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Transcript: The Beat with Ari Melber, 11/24/21

Guests: Roberta Kaplan, Karen Dunn, Neil deGrasse Tyson, DeRay McKesson

Summary

Democrats look for a villain amidst economic woes. NASA undertakes a new mission to test knocking an asteroid off course if it`s heading to Earth. The defendants in the Ahmaud Arbery are all found guilty of murder. Attorneys who actually won a $25 million judgment against proven white supremacists in Charlottesville speak out.

Transcript

NICOLLE WALLACE, MSNBC HOST: THE BEAT WITH ARI MELBER starts right now.

Hi, Ari. Happy early Thanksgiving to you, my friend.

ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST: Happy Thanksgiving. There`s a lot going on. But are you looking forward to your holiday time, Nicolle?

WALLACE: Yes. I have to warn you, though, some of our guests have Turkey on the brain. And Sam Stein blew up one of my segments with a question about Thanksgiving, and then it descended into a debate about whether to brine or not to brine, to stuff or not to stuff.

So consider yourself warned that our guests have Thanksgiving on their mind already, despite all the news.

(LAUGHTER)

MELBER: Look, it`s a hot topic in my household. My brother maintains that chicken is better than turkey and turkey is overrated. As you know, mashed potatoes can be a big debate as well and how to make it. So I`m ready. I`m ready for whatever happens today, Nicolle.

(LAUGHTER)

WALLACE: Me too. Good luck.

MELBER: Thank you. I might need it. Thanks, Nicolle. Happy holidays to Nicolle and everyone else.

I want to welcome you to THE BEAT. We are covering more than one thing. We have a lot planned, but we begin with the breaking news, three killers of an unarmed black man found guilty of murder.

Three white men found guilty of murder in the killing of Ahmaud Arbery last year, the 25-year-old followed and then gunned down. This was while he was jogging, the three defendants watching the dramatic verdict being read, the man who pulled the trigger guilty on all counts, the other two guilty of murder, as well as other counts.

We`re going to show you exactly what it looked like. This is outside of the courtroom in the moments after the verdict was read, Ahmaud Arbery`s parents emotional about what they call now finally and delayed justice for their son.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WANDA COOPER-JONES, MOTHER OF AHMAUD ARBERY: I never thought this day would come. But God is good.

And I just want to tell everybody, thank you, thank you for those who marched, those who prayed, most of all the ones who prayed.

MAN: Yes, lord.

COOPER-JONES: Thank you, God. Thank you.

MARCUS ARBERY, FATHER OF AHMAUD ARBERY: We conquered that lynch mob.

Let`s keep fighting. Let`s keep doing it and making this place a better place for all human beings.

COOPER-JONES: And now, Quez, which I -- you know him as Ahmaud. I know him as Quez. he will now rest in peace.

WOMAN: Amen!

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: And this verdict played out, as did so much of the trial, in living rooms and bars and restaurants across America, covered so much on live TV. Many people watched it as it happened.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ANA CABRERA, CNN: There you have it, the breaking news, the verdict in the Ahmaud Arbery murder trial, all three defendants found guilty of murdering Ahmaud Arbery.

DAVID ASMAN, FOX NEWS: Well, you have just heard the verdict in the Ahmaud Arbery trial.

KATY TUR, MSNBC HOST: The big headline there, though, is that all three men were found guilty of felony murder.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: This was a case where the defense tried to do several things to really blatantly racialize a trial that the prosecution insisted was about evidence.

I`m not going to go through all of the examples, but it is relevant, given the ruling tonight.

For example, the defense lawyer at one point requested that black clergy be banned from the courtroom. That was rejected. That lawyers also on the defense side tried very clearly to get a certain kind of jury that they thought would help them, a nearly all-white jury. There was one black juror.

The rest of the jurors were white. After the verdict, Reverend Sharpton discussed the significance.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REV. AL SHARPTON, HOST, "POLITICS NATION": And let the word go forth all over the world that a jury of 11 whites and one black in the Deep South stood up in the courtroom and said that black lives do matter.

You came in the state of Georgia, a state known for segregation, a state known for Jim Crow, and you turned it around. You took a young unarmed boy that they thought was worthless, and you put his name in history today.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: Now, first of all, it`s legally true what the reverend happened to say there about this.

The defense was making a bet, one, betting that, in that Southern area, they could find a more sympathetic jury based on a appeal to suppose it white solidarity or racism. And, second, the defense was making a bet that they might find one or more jurors willing to accept a legally extreme theory of this secret citizen`s arrest.

Today, they lost both those bets. The jury accepted the evidence-driven argument of the prosecution, which, by the way, did not focus on race or other things outside the courtroom. It focused on the evidence and the facts, which showed three people tracking down one unarmed person and killing him.

