The Beat with Ari Melber, Transcript 8/21/17 Bannon launching war at administration
Show: THE BEAT WITH ARI MELBER
Date: August 21, 2017
Guest: George Lakoff, Raheem Kassam, James Peterson
KATY TUR, MSNBC HOST, “MTP DAILY”: Meanwhile, THE BEAT with Ari Melber
starts right now. Ari, I`ve got to apologize to you. Those horrible
sounds you heard a couple offices down from you earlier today, I`m sorry
that was me singing Bonnie Tyler`s Total Eclipse of the Heart, and I
ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST, THE BEAT: Good music can help bring in any
TUR: It wasn`t good. It wasn`t good. It`s ear splitting and painful.
MELBER: Thank you, Katy.
MELBER: A total eclipse is very rare, especially in politics. President
Trump began his first workweek without Steve Bannon today and got a taste
of Bannon taking shots from outside the castle, signs the pressure will
continue on his opponents like H.R. McMaster and Trump family members.
“Breitbart” may be a place to settle scores, but the White House trying to
turn the page with a new foreign policy address tonight.
Now, Bannon is free to do anything he wants now, from cutting deals to
getting paid, but it looks like what he wants most is to be getting paid
The conventional take on Bannon fixates on ideological loyalty. Will he
back any White House agenda or will he take some new role as an enforcer,
trying to say what Trumpism really stands for?
But there`s actually another fault line here. We`re seeing it today. The
commodity that matters more to Trump than any ideology is attention.
People marveled today at the solar eclipse because of its raw beauty and
because it reverses everything we know.
The sun is always the powerful center of our solar system, the moon merely
orbiting it around the earth. And its light, the moon`s lights, drawn
solely from the sun`s reflection. So, it`s a total reversal to see the
moon eclipse the sun, like a pawn eclipsing the king even for a moment.
Steve Bannon is the moon to Donald Trump sun. People only know Bannon
because of Trump`s reflected light. And any time he comes close to
eclipsing Trump`s attention, gracing a magazine cover or taking credit for
Trump`s rise, Donald Trump has grown angry with his advisor, not over
ideology or policy, but over stealing his sunlight.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD J. TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I like Mr. Bannon.
He`s a friend of mine. But Mr. Bannon came on very late. You know that.
I went through 17 senators, governors, and I won all the primaries. Mr.
Bannon came on very much later than that.
And I like him. He`s a good man. He is not a racist. I can tell you
that. He`s a good person. He actually gets a very unfair press in that
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: It was this political eclipse that moved up Bannon`s ousting. We
know this because there`s a new report in “The New York Times” that says
the White House agreed on a plan to phase Bannon out later this summer and
that changed only because of Bannon`s new comments to, guess who, the
And if Trump ousted Bannon for being too loud for being a mere satellite
who didn`t know his place in the solar system, and after all it`s called a
solar system because everything rotates around the sun, did Trump make this
problem worse by freeing up Bannon to be even louder on the outside?
“Breitbart” now today alleged with hits against Trump aides and family.
Bannon reportedly considering getting into political TV. And a former
staffer playing the trump card here might end up being Trump`s worst
Eclipses are not only rare. They can be dangerous, which is why you never
look directly into one.
I`m joined now live by Olivia Nuzzi, Washington correspondent for “New York
Magazine”; Aisha Moodie-Mills, the President of Victory Fund; and Jared
Yates Sexton, who wrote “The People are Going to Rise” about this Trump
Olivia, starting with you, can Bannon eclipse Trump more easily now that
he`s out of the White House?
OLIVIA NUZZI, WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT, “NEW YORK MAGAZINE”: Well, I think
we`re going find out. If he does decide to go into conservative
television, which there has been some speculation about, perhaps that could
We know Donald Trump certainly will be paying attention to it. But if you
look at “Breitbart” today, the tone there and the reporting that - or if
you could call it that, the writing that they have on there today is not
totally different than it has been in the past.
They have been reporting on Ivanka and aggregating somewhat negative
stories about Ivanka for months, if you go through the archive on her.
It just seems like they`re unchanged now, maybe they were holding back a
bit before. And they feel free to say whatever it is that they want to say
I think it`s highly unlikely that Bannon will be more of a problem for
Donald Trump outside of the White House than he was inside of it. I think
there will be just less interest in general in Steve Bannon and I think
Donald Trump will ultimately probably move on.
AISHA MOODIE-MILLS, PRESIDENT OF VICTORY FUND: Yes. So, few people are
more of a problem for Donald Trump than Donald Trump is for Donald Trump.
My biggest concern about what Bannon is up to is - I`m concerned about the
destruction that he has intended for America. People are sharing and
celebrating the fact that he`s out of the White House.
I`m really concerned about what he is taking away from the White House.
This man had high level security clearance and is a vapid bigot and has an
economic “plan” that could be destructive.
And I`m curious what state secrets he`s taking with him that he`s
attempting to unleash by eradicating all of the “moderate people” in the
White House, who have been trying to stop his radical agenda.
