The Rachel Maddow Show, Transcript 05/21/15
RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: Good evening, Chris. Thanks, my friend.
CHRIS HAYES, ALL IN: You bet.
MADDOW: And thanks to you at home for joining us this hour.
We have a fake outreach – excuse me, outrage-o-meter. I don`t know,
it`s outrage-o-meter or outrage-o-meter. We have a fake one that we built.
We`re going to see if it works tonight, OK?
Here we go. All right. Neither side wanted cameras in the
courtroom. Both the prosecution and the defense argued vigorously to the
judge that the proceedings should be closed to the press, closed to the
public, no cameras.
But the prosecution and defense both lost and the judge decided to
allow a camera to record the proceedings in the murder trial of this man.
His name is James Holmes. He`s the man accused of opening fire in a
crowded movie theater in Aurora, Colorado, in a midnight showing of the
movie “The Dark Knight Rises” in July 2012.
Mr. Holmes is now 27-years-old. He has a long history of severe
In preparation for that alleged shooting spree almost three years
ago, James Holmes bought four guns, including a semi automatic rifle and a
100-round magazine, a magazine that held 100 bullets at once. He bought
6,000 rounds of ammunition from various internet dealers. He also bought
tear gas grenades. He bought body armor.
With that arsenal and wearing the body armor, James Holmes went into
that movie theater and shot and killed 12 people and wounded 70 others.
And now, he is on trial for those murders.
And because of that judge`s ruling about cameras being allowed in the
court, it`s eerie, right? But you can watch that trial unfold as people
describe the details of what they experienced that night in that movie
theater. The camera angle is a little bit of a weird shot. You can`t see
people`s faces up close, for example.
But it is honestly very moving to be able to see and hear the
testimony for yourself. We don`t get this in very many court cases in this
In this case, you see people bravely taking the stand and describing
being shot that night or describing trying to save themselves or loved one
or failing to save a loved one. You watch them describe minute by minute
details while they are sitting directly across from the defendant in a not
very big room.
One of the people who testified yesterday was a young man named Brent
Lowak. Mr. Lowak was shot and injured, himself. He described going to a
movie theater that night with an old friend, a 24-year-old woman a
beautiful, vivacious aspiring sports reporter named Jessica Ghawi.
In court yesterday, Brent Lowak described what it was like to watch
his friend die that night.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BRENTON DAVID LOWAK, AURORA, CO SHOOTING VICTIM: As soon as the
first shot rang out, it was a loud bang and then a pause and then a bang
and bang and it just continued. As soon as I saw that Jessie had been
shot, my focus transition to taking care of her. So, the shots continued
and I at that point had gotten out my phone and I fumbled around to call
911 as soon as I could.
I had noticed at this point that the screaming had stopped and Jessie
had sustained a shot to the head in which case brain matter was exposed.
It was at that point I crawled a little closer to her and I prayed over
her. I didn`t know what to do. It felt right. I just gave her the best
sendoff I could.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Sandy Phillips is Jessica Ghawi`s mom. She was in court
yesterday to hear that testimony describing her daughter`s last moments.
Sandy Phillips, she wears a green scarf to court every day, it belonged to
And here is one other thing you should know about Sandy Phillips.
One of the things she is dealing with right now. She is not just dealing
with, listening to the testimony about her 24 hour-year-old daughter and
how is she died and her daughter`s friends tried to say a prayer over her
on the floor of this movie theater, right – Sandy Phillips and her husband
have also just been ordered by a judge in Colorado to pay hundreds of
thousands of dollars to the people who sold James Holmes the ammunition and
the cartridges and the tear gas that he used the night he allegedly
murdered their daughter.
No, no, you heard right. It`s not a typo. I didn`t transpose the
subject and the object in the sentence. The mother and father of the
victim who died in the Aurora mass shooting have just been ordered to pay a
quarter million dollars to the gun retailers who sold the bullets that were
used in the Aurora mass shooting, the parents of the girl who was killed.
Last year, Sandy Phillips and her husband filed lawsuit against four
of the online retailers who sold James Holmes vast portions of his 6,000
rounds of ammunition and his tear gas grenades and body armor. That
lawsuit was litigated in Colorado.
The Phillips lost their lawsuit. But not only that, they were also
ordered by the judge and by the laws on the books in Colorado, which were
written explicitly to protect gun and ammunition manufacturers, they were
ordered to pay the legal fees of the online ammunition retailers. It`s
Colorado revised statute 14-21-504.5 it states when it comes to guns and
ammunition makers and sellers, specifically, just guns and ammo, that`s the
only industry. If you dare to sue them, you will you have to pay their
legal fees if you lose your lawsuit.
