In This Episode
DeRay, De’Ara, Kaya, and Myles cover the underreported news of the week— including a Chicago-based gun manufacturer marketing rifles to children, Amy Robach and T.J. Holmes’ depart from ABC network, an online community where home-schoolers learn how to turn their kids into Nazis, and Robert Townsend’s evolution from actor to director. DeRay interviews VICE’s award-winning national security reporter Ben Makuch about his podcast “American Terror“.
DeRay Mckesson, narrating: Hey, this is DeRay and welcome to Pod Save the People. In this episode it’s me, De’Ara, Myles, and Kaya talking about the news that you don’t know from the past week, the news with regard to race, justice and equity that went underreported but you should know. Then I sit down with an award winning national security reporter for Vice. He has a new podcast called American Terror, where he speaks to a range of people, informants, whistleblowers, experts, extremists, and reports on the rise of far right domestic terrorism. I learned a lot. You’ll learn a lot too. Here we go. [music break] My advice for this week is to have grace for people. Everybody’s going through a lot. People need space and processing time. I’ve grown a lot in these past couple of months. I’m a lot more patient, a lot more graceful. Sending that to you.
De’Ara Balenger: Family. Welcome to another episode of Pod Save the People. Thank you for joining us again. I am De’Ara Balenger. You can find me on Instagram at @dearabalenger
Myles Johnson: I am Myles E. Johnson, you can find me on Instagram and Twitter at @pharaohrapture
Kaya Henderson: Kaya Henderson on Twitter at @HendersonKaya
DeRay Mckesson: And this is DeRay at @deray on Twitter.
De’Ara Balenger: Hmm. Just want to take a deep breath before we talk about Tyre Nichols, may he rest in peace. We know that the video of his lynching came out on Friday evening. I was actually in Minneapolis with my family, with my mom and my aunt and I started to watch the video. And my mom, who practices wellness, particularly wellness for Black bodies. Made us stop. And she talked about how our brains actually aren’t meant to process traumas like that. And so the repeated imagery that we have from the last. I mean, for me, just in my lifetime, starting with Rodney King and now, you know, 30 years later to seeing so many videos later. I will say that the reason I was in Minneapolis was to take 16 family members to see Robert Glasper, my favorite jazz musician. And I’m actually glad that we went to see Robert that evening because obviously Robert had also been so deeply affected. And so the music was so beautifully and profoundly reflective of Black brilliance, Black sorrow, humanity in ways that I think was healing in some ways, I think still. I’ll speak for my family, still much in a point of process, and my family’s dealt with I’m sure, like many Black families, a fair amount of of police violence and police killings in our own family. So, you know, this is all still sitting with me. And it’s so wild how you just you think you’re unaffected and you think you can digest these types of things, or at least understand the trauma in digesting them. But. You know, my brother called my mom very early Saturday morning, and my mom and I were panicked because he called so early. So we’re just, what’s going on? What’s going on? And that is because of this world that we live in and what we are seeing and what we know are happening to Black bodies. So I don’t you know, I definitely don’t have anything instructive to say other than how I was feeling and still am feeling about what happened and what we had to see of it.
Kaya Henderson: I don’t know y’all, it’s so it continues to be outrageous. What really struck me about this is this young man was 100 yards away from his house. And to think about being so close to home and having done literally nothing just reescalates our fear of being pulled over by the police. I feel like here we talk all the time about how traffic stops precipitate all of the violence, it seems, or most of the violence in police brutality cases and like this shouldn’t happen is the biggest understatement of the world. But like, as you said De’Ara, I just can’t understand. Every other country in the world has decided that human lives are more important than guns, gun rights, blah, blah, whatever, whatever. And it doesn’t matter [?] nothing that happens. We are just we’re like, whatever. As you’ll learn from my news a little later on, it just is. I don’t know. I I I watched that mama on her interview with Don Lemon, and she made me so proud because she was somehow or another able to make her pain feel real and at the same time sort of recognize the larger issues. And why do we have to do that like why do black mothers have to share their pain with the world? Why do we have to contextualize everything, why why are they killing our children? Um. I don’t have nothing to say y’all ah sorry.
