requires you to, if not actually enjoy it, at least sort of pretend and project the image that you're enjoying it, in order to go to work. And so, it's literally a change in just like the shape of the economy and what jobs people are doing. But then that also spreads into things like the Amazon fulfillment center, where if the narrative we hear over and over again is that we go to work in order to find fulfillment, then even the Amazon billboard that I saw the other day off of the New Jersey Turnpike that says, "Get a job delivering smiles," is like, well, the conditions that that worker was just describing in the warehouse in Alabama don't sound terribly fulfilling, and they don't sound like they'd make me smile.

AMY GOODMAN: So, how about teachers now being asked to risk their lives to go back to school? And then, of course, you have nurses doing the same thing, risking their lives every day, and they're not only fighting to save their patients, but now the healthcare system, changing it.

SARAH JAFFE: Yeah, yeah. I mean, teachers are, I write the book, sort of the ultimate laborers of love. And we've had decades, maybe centuries, of expecting them to make up for all of the gaps in the social safety net, just by loving the kids that they teach more and more and more.

And so, you know, we're seeing right now sort of the real return of this demonizing teachers rhetoric in yet another way, because teachers are not willing to march back into, in many cases, overcrowded, underfunded schools that haven't had repairs. In Philadelphia, they were talking about, like, strapping a box fan to a window to create ventilation so that the virus supposedly wouldn't spread in these school buildings that are overcrowded. In Los Angeles — I think the last time we spoke was when I was in L.A. for the teachers' strike there, and they were fighting to get class sizes down from 45 students, in a room that is supposed to house 20. And, you know, you can't socially distance with 25 kids in a room, let alone when you've packed 40 of them in a room that is supposed to have 25.

So, the very things that teachers have been demanding, that would have made the schools more safe to reopen in the first place, they're now getting blamed for not being able to solve that problem. And it's just this ongoing expectation that teachers can somehow, with their just pure motivation and love and care, overcome all of these obstacles that we have put, as a society, in their way.

AMY GOODMAN: And nurses, let's end there, since it's also —

SARAH JAFFE: Yeah, yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: — what you wrote your Nation piece on.

SARAH JAFFE: Yeah, absolutely, nurses who have been fighting since the beginning of the pandemic just to get enough masks and gowns to keep them safe while they're trying to save lives. And in between, you know, they've been — the nurses' unions, like National Nurses United, like New York State Nurses Association, have been the loudest voices in this country, saying, again, for decades, that we need a real national healthcare system that would actually prioritize public health, because this pandemic has taught us that we are only as well as the last person to get vaccinated, as the last person to get healthcare.

AMY GOODMAN: We want to thank you, Sarah Jaffe, for being with us, longtime labor and economic justice reporter. Her new book, Work Won't Love You Back: How Devotion to Our Jobs Keeps Us Exploited, Exhausted, and Alone.

That does it for our show. Happy Birthday to Neil Shibata! Democracy Now! is produced with Renée Feltz, Mike Burke, Deena Guzder, Libby Rainey, Nermeen Shaikh, María Taracena, Carla Wills, Tami Woronoff, Charina Nadura, Sam Alcoff, Tey-Marie Astudillo, John Hamilton, Robby Karran, Hany Massoud, Adriano Contreras. Special thanks to Julie Crosby, Becca Staley. Wearing a mask is an act of love. Wearing two is even better. And try a shield on top of it. I'm Amy Goodman.

From Charlottesville to the Capitol: Trump fueled right-wing violence -- and it may soon get even worse

As security is ramped up in Washington, D.C., and state capitols across the U.S., the FBI is warning of more potential violence in the lead-up to Joe Biden's inauguration on January 20. Federal authorities have arrested over 100 people who took part in last week's deadly insurrection at the Capitol, and The Washington Post reports that dozens of people on a terrorist watch list — including many white supremacists — were in Washington on the day of the insurrection. "This was something that had been coming for a long time," ProPublica reporter A.C. Thompson, who covers right-wing extremism, says of the January 6 riot. "If you looked at the rhetoric online … it was all about revolution, it was all about death to tyrants, it was all about civil war."