This is not true of most types of lawsuits. This is not true of most
lawsuits in this country. But in Colorado, home to several very high
profile mass shootings, if you as a victim dare sue anyone having to do
with the making or selling of guns and for whatever reason you lose that
lawsuit, will you have to pay big.
It only goes that one direction, too. It`s only the victims having
to pay the guns and ammo manufacturers.
So, in the case of Sandy Phillips, showing up to court on behalf of
her then 24-year-old daughter, wearing her daughter`s scarf, this means
having to pay a quarter million dollars to a place called Lucky Gunner, at
a place called Sportsman`s Guide. Lucky Gunner sold James Holmes more than
4,000 rounds of ammunition through an Internet Web site that they operate.
The Phillips are in the process of appealing that verdict, but in
case you are not reeling in disbelief, note this one final thing – Sandy
Phillips and her husband are as far as anybody can tell, they are the first
people to ever be punished under that specific Colorado statute. They are
going to be the first family ever ordered to pay the legal fees under that
Colorado statute to the gun industry, because they had a daughter who died
in one of the worst mass shootings in the history of this country in the
state of Colorado. And they decided to say something about it.
So, again, I don`t know if you pronounce it outrage-o-meter or of it
should be outrage-o-meter. But it seems to me that there are just things
that come up in the news every once in a while that are designed by the
news gods to test whether your outrage-o-meter is working. Like, you know,
if this makes you feel nothing, go see a doctor, because some fundamental
thing in you is no longer firing as it should be.
So, maybe today it is the story of the parents of the Aurora movie
theater victim told to pay a quarter million dollars to the companies that
sold the ammo that killed their daughter, right? Maybe that calibrates
your outrage-o-meter today.
Or maybe it`s La Porte, Texas. We covered this La Porte, Texas,
story back in November when it first happened. You might remember. It was
a Du Pont Chemical plant in La Porte, Texas, in that sort of chemical alley
along the Houston ship channel.
This is a company, a plant specifically that had dozens of safety
violations over a period of years. This plant made pesticides, along with
And at 4:00 in the morning last year, a worker tried to on up a vent
line for one particularly poisonous chemical that they handle on this
plant. Now, the lines apparently getting clogged over and over again at
that plant. Workers kept having to open up new vent lines and new drains
to keep the chemicals moving.
But this time the woman opened up that vent line, she knew it was
wrong. She called for help. It was too late. She had breathed in a fatal
dose of methyl mercaptan, which is an active ingredient in a heavy duty
pesticide. When she called for help, nobody knew exactly what had
There were no detection systems that went off to let anybody know
about that chemical leak. There weren`t any in that part of the plant.
There were big fans installed in the ceiling that were supposed to clear
the air in case something like that happened. But you know what? Those
fans hadn`t actually worked in months.
The woman`s supervisor and another worker ran in to try to help her
when they heard her cries for help. But because they didn`t know what had
hurt her and in fact killed her, they ran in trying to save her, wearing no
protective equipment of their own. And so, they too breathed in the fatal
chemical and they, too, were killed.
And then another employee working in the control room, he knew that
one of the people who had rushed in to help was his brother. And when he
couldn`t raise anybody from the accident site on the radio, he decided from
the control room that he would grab some masks, grab some ventilation masks
and then he would run in there, too, to try to save his brother and the
other workers, but he died, too.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GILBERT TISNADO, FATHER OF VICTIMS: My son called me. He said, dad,
there has been an accident at the plant and Gibby and Bobby are involved.
REPORTER: A horrifying phone call, two of his sons killed during a
chemical leak at the Du Pont facility in La Porte.
TISNADO: My heart stopped beating.
REPORTER: Gilbert Tisnado and his family would soon learn the leak
had killed four people and injured a fifth.
TISNADO: The things that come to your mind are the first time you
held them, the first words they said, the first steps they took.
REPORTER: The family says Bobby ran into the plant when the leak
happened to help another employee inside. His brother Gibby ran in after
him when he didn`t return and put his face mask on Bobby when he saw his
TISNADO: It`s a terrible loss. It puts a hole in your heart.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: So, one worker who was exposed to that poison leak that day
in that Du Pont chemical plant in La Porte, Texas. One worker who was
exposed to that leak today, that day, and survived, seems to have only
survived because when he inhaled the gas in that room, he passed out. And
when he passed out, he happened to fall out of the room where the leak was.
