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The Rachel Maddow Show, Transcript 06/24/15

Guests: Paul Butler, John Hawkins

THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW starts now. Good evening, Rachel. RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: Good evening, Chris. Thanks. HAYES: You bet. MADDOW: And thanks to you at home for joining us this. There were a lot of moving parts in the news cycle today. In terms of big policy issues -- the trade bill got a lot closer to passing today. This is the Trans Pacific trade deal on. And on this deal, the weird political accommodations, right? It`s the Republicans and President Obama who like the bill. Most Democrats who are not President Obama dislike this bill and they`ve been organizing against it. But those Democrats appear to have been be outmaneuvered and outflanked by this odd Obama and the Republicans coalition today. So, there`s been months of fighting about this. There`s been just a whipsaw back and forth about the fate of this thing. But it looks like the trade deal is on track to pass tomorrow. Maybe. Fat lady still not singing, although she`s very nice. That will be the major thing in Washington to watch tomorrow. It was the big news today on domestic policy. Now in terms of domestic politics, there was a new entry into the 2016 presidential race today. Whoo-hoo! Just what we need! And in addition tom, a giant new wrench was also thrown into the works today in terms of the FOX News Channel and the Republican Party and their plan for how they want to run their Republican presidential primary this year. We`re going to have more on that. It turns out the new wrench in the works is kind of hilarious. But the biggest news in the country today, all of the biggest news stories in the country today ended up being about terrorism and national security, and people who kill and capture Americans for ideological and terrorizing reasons. First, there was President Obama at midday today, announcing the creation of a hostage recovery fusion cell in the federal government. So, Americans held hostage abroad by terrorist groups like ISIS, will now have a coordinated law enforcement counterterrorism team operating here at home to try to secure their release and communicate with their families and make decisions about negotiations and potential rescue attempts and diplomatic strategies and all the rest. Apparently, a senior FBI official will head up this hostage recovery fusion team. The team will also include officials from the Pentagon and the Justice Department and the State Department and the CIA, among other agencies. The families of hostages who`ve been held by terrorist groups abroad over the last few years have been pretty critical of the way they`ve been treated by the U.S. government and the fact they did not feel supported, they did not feel that the resources of the U.S. government were effectively brought to bear to try to free their loved ones. The president today in making this announcement about this new fusion cell, he frankly and soberly apologized for the U.S. government having not done right by hostages` families thus far. He apologized for the U.S. government, not doing something like this fusion cell idea before now. But as of today, per the president`s announcement, that new policy is in place. And then as the president was making that announcement about the hostage stuff today, we also got surprising news from another one of these nexuses of terrorism and national security and murder. As the president was making this announcement about the hostage recovery fusion cell that he is creating, we got news today that the defendant convicted in one of the most spectacular terrorist attacks in this country since 9/11, we got news that defendant would choose to speak publicly today. We didn`t know he was going to but he chose to speak today in the courtroom as his sentence was being handed down for the Boston marathon bombing. Dzhokhar Tsarnaev today speaking at his sentencing. He did not take that opportunity to issue some kind of call to jihad or some attempted justification for what he and his brother did. Instead, I think this surprised a lot of people, he took that opportunity to apologize, and said he was praying for the survivors of the Boston marathon bombing, he was praying for the families of the victims who were killed. He cried during his statement. He said he regretted what he did. And that was basically the last word in his trial before his death sentence was formally handed down by the judge in this case. Now, even though that bombing was in Massachusetts, even though his trial took place in ,Massachusetts, and the statement in the courtroom today happened in Massachusetts, this prosecution was a federal prosecution. So, when he spoke today, he was in federal court, and that means there were no cameras recording it when he spoke. People never, ever see footage of him speaking today, because federal courts don`t allow cameras. And when he was done speaking today and he got his sentence, he was taken into federal custody to immediately begin spending the rest of his life in federal prison, whether or not his life ends with him being executed on death row. So, that happened today. And then as that was happening today, and the victims` families from the Boston marathon bombing and the prosecutors in that case were still grappling with that case finally being over and this spectacle of hearing, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev addressed the court and expressed his remorse -- as all that was happening