The Rachel Maddow Show, Transcript 6/17/2016

Sohail Ahmed

Date: June 17, 2016
Guest: Sohail Ahmed

JOY REID, MSNBC ANCHOR: That is “ALL IN” for this evening. Catch me
tomorrow morning on my show, “A.M. JOY”, where I`ll have an exclusive
interview with former Florida Governor Charlie Crist. That`s 10:00 a.m.
So, don`t miss it.

THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW starts right now.

Good evening, Rachel, and TGIF.

RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC ANCHOR: TGIF, Joy Reid and Charlie Crist.

REID: Yes.

MADDOW: That`s very exciting. I`ll get up for that.

REID: Thank you.

MADDOW: Thanks, Joy. Have a great weekend.

REID: You, too.

MADDOW: And thanks to you at home for joining us this hour.

It is Friday. Honestly, this is one of those weeks that has been
approximately 55 days long. And so, on this Friday, I have a present for
you. It`s from “The Onion.” Ready?

“U.N. warns Trump may be seven months away from acquiring nuclear weapons.”
“According to an alarming new global risk report published Tuesday by the
U.N. Office for Disarmament Affairs – not a real thing – presumptive GOP
presidential nominee Donald Trump may be just seven months away from
acquiring nuclear weapons.”

Quote, “A year ago, the threat didn`t seem great enough to warrant serious
concern, but at this moment, a nuclear-capable Trump is a very real and
very imminent possibility. The agency`s current projections showed Trump
potentially procuring nuclear weapons as early as January of next year.”

Quote, “The longer we wait to act, the closer he comes to obtaining a
nuclear arsenal. The final red line for preventing him from acquiring this
devastating capability comes in early November. If he is not properly
dealt with before then, there will be no way to stop him from going

It`s “The Onion,” it`s not real. But you know, it is also real, which is
what makes it as funny as it is scary. But there you go. That`s your
happy Friday present.

My friend Pauline sent me that last night in the middle of the night. Now,
I am sending it to you as well. You`re welcome. Happy Friday.

I got to warn you, we have got sort of an unusual show tonight. Tonight,
we are building the show in large part around a guest on who you have never
met before but who is here tonight for “The Interview.” I think “The
Interview” is going to sort of blow your mind.

“The Interview” guest is joining from us London. We actually tried to get
him here to New York to this studio to do this interview in person tonight
and we were not successful at our efforts to get him into this country.
He`s going to be joining us live from London tonight. And then NBC`s chief
foreign correspondent Richard Engel is going to be joining us live from
Istanbul right after “The Interview”, specifically because of who this
guest is. We want to talk to Richard about it.

So, “The Interview” is kind of a big deal. It`s coming up in just a moment
on this show. I think it`s going to make everybody crazy when we get to
that part of the show. So, please stay tuned for that. We`ve been working
on this for a long time.

But I should also tell you tonight, as we speak, there is a Donald Trump
event under way just north of Houston. This has been a two-day Texas swing
for the Republican presidential candidate. Most Republicans would not be
bothering to hold rallies in a red state like Texas in the general election
campaign right now, because most Republicans could safely assume they would
carry a state like Texas, even if they never even gestured vaguely toward
the state during the duration of the campaign, let alone showed up and
rented an arena and did a whole event.

Maybe the Donald Trump campaign is insecure about its prospects in Texas.
Maybe they believe the Democrats when the Democrats frankly bluff and say
they`re going to put Texas in play this year. I don`t know why he`s there.

But Donald Trump has just spent two straight days in Texas. Not just doing
fund-raisers there with rich Texas GOP donors. But also doing big public

Tonight at his ongoing event north of Houston, there was a big hubbub when
this African-American man was arrested outside the Trump event, reportedly
for having a gun. The initial reports when this man was arrested was that
he had a gun in a parking garage adjacent to the Trump event and that`s
ominous, it would be scary sounding if it`s true, it would make sense the
guy was arrested, except the fact that this is Texas.

You might remember yesterday at Donald Trump`s rally in Dallas, you
couldn`t swing a cat without bumping into some guy proudly brandishing an
enormous gun while he walked around outside the Trump event even though he
didn`t work for any law enforcement agency. Tons of open carry guys at the
Dallas event. We`ve had a report the guy at the Houston event was arrested
for having a gun. So, we are waiting for more details from the Secret
Service or local police about what was initially described as a gun
possession arrest in Woodlands, Texas, tonight, at this Donald Trump event.
Right now, that whole situation is a little bit murky.