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

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

Security is being ramped up in Washington, D.C., and state capitols across the United States as the FBI is warning of more "potential armed protests" in the lead-up to Joe Biden and Kamala Harris's inauguration, following last week's deadly insurrection at the Capitol. By Wednesday, 21,000 National Guard troops are expected to be in Washington, D.C. FBI Director Christopher Wray spoke publicly for the first time, more than a week after the insurrection, Thursday.

CHRISTOPHER WRAY: We're concerned about the potential for violence at multiple protests and rallies planned here in D.C. and at state capitol buildings around the country in the days to come, that could bring armed individuals within close proximity to government buildings and officials.

AMY GOODMAN: Federal authorities have arrested over a hundred people who took part in last week's deadly insurrection at the Capitol that left five — actually, six [sic] people — dead. Police and federal agents continued to round up rioters Thursday. That's five people dead. Among the latest arrests, Kevin Seefried, who was photographed carrying a Confederate battle flag through the Capitol; former U.S. Olympic medalist Klete Keller, who wore his Olympic swim team jacket to the riots; Robert Sanford, a retired firefighter who was filmed throwing a fire extinguisher at Capitol Police officers, striking three of them in the head; and Peter Stager, an Arkansas man filmed beating a police officer at the Capitol with an American flag.

In Arizona, prosecutors say they've uncovered evidence that the intent of some of the rioters was to, quote, "capture and assassinate elected officials in the United States government." Prosecutors revealed the QAnon conspiracy theorist Jacob Chansley, who is also known as Jake Angeli, left a note for Mike Pence in the Senate, warning, quote, "It's only a matter of time, justice is coming." Chansley faces charges of violent entry and disorderly conduct, after he was filmed posing shirtless, wearing buffalo horns and holding a spear on the Senate dais.

And in Texas, a federal prosecutor has revealed more details about its case against retired Air Force officer Larry Brock, who was seen inside the Capitol dressed in military gear, holding zip ties. Prosecutors claim that Brock was prepared to take hostages and, quote, "perhaps execute members of the U.S. government."

Meanwhile, The Washington Post reports dozens of people on a terrorist watch list — mostly white supremacists — were in Washington on the day of the insurrection.

We go now to A.C. Thompson, staff reporter with ProPublica, who has covered the rise of the right-wing extremist and white supremacist groups for years, his latest piece headlined "Members of Several Well-Known Hate Groups Identified at Capitol Riot." He's joining us from Lansing, Michigan.

A.C., thanks so much for coming back to Democracy Now! Can you start off by responding to what happened last week in Washington, D.C.? Did it surprise you, this mass insurrection, after President Trump had for weeks been calling for this protest and addressed them before they marched to the Capitol? And who was behind it?

A.C. THOMPSON: One of our contacts in the far-right movement said to us, "Hey, I think this is going to go in a very extreme direction. And, in fact, I'm not going to mobilize my people to participate, because I think it's going to be very violent." And that was a signal to us that this was going to be quite extreme.

We had seen this building over the past year, though. If you go back to January 2020, in Richmond, Virginia, 20,000 armed people showed up at the state House there. In the spring, there were protests that were armed in Michigan at the state House, including one in which people stormed the building and intimidated legislators with weapons, with AR-15 assault rifles. We saw the Idaho state House get stormed. We saw the Oregon state House get stormed. We saw, in Olympia, Washington, by the Capitol there, there were shootings in the street two weeks in a row. Two people were shot, one each week. And so, this had been building for a long time.

I personally was at an armed rally at the Virginia state House a couple months ago, where about 50 men with weapons showed up and basically dared the police to arrest them, because they were in violation of the law. So, this was something that had been coming for a long time. And if you looked at the rhetoric online and you looked at what had been said by members of these groups for a long time, it was all about revolution, it was all about death to tyrants, it was all about civil war, for a long time.