[18:05:08]

And a jury, we see, accepted those facts.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JASON SHEFFIELD, ATTORNEY FOR TRAVIS MCMICHAEL: Reasonable and probable grounds of suspicion.

LINDA DUNIKOSKI, COBB COUNTY, GEORGIA, ASSISTANT DISTRICT ATTORNEY: Everybody in this case had a gun, except Ahmaud Arbery.

SHEFFIELD: And a citizen is in the same shoes as an officer when it comes to citizen`s arrest.

DUNIKOSKI: This was not a citizen`s arrest. They never said it. None of the defendants saw Mr. Arbery commit any crime that day.

That`s three times he`s demonstrated to you that he does not want to talk to you, correct?

TRAVIS MCMICHAEL, DEFENDANT: Yes.

DUNIKOSKI: He`s also demonstrated he`s no threat to you. He hasn`t pulled out a gun.

MCMICHAEL: That`s correct.

DUNIKOSKI: I mean, come on. Let`s get real.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: A lot of people getting real as we absorb this news.

I`m joined by Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist from "The Washington Post" Eugene Robinson, and DeRay McKesson. He`s co-founder of Campaign Zero, a group that works to end police violence and has been involved in many BLM rallies and protests.

Welcome to both of you.

Eugene, this was a clear verdict of murder by all three defendants. The felony murder laws, we can get into later how that works, but it was a clear finding and a rejection, as I mentioned, of the race-baiting defense arguments. Your reaction?

EUGENE ROBINSON, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: It was a complete rejection of the race-baiting arguments, and that`s something we all have to be thankful for this Thanksgiving, just that fact, that this almost all white jury in the Deep South totally rejected the idea that they -- that somehow they could -- they had a duty to support these three white guys who -- let`s be clear, who lynched Ahmaud Arbery.

I mean, what I see on that video is a lynching. And it`s not a stretch to connect it to the history of lynching in this country, in that region of the country. It`s not a stretch at all. It`s a direct line. It`s just a modern-day version of what we saw.

These three armed white men ran down, chased down, cornered and killed an unarmed black man who they suspected vaguely of having done something perhaps untoward to white people or white property. That`s a lynching. And the jury recognized it as such.

MELBER: DeRay?

DERAY MCKESSON, CIVIL RIGHTS ACTIVIST: You know, this case is fascinating in a lot of ways.

Remember that the original prosecutor said not to press charges. If not for the video being leaked in for protests and for social media amplifying this case, we wouldn`t be here today. Also remember that the initial prosecutor got indicted for not allowing the arrest of Travis McMichael.

And we think about this as a police case because the other McMichael was a former police officer. All five members of the Brunswick judicial circuit recused themselves. Two additional prosecutors in the office recused themselves. And remember that Georgia is the first state to repeal the citizen`s arrest law following the killing of Ahmaud Arbery.

You saw, during the trial, they couldn`t even make a coherent argument about what crime Ahmaud supposedly committed. But if not for the public pressure and the protests, I don`t think we`d be here today.

MELBER: Yes.

Let me ask you to build off that, DeRay. We have a special report coming up in this opening coverage that goes deeper into that evidence, because it`s so important. So I appreciate you bringing that up.

You`re also bringing up something that you and other activists have talked a lot about, which is understanding the structural legal underpinnings of these situations. So, on the one hand, the justice system says today these three men are responsible for murder, convicted of murder by a jury of their peers, the most serious felony, period.

On the other hand, without going underneath that to abdicate anything, because they`re responsible for that, you just made observations about how the way that antiquated laws in Georgia and other relationships between individuals and the police can reinforce or protect or even potentially incent those kind of now found to be crimes.

Explain to us what you mean by that. And how do you fix that?

MCKESSON: Yes.

So we know that history of citizen`s arrest laws were to empower white people to still arrest or detain black people at the end of legal slavery. So, the line is pretty clear. I was actually shocked to know that Georgia was the first state, because Georgia is not very progressive when we think about issues of criminal justice, but Georgia was the first state following the killing of Ahmaud Arbery.

And you know, like I know, it is very hard to hold prosecutors accountable for any decision they make in office. I mean, it rarely happens. They have absolute immunity. So, when this happens, it is a story.

And in this case, it was really powerful to see group of people come forward and say the prosecutor actually misled and did not represent her oath of office. I mean, that`s what she`s charged with.

[18:10:02]

That`s actually pretty incredible. And even they have the voice-mail recording of the father McMichael calling and being like, hey, can you help me out?

I mean, they really did think they were going to get away with this. And if not for that video, they would have. But you`re right. The structural thing has to change to make sure that we don`t end up here again.