Tomorrow, Mr. Trump will continue his unusual red state tour with a fund
raiser and a rally in red state Arizona. Specifically he`s going to be
doing this fund-raiser tomorrow at the former home of Barry Goldwater –
the home where Barry Goldwater announced his ultimately disastrous 1964 run
for the presidency. That bid for the presidency in `64 did result in Barry
Goldwater winning the Republican presidential nomination, but then of
course, it also resulted in him getting walloped in the 1964 general
election along with Republicans up and down the ballot from coast to coast.

So, this fund-raiser that Donald Trump is doing at Barry Goldwater`s former
home in Arizona tomorrow, it is awkward because of that political
resonance. Controversial far-right nominee of the Republican Party brings
disaster on himself and the entire Republican Party come general election,
that`s awkward.

It`s also awkward because Barry Goldwater`s family continues to speak out
about how much Barry Goldwater, had he lived, how much he would have hated
Donald Trump as a presidential candidate.

In addition to what the Goldwater – members of the Goldwater family told
MSNBC a little while ago, which we reported last night, Barry Goldwater`s
widow also told this to “The Washington Post” today. When “The Post” asked
her about Donald Trump raising money for his presidential bid at the
Goldwater home this weekend, she said, quote, “Ugh or yuck is my response.
I think Barry would be appalled his home is being used for that purpose.
Barry would be appalled by Mr. Trump`s behavior – the unintelligent and
unfiltered and crude communication style. And he`s shallow – so, so

Asked what the late senator would think of Donald Trump as the Republican
Party`s nominee, Barry Goldwater`s widow said, quote, “Barry would be
appalled and ashamed. He held the office in high regard.” Meaning the
office of the presidency.

So, the Donald Trump going to Barry Goldwater`s house for a fund-raiser
tomorrow is very awkward. I mean, essentially, the Goldwater family is
saying that Barry Goldwater is spinning in his grave at the prospect of
Donald Trump arriving at his house. That said, it is supposed to be a
lovely house.

Barry Goldwater built the house in 1957. He named the house, forgive my
pronunciation here, Be-nun-i-kin, which is actually a Navajo word which
means “house on top of a hill.” And the Navajo name for Barry Goldwater`s
house writes us to the next awkward part of this red state swing for the
Republican candidate this year, because when Mr. Trump gets to Arizona he
had widely been expected to meet with leaders from the Navajo Nation.

The Navajo Nation spreads across three U.S. states including 250,000
people. Its capital is in Arizona. And Donald Trump had been expected to
meet with leaders of the Navajo Nation on this trip to Arizona, to offend
Barry Goldwater`s ghost tomorrow. But now today, the speaker of the Navajo
council has told us that no meeting is happening.

When Donald Trump hits Arizona tomorrow, despite all these reports he was
going to meet with the Navajos, he will not be meeting with the Navajos.
Which I`m sure will put a real dent in Donald Trump`s repeated and high-
profile outreach efforts to impress Native American voters.


Clinton has somebody – did you ever hear of Pocahontas? Huh? It`s
Pocahontas/Elizabeth Warren.

REPORTER: Elizabeth Warren, she seems to have made it her job –

TRUMP: Who, Pocahontas?

REPORTER 2: Is that offensive?

REPORTER: Should you use that term?

REPORTER 3: Very offensive, sorry.

TRUMP: No, I`m sorry about that. Pocahontas? Is that what you said?


MADDOW: So, that`s a Native American reporter, actually, suggesting at
that press conference, suggesting to Donald Trump that him using
“Pocahontas” as an insult is offensive. That`s what the word she used.
She said that`s offensive. His response was, oh, is it? Is it offensive?
Oh, I`m sorry about that, Pocahontas. There, I said it again.

So, no, we can report today that Donald Trump will not be meeting with the
leaders of the Navajo Nation when he is in Arizona. And, you know, all in
all, day one of Donald Trump`s second year running for the presidency,
which is today, day one of year two is not going great. Republican
Maryland Governor Larry Hogan just told reporters he will not support
Donald Trump for president, even though he`s the Republican nominee. The
powerful Michigan Republican Congressman Fred Upton has also just come out
publicly and said he will not support Donald Trump for president either.

And I got to tell you, “The Washington Post” had the most amazing verbatim
quote today from one of the first members of Congress who did come out and
endorse Donald Trump right when he started running. Duncan Hunter is a
California Republican congressman. Duncan Hunter came right out of the
gate endorsing Donald Trump. I believe he was one of the first if not the
first members of Congress to endorse Trump. And he`s been all over TV, all
over the media, supporting Donald Trump ever since.

But even good old Duncan Hunter at this point in the campaign, he`s getting
a little squishy about Donald Trump these days. I`m just going to – I`m
not going to edit this or elucidate this in any way. I`m just going to
read Duncan Hunter`s quotes about Donald Trump as spoken to Capitol Hill
reporters today, as transcribed today in the “Washington Post.” I`m just
going to read this directly. This is Duncan Hunter talking about Donald
Trump. Ready?