Myles Johnson: I think the thing that’s been coming back to me all weekend is that we’ve had so many opportunities to get it right. I think that all of these moments have they’ve just seemingly happened in vain. And I think I didn’t watch the film. But of course, I know about the story of Emmett Till and his mother and like all these different like situations. And I think. Well, if something shifted in the course of history, something shifted because of this tragedy, then we can look at it differently. But we have had so many opportunities just in the last five years. Just since the pandemic started, we had so many opportunities to to change. And I’m just tired, which is quite an understatement of Black people, Black minds, Black spirits, Black lives being the martyr for the opportunity on top of opportunity on top of opportunity. Maybe this will be disgusting enough. Maybe this will go viral enough. Maybe this one will be bloody enough. Maybe this one will be racist enough to shift what happens in the course of America getting right is happening on Black people’s backs.
DeRay Mckesson: Wild is an understatement. The thing that is really heartbreaking, Kaya, when I think about his mom is that he was 80 feet away from the house.
Kaya Henderson: Mm hm.
DeRay Mckesson: So when you think about him calling out to her, it is not only an emotional cry, but it is a logistical cry. Right? It’s a like–
Kaya Henderson: Yes.
DeRay Mckesson: You actually might hear me, right? You might hear me from the kitchen, the bedroom, the living room. It’s a like, come save my life cry. Please help me. Like, not just an emotional. And that is just so heartbreaking and the thing that, you know, really stunned me is that when you read the articles, it was like 3 minutes, right? That’s what the article said. The articles are like they beat him for 3 minutes. You watch the video, you’re like, they beat that man for 30 minutes, 30 minutes. They propped him up, beat him, handcuffed him, kicked him on the ground. Sat his body up. EMT’s waited 15 minutes before they rendered aid, other officers came and left and saw it. 80 feet away from that, like what a wild, wild. You know his father, his stepfather got on the news and one of the reporters was like, he was a couple blocks away from home. And the dad goes, no, he was houses away from home? Houses.
Kaya Henderson: Mm hmm.
DeRay Mckesson: And you were reminding, Kaya you talked about this. You know, traffic stops do precipitate so much of the violence. And what’s so wild about this case is that there was no traffic violation. If we remember the initial reports, it was reckless driving and the police department then came out and had to say, we have no proof that there was anything to substantiate a stop. I mean, what a wild, wild encounter. So that’s that, you know, when I think about Memphis, obviously, at Campaign Zero we do police work and we wrote a law in 2021 that did uh require the duty to intervene. Clearly, they did not uphold that law in this case, but that law is what allowed those officers to get fired uh so quickly. And it’s not enough, right. Like I hope the Tennessee legislature like does something in this moment. The Memphis City Council can restrict officer use of force right now, over 35, 40% of the police dep– of the city’s budget goes to the police department already. And then all the other agencies have to just deal with the rest of them. I mean, it just doesn’t make sense. So I agree with you, Myles. You’re like this question of like, what is enough? Like, how much pain is enough? Which death will be the thing to spark the like this feels all too familiar. And I am hopeful that um this death is not in vain.
Kaya Henderson: DeRay, talk for a minute about the indemnification issue, because I think one of the things that was also shocking to me about this case is how quickly the police department threw their own officers under the bus. Right. And usually you see the police department protecting its officers, taking a long time to investigate, you know, making excuses, whatever, whatever. But, honey, that Black lady police chief went on and was like, this is egregious. I don’t see any reason why he should’ve been stopped. The violence was egregious. And these officers are going down like and the police department is nowhere on their side. And DeRay, you explainined something to me about indemnification in Memphis that is different than other places? Can you talk about that a little bit?