He fell down a flight of stairs because he passed out. That`s why he
The plant supervisor called 911 that night. He told first
responders, something was going on. He had no idea what happened. He had
no idea if it was a chemical leak. If it was a chemical leak, he had no
idea what leak it was.
He told the 911 dispatcher he was absolutely sure there was
definitely no danger to the public.
So, with no information about what had happened, first responders
turned up to the plant with no idea of the death chamber they were opening.
They had to leave the dead bodies where they lay until the following day
before they had the right equipment to be able to enter that plant safely
without killing themselves, too. And that was a close call.
So, that was just a horrific disaster, right. This decrepit decades
old chemical plant in La Porte, Texas, with no alarms, no gas detection
systems. Big exhaust fans that hadn`t been working for months. No
training for employees, all working with incredibly poisonous chemicals.
They killed four of their own employees that day, and they almost
killed several more of their employees. They almost killed a good chunk of
the town`s fire department.
But you know what, if you want to be bad in your next life, you want
to be bad and you really want to get away with it. See what you can do
about coming back to life as a corporation, because then you`ll do fine, no
matter what you do.
Because here`s Du Pont Chemical, one of the largest chemical
companies on earth. A company worth over $60 billion that had $35 billion
in revenue last year, Du Pont Chemical has now been found in this incident,
100 percent responsible for killing its workers that day in La Porte,
Texas. Quote, “Four people lost their lives and their families lost loved
ones because Du Pont did not have proper safety procedures in place.”
This multiple fatality disaster after years of safety violations an
repeat safety violations at that plant, a six-month federal investigation
has just concluded. They decided to throw the book at Du Pont chemical.
They said the disaster, these deaths are absolutely on Du Pont chemical.
You want to know what their fine is? $99,000. Total. For four dead
people. A $60 billion company fined $99,000 total. They will be paying
slightly less than the median cost of a new Hyundai for each of the people
And according to “Houston Chronicle”, Du Pont Chemical is likely to
contest this egregious just fine.
And so, maybe it`s the $60 billion company taking offense as being
fined less than $25,000 life per that they took. Maybe that pins the old
outrage-o-meter, maybe it`s the Aurora shooting victims family being told
to pay the ammo companies a quarter million dollars after their ammo killed
Maybe it`s the Vermont state senator who we`ve been covering, who`s
just been indicted and arraigned on multiple sexual charges concerning
multiple alleged victims who say he not only forcibly raped them, but that
he accepted rape and sexual assault as fair exchange for rent in a trailer
on his farm, and one of his alleged victims says she was either 15 or 16
when the assaults started.
This senator has been charged. He`s out on bond. He is still a
Vermont state senator and apparently has plans to stay in office despite
these charges with Vermont taxpayers paying his continuing salary.
So, maybe it`s the Aurora story. Maybe it`s the Du Pont Chemical, La
Porte, Texas story. Maybe it`s Senator Norm McAllister up there in
Vermont. It depends on how you are wired, right? I think in terms of what
red lines the outrage meter for any one of us, it depends.
In this week`s news, you might also be partial to the Republicans in
the Kansas state legislature, moving a bill that directs, prescribes, the
exact ruling that they want from a particular state court in a particular
case. And if the court rules the other way, this bill would then as a
consequence of that ruling completely defund the entire Kansas state court
You rule one way, you`re fine. You rule the other way, we will
abolish the courts. So go ahead and consider that case, Kansas judges,
enjoy your judicial independence. That happened in this week`s news. That
might reasonably get you going.
Or there`s the Texas legislature, which the day after the Waco biker
massacre in which nine people were shot to death. They have now recovered,
I kid you not, 118 different handguns from the crime scene. The day after
that shooting gallery bloodbath in Waco, Texas, the Texas state legislature
had a debate on how important Texas is to relax its gun laws to get more
guns onto the streets in Texas. So, maybe – maybe that gets you going.
Maybe that hits peak RPMs on your outrage-o-meter.
There is reasonable upset today over fast track authority for the big
Asia trade deal passing, without the public being allowed to know what is
in the big Asia trade deal.
If you are a United States senator, you might also have reasonable
upset if not outrage today over Rand Paul`s long speech last night doing
nothing to change anything about the NSA or the Patriot Act except
potentially making all senators stay at work until Saturday, a Memorial Day
weekend, instead of getting home tomorrow, even though they are going to do
the same thing either way.
Maybe that upset you, if you are a senator. It probably doesn`t
upset the rest of us.
There is reasonable upset in some quarters that they are moving back
the extra point in the NFL.