Quote, “I`m not going to comment on what he said, really. I`m not going to
comment. It`s all about Trump. Trump`s going to do what Trump`s going to
do. What I`m done with is trying to articulate or explain or answer for
what Donald Trump says. I think he`ll be a great president but it doesn`t
mean we endorse what he says. I think what he says and what he`ll do are
two different things.”

“Him talking about things” – this is a direct quote – “him talking about
things and saying things about things is different than him saying what
he`s going to do. But he says things about things that I don`t endorse and
I`m not going to try to articulate for him. Yes, it`s not my job to answer
for Donald Trump. Really, I`m not even a surrogate, I`m just an endorser.”

With that, Congressman Duncan Hunter walked back toward the floor to vote.

“He says things about things.” And that`s from somebody who likes Trump in
Congress. That`s the first Republican congressman out of the gate to
endorse Donald Trump. “He says things about things, it`s not my job to
answer for him.”

So things aren`t going great between the Republican Party, broadly
speaking, and their presidential nominee.

Meanwhile, things seem to be going in the opposite direction for the
Democratic Party`s nominee. The Hillary Clinton campaign announced today
they`re going to be doing a sort of remarkable Democratic event on Tuesday
that`s going to feature Hillary Clinton herself but also every single
member of the Democratic leadership in Congress. A Democratic fund raiser,
every member of the whole extended leadership of the Democratic Congress in
the House and the Democratic Congress in the Senate is going to be there
with Hillary Clinton.

Honestly, if this was a bipartisan thing, this is the kind of event for
which they would pick a designated survivor. They`ve got all their top
people all in one place with no exceptions. But Hillary Clinton is doing
stuff like this now because she is going through the process of bringing
all the elements of the Democratic Party to bear on her presidential run
against Donald Trump.

Now, Secretary Clinton has not yet given any indication of the timeline on
which she will announce her running mate. Remember Donald Trump says that
he`s not going to announce his running mate, his vice presidential running
mate, until the convention. Hillary Clinton has not said when she`s going
to announce her running mate but that`s sort of the next big shoe to drop
on the Democratic side.

I will say there was some pitter-pattering of Democratic hearts today at
Clinton headquarters in Brooklyn when a surprise appearance was made by
this one very high-profile vice presidential Democratic contender.




I wanted to be here to say thank you, but I also wanted to be here to say,
I`m with you all the way, we`ve got to get this done!


MADDOW: Two little snippets of video that we captured from Snapchat and
Facebook today as Elizabeth Warren made an unannounced visit to apparently
a rapturous welcome at Hillary Clinton`s campaign headquarters today in
Brooklyn, New York.

Now, what does that mean? I don`t know. Nobody knows if Elizabeth Warren
is going to get the V.P. nod from Hillary Clinton. It`s entirely possible
Elizabeth Warren was at Clinton headquarters today for unrelated reasons.

Clearly, she`s going to be an enthusiastic campaigner for Hillary Clinton
and against Donald Trump, whether or not she gets the running mate gig.
But things are really progressing on very different tracks right now in the
two parties. For better, for worse. It`s going to be a big weekend and a
big next week ahead.

Tonight, we`ve got lots to come, including a very unexpected guest here
tonight for “The Interview.” That is ahead, that`s next.

Stay with us.


MADDOW: I mentioned the next big shoe to drop in Democratic politics is
when Hillary Clinton is going to announce her vice presidential running
mate. But you know what? Here`s a few thousand other shoes that did just
drop in a different part of the Democratic Party and you should know about
this too.

In his online speech to his supporters last night, Vermont Senator Bernie
Sanders told the folks who love him most that they should continue the work
of his presidential campaign by running for office themselves, at the state
and local level. It was the one big ask he made of his supporters in this
long-awaited speech last night.

And that ask appears to have garnered a big response. The Sanders campaign
announced today that more than 6,000 people signed up at the Sanders
website to say that they`re potentially interested in running for office
themselves. They got interest from potential candidates for a majority of
statehouse seats, a major right of state Senate seats, from every single
congressional district in the country.

Now, we don`t know how the Sanders campaign/movement intends to help those
folks become winning candidates. But 6,000 plus new progressive Democratic
candidates just signed up to say they maybe want to run for office? That
is a big something for Democratic politics if this comes to fruition.

Watch this space.


MADDOW: All right, this is a little different. We`ve got a guest tonight
who`s here for “The Interview.” It was really hard to get him here. In
fact, we failed to physically get him here. The Department of Homeland
Security intervened in our plans and would not allow him into the country.
So, he will be joining us tonight by satellite.

But aside from that drama, he`s also someone who you`re kind of just going
to believe – you`re not going to believe he exists is the easiest way to
say it. He does exist, we have found him, you`re about to meet him.