DeRay Mckesson: Yeah. So indemnification is the idea that if you do something at work, then your employer is liable for you. So if a McDonald’s employee throws hot coffee on somebody, you can sue the employee. But when you’re suing the employee, you’re really suing McDonald’s. That is the idea is familiar to people, that process is called indemnification. What is unique about Memphis among the big cities in the country is that for the last 30 years, they have not accepted any liability for officers engaged in wrongdoing in the civil process. So in Memphis, when an officer’s engaged in wrongdoing and you go sue that officer, you are actually suing the officer alone. And the bad thing about that is that the officer ain’t got no money. So when you sue for damages, that officer just files for bankruptcy and you are screwed. So in Memphis, you actually have to sue the city proper, like you have to sue the city and show, like, a pattern of misconduct or sue the city and show that they sort of willfully or whatever it made the misconduct bad. But it’s a much more intense legal battle to sue the city outright and they know it. And the other thing that it does, why this is really bad is that lawyers are slow to sue because they know the legal battle for the city is really high and you can’t sue the officers, you can’t like sue the officers and default sue the city. So Memphis has some unique things, uh but all things that are fixable in this moment, like they can undo that right now. They can change the policy right now. The Tennessee legislature can pass a law right now. Like all these things can happen right now. They don’t need to take forever.
Kaya Henderson: I think your thing was good in terms of their policy. It was active, right. There are some policy things that we can do to move this forward. What else? How else do you want to wrap it up?
Myles Johnson: I’m, you know, giving you my news. I do want to honor I think the best way to honor it is just by acknowledging it, is that I am about to talk about something that is not nearly as important as what we just discussed. And I think that part of being Black is holding horrors and comedies and gossip and darkness and light all at the same time. How we do our news here is we we pick our news, we give it to each other, and we all try to pick it from where our specialties are. And mine is entertainment and culture. So I just want to go on the ride with y’all that this is a hard transition and this is not nearly as important as what we just discussed. With saying that, I’m talking about Good Morning America y’all. I don’t know if you all talked about Good Morning America without um while I wasn’t there, because I think the news broke when we might have been on break or I think I might have missed a episode, I can’t remember. But I’m not going to hold you, good Morning America was never my hour of the morning because I take that time out to usually have my ritualistic morning cup of coffee. And why do I why why lord am I going to this job time. And I can’t cut that. I can’t cut that out. So Good Morning America was never– [laughter]
Kaya Henderson: Besides the coffee, do you want to share tips for getting people through the why am I going to this job moment? [laughing]
DeRay Mckesson: Myles, you are a mess. [laughter]
Myles Johnson: Well, I know I will tell you, but, you know, no matter how much you love your job, eight in the morning is eight in the morning. But yeah, so I wasn’t really familiar with these bright eyed [?] faces. But once the mess got to my doorstep, I did my research. So if you don’t know T.J. Holmes, Amy, how do you pronounce her last name?
Kaya Henderson: Robach.
Myles Johnson: Robach. Robach. Okay, child not me mispronouncing a white woman’s name. [laughter] That’s bad. Okay. So T.J. Holmes, Amy Robach, they were caught with pictures, pics, people snapped pictures of them canoodling. Um. T.J. Holmes, wide legs, laughing with his whole mouth. You could see all of his veneers like I’m over here, like you are in this woman’s face. [laughter] And y’all supposed to be working together. So all of that happened. It went to tabloids, became a big scandal, but I’m including in this but I thought that it was going to get kind of brushed over. I thought, you know, nobody’s going to say anything or maybe they’ll rebrand as it’s actually kind of cute or whatever. And then I didn’t know they were both married. And then the affair, it lapsed over their marriages. And then I thought to myself, well, so so people talk about how the MeToo movement has made things really, really sensitive for people. But I actually would argue the opposite. I actually think because of how much we hear about sexual assault and the just insane inappropriateness and sexual violence, that people experience in the workplace. I think a little cheat actually feels minimal compared to what we know about it. As two consenting adults getting their groove on is like, oh, boring. We can’t do nothing with that. Well child I was wrong because ABC said y’all have to say where y’all at, you have to stay where y’all at and y’all cannot come back to work because y’all are causing a distraction. I thought this was really, really interesting cause it’s even coming out that T.J. Holmes was just I don’t want to make light of it because at the point of this recording, I don’t know the tone of each one. It sounded like he was just being a garden tool and that was it. But then now some of the allegations are coming out and to me the tone of them are coercion or the tone of them are sexual assault and not like like consensual. So I’d never want to make light about those situations that they were like more than people just falling for um T.J. Holmes, you know, big butt and a smile child, apparently. [laughter]
Kaya Henderson: I have learned more about this in the last 3 minutes then [laughing] I have in the last week.