Everybody calibrates their outrage-o-meter in their own way. The
news for whatever reason are riches right now in things that might
reasonably scream any of us right up the scale from peeved to steam to
sputtering to conniption to apoplectic. But even in that world of just,
you know, sample stories that might outrage you, no story does that so much
as the report we are going to bring you next on this show, along with the
pictures that we got from at our news desk today.
And that story is next, along with a live report from the scene.
Stay with us.
MADDOW: OK. This is a quiz, but it`s not a hard one. What is wrong
with this picture? Adorable dad and adorable kid in not much more than
their birthday suits playing on the beach, they got little pails and little
But what is this stuff that they`re shoveling up? What`s wrong with
These pictures were taken on the beach in the Santa Barbara coast
about two miles from Refugio Beach and Refugio State Park. What`s wrong
with these pictures?
What`s wrong with these pictures? These are plastic orange five
gallon buckets full of oil. As you can see, there is a lot of them filled
up with oil. In fact, there`s tons of them. This is oil from the spill on
the Santa Barbara coast this week on Refugio Beach.
Do you want to know how these orange buckets got so full of oil?
Well, this is the clean-up effort that filled them. Here is how they
filled those buckets.
And if you are getting a sense that these are just regular folks
taking it upon themselves to clean up the oil spill at Refugio Beach, you
are correct, sir. That is how those buckets of oil got shoveled up off the
beach. It was people locally not properly outfitted at all. Not as you
can see, not wearing any gear at all. Not being paid or explicitly
organized in anyway, turning up on their own terms with their garden tools
to try to shovel this stuff up themselves, because it wasn`t getting
cleaned up otherwise.
This is not how an oil spill clean-up effort is supposed to look in
this country. I mean, God bless these folks, but – no, this is not
supposed to happen and, yes, the stuff they are shoveling up is really
But the reason these folks did it, the reason they took it upon
themselves is because they were apparently horrified that it needed to be
done and it wasn`t being done – at least not for a long while. It`s not
like this was some stunt either, right? It`s not that they were showing
off, that they wanted to help, but there was nothing for them to do. I
mean, look at what they did.
These pictures are from the “Santa Barbara Independent”, a local
newspaper which has been doing really great work covering this very large
oil spill that has taken place in their backyard. This oil spill,
honestly, has been really downplayed from the very beginning when we first
discovered it on Tuesday, including these reports that no wildlife was
affected, even after we started getting in pictures of wild life that was
definitely affected. That is not a black pelican.
Even after we were told by all officialdom and told by the company
whose pipeline burst that everything was under control, the cleanup was
well under way, the cleanup was totally in hand. It was the “Santa Barbara
Independent” who showed that actually, local residents were so outraged by
the pace of the supposed clean-up effort that they really did just start to
take matters into their own hands.
The clean-up does seem to be ramping up now. The official clean-up,
after the spill estimate was up from 20,000 gallons to 5 times that much.
But this spill started off at four miles of otherwise pristine
coastline the first day. It was nine miles of coastline by the second day,
yesterday. It is still moving. And the waves are black and we are
basically counting on the company whose pipeline burst to tell us what went
wrong so far and to tell us how much was spilled and also apparently to
tell us how excellent they are on safety issues.
(BEGN VIDEO CLIP)
REPORTER: You know, there`s new reports out questioning the safety
record of the pipeline that you guys have three times the safety infraction
on the national average. Are you comfortable with that safety record?
PATRICK HODGINS, PLAINS ALL AMERICAN: I don`t have that information,
but what I can tell you is we are committed to continuously improve our
safety and excellence program across all of plains.
REPORTER: Only four companies have more safety infractions than
Plains All American, what kind of changes should the company with making?
HODGINS: We continue to reassess. We are constantly working on
programs to improve our safety and environment excellence program.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: A spokesman for Plains All American, which is in charge of
the busted pipeline talking to the press today about his company`s safety
and environmental excellence.
Joining us now is Tyler Hayden, news editor for “Santa Barbara
Mr. Hayden, thank you very much for your time. I appreciate you
TYLER HAYDEN, SANTA BARBARA INDEPENDENT: Sure. Thanks for having
MADDOW: I am stunned by these images of local volunteers who felt
like things weren`t moving fast enough and decided to take matters into
their own hands. I can imagine that feeling among people that live nearby.
I can`t believe they would be able to produce dozens and dozens and dozens
of buckets of oil because they were able to help with the cleanup compared
to its official pace.
Can you explain at all what was going on there?
HAYDEN: Yes. As you said, right after we heard the spill had
occurred around noon on Tuesday, we went out there and just as a lot of
other Santa Barbara residents did and saw the crude lapping up on the shore
and immediately people sort opened jumped down there with buckets and
shovels and tried to help because what we noticed pretty quickly, there
wasn`t any major organized response right off the bat.