But let me set it up this way. This week on Tuesday, a state Supreme Court
judge in New York gave out a really, really stiff sentence. There isn`t a
death penalty in New York state anymore but this is way down the number
line toward that severe end of a spectrum in the terms of the kind of
sentence you can get in New York state. He was sentenced for murder. It
was a guy who killed another man on the streets of New York in Greenwich
Village in 2013.

Earlier, the night of the murder, the man had run into a nice local
restaurant and screamed at people and started yelling homophobic slurs at
people in the restaurant, then pulled up his shirt and showed he was
carrying a gun, and he threatened to kill the bartender in the restaurant.
He then ran out onto the street, ended up encountering two men on the
street, and taunted them for being gay. He ended up basically sort of
chasing them down, screaming homophobic slurs at the two men, and then he
ended up shooting one of them in the face.

Mark Carson, 32 years old, died that night after getting shot. And the
police chased down the man who shot him and put him on trial for murder as
a hate crime.

And Elliot Morales acted as his own lawyer at that trial, which is always a
bad idea. His defense in part was that it couldn`t have been a hate crime
murder he committed even though he was screaming homophobic slurs the whole
time he was doing it, even though he targeted the victim apparently only
because he was gay, he said it couldn`t have been a hate crime that he
committed because he wasn`t straight himself.

The murder of Mark Carson, who chased Mark Carson down and shot him in the
face for being gay, says that couldn`t have been a hate crime because
although it wasn`t the kind of thing he made a habit of opening up in
public, in court, the murderer was happy to admit that his ex-girlfriend
and his other former sexual partners were transgender women. So that was
his defense.

That defense did not work. He got 40 years to life in prison. The judge
concluded that it was still a hate crime against a gay man even if the
killer was himself secretly bisexual and then willing to call himself that
in court.

In the aftermath of the Orlando massacre this week, the worst mass shooting
in American history, the biggest terrorist attack on U.S. soil since 9/11,
the deadliest single hate crime attack ever against Latinos and against gay
people, in the wake of Orlando, I think it is fair to say the LGBT
community was the least surprised to hear reports that emerged shortly
after the shooting that the killer himself might have been gay. There have
been reports this week that the killer went to the Pulse nightclub many,
many times before the shooting, that he had messaged various men through
gay dating apps, that he had asked men out socially. There are also
reports from his former wife and from his former co-workers that he
expressed violently anti-gay sentiments in private, in public, and at work.

Gay people have always believed that a good portion of the most virulent
and violent and truly dangerous homophobes in the world are those driven
not just by hatred of gay people, but by self-hatred – people who hate
themselves for being gay and they turn that hate outward on other gay
people. That means everything from the hate crime I was just talking about
to the quack doctors who was running the abusive reparative therapy, cure
you of being gay scam, who then turned up with the cute blond male
prostitute on his European vacation. It includes the legendary witch
hunting homophobe lawyer Roy Cohn who went from being Eugene McCarthy`s top
anti-gay McCarthyite henchman in Washington, to being a mob lawyer in New
York before himself dying of AIDS and never once admitting his own
sexuality while he ruined countless other people`s lives because of their

The gay community has long known that you can absolutely be gay and
virulently, even violently homophobic. But how do we understand what it
might mean for that screwed-up but familiar mess to intertwine with radical
Islam? There`s a lot we still do not know about what led to this
catastrophe in Orlando, this disaster.

But our guest tonight for “The Interview” is a little bit of a Rosetta
stone for trying to understand the dynamics at work here. His name is
Sohail Ahmed, his friends call him Sam. He`s British, he`s 24 years old,
he`s Muslim, he was born and raised in East London in a very, very
religious fundamentalist family.

He attended a Saudi-funded, fairly radical London mosque every day. He
even led prayers at the mosque during Ramadan. He was extremely devout.
He was a Salafi Wahhabi Muslim, which is a fundamentalist Saudi
interpretation of Islam that is associated in many parts of the world with
extreme radicalism and violent extremism.

Sohail was taught and believed, he said he believed that his country of
birth, the plate he was born, the U.K., was the enemy of Islam, was the
enemy of all Muslims, and that as a Muslim, he was therefore at war with
the U.K. even though he was a British citizen. By the time he was a
teenager, Sohail Ahmed said he was on the precipice of committing a
terrorist bombing in London. He was thinking about committing a terrorist
attack himself, in 2008, 2009.

Well, Sohail Ahmed now describes himself as a former radical Islamist. He
says he has changed his views entirely on radical Islam, on the
justification of violence. He`s changed his views entirely on the value of
his citizenship. He`s also come out as gay.