MELBER: Well, and you mentioned state secrets, of course, there was a lot
of back and forth about how much access he had to national security
And then, there are these reports, Jared, here about “Vanity Fair.” Bannon
has told friends he wants Priebus to give his account of the Comey firing
to Special Counsel Mueller, believes the decision was made during an early
May weekend in Bedminster, where Kushner, Ivanka Trump and Stephen Miller
were with the president. That`s more than a typical interview, if you do
it with Mueller.
JARED YATES SEXTON, AUTHOR, “THE PEOPLE ARE GOING TO RISE LIKE THE WATERS
UPON YOUR SHORE: A STORY OF AMERICAN RAGE”: That`s correct. Stephen
Bannon has been playing a really interesting long game here.
He sided with President Trump in his campaign because they had a mutual
goal. They had a mutual ideology at the heart of this. And I think what
we`re going to see now is now that Bannon is out on his own and
independent, I think he`s going to playing his own game.
And where that intersects with President Trump, he`ll cooperate with him,
but I think we are going to see a lot of moments where they are going to
rift against each other and we`re going to see a lot of tension.
MELBER: And, Jared, I`m going to read from your book as you talk about
sort of the power of narrative. And, as a political matter, Steve Bannon
and a lot of what “Breitbart” was pushing years ago was considered not
repeatable by a Republican nominee.
His supporters showed an alarming knack for taking the narratives, you
write, that Trump had given them and then extending them to logical or
illogical extremes. Was Clinton working with ISIS? Was Clinton an agent
of the New World Order and in league with the cabal of Jewish bankers? Was
Hillary Clinton a Satanist who subsisted on the blood of children?
It is 2017 and I am just reading from your factual accounting in a book,
although sometimes I have to think twice, fact check. Neither Hillary
Clinton nor Donald Trump are Satanists.
But speak to this reporting you`ve done and how it relates to Bannon as
someone who does push narratives into the mainstream? They don`t stay.
What happens on “Breitbart” has not been staying on “Breitbart”.
SEXTON: Sure. What we saw within the campaign was Bannon, when he came on
to the Trump campaign, we saw him refine Donald Trump`s message, which a
lot of the time was sort of a scattershot shotgun strategy.
And once Bannon came on, we saw the teleprompters come out, we saw the
script come out and what we saw was that Bannon refined this message and
made sure that he hit all of the dog whistles that Trump needed to hit,
while also making comfortable, people who might`ve been uncomfortable with
the racism at the heart of the campaign.
So, a lot of these narratives were simply hinted at and we had the
possibility of them being completed by the supporters.
MELBER: Aisha, I see you shaking your head. Go ahead.
MOODIE-MILLS: Yes. So, the thing about this conversation that really has
me anxious, and I appreciate Jared`s reporting on all of this that I`ve
read, is that we are having a very civil conversation about - that is
essentially normalizing a man who is trying to, and has been successful in,
indoctrinating America and people globally around very fascist, racist,
This is dangerous stuff. This isn`t some random dude who`s good at
communications. We`re talking about someone who is planning to raise
millions of dollars to create another media entity, a TV entity to continue
to push these lies, these hateful messages and to really give a platform to
And I think that that`s what we all need to really be focusing on as
opposed to trying to dissect and rationalize and really give some
celebration to the strategy of this crazy lunatic.
NUZZI: I`m sorry. I just think - look, we`re not normalizing or trying to
rationalize anything that Steve Bannon believes, but we don`t have anything
confirmed about what his plans are right now outside of returning to
We don`t have anything confirmed about how much he`s going to continue to
be in contact with the Trump administration, though. Of course, history
suggests that he will remain in Donald Trump`s ear, as many of his ex-aides
But I think it`s ridiculous to say that just having a civil conversation
about this and dealing with the facts as we know them to be right now is in
any way going to be detrimental to this country.
We need to talk about the facts and we need to dissect them and analyze
them in a civil way.
MOODIE-MILLS: The fact of the matter is that the KKK just marched on
Charlottesville. That is the fact of the matter. So, are we going to
believe what we rationalize or are we going to believe what we see in front
of our faces that we know that this man has perpetuated and given rise to
over the last several years.
And I think that we need to be having a much more forceful conversation
about the detriment that this human being is doing in our society and
figuring out strategies to completely like block and tackle through that
and to really negate his ability to spread hate.
MELBER: Well, I appreciate - I think we`re talking about a couple of
layers, both values, what do people want to confront in our society, as
well as facts, what do we know and what are we still trying to nail down on
the factual front.
Olivia, Aisha, and Jared, appreciate each of you joining us tonight.
SEXTON: Thank you.
MOODIE-MILLS: Thanks, Ari.
MELBER: Now, coming up, speaking of fact checking, I`m going to have on
the show tonight an editor from “Breitbart” to discuss what the segments -
what we just discussed in this segment, what Steve Bannon wants to do and
what “Breitbart” stands for. We`re going hear directly from them and fact
check some of the reporting.
Now, first, President Trump heading to TV tonight. He wants to do a
primetime speech about his Afghanistan strategy. And according to reports,
he will be announcing the addition of thousands of US boots on the ground.