Myles Johnson: I’m telling you, I will consume the the BS and make it into compost and give it to y’all.
De’Ara Balenger: Listen. And that’s why we appreciate you.
Myles Johnson: So not just because it’s messy and I love hearing really intelligent, important people talk about things that are super frivolous. It’s like one of my favorite things to do in here. So beyond that point is do you all think that there is a race moment happening? So, meaning, if it wasn’t so public that he was dating a white woman, do we think that is have, kind of like influencing this this public lashing that he’s going under and then also do you think that like what’s your opinion on what they were doing because they seemed really confident and lawyered up. And I don’t know if I’m just heavily influenced by people with perfect smiles and who look like they spend all their time eating seaweed and at the gym, so I’m like, [laughter] they must be telling the truth. They’re like [laughing] [?] who acts like this and deceives you. They’re going on walks with dogs and all this other stuff. So I’m just super curious. And then, you know, I’m most excited to hear from our lawyer in residence. Cause I need to know, where’s the money at? Who’s getting the money? Will they be able to work again? It’s Amy Robach, I see a Fox News in her forecast. They all make the pivot. They all make the pivot. Last thing I’m going to say with T.J. Holmes is if they get rid of this man, if they get rid of this man and they hear him on Fox News. We have to take responsibility for what we did. We have to do that. We have to do it because that seems to be the trajectory of black listed Black men is that they go straight conservative. So I want y’all to watch very carefully what he does. It all starts with a little, with a little, oh, maybe Trump wasn’t so bad. And then all of a sudden, you got a little segment.
Kaya Henderson: But can I add one thing before we get our resident legal opinion? So, like, for me, the racial one was, oh we know what’s going to happen. They going to fire him and she is going to stay at Good Morning America, because at least from many of the things that I read, it seems like legitimately was in the separating process or separated from her husband and his wife, seem like she ain’t know nothing about this. Before they were reconciled and they were separated, but they were reconciled. She thought they were reconciling. While he is canoodling with the coworker. But a few days ago, Amy Robach had her people saying that she felt blindsided after she learned about all of T.J.’s workplace escapades, that she felt like she was just collateral damage in this, that um she really didn’t expect this to be a spectacle, but that his exploits made this a spectacle and she was all you know white woman tears, right. Oh, my gosh. Here I thought me and this man had something and, you know, I’m just collateral damage is the the phrase. And so I was like, this is a setup, right? She’s crying tears. He gonna get fired. They’re going to find a way to keep her. And then we going to be mad and Black all over again. But and so I’m shocked that both of them got the can.
Myles Johnson: Well, Auntie Auntie Kaya, now I’m not saying white women tears are right, but if it’s [laughter] but if there’s ever an appropriate time to start crying as a white woman, it’s when your Black boyfriend with your good paying good oh, I know them benefits are crazy. I know those benefits are crazy. Oh, I know they just they could just go sneeze and they could just go and get cheap on surgery and all that other stuff. Just on health insurance. I know it.
Kaya Henderson: Child. You work at that place. You heard about what was going on and that might be why you was curious to see what all the hubbub was about.
Myles Johnson: Oh. [squeal laugh] Okay. Oh, you got me, you got me. You say, you said I want to I want to I want to know what is going on.
Kaya Henderson: Come on you know. You know what the what the tea is at work.
DeRay Mckesson: I will say that they they Black people called this the moment it happened. They were like, there is no way in the world. I was really surprised at how quickly people called this so long ago. And it seems like T.J. didn’t get it. Like that’s the thing that got me is like T.J. like when Black people clocked it, I was like, maybe he’ll change his public stance, will get in the pot– I don’t know. But he really was just riding like they were going to treat him like a white man.
Kaya Henderson: He went all in honey. Yes.
DeRay Mckesson: And like and then they was like they were like, he’s going to sue. And I’m like, Oh, he really don’t get the game. Ah.