And the Department of Homeland Security intervened to stop him from
traveling to New York to be here in person for this interview. They turned
him back. Then when he got back to Britain, he was detained there as well
and they sent him home to London. But he is out of detention now after
quite an odyssey this week trying to get here.

And he joins us tonight live from London for “The Interview.” That`s next.


MADDOW: After the massacre in Orlando this week, the BBC in Britain did a
remarkable interview with a young man in London who was able to give a
perspective on what had just happened that is a unique perspective, to say
the least. Just listen to this.


SOHAIL AHMED, FORMER MUSLIM EXTREMIST: I`m ashamed to say that I think I
was pretty much on the precipice of committing a terror attack in my home
country in the U.K. in London. I was brought up as a Salafi Wahhabi, which
is a Saudi form of Islam. And I`m also gay.

And I think there was this strange kind of dynamic between the two whereby
I would kind of research all of these Islamic verdicts on what you should
do if you have homosexual feelings. Not if you`re gay, because they didn`t
accept the whole concept of being gay, no one`s gay, God doesn`t make
anyone gay.

So, I would research them and one thing would keep coming up again and
again. Be more religious, worship more. And basically because I was a
Salafi, I became more religious and that led me to becoming more radical.
So, it sounds really paradoxical in a sense. But I actually became more
radical because I was gay, in an attempt to cure myself of my


MADDOW: Joining us now live from London for “The Interview” tonight is
Sohail Ahmed. He`s a reformed former extremist. He`s been talking this
week in the wake of the Orlando shootings about being a gay Muslim, also a
reformed extremist.

Sohail, Mr. Ahmed, thank you very much for joining us tonight. I know this
was a bit of an ordeal. Thank you for being with us.

AHMED: You`re very welcome. It`s a pleasure being here.

MADDOW: Let me talk about the immediate circumstances just because it`s
been – I know it`s been a very tough week. You were scheduled to be here
in New York Wednesday night live to talk about what happened in Orlando
this past weekend. You were detained and questioned at JFK. You were sent
back to London.

Can I ask you what happened there? What they told you about why you were
stopped and why you didn`t – why you weren`t allowed in?

AHMED: Yes, basically I was taken away to the side into a separate room
and made to wait altogether for around eight hours during which I was
interviewed by a number of immigration and customs officers and then
members of the FBI Joint Task Force, the homeland security agents.

And basically – I understand what they were doing, they were basically
asking me about my background and about how I was a former Islamist and how
I was considering carrying out attacks at one point and who my
acquaintances were and how I had changed. Basically they wanted to learn
from my story. And they wanted to learn how they can kind of best fight

And they were really nice. By the end of it, I had become best friends
with all of them and they really kind of respect the work that I`m doing.

MADDOW: When you say they were nice and it ended in a friendly way, will
you be allowed to – did they give you any indication if you will be
allowed to come into the United States? They did turn you back and send
you back to England.

AHMED: Yes, they turned me back. They put me on a flight back to London.
And they said that the reason why was because my ESTA application under the
visa waiver program, considering I`m a British citizen, they basically said
that if I had had a visa, I would have been allowed in. However, because
there was an administrative error with the ESTA application, they couldn`t
allow me in.

And that together with the fact that the Orlando attacks had just happened
so recently and given my background and given the fact that there`s been a
recent spate of terror attacks in the European Union, the U.S. authorities
are basically worried about terrorists infiltrating the U.S. from Europe.
So basically, because of all of that together, I was not granted the right
to enter the U.S.

However, that said, the immigration officers and the customs officers who
interviewed me and the homeland security officers, they all completely –
they all agreed I should be allowed into the U.S., because they said the
work I`m doing is incredibly important.

MADDOW: The work you`re doing is in large part talking about not only
being a gay Muslim but also talking about the reform process that you went
through, what you described as having been on the precipice of having
committed a terror attack in the U.K.

When you say you were on the precipice of doing that, what do you mean by
that specifically?

AHMED: Basically, I was at one point seriously considering carrying out
attacks. And basically when I say that, what I meant is that the idea was
that I would basically make a homemade explosive device, plant it at a
location, and detonate it remotely.

I didn`t get into any planning. I didn`t actually take any steps to
actually commit this terror attack. I didn`t really kind of plan with
anyone. Thankfully I kind of stepped back from the edge before I did any
of that.

MADDOW: Why did you want to do it?

AHMED: Basically, I wanted to do it because – for a number of reasons
because I was living in a post-9/11 world where differences between Muslims
and non-Muslims were being entrenched in the Islamist community. And on
top of that, because I`m gay.

And basically, as you basically mentioned to your audience before, it was -
- I was trying to cure my sexuality by becoming more religious. Given that
I was a Salafi Muslim, that meant I was becoming more radical. So, it`s a
bit strange and it might seem a bit paradoxical. But that was the case
with me.