MELBER: Right.

And the structural thing is so important, Eugene, because, while all trials are about things in the past, not in the future -- it`s not "Minority Report." It`s not Tom Cruise, right? It`s always going to be about what happened or allegedly happened.

The goal -- I have said this before, but I do want to underscore it on a night like tonight -- the goal that we hear from civil rights leaders and Black Lives Matter protesters, like DeRay and others -- we have heard this before Eugene -- is not, oh, gosh, it`s time to send more people to jail because that`s some sort of goal on its own.

The goal is to stop or diminish or reduce the incidence of this kind of racialized violence, whether it is by police, or, in this case, amateurs pretending to be police in their own minds, or other citizens who are committing crimes, that which might otherwise not have to occur, Eugene.

ROBINSON: Yes, that`s absolutely right?

And it actually goes beyond just the law. It`s unclear to me whether the defendants had even heard of the citizen`s arrest law before they later claimed to be protected by it. They never said anything about citizen`s arrest to Ahmaud Arbery. They never said anything to the police when the police came and encountered them.

And it was only later that they raised this defense, based on an 1863 law that, as DeRay said, was more concerned about the slave owners` ability to track down runaway slaves, and especially with the Emancipation Proclamation coming.

This is -- so that part of the structure, definitely, we need to look at. But also, if you step back, this was this was a case of the defendants thinking they were going to get good old boy justice. And they didn`t. They didn`t get good old boy justice.

They didn`t get -- they didn`t let them slide, but after -- only after that videotape got out. Until that point, they were getting that good old boy justice.

MELBER: Yes, I think you put it starkly, that so-called good old boy justice, that so-called, as I referenced -- quote unquote -- "white solidarity" or racism that might act as a shield for some.

It`s -- look, it`s the plot of "To Kill a Mockingbird" in a place where a bunch of people thought it would still happen that way. And it still does, which is part of our upcoming report. And yet, in this verdict today, it did not.

I want to thank you, Gene Robinson, always, for his wisdom.

DeRay stays with us for that next report, which we turn to now.

And I want to speak to you clearly about this. I have told you before, if you watch THE BEAT, my job here is not to tell you what to think. And jury verdicts are about what the jury found. But I can tell you that some of the immediate reaction to today`s news has been wrong. And I`m going to show you why right now, only with the evidence.

There are statements that today shows the justice system in Georgia appeared to work. That`s not entirely true. In fact, it began in this case with documented failure. That`s where it started. That was the intent. That was the plan of powerful people. And the trial you see today was never supposed to happen.

So it`s essential, if you want to know the facts, or for those who are thinking about what should or should not change, to understand how this began, Ahmaud Arbery killed in February 2020. Those McMichaels we mentioned, they weren`t charged for an additional two more months.

If you have ever followed any case, especially a murder case, you know that, if the identities of the individuals are not in doubt, that`s a long time. And it was Arbery`s mother who recalled what she was first told.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER-JONES: They initially tell him that he had committed a burglary, and then to sit through the trial to find out that Ahmaud actually -- he ran, he fought, he was killed, and then he was lied on.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: She says the authorities lied to her. They told her something that they knew to be false. That`s what makes it a lie, because of the evidence in the video.

The case actually had to go through not one prosecutor, not two, but three different prosecutor DAs who never made an arrest. The first DA, Jackie Johnson, recused, citing that one of the suspects was a former investigator in the office, so tight links and a grounds for recusal, but she didn`t just recuse.

She also directed to officers under her authority. This is before the recusal. She directed not to arrest Travis McMichael. Now, she was later indicted on criminal misconduct. That is a serious and rare charge to go from a prosecutor to losing your job to becoming a defendant.

[18:15:12]

Authorities saying she not only exercised poor judgment, but while she`s legally presumed innocent until trial, the authorities say her mistakes were criminal in nature.

Then a DA took over and recused himself due to conflict of interests, basically, that was exposed also by Arbery`s mother. And that happened, but not before noting that the McMichaels` -- quote -- "intent" was to stop and hold a criminal suspect, Arbery, until law enforcement arrived, which he then asserted was -- again, this is just a sweeping judgment in advance of what you now know has been a convicted murder -- well, he falsely said at the time that it was -- quote -- "perfectly legal."

Mr. Arbery was not a criminal suspect. He was an unarmed jogger. So local authorities not only didn`t charge the people who you now know today were convicted of murder. They not only didn`t charge, but they started flipping it around and acting like the victim or decedent, person who was killed, was the criminal.

Now, when the police don`t enforce the law, who are you going to call? Think about being an individual who has reason, based on this evidence, to think that the cops and the prosecutors, the whole system, the people with the guns and the power, would treat you like this.