On the day of the event, we saw militia groups like the Three Percenters, the Oath Keepers, who were playing a big role. We saw the conspiracy theorists, like the QAnon people, who were there. We saw, I think, a significant role played by the Proud Boys, who you could call an ultranationalist street-fighting gang or group. And I think we saw a lot of military vets and some current military there. And there were also people who belong to straight-up white supremacist or white nationalist groups.

AMY GOODMAN: You mentioned Virginia. We reported earlier this week that two of the rioters were off-duty Virginia police. And this goes to the issue of police and military from all over the country. You know, people were saying, "Where were the police?" Well, they were part of the riot, the insurrection, a number of them. You have police from Seattle, apparently New York, Philadelphia transit officers, a number of them, two Virginia officers. Now, this is just people who were identified. Can you talk about the — a PSYOPS guy, a military psychological operations. Can you talk about the significance of this?

A.C. THOMPSON: You know, I think there is a big concern that what we've seen in recent years is a lot of members of police departments, or at least some members of police departments, being radicalized in this right-wing direction. And in part, I think, what that's been a product of is they've seen the rise of the racial justice movements and police accountability movements, and they say, "I feel under attack. The person who's sticking up for us is Donald Trump, who's super law and order, and so I'm going to get deep into the Donald Trump world." And I think that's part of what's happened.

What's happening now, though, is different. And what's happening now is, when I was in D.C. at "Stop the Steal" protests and other protests in recent months, you would see the right-wing protesters did not want to fight with the police. They would say, "We're the law-and-order people. We're the pro-police people. We're not going to fight with the police. We want to fight with the police, but we're going to back off." That has changed. That has pivoted. And now what you're seeing in the chatter amongst the right-wing groups is, "We are at war with the police. The police are in bed with the reds. The police are a tool of this socialist takeover, which we believe magically is happening, without any facts. We believe that the police are subverting democracy. And we are now going after the police." And that's what you saw at the Capitol.

AMY GOODMAN: So, let's talk about the lack of preparation at the Capitol. You see these police officers, the Capitol Police, some help by the Metropolitan Police, fending for themselves. And we got the reports this week of the level of threat assessment reports that would come before each Black Lives Matter protest. Nothing like that was issued now, and yet you have this coming together of all of these people from — and if you can explain what the terrorist watch list is? It's not a no-fly list. And for many progressives, they may be very concerned about who makes up this list, but the fact is, scores of people on the FBI's own list had gathered, and yet the FBI issued no reports, and there was so little preparation. We saw African American Capitol police essentially running for their lives, saying they didn't have the support from the top, and they were being chased by the mob.

A.C. THOMPSON: Right. So, there's a few things that I want to touch on here. And a few years ago, you and I were talking about Charlottesville. And what we had seen there was an intelligence breakdown, where, really, the intelligence analysts and the law enforcement personnel, who should have really been monitoring the online channels and the chatter, missed what was going on and what was going to develop. And then you saw multiple law enforcement agencies who were supposed to be there coordinating, working together, who really didn't have a plan, and cooperation totally broke down. And when violence and rioting broke out, the people with the tactical gear, with the shields, with the helmets, with the riot gear, were nowhere near the violence.

You saw a lot of that happen at the Capitol, a lot of the same things happening over again, years later, with basically some of the same people showing up at both events. This is what's baffling to me. The FBI has gotten very good in recent years at tracking and arresting and building cases against right-wing extremists, white supremacist extremists, anti-government extremists. In the run-up to the election, they built a lot of very complicated, important cases against people who were bent on violence against public officials, the kidnapping plot against Gretchen Whitmer, the governor in Michigan. They were very, very busy. And what I don't understand is how that knowledge from the field agents out in the field doesn't seem to have translated, as far as we can tell at this point, into intelligence products that would have gone out and been disseminated more broadly to other law enforcement agencies. That's a thing.