MADDOW: Sohail, you`re in your early mid-20s right now. So, you would
have been a teenager when you were thinking about doing this, high school
age, 16 or 17. Were you – was anybody else that – were you part of a
group? Was anybody else that you knew in on your plans or your thinking on
this? Did anybody know you were planning it? Was anybody helping you or
encouraging you to do this?

AHMED: Well, no one – I didn`t really tell anyone about it because I
didn`t want to get caught. I might have mentioned to a few of my closest
friends in passing, like half-jokingly. And generally, the people that I
was around thought like me. They were also Islamists.

So, they were generally kind of supportive whenever I would mention things
like that. That might sound shocking but that`s the case. But that is
basically what happened.

MADDOW: And, Sohail, did anybody who you knew from this time in your life,
either from your mosque or your peer group that was encouraging of you in
this, did any of those people end of committing attacks or going off to
join extremist groups overseas?

AHMED: Well, one of my friends, basically high school, he ended up
fighting in Syria. Initially, he went to Egypt to study Arabic. And then
from there, he went on to fight in Syria. And the reason why I know is
because he ended up calling me and he said, “Well, I`m fighting with the
brothers.” With the brothers, he meant with other Muslim people.

I don`t know who he was fighting with. He didn`t mention that to me. But
he said that he was enjoying it and he was basically trying to convince me
to come as well.

MADDOW: Sohail, if you can hold on, I need to take a quick break. But I`d
like to come back and talk with you about what made you decide to step back
from that precipice, and also your experience about come out to yourself
and your family as gay.


MADDOW: Stay with us, Sohail Ahmed. Appreciate it.

Sohail Ahmed is joining us from London. We`ll be right back with him in
just a moment. Stay with us.


MADDOW: Joining us again now live from London for “The Interview,” is
Sohail Ahmed. He`s a reform former Islamic extremist who`s been talking
this week in the wake of the Orlando shootings about being a gay Muslim
man, and also a reformed extremist.

Sohail, thank you again for being with us here. It`s good to have you

AHMED: You`re welcome.

MADDOW: So, you have talked about when you were a teenager a few years
ago, you had thought about committing an attack, you just said you intended
to remotely detonate some sort of improvised explosive if you were going to
do that.

What were you intending – what kind of damage were you intending to do?
Were you intending to kill people? Had you gotten that far in terms of
thinking about it? And did you have a target in mind?

AHMED: Well, I did have a specific target in mind. I was basically
thinking of carrying out an attack in Canary Wharf, which is a developed
area, a redeveloped area in East London, basically simply because of its
symbolic nature. It symbolizes the development of London and the – how
rich London is. And, yes, basically that was – that was the plan.

But I think one thing that I really want to mention is that when I was an
Islamist, there were lots of people who agreed with me. The fact is that
the Islamist ideology isn`t simply just a fringe minority view. It`s more
of – it`s a significant strain within Islam.

When I stopped becoming an Islamist, when I became de-radicalized, I was
suddenly struck with thinking, “wow, we`re really screwed if we`re in this
situation.” Which is why I`m doing the work I`m doing now as it relates to
countering extremism.

MADDOW: When you say that you became de-radicalized, you stepped back from
the precipice, you never participated in any sort of violent attack. What
caused that transition in you? What happened?

AHMED: There were a number of reasons. There was one guy in my high
school who would come into the prayer room and ask really difficult
questions about literalist Sharia law, about stoning people to death, and
killing apostates. And that kind of triggered a lot of doubts in me.

And also on top of that, there was the – when 7/7 happened, I –
initially, I was supportive of it. I`m ashamed to say, because I was an
Islamist then. However, slowly as time went on, I started to kind of think
that this really just doesn`t seem right. The people that died were
Londoners just like me. This is my city that was attacked.

And then basically I kind of started having doubts about my views. And I
then started looking at the work from the Quilliam Foundation, which is a
U.K. think tank, the world`s first counter-extremism think thank. And I
started reading their writings, watching their media appearances. And
basically, I was convinced by them that the Islamist way of thinking isn`t
the way to go ahead and is an evil ideology and an insidious ideology, and
that it must be stopped in its roots.

MADDOW: At the same time, you were coming to terms with being gay?
Acknowledging that to yourself.

AHMED: Yes, yes.

MADDOW: Eventually acknowledging that to your friends and ultimately your
family. How did that intertwine with that process you were going through?

AHMED: See, what happened is I became de-radicalized way before I even
came out to myself. I wasn`t even out to myself. I didn`t accept the fact
that I was gay. I didn`t know the fact that I was gay.