Well, we know in Georgia, based on relationships and in some cases based on race who was treated like this.

Then there was this evidence, the video. The cell phone video was actually shot by one of the three men convicted of murder today. They told on themselves. They made the video that actually showed what was so incriminating to this jury, which, by the way, was a mostly white jury of their peers, that they changed Arbery down the street, that they shot him to death, what one of our experts today called the lynching, what the jury calls a murder.

Not only was the video taken. It was then leaked, and that was pivotal, because the only after that did a new set of authorities come in. The Georgia Bureau of Investigation began its probe, which helped lead to these charges.

So, who leaked that video? Well, it was a local criminal defense lawyer who consulted with the suspects, telling "The New York Times" his goal was to dispel rumors and -- quote -- "get the truth out there."

People can judge the motivations and whether a different approach or sheer incompetence from someone who claimed to be helping the now convicted murderers might have changed everything.

So, yes, there was a trial, there was a jury of peers, there was a verdict. That is how it`s supposed to work. But you have to understand the facts. And I am emphasizing this for a reason tonight, because people react to these things and draw larger conclusions. This was not the plan. This was not how it was started. This was not what the people in power wanted to do.

And it took everything I just ran through and a lot more than we don`t have time for to change the plan from a cover-up to protect three killers to these murder convictions today.

And joining me now is a former U.S. attorney, federal prosecutor Joyce Vance and DeRay McKesson back with us.

Joyce, you are an expert who has exercised these kinds of authorities. So walk us through that history, why that matters, in your view, of this DA, who is also now awaiting trial on misconduct.

JOYCE VANCE, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: So there`s really nothing worse than a prosecutor who abuses their authority.

And it seems very clear that that happened in this case, whether she`s ultimately convicted or not. The charges are pretty interesting, Ari. The obstruction of justice charge is a misdemeanor. The violation of oath charge, which is very broad, right -- it stems from this notion that you violated your oath of office.

And if convicted, she will face a mandatory minimum one year and up to five years in prison. So these are extremely serious charges. And that`s appropriate for a prosecutor who does what she does in this case.

Eugene Robinson talked about good old boy justice. That`s exactly what her former employee was seeking. And any prosecutor who sees that videotape, who understands the facts, knows that at a bare minimum here investigation was warranted, and this was not a case to dismiss before any of that work was done, as today`s verdict demonstrates.

MELBER: DeRay, is it important that people see the factual history that today`s trial and verdict was never supposed to happen, according to the people in power initially?

MCKESSON: For sure.

What we always say as organizers is, the truth is so radical, the truth is so damning, it should radicalize you, right, that, like, people needed to see this video, people needed to hear the testimony today, people needed to see all of this, and if they had not seen the video, if people had not pressed and retweeted it and posted about Ahmaud, we wouldn`t be here today.

[18:20:01]

And like Vance said, it is so rare for a line prosecutor to be terminated or fired for their actions. It is almost -- it never happens that the actual DA or prosecutor is -- has any criminal liability.

So, this is a big deal. I`m interested to see what this will do around the country. And people often think about police violence as the police actively killing somebody on duty. But it`s not lost on me that the older McMichael was a police officer.

We think about the range of actions that the police take when they are former officers or when they`re off-duty that also lead to the loss of life.

MELBER: Joyce, video in murder trials is relatively rare. Does this case go differently without video?

VANCE: This case probably never gets indicted, as you have pointed out, Ari, without the video. Video is compelling. It`s important.

And this makes me think of the George Floyd case, where, without the video that was taken by the teenage girl who was a bystander, that case likely has a very different outcome. So, in that sense, we`re fortunate that we live in a world where people have ready access to video.

And although, in this case, disclosure of the video appears to have been inadvertent and a possible defense strategy, although that sort of boggles the mind, but I think what this tells us is how important it is to stand up for other people who are in trouble and to take video.

We don`t maybe in this country want to be a country like the United Kingdom where they have CCTV and there`s video every place, and the police often use that video to prosecute cases. But these videos taken by citizens and bystanders and, in this case, even someone who was involved in committing the crime, are invaluable evidence and a way for us to understand what the truth is, what actually happened.

MELBER: And I`m running over on time, but, DeRay, when you look at it all together, then what do you think would need to change structurally?

MCKESSON: Yes, I think about not only the end of citizen`s arrest, but there are tons of body camera footage where we know that police engaged in wrongdoing that police will not make it public. We should make all the video evidence public.

We should make all the documents public. That is the best sign.

MELBER: DeRay and Joyce, thank you for in-depth coverage of this important development, including how we got here in that trial. Appreciate both of you.