Will Fischer, an Iraq War veteran, a Purple Heart recipient, director of
government relations at VoteVets.org, I want to thank you for your service
and for giving us some of your expertise tonight. What do you think is
most important for people to know about what we`re up against in
WILL FISCHER, IRAQ WAR VETERAN AND DIRECTOR OF GOVERNMENT RELATIONS,
VOTEVETS.ORG: Well, thank you very much for having me on, Ari. And I
think what people are going to see tonight is first and foremost a reality
TV show huckster.
We`re going to see somebody who views the presidency to see through the
lens of Nielsen ratings and somebody whose numbers and poll numbers
continue to go down, especially in the wake of equivocating on Nazis and
white supremacists, and believes that if he merely changes the script or
throws in a plot twist for a major character that he`d somehow can have
more viewers or be more popular next week.
MELBER: Do you think the addition of troops could be constructive for the
FISCHER: There is not a military solution to Afghanistan. The solution in
Afghanistan is going to be coming through diplomatic efforts and that is
not going to happen through just merely throwing more troops into
Afghanistan with no plan.
You would think that after 16 years, even the most neophyte of leaders
would be able to see that throwing more troops at Afghanistan with no plan
is not a winning strategy.
MELBER: What do you think about the fact that his current plan, as
reported, contradicts his past tweets about Afghanistan?
FISCHER: Well, when does Donald Trump not seem to contradict himself? I
wouldn`t dare try to go spelunking into the mindset of Donald Trump and
figure out how his brain works.
But, look, what are we going to see tonight? From what the plan sounds
like, it`s going to be the status quo. It`s going to be a continuation of
kicking the can down the road and of merely not losing, right, of merely
not losing. And that`s what we`re going to hear tonight.
Now, of course, because it`s Donald Trump, because he is sort of this
carnival barking personality, it`s going to be the status quo delivered in
a likely bombastic way. And, of course, if his recent claims on Twitter
are any of indication, it could even be advocating for war crimes.
MELBER: Will Fischer, appreciate your views. I`ll mention, we continue to
have an open invitation for the White House as well to explain the strategy
and we will all be listening tonight. Thank you.
FISCHER: Thank you, Ari.
MELBER: On a programing note, we will be, of course, carrying the
president`s address tonight. Rachel Maddow will be a part of our coverage
along with other MSNBC experts, so you can catch it there.
Now coming up, there are more charities over the weekend pulling out of
events at Mar-a-Lago, responding to Donald Trump`s rhetoric on race. We
have someone who is advocating a boycott.
Also, new revelations about this Russian lobbyist who attended that meeting
at Trump Tower, including new reports that he was tied to international
And later in the show, we have a look at perhaps the most common Trump
defense he was just joking, but this could be a serious matter. We`re
going to show you the tape and speak to a linguist about how it works.
I`m Ari Melber and you are watching THE BEAT on MSNBC.
MELBER: New pressure on Donald Trump over his Charlottesville comments.
And this pressure is not political. It`s on Trump`s bank account.
Over the weekend, more charities bailing on events that were planned at
Mar-a-Lago. Now, these events could run up to $275,000 per night. So,
they can ultimately cost Donald Trump millions.
The moves are a hit to his brand because top charities like the Red Cross
are sending a message that Trump`s properties are at this point too
divisive to even visit.
The broader question is whether Trump, who ran on putative business
success, is facing a business backlash. The campaign already sunk some
Trump hotel bookings, but now you have activists pushing for a more formal
boycott, arguing that a tool for economic justice from the civil rights era
should be deployed now.
Joining me is Nate Lerner. He is Executive Director of The Democratic
coalition and created the BoycottTrump app. Is this something that you see
changing the bottom line of the Trump organization or is merely a PR
headache for a president who follows PR.
Nate Lerner, ?Executive Director, The Democratic Coalition: That`s really
the big question right now. Is this a turning point for us or is this just
another one in a long line of scandals that we may be deal about and then
we move on to the next one.
Our mission at The Democratic Coalition is to really try to bring him down
at every turn and we do firmly believe that this is a huge opportunity we
need to jump at and that`s why we definitely applaud the charities who
stepped back and are no longer holding events there.
MELBER: I`ve been thinking about this. When you look at those charities,
do you think they agree with you because you`ve been calling these boycotts
for a while based on a wide set of, what you would call, policy and moral
disagreements with the president or do they just want to get out of
something that`s too hot?
LERNER: I think it`s a little bit of both. But at the same time, they,
obviously, do not stand by what the white nationalists represent.
If you are the American Red Cross, you don`t really discriminate in who do
you help out. And I think that`s their big message here, is they stand for
equality, they stand for justice, they stand for the betterment of humanity
That`s not really what the white nationalists are fighting for. And it was
very responsible of them to step up. And as an apolitical organization to
do that, that was very brave of them and we certainly applaud them for
MELBER: Right. You say political and there a lot of groups that claim
they`re apolitical but aren`t. Oil companies say, well, we don`t have any
MELBER: And, in fact, when you dig under the hood, look at them, they`re
doing all kinds of lobbying. This seems a little different, which is why
it`s interesting to hear what you`ve been up to.