Also as you said, there has been at this point now, but right up
front, it was surprising that there wasn`t sort of the massive organized
effort that you might have expect for something like this, and it was
encouraging but also kind of disturbing so see people in shorts and flip-
flops with shovels and buckets to try to do what they could to save the
MADDOW: When you talk about that initial slow response, as far as we
understand the first responders, the first discovery that it was the
pipeline and then how big the spill appeared to be. It happened on Tuesday
about mid-day. How long did it take before there was any official response
of a substantial size? What was it like that first day, for example?
HAYDEN: You know I would say – I mean, by the evening time, let`s
say, there was – there was definitely mobilization at least on the local
level. County fire engines and some of the local environmental agencies
that have resources to help, they were here by the evening time. It was
only about 24 hours later I would say, maybe less than 24 hours, 12 to 14
hours, that we started seeing the big response from the coast guard, from
the sort of bigger clean-up crew.
MADDOW: In terms of getting information about this. Obviously, it
was a big news story when the estimate of the amount spilled jumped
fivefold, jumped from 20,000 gallons to 100,000 gallons. It`s my
impression that officials generally at least at these press briefings have
been deferring to the company, deferring to Plains All American to explain
what happened, how it happened and how big a problem this is.
Have they been forthcoming enough? Have they been true in their
assessments thus far?
HAYDEN: Well, it was – it was a little interesting off the bat when
we heard the 20,000 number. That`s what everyone ran with. And to learn
not long after that was the number supplied by Plains to the coast guard.
That`s what was being dispersed around. And to see it jump up to 100,000
As far as how forthright they have been, I know the county officials
in town says Plains working with them, well, we have been trying to find
out which we discovered recently is the pipeline that ruptured is the only
pipe in the county that isn`t under Santa Barbara`s jurisdiction. And
because of that, it doesn`t have an automatic shutoff system.
HAYDEN: So, that was surprising to hear. That`s something we were
trying to ask them about and get answers about. And so far, we haven`t had
MADDOW: Wow. Well, Tyler Hayden, news editor for “The Santa Barbara
Independent”, I commend you in the paper for what good work you have done
thus far. I feel a lot of the national reporting, in particular, has been
facile, in sort of taken the company`s word for it and a lot of what we
know nationwide of what`s happening is because you guys have been able to
show it and get so close to the story.
So, good luck and thanks for what you have done so far.
HAYDEN: Thank you.
MADDOW: All right. A lot more ahead tonight, including Richard
Engel here with us live.
Stay with us.
MADDOW: OK. So the bad news is that all that stuff at the top of
the show made my outrage meter red line for so long that I think it`s
broken now. I think I burnt out the motor that drove the little needle
toward the red line. I think it pinned it and it`s broken.
That`s the bad news. The good news is now it`s broken and luckily
there is news or Washington of all places that will absolutely happily help
us all blow off a whole bunch of steam.
That is coming up right at the end of the show tonight. It is very
happy making. I can`t wait.
Please stay with us.
MADDOW: If you are a Republican running for president in 2016,
chances are you have recently trained yourself to say that the George W.
Bush administration went to war in Iraq mistakenly but the only reason they
made that mistake is because they were given bad intelligence.
It wasn`t their faults. Had they just been given the correct
intelligence, President Bush and Vice President Cheney would have invaded
Iraq. That, of course, is total bullpucky.
But it`s one thing to hear that from some random jerk working as a
morning show deejay at the time of the Iraq invasion. It`s another thing
to hear it with unexpected and maybe unwanted candor from someone who was
there, someone who was a leading intelligence figure at the time.
Specifically, he was the guy who was President Bush`s daily briefer during
the run-up to Iraq.
What I`m going to show you who has got a little attention this week,
but honestly not enough. My colleague Chris Matthews, the great Chris
Matthews, this week had a stunning conversation with former CIA deputy
director Mike Morell who really President Bush`s intelligence briefer
during the run-up to the Iraq war. Watch this ask, watch Chris ask Mike
Morell about Dick Cheney in 2003 saying that Saddam Hussein had
reconstituted nuclear weapons.
Just watch how this went.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CHRIS MATTHEWS, HARDBALL: You`re the briefer for the president on
intelligence, you`re the top person to go in and tell him what`s going on.
You see Cheney make this charge he`s got a nuclear bomb and then they make
subsequent charges he knew how to deliver it, he had the capability to
deliver it, and nobody raised their hand and said, “No that`s not what we
MIKE MORELL, FORMER CIA OFFICIAL: Chris, Chris, Chris, what`s my
job, right? My job –
MATTHEWS: To tell the truth.