today, we also then learn that it is also going to be a federal trial, a federal prosecution in the case of the Charleston, South Carolina black church massacre. "The New York Times" first to report today, so far alone to report today, that federal hate crimes charges are expected to be filed in the case of the Charleston church massacre, where a 21-year-old South Carolina man has reportedly already confessed to the murder of nine innocent African-American churchgoers who were at a bible study this night last week. He`s reportedly already told police that he committed that crime because of his own racism, because he is a white supremacist. He wanted to be known for spitting on the American flag and for flying the Confederate flag instead. He reportedly told police that he killed all those people. He killed those specific people in that specific place because he wanted to start a race war. That young man is in custody in South Carolina. He has reportedly confessed already. If federal hate crimes charges really are brought in this case, what does that mean in term of this young man`s prosecution? Does that change any possible sentence that he might receive? South Carolina has no hate crime charges among its statutes. The state can convict people with capital murder though. They do have the death penalty in South Carolina. I mean, the federal government has a choice to make as to whether or not they want to bring additional federal charges in a place the state charges are already being filed and already as serious as you can get. Why did, or why would the federal government chose to get involved in a case like this? And why hate crimes charges in particular? If "The New York Times" is right and this is going to be a federal prosecution in Charleston, what happens to this defendant in terms of the way his case is handled and specifically in terms of the attention and the publicity he may want to get for his supposed cause through the venue of his trial? At this intersection of mass murder and terrorism and hate crimes, this reported federal intervention into the South Carolina case raises some really interesting questions about how much we will ever to hear from this perpetrator, right, about why he did what did he and whether or not we have to hear about it from him. And all of those questions arrived today with this headline in "The New York Times". All of these questions today arrived before the victims in Charleston are even buried. Today, the pastor of the Mother Emanuel AME Church, State Senator Clementa Pinckney, today, he laid in state at the South Carolina state capitol under the rotunda there for hours. Clementa Pinckney served as a state senator for the past 15 years in South Carolina. These incredible long lines of people that cued up today to pay their respects to him in Columbia. There are reports that some people fainted from heat exhaustion while they were standing in that long, long line outside today, outside the state capitol. It`s 97 degrees in South Carolina, with a heat index of 109 degrees. But, still, people stood in line for blocks and blocks and blocks and blocks, for hours for the chance to file past his coffin inside the state capitol. Apparently, when they decided they would give Senator Pinckney this honor of laying him out at the state capitol for the viewing, his fellow state senators signed up for 30-minute shifts to stand by his coffin so he wouldn`t be alone at any point during the day in case not enough people showed up to see him, that turned out not to be a problem today. We`re not 100 percent sure but it appears from the records that we got access to that Senator Pinckney may be the first African-American to have ever laid in state at the South Carolina state capitol. South Carolina legislators over the last 48 hours have moved quickly to consider legislation, to potentially take down the Confederate battle flag that flies on the grounds of the state capitol in South Carolina. But those discussions haven`t happened yet. That legislation hasn`t been filed yet. And neither the legislature nor Governor Nikki Haley today took action to even temporarily remove that flag out of respect for Senator Pinckney as his body laid at the capitol. So, that Confederate flag still flew at the state capitol today with his body inside in the rotunda. They did roll a sort of black drape thing over the window that would have looked out on that flag from the capitol, from where his casket was. So, they covered the window so you wonderful see it licks but they did leave it flying there full staff. On Friday, the day after tomorrow, thousands of people are expected at the College of Charleston, actually at the basketball arena at the College of Charleston because it has a large seating capacity. That arena is going to be used for the site for Senator Pinckney`s formal funeral. And that itself is a little tough to take given the circumstances of this massacre in which Senator Pinckney and those eight other churchgoers were killed. And the reason that is a little tough to take is because of this one specific thing about the College of Charleston, which is specifically the president of the College of Charleston. The president of that school was just appointed to that post last year amid quite a bit of local controversy. The College of Charleston students protested his opponent in large numbers. The college faculty passed a unanimous resolution of no confidence in the board that chose this man to be president of the college. The reason there was all this furor around him being picked for the college