Let me read to you what Laurel Baker said. She`s the Palm Beach Chamber of
Commerce, so right in the middle line again, also business-oriented. “If
you have a conscience, you`re really condoning bad behavior by continuing
to be there at Mar-a-Lago. Look at your mission statement, are you living
up to it?”
By that standard, who should be going to Mar-a-Lago?
LERNER: Anybody who opposes what the white nationalists and, let`s call
them what they are, Nazis in many regards and what they stand for.
So, if you believe in equality, if you don`t believe in discriminating
against people based on where they`re from, their ethnicity, what the color
of their skin, then you should not be going to be Mar-a-Lago. You
shouldn`t be associating with Trump in any way. And we believe the best
way to fight back against that is by taking action.
Words are great, but at the end of the day, actions do speak much louder,
and tangible action especially. So, if you hit them where it hurts, that`s
all the better.
MELBER: Nate Lerner on the power of boycott. Thank you very much.
We want to turn to Russia. “The New York Times” reporting today that the
Russian lobbyist at the center of the Trump Tower meeting has deeper ties
to the Russian government and Kremlin-backed oligarchs than previously
known, an association with a former Russian spy service and a history of
working for close allies of President Putin.
With me is the reporter who broke this story, Ken Vogel from “The New York
Times”. Thanks for being here.
KEN VOGEL, REPORTER, “THE NEW YORK TIMES”: Hey, Ari.
MELBER: Long story. Took a long time to read. I want to focus on what`s
newest, which is, as I just mentioned, is this figure and also his links to
international hacking campaigns that had never been previously exposed.
Tell us what you found.
VOGEL: Yes. When this guy`s name was first revealed as having been
present at this meeting with Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner and Paul
Manafort at Trump Tower in June of last year and the height of the campaign
season, it was kind of unclear as to his associations and whether there was
any ideological consistency that ran through them.
He represented a bunch of businessmen, politicians, former politicians in
the former Soviet Union, kind of seemed all over the map. So, we decided
to dig deeper into this guy and his affiliations and we found that the one
ideological consistency was that he was always either working in sort of
the interest of the Kremlin or at least not in opposition to it.
That was his business. That`s what brought him into association with the
deputy director of the FSB as well as with some of these pro-Kremlin
oligarchs on whose behalf he was involved in campaigns that appeared to
have hacking element to them.
MELBER: Right. And the hacking, give us context. Folks in the home
going, OK, is this something that a lot of different international
companies are affiliated with, international criminal espionage hacking?
VOGEL: In short, yes. This is a big part of - there is this term
corporate espionage. We see it here in the US. We see it particularly
when there are foreign actors who are involved against US companies, but it
is a lot more common in abroad and particularly in some of these former
This guy really played a role in this sort of murky foreign influence
lobbying game that in Washington does not get a lot of coverage, but
underlies a lot of these international disputes where it`s helpful for
folks to have people in Washington who were doing their bidding, who have
access to people in the corridors of power. That`s this guy (INAUDIBLE).
MELBER: And so, where does this go from here. You mentioned that he is
under special scrutiny or what`s the term of art as you put it?
VOGEL: Yes. He is someone who Special Counsel Robert Mueller and his team
have expressed an interest in because they are looking into this meeting as
really one of the best examples of the Trump folks and the Trump`s
associates - in this case, his son, his son-in-law and then campaign
chairman - expressing an interest in meeting with Russians who are
promising something that is deviously - that is improperly obtained and
potentially damaging to Hillary Clinton.
This guy was in this meeting. So, he is a subject of interest and he has
this rich back story that we think makes him even more interesting to
Mueller and his team.
MELBER: Ken Vogel on “The New York Times” scoop. Thank you.
VOGEL: Thank you.
MELBER: Up next, I am going to speak to a top editor from “Breitbart”
about Steve Bannon and what he is up to at the news site.
And then, when is a joke not a joke? We`re going to look at this common
White House defense for when the president says something some call out of
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Can you say affirmatively that whenever the president
says something, we can trust it to be real?
SEAN SPICER, THEN WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: When he`s not joking, of
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: That is the big question when it comes to Trump`s statements. Is
it really real, son? Let me know if it`s real if it`s really real.
But when Trump`s words get him in trouble, the White House often says he
was just joking like when he bizarrely thanked Putin for taking
countermeasures against US diplomats.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: I`m very thankful that he let go of a large number of people
because now we have a smaller payroll.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: After universal condemnation, Trump said the line was facetious.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Were you being sarcastic when you thank Vladimir Putin
for expelling 755 diplomats from Russia.
TRUMP: In order to reduce our payroll, absolutely. I think you know that.