MORELL: My job – no, as the briefer? As the briefer?
MATTHEWS: OK, go ahead.
MORELL: As the briefer, my job is to carry CIA`s best information
and best analysis to the president of the United States and make sure he
understands it. My job is to not watch what they`re saying on TV and say -
MATTHEWS: You think TV is a joke?
MATTHEWS: You think it`s a joke that Cheney`s –
MORELL: That`s not my job. That`s not my job.
MATTHEWS: Did you know he did that?
MORELL: No, I wasn`t paying attention. I was studying.
MATTHEWS: So you`re briefing the president on the reasons for war,
they`re selling the war, using your stuff, saying you made that case when
you didn`t. So they`re using your credibility to make the case for war
dishonestly, as you just admitted.
MORELL: Look, I`m just telling you –
MATTHEWS: You just admitted it.
MORELL: I`m just telling you what we said –
MATTHEWS: They gave a false presentation of what you said to them.
MORELL: On some aspects. On some aspects.
MATTHEWS: He has a nuclear weapon, that`s a big deal.
MORELL: I`m telling you what we said. I`m telling you what was
MATTHEWS: Do you agree? It`s a big deal to explain they had a
weapon when you knew they didn`t.
MORELL: That`s a big deal.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: That`s a big deal. And, no, the right answer to the Iraq
war question is not that the administration was fed bad intelligence.
So to my friend, Chris, three cheers for that interview, for clearing
that up for the record. But there is more to clear up next with NBC`s
Please stay with us.
MADDOW: So, Queen Zenobia, Queen Zenobia was the queen of the
Palmyrene Empire in Syria in the third century. In this painting, she is
overlooking the capital of her kingdom, overlooking Palmyra. And yes, the
third century was a long time ago.
But the city of Palmyra was around long before Queen Zenobia`s reign.
It was known as a caravan oasis, in the middle of the desert. When it came
under Roman rule in the middle of the first century AD, it became an
important trading group to the Roman Empire.
Palmyra is a globally amazing place. It`s home to a whole lot of
world famous Roman era ruins, including the Great Colonnade of Palmyra,
which is basically an avenue of giant columns built during the second and
third centuries. These columns stretch for more than half a mile.
And they link to this, the Temple of Bel. Which was a main place of
worship in Palmyra, and there is this roman theater. Look at that. It was
built in the second century, never fully completed.
Palmyra is just full of very, very notable pieces of great
archeological significance and great beauty. Giant structures that you
immediately spot as you approach the city. It`s in Syria. It`s 130 miles
northeast of Damascus, a city of just 2,000-year-old just epic ruins on an
And before the start of the civil war in Syria, the ancient city of
Palmyra was Syria`s top tourist attraction, drawing thousands of people to
its oasis and archeological sites this year. Earlier this week, there were
reports that ISIS was making its toward Palmyra. And yesterday, there were
reports that ISIS fighters had entered Palmyra.
Today, we got the news that ISIS has taken control of the city, both
the modern part of Palmyra and the ancient part. Palmyra was overrun by
ISIS militants. There are reports in the city still has a large civilian
population that is still present even though ISIS has now arrived.
Militants are reportedly going door-to-door, they say looking for
Syrian soldier – the notable thing about this particular takeover is that
this seems to be the first time that ISIS has seized control of a
significant size city from the Syrian government, from President Bashar al
I mean, previous takeovers in Syria have been from other rebel groups
or from contested areas. But this was a city protected by the army – the
official army of Syria and Bashar al Assad.
With this gain, arguably, ISIS controls something like half of Syria,
including large portions of its oil fields. There are no reports of the
damaged to the Palmyra archeological sites so far. But given ISIS`
previous experience with other archeologically sensitive things, the
destruction of antiquities in the grand museum in Mosul and Iraq, for
obvious reason, there is a lot of global consternation about Palmyra being
in the hands of people taking pleasure in destroying what`s left of the
Today, the director general of UNESCO called the possible destruction
of Palmyra a war crime.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
IRINA BOKOVA, UNESCO DIRECTOR GENERAL: Any destruction to Palmyra,
it`s not just the war crime, but it will mean an enormous loss for
humanity. It is important because we are speaking of the work of human
civilization. We are speaking of something that belongs to the whole of
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: The whole of humanity.
ISIS has done a lot of damage all over Iraq and Syria. They have
destroyed many large archeological sites.