president`s job is because the thing that College of Charleston president Glenn McConnell is most known for in the state is being this guy. Glenn McConnell is a member of the Sons of Confederate Veterans. As a state legislator in South Carolina, he led the fight to keep that Confederate battle flag flying at the state capitol. Part of the reason he became president of the College of Charleston last year is basically because he had ascended to a place in state government where it became too awkward to have him in such a visible role. You see, Glenn McConnell was a state senator. He ended up becoming the highest ranking state senator is in the state. He was president pro temp of the Senate. And then, the lieutenant governor of South Carolina had to resign in a totally unrelated scandal. And the line of succession in South Carolina says that if the lieutenant governor has to go for any reason, whoever the president pro temp is, moves up and takes that job. Moves up and takes the lieutenant governor job. So, Glenn McConnell sort of accidentally became the lieutenant governor of South Carolina. And that ended up being untenable for somebody like Glenn McConnell to have that kind of a high level state-run job, because Glenn McConnell is a Confederate civil war re-enactor, he is a Sons of Confederate Veterans activist. He is the most aggressive and visible defender of the Confederate flag on the state capitol grounds in the state legislature at the time that he was ascended to the statewide job. I mean, it was too awkward to hold a statewide leadership position once photos like this started floating around, right? This is him dressed up like a Confederate soldier at a slave themed plantation party. The other thing that Glenn McConnell did besides being the most visibly pro-Confederate that state senator in South Carolina, the other thing he did for his job is that he ran a Confederate themed souvenir store in Charleston until 2006, basically a Confederate flag gift shop. That was his other job besides being a state senator. And so, part of the reason he became the president of the College of Charleston last year is that the state government needed something else for him to do. They needed somewhere soft for him to land after it became too awkward, too creepy to have him in a statewide leadership role as lieutenant governor. And so, he couldn`t be the lieutenant governor and now he is a college president. And being a college president in South Carolina right now is an interesting and high profile thing. Since the Charleston massacre, presidents of all of these South Carolina universities, every major university in the state, and frankly most of the minor ones as well, presidents of all of these universities and colleges in South Carolina have all joined the call for the state government to take down the Confederate flag at the statehouse. Glenn McConnell of the College of Charleston is the only college president who has not. Even Bob Jones University -- Bob Jones University banned interracial dating until the year 2000. Even the president of Bob Jones University has spoken out and said South Carolina should take down the Confederate flag at the capitol. But not this one college president at the College of Charleston -- which is now perhaps by logistics about, to host 5,000 people for the funeral of reverend and state senator, Clementa Pinckney. President Obama will be there in person for that funeral. He will deliver the state senator`s eulogy. The First Lady Michelle Obama will be there. Vice President Biden will be there. Congress has canceled all votes on Friday so members of the House can go to the funeral. That will be Friday. The leaders of the federal government basically decamping to South Carolina to pay their respects, as the federal Justice Department says it will take on this prosecution, and as the South Carolina state government today for all its intentions to take this flag down sometime in the future, the South Carolina state government today made sure that this Confederate flag still flew, over the horse drawn carriage that carried Senator Pinckney`s president to the state capitol to lie in state. I guess they thought they couldn`t bear to take it down even for a few hours, even just for the moments it took on let his body pass by it. Joining us now to talk about what it means that the federal government may be filing hate crime charges in this case is Paul Butler. He`s a professor of law at Georgetown University. He`s a former federal prosecutor. Mr. Butler, thanks very much for being here. It`s nice to see you again. PAUL BUTLER, GEORGETOWN UNIVERSITY: It`s great to be here. MADDOW: So, if the Justice Department does file hate crimes charges, what does that mean in material of how this is going to be prosecuted? Obviously, the state is expressing interest and prosecuting for capitol murder. BUTLER: The law is expressive. We can`t bring back the nine lives that were snuffed out in Charleston. We can`t reverse the injury that a criminal does. But how that injury is described sends a powerful message. Here, the shooter extinguished the lives of nine African-American people, but he crushed the souls of every African-American. He enhanced a sense of vulnerability that comes from 400 years of racialized violence. The Justice Department is saying that that white supremacist motive needs to be acknowledged in the criminal process. Now, as a practical matter, it doesn`t make a difference in term of the sentence that he gets. There`s no death penalty for a federal hate crime. There is for a federal terrorism