But we have reduced payroll very substantially.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: Same drill for Trump`s comments about the serious topic of police
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: Like, when you guys put somebody in the car and you`re protecting
their head, the way you put their hand over, like don`t hit their head and
they`ve just killed somebody, don`t hit their head. I said, you can take
the hand away, OK?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: Trump managed to offend police groups and police critics in that
line. Both spoke out about the damaging suggestion that police should
commit crimes of their own by roughing up a suspect.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I think you guys are
jumping and trying to make something out of nothing. He was simply making
a comment, making a joke and it was nothing more than that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: Making a joke. And Trump`s most incriminating comments, some
argue, about Russia, that public request for email assistance.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: Russia, if you`re listening, I hope you`re able to find the 30,000
emails that are missing.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: How can you accuse President Obama of obstructing
when he was egging Russia on?
SPICER: He was joking at the time. We all know.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He was joking?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: The Russia exchange being the oddest joke defense because Spicer
said that a year later after the evidence had emerged that Russia did hack
emails and that Trump top aides at least met with people who claimed to be
working on behalf of Russia.
The line in the movie Crimes and Misdemeanors was, if it breaks, it`s not
funny. But what if it breaks the law? How funny would that be?
Where now linguist George Lakoff joins me. He wrote a celebrated book on
political language. Don`t think of an elephant, know your values and frame
the debate and is a Berkeley professor emeritus. Explained to us what you
think this joke defense does.
GEORGE LAKOFF, LINGUIST AND PROFESSOR EMERITUS, UC BERKELEY: Well, it`s
not a joke first. The main thing is it can be said to be one in defense.
But mainly what it does is say something extreme that`s out of the
ordinary, but actually send a message.
And that message, when you send it, is very real. It says, hey, rough up
suspects. It says, yes, get information about Hillary. And it says, you
know, yes, you know, do all sorts of things that you ordinarily would not
do. It is a message and the fact that it is out of the ordinary and
extreme suggests that it is not to be taken seriously. But when said by
the President, it is taken seriously. And the message is there because
it`s repeated over and over. When you have something like that in the
press, the press repeats it, over and over, hundreds and hundreds of times,
and that message does get out there.
ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST: So if it gets the message out, but then is a back
door away from it, is it a way of basically having your message cake, if
you will, but avoiding responsibility ultimately because you say, well, I
didn`t -I didn`t advocate that?
LAKOFF: That`s exactly right. And Trump has done this all through his
career. He speaks of what he calls truthful hyperbole in business, where
he says this is the greatest so-and-so, we`re going to have the best
healthcare plan, we`re going to build this beautiful wall and Mexico is
going to pay for it, et cetera. And he`ll say this extreme thing and will
go out and you know, be understood. When you`re saying it to a customer,
and you say, this is, you know, the greatest thing – the greatest casino
you`ll ever invest in, you know, that may not be the greatest, but it`s
supposed to be a good investment, et cetera. And you know, a good salesman
can be convincing about that. But it raises the question about whether
that`s to be taken seriously.
MELBER: Right. That`s the question, George, take a listen to how often
that question comes up with his staffing.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: By the way,
you`re going to get the votes? He better get them. He better get them.
He better – otherwise I`ll say, Tom, you`re fired.
Does everybody like Mickey? Otherwise, she can easily be replaced, right?
This was the one we were worried about. You weren`t there but you`re going
to be –you`re going to be. Look, he wants to remain a Senator, doesn`t
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: The difference here being, you have live laughter so it doesn`t
seem like something that`s later claimed to be a joke. Those seem to be
recognized as perhaps nervous laughter as jokes in the moment. What`s
going on there?
LAKOFF: What`s going on there is a veiled threat. A threat that he can
run someone against a Congressman, or a Senator but it comes out as
something like, well, I want to win, and you`re going to make me win or
else, “you`re fired,” as if this was on T.V., and just a game. But it`s
not a game. This is politics. And the fact is, that this is a veiled
threat. It says, you better do everything you can, or else. And when he
threatens, that`s important because it says that the person he`s talking
about is not doing his job. It says this person is inadequate and that`s
important. And that`s, for example, the threats to fire Sessions and
Mueller, when he says Mueller had better not go into business, there`s a
red line there. That`s a threat to fire Mueller.
MELBER: Linguist George Lakoff, we always learn from you. Thanks for
LAKOFF: My pleasure.
MELBER: Up next, we`re going to talk to the Editor in Chief of Breitbart
London on Steve Bannon`s future.
MELBER: America`s political press often focuses on domestic news and even
political drama. The daily topics tend to be somewhat different at
Breitbart, the influential conservative site back in the action after Steve
Bannon returned there over the weekend. On this Monday evening, the lead
stories include criticism of Trump`s Afghanistan plan from a former general
and from Trump supporter Eric Prince. There are reports on ISIS funding
and Reverend Franklin Graham arguing Islam is not a religion of peace and
all of Islam controls people through fear and intimidation. Its London
section has about 11 different articles reporting on the Islam state or
Islam related issues.