Another thing is just simply the lack of personnel and the lack of preparation by the Capitol Police on the day of the event. I've been watching the D.C. Metropolitan Police for months now, and I think that they've been very professional, very sophisticated, in allowing protesters at these right-wing events in D.C. to express themselves, but not to harm people and not for violence to break out. That is clearly not the case with the Capitol Police. They did not evince that level of professionalism and sophistication.

AMY GOODMAN: The Washington Post reported earlier this week the FBI explicitly warned of violence and "war" at the U.S. Capitol in an internal report issued one day before last Wednesday's deadly invasion. The report cited online posts, including one which said, quote, "Congress needs to hear glass breaking, doors being kicked in, and blood from their BLM and Pantifa slave soldiers being spilled. Get violent. Stop calling this a march, or rally, or a protest. Go there ready for war. We get our President or we die."

So, A.C. Thompson, I mean, how much more explicit can you get? And, I mean, we're not only talking about let's do a postmortem on last week's event — and "postmortem" is the right word. I mean, you're talking about a number of people dead: two police officers — the Capitol Hill police officer, Sicknick, who died, and then one who took his own life — and then you have three people who died in medical emergencies, apparently. But we're not only talking about the past; we're talking about whether this is prologue to this weekend. I mean, Monday is Dr. Martin Luther King's federal birthday, which is official — his birthday was today. But for years, white supremacists marched on state capitols to prevent it from being recognized as a national holiday. And then, of course, Wednesday, the inauguration.

A.C. THOMPSON: Yeah, I think I don't want to be alarmist, and I don't want to be the person who says the sky is falling, but I do think we have to be vigilant. I think we have to be looking forward. I think we have to be very, very careful in the months ahead. And this is why.

We were out on the campaign trail filming for Frontline at Trump rallies and at Trump speeches. And when we'd meet people, they would all say, "The only way the president is going to lose the election is if there's massive fraud, and it'll be probably massive fraud orchestrated by those nefarious globalists." There are millions of people who believe, because of Trump's incessant false messaging, that the election was fraudulent, that the election was stolen from him. And if you have just a very small percentage of those millions of people who are inclined to take violent action because they believe that we are on the cusp of a massively undemocratic transition of power, built around fraud, of course some of those people are likely to take very violent action to save, in their mind — you know, in their minds, to save this republic.

And that is the thing we must be concerned about. In America, it does not take very much money and very much skill to create a mass casualty event with a bomb or a gun. And that is something we're going to have to be very vigilant about, while at the same time ensuring that people have a right to protest, that people have a right to express themselves.

AMY GOODMAN: I'm wondering if you can talk about the alliances between all of these groups and current sitting members of Congress. You've got Utah Republican Congressmember John Curtis, who showed reporters a death threat left on his door on Thursday, a poster with skulls and crossbones pasted over his eyes, and the caption, "Wanted for treason! For resisting the true electoral victor Trump." Now, here is a congressman who, of course, was voicing concern about the fact that Republicans were not accepting the election of Joe Biden, but you've got other ones who led the charge about doing this. Can you talk about whether — the congressmembers and what should happen to them now? Even in President Trump's latest video, he will not acknowledge this election of Joe Biden. And does it actually encourage the violence, the fact that he's not showing up for the inauguration? Many may be deeply relieved that Trump won't be there, but does that send a message it's OK to target?

A.C. THOMPSON: I think there's a couple things going on here. And the first thing is that we have not acknowledged the scale of threats, intimidation and violence against public leaders that's occurred over the past year. We have so many public health officials in this country, at county and state levels, who have been threatened — at federal levels, as well — been threatened, who have been terrorized, who have had to get extra security, who have been doing their jobs and are in fear for their lives. And we, basically, as a society, have not grappled with that.