Questions have been raised as to whether or not they are in some
cases trying to make it look like they are destroying more than they are,
while actually some of what they`re doing is looting antiquities and
selling them for cash on the black market for cash.
Cash is a sort of unsung part of how ISIS has gotten so big and
succeeded as far as it can, as far as it has – excuse me, they have a huge
economy. They`ve taken great pains to make sure they have a ton of money
both in terms of just taking money out of places like banks, but also
operating in all sorts of different major economies.
That`s why it was seen as a valuable target apparently when Delta
Force commandos went into Syria and killed one ISIS leader this past
weekend. He was not the top leader of ISIS. He was not the self
proclaimed caliph. He was not necessarily perceived to be an important
leader in ISIS.
He was basically their money guy. He was basically their treasury
secretary, their CFO. He was the guy organizing a lot of their income
particularly from the oil sector.
Less than a week after ISIS seized control of Ramadi in Iraq`s Anbar
province, ISIS has taken Palmyra.
To help us understand the importance of all this, we`re now joined by
Richard Engel, chief foreign correspondent for NBC News.
Richard, it`s nice to see you. Thanks for being here.
RICHARD ENGEL, NBC NEWS CHIEF FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT: It`s nice to
ENGEL: Well, look at it this way. Women – you mentioned Queen
Zenobia. Women in the ancient world tend to not be remembered very well.
You have Helen of Troy, the temptress who led the empire to war. You have
the mythical character of Eve, another temptress, the downfall of humanity.
Cleopatra, another temptress who led to the end of the Ptolemaic (ph) Age.
Queen Zenobia from Palmyra was considered the rebel queen, third
century. She takes over Palmyra, then takes over Egypt, becomes the queen
of Egypt and then is recaptured by the Romans and either dies under torture
or dies of a hunger strike in Rome or lives out the rest of her life in
luxury. But is revered as this legendary character, as a strong woman who
led an army.
Rossini, author of “The Barber of Seville”, wrote about an opera
about her. Theopolo (ph) painted her, addressing her troops and she was
This is an important city. This is a part of the Western
civilization. It`s a part of all of our cultural heritage. And now, it`s
in the hands of ISIS.
MADDOW: How intact is Palmyra? How much is there to see in Palmyra
when you go now? Or when you went before last week, right?
ENGEL: Well, it is breathtaking. It`s one of the most beautiful
sights in the ancient world. I have been as to Palmyra. I have always
wanted to go back. It is like walking through time and I feel bad for all
of your viewers who never got the chance to go there.
And I hope it is not destroyed and they will be able to go there
again. But it`s like walking through time. It`s walking through a
preserved Roman era city that has this legendary past.
MADDOW: Do you think it`s just wishful thinking, this reporting and
speculation, argument that`s perhaps ISIS is overstating just for the
purpose of terror its willingness to destroy stuff like this and really
they`re mostly interested if stealing it and turns it into cash? Is that
wishful thinking –
ENGEL: I think that`s wishful thinking. I think they regard these
objects as distractions from the truth. In Islam, anything – in this
interpretation of Islam, anything that came before Islam is considered the
Jahiliyyah, the age of darkness, which means it is bad. It`s a
distraction. It is something that should be destroyed.
And if it`s small enough and you can carry it, sell it. Why not?
But I don`t think they`re trying to overplay their hand to terrorize
people. I think they want to destroy these things and will destroy them,
if possible and will sell them if they can carry them away.
This is not new. There has been tens – there has been a tendency
you know in many religions to have these moments of iconoclastic violence.
But it was the kind of thing you saw in the early Christian era. It`s the
kind of thing you saw hundreds if not thousands of years ago.
If you go to museums now, any museum, you see a lot of statues don`t
have heads and arms on them. That`s because they were broken by people.
But they were broken by people hundreds or thousands of years ago. Not
today and tomorrow.
MADDOW: On more pedestrian terms, is it strategically important
either, should we look at it strategically important that is has now taken
a city from Bashar al-Assad`s troops and is it strategically important that
they do seem to control ever more oil and gas infrastructure inside Syria?
ENGEL: Yes and yes.
ENGEL: I think the fact that they are taking territory directly away
from the Syrian government is a problem. It`s showing how weak the Syrian
government has now become after four years roughly of constant fighting in
The Syrian government has been backed up a long time by Iran, by
Hezbollah. But those groups are stretched a little thin, too. And the
strategy that is in place right now, the U.S.-led strategy the Iranian
strategy, the Hezbollah strategy doesn`t seem to be working very
effectively to stop this group.