This emphasis like other parts of Breitbart reflects both something that
exists, the global presence of militant Islamic terror that aims to murder
Americans, Westerners, Christians, Jews, and Muslims, as well as something
that seems to exist in Steve Bannon`s mind. Like as long state of the
least that Islam is not a religion of peace and that the U.S. war on ISIS
is to some extent a religious clash as the New York Times reported. Bannon
spoke at the 2014 talk at the Vatican and said the Judeo-Christian West is
at war with Islam. There`s a major war growing, a war that`s already
global. I`m now joined by Editor of Chief of Breitbart London and the
Author of No Go Zones, Raheem Kassam. Thanks for joining me.
RAHEEM KASSAM, BREITBART LONDON EDITOR IN CHIEF: Thank you for having me.
MELBER: Your work, and much of what`s on Breitbart, emphasizes this threat
of radical Islamic terrorism. How do you think this Trump administration
is doing to combat it?
KASSAM: Well, I think they made a good start by going for the travel ban.
You know, I know there was – there was a little bit of obstructionism for
it. And I think it was – look, I think it`s fair to say that it was
misrepresented in a lot of quarters as a Muslim ban. I understand what
Trump said during the campaign but that`s not what this ban turned into. I
think that`s a good start. I think the Race Act, the Immigration Act is a
very good way to go as well.
And like you say, you`re very kind to mention my book. I walked through
the problems that we`re facing. You know, I grew up in a Muslim family in
the United Kingdom. I worked through the problems not just that the West
is facing, but actually, Muslims are facing in the west for other Muslims
trying to radicalize them, trying to draw them into a literalist and
fundamentalist sort of interpretation of the Koran. And our reporting as
you just said, yes, absolutely, those reflect that. We focus on that quite
heavily because we have a Prime Minister in the United Kingdom who`s on the
record of saying Sharia can be good for Britain. Well, I don`t believe
that Sharia can be good for Britain and I`m a former Muslim who will stand
up and say that.
MELBER: Raheem, when you mentioned the coverage of the ban, surely you
understand why people, many people believe it is targeting at least Muslim
majority nations and Muslims because that`s what the President said as a
candidate he planned to do.
KASSAM: Yes, and that`s exactly what I just said. And I think that`s a
fair criticism. But what I don`t think is a fair criticism is to say that
that`s what this ended up as. There are many Muslim countries, majority
Muslim countries that weren`t included in this ban, on this travel ban list
and when you look at the nations that were actually listed, these was the
same – these were the same nations that the Obama administration was
placing extra scrutiny upon for migrants and even visitors. So I think –
I think it got a little bit out of proportion there.
MELBER: Well, only – on that point, only for visitors. In other words,
the visa issue with those countries, as you probably know, was about people
who passed through them and that sent up a flag. The Obama administration
didn`t have a determination that migrants originated from those countries
posed a threat.
KASSAM: Yes, but this administration has obviously looked into that and
said there was a list, and we`re going to take that list and we`re going to
expand on this because there`s a national security aspect here. And I`m
sympathetic to that. I think that look, he went through the campaign
saying he`s going to make America safe again. He can`t get into the White
House and not do anything to make America safer. We have a real problem
with radical Islam in Europe. We have 32, maybe 33 I think now if you
include this weekend`s attacks – terrorist attacks in Europe, this year
alone. That is – that is a huge number. That is epidemic levels. Only
two of those attacks were not linked to radical Islam in some way, shape or
form. And I think it`s fair for the President to try to stop that
MELBER: So let`s dig into that, and you mentioned your background which is
interesting and brings expertise to it. The thing about Breitbart as you
know is that some of these articles and the way things are presented seems
to suggest the idea that any association with Islam is problematic. Here`s
a current one on H.R. McMaster, who`s been known of course to tangle with
Steve Bannon, and you have H.R. McMaster endorsed book that advocates Quran
kissing apology ceremonies.
A relevant – you know, referencing this book, Militant Islamist Ideology
which as I think you probably know off as Breitbart writes up. It`s by
Youssef H. Aboul-Enein who sounds like the kind of person you`d want on
your side in all this. He`s a senior adviser at the U.S. Counterterror
Force there at the DIA. He`s a reserve officer and a Military Professor,
and a Chair of Islamic Studies at National Defense University. Why present
to readers the idea or the suggestion that it would be negative for H.R.
McMaster to be working with, or complementing the research of this
KASSAM: Yes, it`s a great question. I`ll explain it in full. So there
are lots of people who understand this issue very well but they come at the
issue from different sides. You know, I`m one of the people who believe
Islam is not a religion of peace. I don`t believe that Muslims are there
for aggressive and violent and prone to terrorism and radicalism. In fact,
what I believe is that if we protect them from it, that`s the best thing we
can do, and best only by tackling the radicals. So for instance, in the
United Kingdom, there is a Liberal Commentator called Maajid Nawaz. He`s a
practicing Muslim, he is a reformist. But he gets labeled by the Southern
Poverty Law Center as a hatemonger simply because he opposes Sharia. And
so, you know, I wouldn`t want Maajid Nawaz necessarily advising H.R.
McMaster, because I think he has slightly different solutions to –
MELBER: Certainly, what about – and again, I don`t want our viewers to
get lost on the – on the people but then, what about the individual that
is cited in the Breitbart article, what about Aboul-Enein?