Coming, we have a lot more in the program.

Michelle Goldberg on the Biden breakthrough, as Democrats are looking for a villain amidst economic woes.

Also, we have an expert on NASA`s new mission to test knocking an asteroid off course if it`s heading to Earth. None other than Neil deGrasse Tyson live coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:26:18]

MELBER: Parts of the economy are roaring back, and Democrats are wondering if Biden is getting enough credit.

Take a look at this amidst everything else going on, an absolutely stunning and thunderous jobs report. The U.S. jobless claims have actually fallen to their lowest rate in over 50 years, wages up, incomes up. Tomorrow, a record number of Americans are on the road traveling for Thanksgiving. So that`s a lot of what`s happening, even against concerns about the supply chain and inflation.

There are signs that what people are feeling is the daily prices and inflation and that stuff over, say, the jobs picture, which sometimes takes a minute to sink in or even keep track of.

Now, Biden says all of his plans are working already and he will continue to lower people`s bills.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: A once-in-a-generation investment that`s going to create millions of jobs. The Build Back Better framework lowers your bills for health care, child care, prescription drugs and preschool. And families get a tax cut.

Right now, we stand on the cusp of historic economic progress.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: Historic. And that is a nod to just how hard Democrats have been working to, on mostly party-line votes, get all this new spending out there, which clearly works economically.

But which parts do you emphasize? Well, none other than Obama adviser David Axelrod says all this talk of history and transformation doesn`t play right, advising Democrats publicly, which is something he would only do after presumably offering this advice for weeks in private, to say, don`t use words like huge, historic and transformative.

Instead, emphasize how these plans are responsive to everyday challenges. Or take James Carville, who says that, for all of Biden`s accomplishments, the White House does not have good storytellers. And this is true from Disney to Carville to everywhere in between -- quote -- "Good stories need villains."

So is the narrative worse than the reality? And is that a sign that Democrats have to change things up?

Michelle Goldberg`s here when we`re back in 60 seconds.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MELBER: We`re back with "New York Times" columnist Michelle Goldberg.

Michelle, there`s tons of serious stuff going on today. Here, we have just a more normal political, economic segment. I will start with Jay-Z, as I sometimes do.

(LAUGHTER)

MELBER: He said international, bring back the Concorde. Numbers don`t lie. Check the scoreboard.

And it`s certainly true that it`s good news for Biden and Democrats when you look at what we have on the screen right now. This is not a difference of a couple mil. This is from 20 million unemployed last Thanksgiving to just 2 now, and, as reported today, and I don`t think this has sunk in yet for everyone, some of the best jobs numbers in 50 years.

[18:30:07]

Yet Biden approval, not only in general, but even on the economy, not that great, Michelle.

MICHELLE GOLDBERG, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: Well, I wouldn`t -- I would say especially on the economy.

I mean, this American sense of where the economy is heading is completely out of whack with these numbers. And part of that is for good reason, right, because these figures don`t take into account inflation. They don`t take into account the sort of what people call shadow inflation or this kind of -- the decline in availability of goods, availability of services.

I do think that they -- there has been -- in some ways, the Biden administration suffers from the kind of upper-class or upper-middle-class emphasis of so much reporting, by which, I mean -- and it might just be the media I consume. I feel like I have read a lot more about businesses that are having trouble hiring workers than people who suddenly have their pick of jobs, right?

And so they`re -- a very, very low unemployment situation actually is bad for some people, people who hire a lot of people, and good for others. And I feel like there has been more emphasis on the people who are hurt by rising wages than the people who are helped by them.

MELBER: I`m looking for the tiny violin for job creators here, to use the term that Mitt Romney and others like.

But I think you`re certainly right about what we`re talking about is where people get their idea of what`s happening. And everyone has their lived reality, and then they have information. And if you`re an information-based person, and you get enough information that`s different than your lived reality, it will affect it.

But that`s sort of the calculus, to your point. I mean, headline here on what they call the psychological effects, people have cash in jobs right now in America at historic levels. Pardon David Axelrod if he doesn`t like the word. And yet here it says in "The Times" -- quote -- "The psychological effects of inflation have the upper hand."

The political question, then, is, can you drive something different? And we`re seeing, as I mentioned -- I mean, it`s not your my job to do it. But we are seeing what I perceive to be a panic button, because Axelrod, he has the audience. He will say this stuff in private. Now he`s trying to say in public, hey, they got to change it up at the White House.

GOLDBERG: Well, look, I don`t think you can -- I don`t think the right messaging is going to make people not as concerned about inflation. Inflation is something that people experience in their daily lives.