So I think, yes, that is significant. The fact that they have more
oil and gas, they have a state. They have a local economy. They can
smuggle oil and gas. They can sell antiquities, they can raise taxes, they
can loot government buildings, and government institutions. They can sell
Once you control territory and control population, we`re talking of a
population of millions that are now under their control, you can raise
MADDOW: Richard Engel, chief correspondent for NBC News, it is
always great to see you even when we talk about truly terrible things.
Thank you for being here. Nice to see you.
MADDOEW: All right. Still ahead, honestly, I promised it. I mean
it. Very viscerally, happy news out of Washington, D.C., of all places. I
Stay with us.
MADDOW: OK. So, Ireland is about to vote in just a few hours on a
referendum on gay marriage. It`s a referendum passes, Ireland will become
the first country in the world to legalize same-sex marriage by popular
Lots of countries have marriage equality at this point, but Ireland
would be the first to extend those rights by a nationwide popular vote by
Now, the polls look really good for the pro marriage equality side so
far. Polls out this weekend show the referendum support as high at 69
But you know what? The polls also looked really good to defeat the
anti-gay marriage called Prop 8 in California in 2008. But on election
night, 2008, even as the country elected our first African-American
president and elected lots of Democrats everywhere and it was a great night
for progressives, that same night, in that same election, people in very
blue California voted to approve Prop 8. They voted to overturn marriage
rights even though the polls said it was going to go the other way.
So, at least in this country, polling does not give you a very good
idea about how things are going to go, specifically on the issue of gay
rights. We will find out if that holds in true in Ireland, as well, in
just a few hours. Watch this space.
MADDOW: Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan seen here pumping iron doing
a, in hindsight, amazing photo shoot for “Time” magazine. Paul Ryan`s
intense workout routine was kind of a weird part of his mass marketed
supposed appeal as a 2012 vice presidential candidate for the Republican
Party. And maybe that was good enough for 2012.
We`ve got news for Congressman Ryan and all the large biceped people
in our nation`s capital, the bar has just been raised, big time.
MADDOW: December 1983, “Parade” magazine wrote an article on
personal health and working out and thoughts on how to stay fit. Overall,
it`s unremarkable except for the author. It was written by then President
Ronald Reagan. There he is, working on those quads.
He says, “In my view, every exercise program should have an outdoor
element to it,” which is fascinating. And then he proves it with
presidential pumping firewood.
And we`ve got President George Bush who was an avid runner and tennis
player and wasn`t afraid to be seen doing either.
And then came President Clinton jogging around D.C. or through
whatever city he was visiting, flanked, led and trailed by Secret Service.
In the second Bush White House, it wasn`t just the president himself
being seen publicly working out, it was also the national security adviser
and secretary of state.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CONDOLEEZZA RICE, FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE: I`ll go with kind of a
workout on the elliptical or a treadmill which I have at home. I put in a
little gym at my apartment. I`ll go every morning for 40 or so minutes on
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: First Lady Laura Bush did some public working out,
explaining her workout was not as intense as Secretary Rice`s. The first
lady said she wasn`t waking up at 4:30 in the morning. She said she walked
and she liked to lift weights of 3 to 5 pounds.
Now, in this White House, yes, everybody has heard about President
Obama`s jump shot and his pickup basketball games. We`ve seen Vice
President Joe Biden curling weights like it`s no big deal.
But the big force pushing fitness and health in this White House has,
of course, been the first lady. Behold this and wonder.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You want to make sure you keep your elbows tucked
in. You don`t want to use a whole arm swing. Just nice and easy turns of
the wrist. And it is very good for hand and eye coordination and for
timing and things to that nature.
Really love to use boxing for conditioning, for hand and eye
coordination, for transference of power, learning how to move from point A
to point B and bring your power with you and because it`s fun.
It`s also great to learn to incorporate kicks with it. So, in this
particular thing, we`re going to do a jab cross and then we do a round
MICHELLE OBAMA, FIRST LADY: Don`t forget, always drink up.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: OK. So there`s the footwork and the jump rope routine.
There`s her form on the incline bench press. Those are 35 pound dumbbells,
one in each hand. The round house kick while boxing.
I mean, nine years ago, Laura Bush was talking about long walks and
three pound weights. Now, the first lady is doing round house kicks and
using a heavy bag. And the heavy bag is worth for it (ph).
I`m not saying one workout is better than the other. I`m just saying
in a world where we have spent the last 30 years of fawning over the
fitness exploits of people in the White House and around it, the first lady
of the United States right now just kicked everybody`s butt. Seriously.
That does it for tonight. We`ll see you again tomorrow. I`m going
to the gym.
Now, it`s time for “THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL”.
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