KASSAM: Unfortunately, I don`t know Mr. Aboul-Enein so – and I`m not
familiar with his work. So I can`t comment on that. you know, I`m the
Editor of Breitbart London, and that story didn`t run in Breitbart London
so I can`t comment on that specific article but I can understand why if you
have a different solution to tackling radical Islam, maybe he Mr. Aboul-
Enein has a great idea of how to attack radical Islam, but he simply
doesn`t have the same idea we have to do it, and that`s fine. Why can`t we
criticize that sort of thing? You guys do that all the time.
MELBER: Oh no, certainly, I think criticism and civic discourse is a whole
part of this.
MELBER: I guess the question I`m getting at, and I take your point that a
Web site has much ingredients to it, is that the way it`s done there seems
to suggest that the main problem with him is the desire to understand Islam
or that he doesn`t share what we quoted, the Bannon view that somehow the
entire religion of billion-plus people is somehow –
KASSAM: No, hold on-hold on.
MELBER: Go ahead.
KASSAM: It`s not a religion – it`s not a religion of a billion-plus
people. There are a billion-plus Muslims but you can`t say they all
subscribe to Sharia. You can`t –
MELBER: No, certainly, nor did I. Go ahead.
KASSAM: No, so what I`m saying is, you can`t put them all in one box.
Everyone says this religion of a billion-plus people. Well, there`s Shias,
there`s Sunnis, there`s Ismailis, there`s Ahmadis, you know, they all
believe different things. I think it`s so unfair when we lump everybody in
together and say this is who we`re at war with. We`re not absolute not at
war with all these people. Let`s make it – let`s be very clear about
this. We`re at war with Sharia which is a fascist ideology. This is the
ideology that says you should cut off a person`s hand and cut off their
foot if they get in the way of the spread of Islam. You know, read the
book. I know my Quran. You know, read the book, it`s clear about these
things. And we`re trying to save Muslims from getting radicalized. We
don`t – you know, we don`t want to lump them all in together.
MELBER: Right. So, I take your point there and certainly the use and
abuse of Sharia and militant Islam –
KASSAM: Yes, it`s a real problem.
MELBER: – as way of restoring – try to restore order and assert state-
sponsored violence or in the situation of ISIS, a want to be state. When
you talk about lumping, this again is an issue we want to get your response
with regard to Breitbart. The categorization on Breitbart often uses these
immigrant or religious related tags to do what you might call lumping. You
had a whole category here of articles that`s migrant sex attacks. There`s
a discontinued tag of black crime in the United States. There`s another
tag of illegal immigrant crime. Isn`t the problem the crimes? Why the
fixation on only looking at certain crimes by certain individuals?
KASSAM: Well, I don`t – again, I`m the editor of London so I can`t
comment on like the black crime stuff. It`s just not within my read. And
I`m not – you know, I`m not a company spokesman. I`m here to talk about -
- I was booked to talk about Steve Bannon and the White House but we got
into – we got into –
MELBER: But this is related but yes, go ahead.
KASSAM: Sure – no look, I`m just – I`m just explaining for the viewers.
So I`ll talk about the migrant sex attacks one because it`s something that
I was directly responsible for. We had in 2015 this opening of the
borders, this comes one, come all claim from Angela Merkel that actually
forced a real crisis in Europe. It forced a crisis not just on Europe`s
borders, inside European nations, it`s forcing a crisis of integration that
these people aren`t getting jobs, by the way. The – if you look at what
happened in Cologne, just a couple of years ago now, where over 1,000
people of migrant background raped, groped and harassed young women at the
central station in Cologne, that is a legitimate thing to worry about. You
know, across the filter, here`s what Breitbart is supposed to do.
Across the filter, you have different news organizations that represent
different viewpoints. This channel is no different. And we want to
represent the things that are not covered by what we deem the mainstream
media, the establishment media. And this migrant sex attack thing is a
real problem. The statistics are very clear. And I laid them out in my
book as well. If anybody`s not sure of the data, it`s all there. I`m not
trying to scare people. I don`t need to try and scare people. What`s
going on is horrific and it`s not just to non-Muslims that they`re
attacking, by the way. They`re attacking the (INAUDIBLE) women.
MELBER: Certainly not. Let me ask you this –
KASSAM: This is not what liberalism is about. We should be – we should
be critical of that.
MELBER: In the U.S. context, and you mentioned Steve Bannon and you
mentioned the coverage and the way President Trump also speaks about it.
There seems to be, as I mentioned, this effort on only looking at certain
crimes based on the perpetrator. As you probably know the Trump
administration is the first in many, many decades to try to have tracking
of only the perpetrator, in this case, they`ve looked at immigrants, you
know, from mostly Mexico and other South American countries. And this is a
sea change. So I ask you and we are running out of time, I want to warn
you, but you`ll get the final word, why move to this approach?
I`ll put up on the screen, for example, the bare fact that the U.S. census
found immigrants in United States have lower incarceration rates than other
individuals, the status showing there less likely to commit crimes than the
average American populous historically. And so, if they aren`t as great a
threat with regards to incarceration, and we`ve always look at crimes, not
just who did them, does it concern you that Breitbart, and now this
administration seems to be trying to push the idea of caring more about
crimes based on who did them than the overall data?