And for a lot of people, the price of gas or the price of milk is a lot more visceral than the unemployment rate, which is really only something that affects you if you in particular are either looking to hire people or looking for a job.

I do think, again, that they -- they`re -- because we spent so many months embroiled in the sausage-making aspect of Build Back Better, and it was stories about kind of wrangling and infighting and near collapse, that there`s actually been very little discussion about what this legislation is going to do for people, the way that it`s going to make their lives easier, the way that it`s going to make, for example, raising children more economically feasible for many people.

And so I do think that, once they start talking about the specifics, right, the part that -- the pieces of Biden`s economic agenda all rate far higher than the kind of aggregate ratings that Biden gets for the economy.

MELBER: Yes. Yes, that`s fair.

Well, it`s like that -- there`s that old joke, Michelle, what did the Biden administration economist say in the Senate cafeteria?

(LAUGHTER)

GOLDBERG: Oh, God. What?

MELBER: This sausage tastes like crap, and the price keeps going up.

(CROSSTALK)

GOLDBERG: And such small portions, yes.

MELBER: And such small portions.

Well, all right, such small portions for Thanksgiving. You get the final word. Good to see you, Michelle.

GOLDBERG: Thank you so much.

MELBER: Appreciate it.

Coming up: There are prosecutors who actually won a $25 million judgment against proven white supremacists in Charlottesville -- I should say, the lawyers who want it. They join us tonight. So we`re going to get to that.

Also, NASA has a mission to save us from asteroids. That`s for real, and the one and only Neil deGrasse Tyson is here live.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:38:03]

MELBER: Americans have been greeted with a range of legal news lately.

Today, the nation reacting to the Ahmaud Arbery verdict, defendants they`re found guilty of murder, all three of them. It also comes one day after a verdict in a Charlottesville-related case, that deadly rally which became a defining moment of the Trump era.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MARCHERS: Jews will not replace us! Jews will not replace us!

DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: You also had people that were very fine people on both sides.

MARCHERS: You will not replace us! You will not replace us! You will not replace us!

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: In a civil trial, a jury found that a group of white supremacists was guilty and liable for millions of dollars in damages.

The outcomes are, of course, what everyone has been discussing. You have the Rittenhouse case, where now a former president, Donald Trump, is literally appearing in this controversial photo with the now acquitted killer.

Whatever his legal outcome, this is a former president celebrating someone who killed two people, and it`s a reminder of that Charlottesville echo to some.

We`re now joined by some of the attorneys who represented the Charlottesville plaintiffs, Roberta Kaplan And Karen Dunn.

Hello to both of you.

Roberta, what does the outcome of this case mean not only for your clients, but for their sense of justice for that rally?

ROBERTA KAPLAN, ATTORNEY FOR CHARLOTTESVILLE PLAINTIFFS: Yes.

So, we filed this case, Ari, four years ago. It`s been a long four years for our clients. Their injuries vary, but a large group of them were injured during the car attack by James Fields on Saturday, and another group were attacked at the horrific incident the night before, where students were surrounded at the Thomas Jefferson campus -- station on campus.

They all decided to join us case because they wanted to stand up for what is right and for justice. And they wanted the world to know and to understand what happened to them. And so they are all feeling pretty good today. When we walked in from the courthouse yesterday, they were all waiting for us. There was a lot of screaming, a lot of cheering.

[18:40:15]

And I think they have a sense of accountability and justice that I don`t think any of them ever felt they would get.

MELBER: Karen, what does that accountability look like for the defendants in this case?

KAREN DUNN, ATTORNEY FOR CHARLOTTESVILLE PLAINTIFFS: Yes.

So, here, accountability looked like a finding that each and every defendant that was in this case was part of a conspiracy, a conspiracy that included James Fields, the guy who drove his car through a crowd of counterprotesters. And accountability looked like very substantial damages awards, both compensatory damages and punitive damages, designed to send a message to the broader world that this can never be allowed to happen again, and is not permitted under the laws of our country.

And so we have heard since the verdict, even last night, some of the defendants have declared the alt-right to be dead. They all say they`re considering their next steps. And so we feel like justice was served here.

MELBER: And both of you are experienced litigators.

Roberta, whether people like it or not, the United States protects a lot of speech, including quite horrific hate speech. What is important for people to understand about specifically your legal strategy here, which, as I understand it, doesn`t quibble with that...

KAPLAN: Correct.

MELBER: ... but really looks at the damage of actions, animus that leads to action, pain, suffering, in this case as well, a tragic loss of life?

KAPLAN: Correct, Ari.

There`s really no dispute that, had these defendants and their associated groups come to Charlottesville with their swastikas and their flags and their other accoutrements of hate, and just stood there peacefully with their flags and protested and said "Jews in the ovens" and "Jews will not replace us" and all the other horrible things they said, while horrific and odious to me, they would have had a right to do that.