All I knew is that I had same-sex attractions but I assumed that they were
simply there as a – temporarily, or that I was possessed, or that it was a
deviation of my internal nature. But basically after I became de-
radicalized, the final thing that I changed my mind on and that I managed
to gather the courage to change my mind on was my sexuality. And the way I
did that was researching, looking at scientific studies on the topic of
sexuality because I wouldn`t study – I wouldn`t trust my own feelings.

So, when I looked at that, I realized being gay is natural. It`s not a
choice. You can`t change it. That`s when I came out to myself.

Then I studied progressive liberal interpretations of Islam of which there
are many. And I was convinced by them. The LGBT positive interpretations,
I was convinced by them. And then I was, for the first time ever, happy to
be Muslim and happy to be gay.

MADDOW: After this Orlando attack that`s happened here in the States this
week, there are some questions and there`s some foggy reporting about the
shooter`s sexual orientation, questions about maybe – whether obviously he
was violently homophobic, attacking a gay bar in the way that he did. But
this questions as to whether he may also be personally gay.

I wonder if that question about him resonates at all with you, growing up
in an intensely religiously anti-gay environment and then coming out to
yourself through that difficult process of acknowledging. Does that
resonate with you at all?

AHMED: Absolutely. It completely resonates with me. In fact – just
imagine you`re brought up believing that you`re an abomination, that you`re
evil, and that you should hide who you are. That would result in
internalized homophobia which would then extend to externalized homophobia.

On top of that, given that there are significant and mainstream
conservative traditionalist interpretations of Islam that stipulate that
gay people should be killed, it`s not surprising that he did end up on a
shooting spree. That together with the fact that he was mentally ill and
that – also, and primarily I would say, the Islamist ideology, all of that
together basically led him to, in my view, carry out this attack.

And I can`t stress enough the Islamist ideology, because what it does is
that it provides the framework to channel all the grievances and all the
issues and the problems a person has towards one direction – the end goal
of which is to carry out mass terror attacks.

MADDOW: Sohail Ahmed, it`s been really enlightening to talk to you just
because you have a perspective on this that very few people in the world
have and I think a lot of people would not have man imagined before meeting
you here tonight. Thank you for talking with us and good luck to you.

AHMED: You`re very welcome.

MADDOW: Thanks, Sohail.

AHMED: Thank you.

MADDOW: I should say, with the Orlando shooter, again, this is – we don`t
know that the Orlando shooter was gay. I`m not even sure that the word
“gay” has just one meaning when thinking about somebody who has done what
he did, regardless of his previous sexual history. But the perspective of
somebody like Sohail Ahmed is obviously a unique and uniquely important one
at a time like this. And I`m happy we finally got him here.

After this conversation, there`s one person I want to talk to about it, NBC
chief foreign correspondent Richard Engel joins us live next.



AHMED: Basically, I was at one point seriously considering carrying out
attacks. And basically when I say that, what I meant is that the idea was
that I would basically make a homemade explosive device, plant it at a
location, and detonate it remotely.

I didn`t get into any planning. I didn`t actually take any steps to
actually commit this terror attack. I didn`t really kind of plan with
anyone. Thankfully I kind of stepped back from the edge before I did any
of that.


MADDOW: Sohail Ahmed speaking with me from London just moments ago.

NBC`s chief foreign correspondent Richard Engel recently did a big
reporting effort with American citizens who became radicalized here in the
U.S. before leaving this country to travel overseas to join ISIS. After
this interview with reformed Islamic extremist Sohail Ahmed from London
tonight, my friend Richard Engel joins us now live from Istanbul to talk
about it.

Richard, thank you for staying up until the dead of night to join us. I
really appreciate you being here.

rising in Istanbul. So, good morning from Saturday.

MADDOW: To you – I know you were able to hear this interview that I just
did with Sohail Ahmed.

ENGEL: Yes, very interesting.

MADDOW: I wanted to ask you, obviously there`s the issue of him being a
gay former Islamic extremist. Aside from that, does his story dovetail
with the kind of stories that you heard from American extremists?

ENGEL: Well, I didn`t hear anyone who had exactly his story, which is very
unique, but it is – it does fit the kind of profile that ISIS is looking
for. A lot of times they get people who feel damaged in a way, people who
feel ostracized. A lot of the Europeans who have gone to ISIS were ex-drug
dealers, people who had criminal records, weren`t successful at home,
wanted to exchange their old thug life for one that they thought would be
pious and that would give them instant access to heaven.

So, by going there, you not only become a hero to ISIS. It`s a way of
expunging all expunging all of your own – all of your old sins. In the
U.S., there were a lot of different people, of the people we profiled, a
lot of different backgrounds.