Now we've got elections officials, Republican and Democrat, who are dealing with that. We've got members of Congress who are dealing with that. We've got law enforcement leaders who are dealing with that. You know, in California, we had two law enforcement officials who were shot by an extremist group, allegedly, during the spring. Somebody is now facing federal charges for that. So I think there's been a —

AMY GOODMAN: Boogaloo bois.

A.C. THOMPSON: Yeah, the boogaloo bois, exactly. So I think there's been a level of violence and aggression towards public officials and government leaders that we have not seen in decades. And I don't think we've reckoned with that at all. It's a scary time to be a public leader.

Now, when you're talking about Congress, this is a thing that we're going to have to understand deeply, and we're going to need serious, serious investigations about what was the role of sympathetic members of Congress in possibly fomenting or even enabling this insurrection, because I don't think we've gotten to the bottom of that. We've heard names thrown out as potential members of Congress, from Arizona and Alabama, who may have aided and abetted these groups, but we don't know yet. I think that's a very concerning thing, as well. We also —

AMY GOODMAN: I mean, you have Mikie Sherrill — right? — the New Jersey congressmember, who said she — they called the sergeant-of-arms the day before, saying, "What are all these tour groups?" they now recognize were the people who were part of this insurrection being taken around. I mean, COVID times, they're not doing tours there, so they could only get in through a congressmember or their staff.

A.C. THOMPSON: Exactly. And that is a big concern. I'll tell you, from interviewing members of Congress, Republicans and Democrats, they said to us — you know, we had a Democratic congressman say to us, "I'm worried that we have empathizers and sympathizers within the ranks of the Capitol Police." That was Rep. Andre Carson from the Indianapolis area. We had a GOP congresswoman, Nancy Mace, who said, "Look, I could tell, days before this happened, that it was going to be ugly, because I was getting relentless threats online and through all different channels. And I'm a Trump supporter, but I had said I'm not going to try to overturn this election. And so then I was the one targeted." And it doesn't sound like she got a lot of help with that. She sent her children home to South Carolina because she was scared for their lives. We have not even begun to grapple with how serious this problem is.

AMY GOODMAN: If you could very quickly — we only have a minute to go, but you detail in your pieces, and you just talked about, the Three Percenters, the Oath Keepers, boogaloo bois, Proud Boys. Tell us who some of these people are. Many people haven't even heard of these groups before.

A.C. THOMPSON: Right. So, the boogaloo bois are an anti-government group who joined the Capitol insurrection, who have been tied to murders, kidnapping plots and the rest. The Proud Boys are an ultranationalist street gang or street-fighting group that have been at many of these events and seem to have been a key player here. The Oath Keepers and the Three Percenters are militia groups that sort of are traditional, longtime anti-government groups. And QAnon is the conspiracy theory followers who believe that there's a vast cabal of globalists and satanists who are trying to take over America.

AMY GOODMAN: And finally, you have Ali Alexander, and this from The Washington Post, who organized the so-called Stop the Steal movement, who said he hatched the plan for this insurrection with the support of the three Republican lawmakers — you alluded to them, but — Congressmembers Andy Biggs of Arizona, Mo Brooks of Alabama, Paul Gosar of Arizona, all hard-line Trump supporters.

A.C. THOMPSON: Yeah. And that's the thing. That's going to be a really key investigative point there. And honestly, like, looking at Mr. Alexander and how he raised money and what his role in all this was, as well, is going to be a key thing to look at.

AMY GOODMAN: A.C. Thompson, we want to thank you so much for being with us. Keep up your great investigation. Staff reporter with ProPublica who's covered the rise of right-wing extremist and white supremacist groups for years. We'll link to your latest piece, "Members of Several Well-Known Hate Groups Identified at Capitol Riot."

Next up, as the U.S. death toll for COVID-19 approaches 400,000, we'll speak with Dr. Peter Salk. His father, Dr. Jonas Salk, he first developed the first polio vaccine. Stay with us.

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