KASSAM: It doesn`t concern me. But yes, I agree that there is a balance
to be struck there. You know, nobody thinks of Australia as a fascist
country, but it has an immigration policy that necessarily discriminates.
It discriminates if you`ve got a criminal record, in all different sorts of
things, so does Canada. And nobody thinks of that as a country that is a
discriminatory country but it does actually discriminate as to who can come
into the country based on their background, based on who they are, based on
you know, health things even, right? And that is what`s going on here.
What you`re – what you`re trying to do is you`re trying to drill into the
pros and the cons of who you`re actually bringing into your country. And
if they come from a place whereby they are more prone to terrorism, then,
there should be more scrutiny on those people. If they come from a place
where you know, they`ve committed a crime in their country, for example,
there should be more scrutiny on those people. And I`m of the belief, and
you look across Europe for instance as a result of this, the large-scale
immigration that`s happening in Europe at the moment is leading to higher
crime rates amongst migrants because they`re unable to get jobs.
MELBER: And that-and that is a fair point. I don`t know that you`re being
responsive to the question, which is, is it good for the U.S. government
under Trump or Breitbart as an information source under Bannon to lump and
track selectively? I`m out of time, I`ll give you a final thought if you
want to be responsive.
KASSAM: Well, yes, I think there`s a balance to be struck, though. You
know, I think we shouldn`t ignore it but we shouldn`t only focus on it. So
you know, and that`s what`s happening.
MELBER: Raheem Kassam, I appreciate you spending some time with us and
sharing your views.
KASSAM: Thank you.
MELBER: Thank you. I want to turn now to James Peterson a Professor at
Lehigh University who studies many of these issues. Your reaction to
Raheem on where Breitbart is headed with these issues obviously under
discussion in the government.
JAMES PETERSON, LEHIGH UNIVERSITY PROFESSOR: Right. So I think Raheem`s
comments were interesting. Your exchange was very, very interesting, Ari.
But I just want to give folks, in terms of Breitbart America just a little
bit of history because when we think about this (INAUDIBLE) now with Bannon
returning to Breitbart and what happened with the relationship going
forward with the White House, we have to understand the historical synergy
of Breitbart and Trumpism. So, Ari, you`re aware of this because we
covered this when things happened but you might remember the Acorn story
from several years back when they released this edited video by Acorn
trying to show they were engaged in some kind of prostitution effort. Once
we got the full sort of video, we realize that that edit that they
initially posted was kind of like fake news.
Same kind of story around Shirley Sherrod who was in the Agricultural
Department in the U.S. government, they release the video for – and their
video seem like she was saying racist things but when the unedited video
was released, it seems that that was untrue so much so they tried to rehire
Shirley Sherrod after they fire her in the wake of that Breitbart news. So
I think there`s a sort of right-wing entertainment complex that Breitbart
news taps into. And so, their news stories and even their headlines, some
of which you`ve read here are often misleading and often played to the base
of what we think of as being Trump`s supporters. But Bannon`s move now
might be a little bit different, evidenced by the headlines we see on
Breitbart were obviously trying push back against certain enemies that he`s
established within the Trump administration.
MELBER: James Peterson from Lehigh University on a busy news day. We were
juggling a lot. I appreciate you joining us. I`d love to have you back on
PETERSON: Thanks, Ari.
MELBER: All right. We will be right back.
MELBER: A once in a 99-year event. Everyone is talking about it and we`ve
got you covered with the best moments from the eclipse mania next. Also,
you could check us out on Facebook and Twitter @THEBEATWITHARI, you can
also use regular e-mail. We do read them. I`ve told you, and it`s true,
ARI@MSNBC.COM. We`ll be right back.
MELBER: Here`s one piece of news we all know about by now, this amazing
eclipse that went across the Continental United States today. We watched
it here. A few of us went out into the Rockefeller Center Plaza. We had
the glasses of course and took it all in. We had a partial eclipse. And
we also had something unusual, these days, if you think about it. A
national shared experience. There were passers on planes, taken a video of
sight right there from your window seat. NASA released this beautiful
image. I mean, this is – this is a natural symmetry here. The seven
frames that shows the international space station as it crossed the face of
the sun and of course, yes, it was a big moment at the White House. This
image going viral across social media, another clip has gone viral too, the
sign-off by ABC Anchor Frank Reynolds after the last eclipse in `79.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
FRANK REYNOLDS, ABC NEWS ANCHOR: Not until August 21, 2017, will another
eclipse be visible from North America. That`s 38 years from now. May the
shadow of the moon fall on a world of peace.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: Amen. I don`t know if we`re a world of peace but we can keep
trying. The next eclipse for North America is seven years away in 2024.
That does it for me, I will see you here tomorrow night I hope at 6:00
Eastern. “HARDBALL” with Chris Matthews is up next.
CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST: Bannon unleashed. Let`s play HARDBALL.
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