But generally, they were people who were looking for something bigger.
They found themselves lost in American society. They found themselves
angry. They were influenced by this, what he was calling the Islamist
mind-set, where the world appears black and white and everything around
them is – seems evil and the cards are stacked against them as Muslims,
and here is this white alternative. Here is this perfection that ISIS is
offering. And they fell for it.

MADDOW: And you know, what you`re saying there, and I think stuck with me
– that`s what stuck with me about what I thought was the most resonate
thing that Sohail just told me, which is what the Islamic the extremists
want is for you to take any grievance you have, any beef you`ve got with
the world, any way you think you`ve been wronged, whatever it is, put it
all in to what they`re doing. Use anything you`ve got, even if it`s a
mental illness, as long as it channels you towards committing a violent act
and they can claim it, they`ll take it. They don`t care what your
motivation is.

And that does open them up to be taking not only people who feel oppressed
for any reason but also people who are just sick or criminally inclined.

ENGEL: Well, this part of the world – and by the way, there are plenty of
gay people in the Middle East. But generally, this part of the world does
not welcome homosexuals. It is not particularly welcoming. And they are
seen as people who have a disease and can be cured.

And people will – it`s not uncommon in this part of the world for fathers
to take their sons to the cleric, who will teach them exactly what this
young man was saying earlier. They need to be more religious, they need to
study more, and they will find a way out of this predicament of
homosexuality. That is one kind of – that can set up all kinds of
contradictions, that could lead people to join extremist groups.

But there are many others – failing at school, failing at life, failing to
find a job. Whatever it happens to be, this mind-set will say to you, it`s
not your fault. These things happen. And there`s a way out of it. And
that is through redemption, through Islam, through radical Islam. And then
you go down that path, then the ultimate sign of your devotion would be to
sacrifice your life for the cause.

MADDOW: Yes, it`s devastatingly simple and devastatingly wrong and

NBC News foreign news correspondent, Richard Engel, just before dawn for us
in Istanbul tonight – Richard, thank you. It`s great to have you here.

ENGEL: Good to be here.

MADDOW: Thanks, my friend.

All right. We`ll be right back. Stay with us.


MADDOW: This is the worst correction ever. This is the worst correction
ever. This is worse than me saying that the Pacific Ocean was the Indian
Ocean. Oh, no, I mean the Atlantic.

This is – I`m going to say a million Hail Marys. I will tithe to the
people of Minnesota.

Earlier in the show, I was talking about the legendary witch hunting,
closeted homophobe lawyer Roy Cohn, who I should have said worked for
Senator Joe McCarthy of Wisconsin, but my mistake, I said he worked for
Eugene McCarthy, the senator from Minnesota, who is a very different guy.
Ran for president in 1968 as an opponent of the Vietnam War, part of the
reason my mom became a United States citizen was to vote for Eugene

Eugene McCarthy of Minnesota very much opposed the witch hunting carried
out by Joe McCarthy of Wisconsin.

I am a freaking idiot. We`ll be right back. Sorry.


MADDOW: So in a campaign where we have already seen a lifetime`s worth of
political ads, it is a real struggle to stand out in the crowd, no matter
the race. Or at least that was the real struggle in the presidential race,
until this ad just hit the air waves.

All right, it`s Friday, it`s been a tough week, just sit back, just watch
this. Let this wash over you. Go on. Watch.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It`s a dangerous time for Americans. We need a
president who can grasp the complexity of the world and hold off the
decline of a great nation.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I want a president who will keep me and my family

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I want a president who can handle the economy.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That`s why we want to talk to you about Donald Trump.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: If the White House phone rings at 3:00 a.m., will his
little hands even pick up the receiver?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: How can he make jobs when his hands are too small to
shake on the deal?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When he decides to launch his nuclear war, will his
stubby fingers even be able to push the button all the way down?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: America deserves his hand measurements.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It`s time our country learns every inch of the truth.
So, we`ve launched Americans Against Insecure Billionaires with Tiny Hands

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Go to to sign our petition.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Together, we can learn if Donald Trump can truly handle
being commander in chief.

Paid for Americans Against Insecure Billionaires with Tiny Hands PAC and
not authorized by any candidate or candidates` committee.


MADDOW: Not just for your liberal aunt`s Facebook page anymore. I`ve got
to tell you, this ad is airing on TV! In a very select market, I will
admit, but Americans Against Insecure Billionaires with Tiny Hands PAC did
scrounge up enough money to apparently start running this in the D.C.
market on cable and, you know, I`m not saying that Donald Trump has baby
hands. I do not want to propagate that vicious and well-contested rumor.
As far as I can tell, he has very normal, adult human-sized hands and
fingers. But – very gentle. Very gentle.

That does it for us tonight. We`ll see you again on Monday.

Now, it`s time for “HARDBALL WITH CHRIS MATTHEWS.” Have a good weekend.


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