But that`s not what they did. You don`t have a First Amendment right to plan violence. They spent -- as we showed in the conspiracy count, they spent months leading up to Charlottesville planning for violence, talking about how to do violence, talking about what weapons to bring, how to make it look like self-defense, and even, perhaps most shockingly, Ari, how to drive cars into a group of protesters, which is exactly, of course, what happened.

MELBER: Yes.

KAPLAN: None of that is protected by the First Amendment.

That`s -- no one`s ever even argued that that is protected by the First Amendment. So, that was just a smokescreen that was one of their defenses here. And the jury didn`t buy it.

MELBER: Appreciate both of you and that nuanced legal answer.

And you have been very busy. And we watch a lot of these trials. For folks at home, we`re hearing from two people who will literally spent years to get this outcome on behalf of these individuals. We think back to Charlottesville. I think everybody awake in America remembers it.

So we appreciate you guys taking time after a busy trial, Roberta Kaplan and Karen Dunn, to educate us a little bit. Thank you.

KAPLAN: Thanks, Ari.

DUNN: Thanks so much, Ari.

KAPLAN: We plan to get both a lot of sleep, if we can get -- thank you so much.

DUNN: Yes.

MELBER: Appreciate it.

KAPLAN: Bye-bye.

MELBER: Coming up: not a movie, real life. NASA has a spacecraft launching that would smash into an asteroid to push it off course if it comes for us, as if you needed one more thing to worry about.

We`re going to get into it with Neil deGrasse Tyson next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:47:36]

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Five, four, three, two, one, zero, ignition, liftoff, the Falcon 9 with the DART mission on the way for humanity`s first ever planetary defense test mission.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: Planetary defense always has a nice ring to it, especially if they`re talking about this planet, which they are.

That`s a new NASA mission that is designed as the first ever test flight into space with the goal and operational capacity to try to deflect an asteroid that might come hit us. NASA says this spacecraft can smash into an asteroid at 15,000 miles an hour, and they could do it as soon as next year.

Now the asteroid that it will hit in this example is not -- I repeat -- not a threat to us here on Earth. If it were, it might have been higher in the program tonight.

The mission, though, sounds familiar to just about anyone who`s seen "Armageddon."

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BILLY BOB THORNTON, ACTOR: Even if the asteroid itself hits the water, it`s still hitting land. It`ll flash-boil millions of gallons of seawater and slam into the ocean bedrock.

Half the world`s population will be incinerated by the heat blast, and the rest will freeze to death in nuclear winter.

LIV TYLER, ACTRESS: That`s unbelievable.

THORNTON: Well, actually, this is as real as it gets.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: And when it gets that real, you know what time it is.

Neil deGrasse Tyson, the astrophysicist with the American Museum of Natural History in New York City, among other jobs and accolade, thanks for coming back.

NEIL DEGRASSE TYSON, ASTROPHYSICIST: Yes, delighted to be here for you. Thanks.

Good time to talk about -- I mean, yes. Yes. Yes.

MELBER: Let`s get into it. I mean...

DEGRASSE TYSON: But one thing about the "Armageddon"...

MELBER: Well, let me ask you this.

DEGRASSE TYSON: I just put something on context here.

MELBER: Yes.

DEGRASSE TYSON: The "Armageddon" asteroid was, they declared, the size of Texas.

Holding aside that Texas is flat and asteroids are sort of roundish -- he meant it was the diameter of Texas -- any asteroid that size, we would have discovered more than 200 years ago.

MELBER: Encouraging.

DEGRASSE TYSON: So, that was one thing of many brilliantly conceived fictions of "Armageddon."

But it`s the movie we all remember, so there it is.

MELBER: Well, I got the quick question, and then the real one.

The quick one is, according to Billy Bob Thornton, what would you choose, instant death or freezing in the nuclear winter?

(LAUGHTER)

DEGRASSE TYSON: I would train more scientists and engineers, STEM professionals, to solve these problems...

[18:50:03]

MELBER: Fair.

DEGRASSE TYSON: ... so that we don`t have to worry about how to survive them if we prevent them from happening in the first place.

MELBER: So, in that spirit, tell us about this operation.

And, one, how does it work? And, two, is it late? If people feel like this has been something to worry about, why is it happening now?

DEGRASSE TYSON: Well, yes, it`s something that should have been on the docket decades ago.

It`s not a new thing that Earth travels in a shooting gallery, our solar system. Of the asteroids, most asteroids in the solar system are found in this zone, a belt, we call it, between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter. So most are safe.