charge as we know from the Boston massacre shooting. But this is really more symbolic. It`s a way to acknowledge that racism is a major part of the reason that Mr. Roof acted. And so, it ought to be part of criminal resolution. MADDOW: You mentioned the prospect, at least the analogy of federal terrorism charges. In your opinion as a former prosecutor, and just somebody looking at the facts of the case, is it possible that terrorism charges could have also been considered in this case at the federal level? BUTLER: Absolutely. The federal domestic terrorism law says that if you attempt on commit a crime with the intent to coerce or intimidate a group, you`re guilty. You know, too often when it is an Arab or Muslim person who commits mass murder, we understand that`s a political act. We describe it as terrorism. When it`s a white person, we talk about mental illness or some kind of emotional breakdown. It`s almost as though, white privilege extends even to white people who are accused of mass murder. But if you look at the facts, domestic terrorists who look like Mr. Roof have killed more people than ISIS and al Qaeda combined. The first domestic terrorism law, the Ku Klux Klan act of 1871 was designed, targeted as race based violence. That was 1871. In 2015, African-Americans still need equal protection of the law. MADDOW: Are you encouraged that if these hate crime charges are brought at the federal level, however it has worked out in terms of the sequencing of prosecution and the venue this will be played out, are you encouraged that there will be additional federal resources brought to bear? Just the Department of Justice`s resources brought to bear on this, to make sure this prosecution is as aggressive as it possibly can be? BUTLER: Absolutely. The Justice Department has great prosecutors and it has the be agents, the investigators, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the best law enforcement agency in the world. So, it`s great to have these resources on the case. In addition, in South Carolina, we`ve got nine murder charges. The evidence seems clear. The lawyers understand, you never know what a jury is going to do. So, if something goes wrong in South Carolina with the state case, the federal case also provides insurance that justice can still be served. MADDOW: Paul Butler, former federal prosecutor, Georgetown University law professor, very clarifying, sir. Thank you very much for being here. I really appreciate it tonight. BUTLER: Great to be here. Thank you. MADDOW: All right. We`ve got much more to come on this topic and much more including what I am hearing is some breaking news which we`ll have right after we come back. Stay with us. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: We have some breaking news tonight in the case of the two convicted killers who escaped from that maximum security prison in Upstate New York earlier this month, and no, they are not yet caught. But tonight, NBC News has a learned that a corrections officer at the prison from which these men escaped has been arrested, in connection with the escape. The details are still coming in on this, but we have learned tonight that this male 57-year-old corrections officer has been charged with promoting prison contraband with tampering with physical evidence and with official misconduct. What exactly did he do? It`s not totally clear yet. But apparently this officer was placed on administrative leave last week as part of the ongoing investigation into the escape. But tonight, something has changed and they have decided to officially arrest him. He is now the second prison employee to be arrested in connection with this escape after a supervisor at the prison`s tailor shop was arrested and charged earlier this month. Now, tonight, with this officer`s arrest, we`re told he is expected to be arraigned tonight in a courtroom in Plattsburgh, New York. But again, the big bottom line is the search for these two escape prisoners is still ongoing and now heads into day 20. But a corrections officer has been arrested in connection with the escape. We`ll bring you more as this story develops. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: OK. So, NBC does those public service announcements called "The More You Know", right? (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) UNIDENTIFEID MALE: I know you`re busy, I know your kids are busy. Maybe it`s time you find out what they`re busy doing. If we want better kids, we`ve got to be better parents. And sometimes, that starts with something as simple as dinner. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: Simple, to the point. The more you know. I have always loved those things. I did one of those things which involved me saying the word crackalackin. You can look it up if you`re interested. I am too embarrassed to show it to you. But, today, in beloved homage to "The More You Know", we decided at our news meeting that we need our own version of this. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: The more we now know. The more you know. TRMS SENIOR PRODUCER MIKE YARVITZ: The more we now know? MADDOW: The more we now know -- the more we now know. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The more we know. MADDOW: You know. TRMS EXECUTIVE PRODUCER CORY GNAZZO: Or is it "we told you so"? TRMS SEGMENT PRODUCER JULIA NUTTER: OK. The more, colon, we know. (LAUGHTER) MADDOW: Why would you change "you" to "we"? We can keep the "you" the more, nevermind. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: It urns out it is very hard to riff on "the more you know" because the "the more you know" is perfect as it is. But you know what? The news cycle demands a riff. Are you ready? OK. What it`s called is -- you know more now. Thank you, Nick. Here goes. So, there`s like a thing that happens in the news cycle where the story ends is kind of a cliffhanger and you think you know where it ends up but you don`t really know where it ends up until you do. Until you know more now. And that story that left everyone when it first broke, it finally gets resolved. That`s the situation we`re in. So, for example, a few months ago, the very famous Waldorf Astoria hotel in New York City made some important and sort of worrying news. Every U.S. president since Herbert Hoover has stayed at the Waldorf Astoria when visiting New York. For decades, U.S. State Department officials have made the Waldorf Astoria their official headquarters while they`re in town for meetings of the U.N., which is based in New York. The U.S. ambassador to the U.N. for 50 years now has maintained a permanent residence at the Waldorf Astoria. Samantha Power lives there now. Francis Underwood`s wife would have had to move there had she been confirmed by the Senate in the "House of Cards". Right. So, when news broke a few months ago that a Chinese company with links to the Chinese government was buying the Waldorf Astoria hotel, that immediately raised these questions as to whether or not the U.S. would have to worry about the Chinese government spying on all these high level U.S. officials staying at that hotel. Turns out, we do not have to worry about it, because now we know. The State Department has decided that high level U.S. officials will no longer stay at the Waldorf Astoria. It looks like President Obama will not be checking in there again either. We now know because a Chinese company bought the Waldorf Astoria because of worries about Chinese spying on U.S. officials, the U.S. government is, in fact, abandoning the Waldorf hotel for the first time in generations. It has happened. We know how the story ends. They pulled the plug. You know more now. And here`s another example. Last month, we had Sister Megan Rice on this show after she had served two years in federal prison for breaking into a nuclear plant that stored uranium for nuclear warheads. Sister Megan is a Catholic nun, she is a beat your swords into plowshares Catholic anti-nuclear weapons activist. And she broke in to this nuclear site as an act of protest. Sister Megan was freed from prison before her sentence was up after a federal judge overturned the charges against her. But since she got out, there`s been this looming worry that 85-year- old Sister Megan might have to go back to prison if federal prosecutors appealed the judge`s ruling and basically put her on trial again. That worry has been looming for her ever since the 85-year-old Catholic nun got sprung from prison. Now we know what will happen to her. Sister Megan, the 85-year-old nun, is not going back to jail. Federal prosecutors have now announced that they are dropping it. They are leaving it be. She gets to stay free. They declined to appeal the case. You know more now. And here`s one more which is a stupefying one which broke today. This story first emerged during the protest in Baltimore over the death of Freddie Gray. On April 27th, the same day as Freddie Gray`s funeral, Baltimore police put out a super inflammatory super scary media advisory. Do you remember this? Baltimore Police Department, quote, "has received credible information that members of various gangs including the Black Gorilla family, the Bloods and Crips have entered into a partnership to, quote, `take out law enforcement officers`." The Baltimore police department called this explicitly a credible threat. They said law enforcement agencies should take precautions to ensure the safety of their officers. It was a scary thing, right? And the media ran with it like wildfire. Even though Baltimore police spokesperson at the time would not say how they learned of this threat, why they thought it was credible or whether or not it was all connected to the Freddie Gray demonstrations. Well, today, some important light was shed on this subject. Through a Freedom of Information Act request, Vice News got access to hundreds of pages of correspondence, among Homeland Security officials during the riots in Baltimore. It turns out that very shortly after the Baltimore police issued that advisory about gang members setting aside their differences and entering a partnership to kill police officers, very soon after the Baltimore PD announce that had intelligence, a number of federal officials thought there was something a little fishy about it. Quote, "Curious that the alert came from Baltimore Police Department media relations section instead of Baltimore Police Department intelligence unit, which is where we typically receive this info." A few hours later another Homeland Security employee says, quote, "FBI Baltimore has interviewed the source of this information and has determined this threat to be non-credible." So, despite the huge media play that was given to this supposed unified gang threat, once that supposed threat was found by the FBI to be bunk, there was no retraction. They just left it out there. Why not? So stories break. Sometime stories break off in mid stride and you don`t know how they will work out. But you know more now. Hence the nice man with the star. Thank you, Nick. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: Sometimes, history has a way of putting one super courageous person in exactly the spot that he or she needs to be in at exactly the right time. My guest for the interview is one of those people I`m really, really excited to talk to him. You have never seen him on TV before. But he`s here next. Please stay with us. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: I`m not sure where this would go on the number line of courage, but here you have it. The mayor of Williamson County, Tennessee, outside of Nashville, said today that they might, ought to, maybe reconsider the county seal which shows some farm animals and an open bible and also the Confederate flag draped over a cannon. Williamson County, Tennessee, adopted that seal in 1968. Not 1868 but 1968. As a symbol of exactly what you think it would be a symbol of when you made that decision in 1968. Now, the mayor says maybe that seal should go. Quote, "We need to look into the future and decide if this is something that needs to be addressed." So courage maybe. Since the racially motivated murders in that Charleston church last week, a week ago tonight, government officials high and low have been volunteering to get rid of their Confederate symbols, especially their Confederate flags. Tennessee, Virginia and North Carolina are all reconsidering their Confederate flag license plates. Last night on the show, we reported that Georgia Governor Nathan Deal said, quote, "He does not have a problem with his state`s Confederate plate." It turns out that after Governor Deal said he doesn`t have a problem with that Confederate flag plate, he then very quickly changed his mind. Now, Governor Nathan Deal says that plate should be changed. In Mississippi, where the state flag includes the Confederate emblem, the current and most recent governors have been basically saying, we don`t really want to have anything to do with this discussion please. Let`s talk about something else. Mississippi Senator Thad Cochran said yesterday that he had no opinion on the matter. But then today, Thad Cochran evolved. Yesterday, no opinion. Today, Thad Cochran joined the chorus for changing the Mississippi state flag. He called it his, quote, "personal hope". So, you`ll find elected officials, particularly conservative elected officials, all up and down the number line between courage and call me a maybe on this. Ask me a different one, right? You`ll find them all up and down that number lightning. But you will also find, here and there, not just a statement of courage, but actual action. In Alabama, this morning, with no advance notice and no fuss about it, Republican Governor Robert Bentley told Alabama state workers to take the Confederate flags down. Those flags are not flying at the Alabama state capitol anymore. He just did it. No muss, no fuss, he did it as his own say-so as governor. In moments of change and challenge like this, it sometimes takes a person to just do it. To just get off the dime and go do it. It sometimes takes somebody picking the fight when they are ready to pick the fight, when they`re in a position to do so and they`re ready to say that they personally are not willing to continue doing this thing that has been done before. Sometime, it just takes right person. This is John Hawkins. John Hawkins grew up in Water Valley, Mississippi, not far from the University of Mississippi, which most people call Ole Miss. And when John Hawkins was ready to go on college, he went to Ole Miss. And at the time, in the last `70s and early `80s, only about 7 percent of the student body at Ole Miss was African-American. People had rioted when the first African-American student tried to enroll in 1962. They rioted for three days. President Kennedy called out the National Guard. Two people lost their lives in that revolt to keep Ole Miss all white. The segregationist governor of Mississippi who stood in the school house door at Ole Miss, he waved the rebel flag in an Ole Miss football game the night those riots broke out. People who are there at the time say that is actually when the rebel flag became ubiquitous at Ole Miss football games. The school was already known as the Ole Miss Rebels. They had Colonel Reb for their mascot. But people say that Ole Miss became synonymous with the Confederate battle flag, starting then, starting in 1962 not 1862 during war, but 1962, as a symbol of resistance to civil rights and the civil rights movement, a symbol of resistance to integration. Twenty years after the violent effort to integrate that university, John Hawkins, Ole Miss student, got himself elected cheerleader at the school. If you look closely at this picture, you will see it is the white cheerleader behind him that is waving a rebel flag. By then, by the early 1980s, Ole Miss cheerleaders were carrying rebel flag. But John Hawkins who is a cheerleader I know what that white guy, Mr. Hawkins is waving a mega phone. He is not waving the Confederate flag. Because John Hawkins was the first African-American cheer leader in Ole Miss history and he personally refused to wave the Confederate flag. He told reporters back then, quote, "While I`m an Ole Miss cheerleader, I`m still a black man. In my household, I wasn`t told to hate the flag, but I did have history classes. And I know what my ancestors went through, and what the rebel flag represents. It is my choice that I prefer not to wave one." You know what? The university changed. He did it. It was because of him. First, the university gave in to him specifically and John Hawkins cheered for his team without carrying that flag. But then over the next 15 years, Ole Miss got rid of the