But some have, let`s call them, wayward orbits that bring them near to Earth. Many of them even cross Earth`s orbit. We call them NEOs, near-Earth objects. These are the ones we want to catalog, because these are the ones that pose a future danger.

One hundred percent of the asteroids that cross Earth`s orbit will one day collide with Earth, if you run the math on that. So, yes, we want to -- we should have this capability. And I can tell you this. I said this before. If the dinosaurs had a space program, they would still be here, because that would have been their highest priority.

MELBER: Yes, shout-out to the dinosaurs. I mean, they were good at other things, hunting, I believe.

(LAUGHTER)

MELBER: So, when it makes impact, how would that work to save us?

DEGRASSE TYSON: Yes, great question.

So, this destination for the DART spacecraft, the space mission, is a double asteroid. So there`s a larger asteroid about the width of the World Trade Center, OK? I mean, sorry, the height of the World Trade Center, imagine filling that out in a volume. That`s about how big it is.

And the moon -- they call it a moonlit -- is maybe sort of the size of the Statue of Liberty. So, what -- we know how they orbit each other with very good precision. So what this craft is going to do is slam into the moon, as you said, about 15,000 miles an hour. That comes out to about four miles per second.

And, in so doing, it transfers its momentum to that moon, changing its orbit around its host asteroid. And because we have the orbit characterized, any change in that orbit, we`re going to be able to measure. And we want to verify -- first, we expect Newton`s laws will hold up.

The real question is whether -- does the asteroid have structural integrity, right? If you hit it in one spot is that just going to knock off a chunk of it, leaving the rest of it unchanged from before? So there`s a lot of unknowns here, most of which relate not to the impact, but to the consequences of the impact after that unfolds.

So, there`s a spacecraft that`s getting deployed right before impact to watch it as it happens. And we will have ground based follow-up as a verification of this.

MELBER: It`s really fascinating, especially when you explain just a little bit of the complexity.

While I have you, I want to play you a little bit of Elon Musk. If taking asteroids out wasn`t trippy enough, how about this? Take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ELON MUSK, CEO, SPACEX: So, given that we`re clearly on a trajectory to have games that are indistinguishable from reality, and those games could be played on any set top box or on a P.C. or whatever, and they would probably be billions of such computers, the set up boxes, it would seem to follow that the odds that we`re in base reality is one in billions.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: You can translate for us. He`s saying something about simulations and whether this reality is real.

What do you think?

DEGRASSE TYSON: So he`s got a -- he`s not doing his calculation correctly there. But it`s not his fault. He`s repeating what others have said regarding the likelihood that our entire known universe is a simulation.

So, you can ask yourself, yes, if you play a video game, there are characters in that video game that, in principle, can be programmed, or one day can be programmed to be so self-aware that they think they have free will in that game.

And there`d be other people there who are gathering the laws of physics and chemistry and biology. They`d be scientists in that game. Maybe I`m one of those in this game. And there would be journalists in that case. So, we`d each have a sort of a version of ourselves in such a game.

And that world, imagine, would then say, hey, we want to play games, so they will invent video games that can perfectly recreate reality. And it`s that way all the way down.

[18:55:06]

And so if there`s an uncountable number of these experiments playing out in the universe, and you close your eyes, throw a dart, which universe are we? The first one that`s real that created the simulation, or one of the countless simulations that unfolded after that?

So he`s saying one in a billion or so, or whatever, whatever is the large number.

What`s flawed there is, we don`t yet have the ability to make a perfect world with people who think like they have free will? So, either we are the first original universe, OK, that hasn`t gotten there yet, or we are like the last one that hasn`t gotten there yet, because they don`t have the ability to make yet another one.

All the ones in the middle have the power to make perfect universes. So it`s really more like one in two than one in several billion. So this is an emergent sort of thinking and understanding of the simulation hypothesis. And I`m cool with that. I will take a one-in-a-two chance. I got no problems.

MELBER: If you say it, we believe it, one in two.

I think being original universe, the O.G. universe, is always good. And it sounds like we`re replacing...

DEGRASSE TYSON: O.G. Got to be the O.G.

MELBER: Got to be.

(LAUGHTER)

MELBER: Neil, Neil deGrasse Tyson, thank you, as always.

And we will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MELBER: We talked to Dr. Fauci about staying safe in the holiday season, answering your questions on COVID.

And you can see what he had to say by checking us out on YouTube Search "Fauci and Melber" and you will get his quick breakdown. We made it quick. You can always find me @AriMelber or AriMelber.com.

And I wish everyone a very happy Thanksgiving this week, including my friend and colleague Joy Reid.

"THE REIDOUT WITH JOY REID" starts now. So it`s good timing.