rebel flag all together as an official symbol of the school. And it started with one student. It started with John Hawkins and the personal courage he had to say no. Calmly, clearly, and alone as one young man called on to do something he did not want to do. John Hawkins said no. And it worked. Joining us now for the interview is John Hawkins. Mr. Hawkins, thank you very much for joining us tonight. I know you have not spoken out about this much over the years. I really appreciate you being here. JOHN HAWKINS, FORMER UNIVERSITY OF MISSISSIPPI CHEERLEADER: My pleasure, Rachel. MADDOW: At the time when you took that stand about the Confederate flag and what you were and were not comfortable with, was it already a big issue for black students or for other students on campus or were you standing alone on that? HAWKINS: You know, it`s an interesting discussion, because as you know over the last 30 years, I`ve been fairly quiet on this topic. It was quite a lonely moment 30 years ago, dealing with this issue. What people don`t often talk about is that I was also the president of the black student body at Ole Miss. And African-American students` fees were being used at that time to purchase those flags. And African-American students at the time did not approve of that. So, I certainly did not to go Ole Miss for the purpose of becoming a cheerleader. I was focused on athletics and other things but fate had it such that that was one of the things I was put in a position to do. And the idea of waving the flag was just not something that was important to me. For those individuals that had a connection to the flag for the purposes of student spirit and those types of things, I certainly respected their decision. But at the same time I think this is a great moment for us. Today it is a leadership moment and it`s not just about looking at the flag and what it represents. It is about how do we move forward and that was foundational, I believe, to the decision for Ole Miss to embrace changing that flag at that time. MADDOW: You know, it`s the leadership question that made me want to talk to you about this today, because you were obviously a young man, a college student at the time and a student leader at the time. But when you made that decision and ended up being a very consequential decision, it can`t have been easy to do. I mean, you talk about it being lonely. Were you scared to take stand that you did when you did it? HAWKINS: I`m not sure the word scared is the word I would use. I mean, was I concerned? Of course at that time, because of the things that were happening around me? Of course. It was 30 years ago, and that was a different time. But I knew that the stand I took was the right stand, a principle decision. It wasn`t something that I spent a long time thinking about. The night that the election took place, which is interesting, I was trying to help another student friend of mine. A young lady by the name of Clara Bibbs (ph) and her journey to become the first Ole Miss African-American cheerleader. And I ended up making it and she didn`t. And she is still a good friend of mine to this day. But the question was at that moment, are you going to follow the tradition of cheerleaders and carry that flag? And, of course, the answer was no. As you think about the journey that Ole Miss was on at that moment, Rachel, and what it subsequently mental, that I believe defining moment was one that allowed that university to turn the page and start moving towards the future. Is it all the way where it needs to be? Certainly not. But, you know, the way that you make, take a journey to a mile and playing it one step at a time. I think that was an important first step in that process. MADDOW: And because you were there and you were willing to take that step, a lot happened because of what you were willing to do. Thank you for helping us understand this. Again, I know that you haven`t talked about this publicly a lot over the years. Thank you for talking to us about it tonight. I really appreciate you being here. HAWKINS: My pleasure. Thank you. MADDOW: Thank you. John Hawkins. I should tell you. Mr. Hawkins mentioned that the university used to buy those flags with student fees and student money. One of the direct consequences of him saying no, he wouldn`t wave that flag is that the university stopped buying those flags and handing them out to people to wave at their football games. He did it, because he was great. He did it. We`ll be right back. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: So, hey, the largest event yet for any 2016 presidential candidate anywhere just happened. It wasn`t the launch of anybody`s presidential campaign or anything. Just a normal campaign stop, just the - - I`m going to show up here so come see me if you like me event. The speech was apparently only planned two days in advance and what we`re told is more than 5,000 people turned out. This is the biggest presidential candidate event yet for any candidate for 2016. They actually overflowed the room. Hundreds had to watch from other overflow rooms. They even had to listen from bleachers that were set up outside. As far as we can tell, other than maybe some of the big "I`m launching my campaign" special events, no candidate has had a turnout like this one at all. This is the biggest yet for anyone. Guess who it was? That`s next. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: So, as you know, we have been covering for the last few weeks the historically giant field of candidates running for the Republican presidential nomination. We started at 22, which I thought was an insanely high number. We then winnowed it down to 19 when a few people poofed because they said they wouldn`t run. But still, 19 is an amazing enough number, by far the largest major field for president ever, and it poses some fascinating logistical difficulties and awkward choices for the Republican Party. For example, we have reported Republicans in the three early voting states in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina are all now protesting openly against the National Republican Party and against the FOX News Channel because the early state Republican parties do not like the debate criteria, which is going to exclude a significant number of the people who are in the running. Those protests are a big deal. You can`t be the official TV channel of the Republican Party, FOX News, you can`t be the Republican Party and give a one-finger salute to all three of the states who vote first in the Republican primaries. You just can`t. So, something really is going to have to break. And then today it got worse, because today, we learned that Univision, the huge Spanish language network, is joining the protests of the Republicans in the early states. Univision is also now revolting against the RNC. Univision is saying that they and "The Washington Post" will sponsor their own Republican presidential candidates` forum despite the RNC saying they can`t. Depending on how they do it, what they are about to do will probably break the RNC`s rules, just like Republicans in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina want to, as well. So, all three early states plus the biggest Spanish language outlet in the country, they are vowing to defy the RNC`s rules for how they are running the primary. Whoo-hoo! Something is going to have to break here. This cannot stand and we`ve got a scoop on tomorrow night`s show how the Republican Party is handling the pressure on the issue. It`s really weird. It is tomorrow night. We`re nailing it down now. Please watch that tomorrow. It`s going to be great. Today, though, Bobby Jindal became the latest Republican to join the race. Unless and RNC and FOX News change their plans for how they`re running the primary, which I think they will have to do, it looks like Governor Jindal may very well not make it to the first debates, which means he will have no chance to making it to subsequent debates, which means he won`t even really be running. In the latest NBC/"Wall Street Journal" poll, Bobby Jindal polls at 0 percent among national Republican voters. That`s not going to get him in the race. In the latest FOX News national poll, Bobby Jindal hits 2 percent. So, maybe he makes it in, maybe. That said in the same FOX News national poll, the overall top two national finishers are Jeb Bush first and Donald Trump in second place nationwide. So, as the whole process of the Republican primary basically breaks and the reality show guy beats out the governors, so they can`t really compete for the nomination but he can, there`s one candidate who by a large, clear margin is having the biggest impact on the ground as a presidential campaigner. Just in terms of the sheer size of his campaign events, this guy is blowing everyone away in terms of the number of people who are turning up at his events, the ease with which he is able to conjure not just large crowds, but larger crowds than any other person who is running. He is the candidate who filled this gymnasium in Denver this weekend. This is the Hamilton gym at the University of Denver. It is a capacity of 2,600 people. When he showed up, that room very quickly hit capacity and then they filled up the lacrosse field and all of the bleachers next door, 5,000 people turned out for this event. This campaign said they only organized it with a few days` notice. They`ve got a post on Facebook. No big advance wind up, no heavy-duty publicity. They threw this together at the last minute, not an early voting state where people are hot wired to turn out and meet the candidates because they know they`ll be there. This is the one candidate on the trail right now who can turn out, I kid you not, 5,000 people with a Facebook post, a huge overflow crowd at the drop of the hat. Thrilling supporters and bewildering the national middle class. Naturally, you have guessed by now, that candidate is Bernie Sanders -- 5,000 people in Denver this weekend. Yes, Hillary Clinton is the prohibitive favorite for the Democratic nomination. But there`s something going on with Bernie Sanders. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) MARLEN COAKLEY-JENKINS, SISTER KILLED IN CHARLESTON SHOOOTING: We can`t allow hate to replace everything that our parents ever instilled in us. We have to be forgiving. We have to be loving. We have to turn love the noun in to love the verb. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: Tonight marks one week since the small group of people who turned up for Wednesday night bible study at the Mother Emanuel Church in Charleston, were killed in that church. That was one week ago tonight. And tonight, it is more like 100 people who are congregated in the same room at the church tonight for bible study tonight, including family members of one of the victims, 59-year-old Myra Thompson. Funerals for the victims of that massacre will begin in South Carolina tomorrow. That does it for us tonight. We`ll see you again tomorrow. Now, it`s time for "THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL." Good evening, Lawrence. THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED. END