Myles Johnson: Whatever delusion you were under to go have an affair with a white woman at your job. That does not just stop in the bedroom. So whatever delusion, you’re under has to exist outside of other things. I’m so not surprised that he didn’t get it because if he had one Black [?]– I don’t know. I don’t. I hate I hate measuring Blackness, but just somebody who just lives just closer to the Flatbush area, the closer to the Bedstuy area. And then he told just one homie, not even a good homie, just one homie the story. I feel like a Black man would have been like, no, you you gonna have to watch out. You going to have to watch out. I’m like nobody said watch out?
Kaya Henderson: I will say I think love is hard to find. And when you find it, you got to go with it. And if this was a was a, if he just a Black men, and it’s a white women then that’s their business and God bless them. But to ignore the professional implications, the racial implications, like I don’t know what y’all thought was going to happen, but this was not going to end well from the beginning.
De’Ara Balenger: But it’s it has ended well because Amy is rich. Rich like rich rich.
Kaya Henderson: Stinky rich huh?
De’Ara Balenger: T.J. Holmes. T.J. Holmes is from West Memphis, Arkansas. Okay. That’s where he from.
Kaya Henderson: Ruh roh.
De’Ara Balenger: Have you ever heard of West Memphis, Arkansas? [laughter] We out of here. We are out of here. We are going to Wakanda. Um. I feel like they knew the risk and they were just like, you know what, we don’t care because we’re going to live happily ever after and we are so happy and so in love, F this show. And they are going to sue over this morality clause. And I think that they have some legal standing. So we’ll see. We’ll see what comes out of it. But I mean. They just a couple of days ago, they were spotted kissing and hugging and loving on each other. So I don’t think they are sweating any of this. They don’t got to get up at 3:00 in the morning every day anymore. They just doing what they want to do. So–
Myles Johnson: So my last question to you before we move on. Is cause it because you made the point but she’s very rich, right? I don’t know why just because she’s the host or she’s like from money is like?
De’Ara Balenger: I think she’s made some good investments over her career, but her estimated net worth is $50 million dollars.
Myles Johnson: Got it. Got it. But that don’t got nothing to do with T.J. Holmes because, like, what he can’t trap her. Oh I guess he could. Oh, no. But I’m like there’s [laughing] but I’m like that’s still her the–
De’Ara Balenger: He done got that girl out her job. So, I mean.
Myles Johnson: Okay.
De’Ara Balenger: Listen.
Myles Johnson: Well, we’ll we’ll keep a just a serious close eye on this developing story that is shaking my world, has me up earlier than usual, seeing what’s going on. And seeing who’s hosting what and then going to sleep to Gayle on CBS.
De’Ara Balenger: Oh, my god. I forgot T.J. Holmes was on BET. Y’all T.J. Holmes is where he wants to be. Okay. He been working himself out of out of us for a long time.
Myles Johnson: Well first. B– That’s not fair. Where where would you go that’s Black? Where would he go?
De’Ara Balenger: Look at our Black asses on this podcast. I mean, you know, you still– [indistinct] [laughing]
Myles Johnson: Not. Not him. Not. Not him. Um. Him and Care– Not him and Caresha. TJ Holmes–
DeRay Mckesson: Revolt, revolt, revolt.
Myles Johnson: TJ Holmes. I think you real cute, real [?].
DeRay Mckesson: Caresha please.
Kaya Henderson: Yeah. [laughing]
DeRay Mckesson, narrating: Don’t go anywhere. More Pod Save the People is coming.
De’Ara Balenger: All right. So I just my news is it’s sort of about my news today, like what I’m going to talk about, but but a little bit broader. So my news is about Robert Townsend and this article is is really talking about, you know, his career, yadda, yadda, yadda. But in the context of like trying to promote this new show that’s written by Eric Garcia, it’s called Kaleidoscope. I don’t know anything about Kaleidoscope. I don’t know anything about Eric Garcia. So I’m not talking about any of that. Now, Robert Townsend is beloved by me. I love Robert Townsend. I just do. The Five Heartbeats is one of the best films ever made. When them boys got out that car, when they pulled over by the police and they had to sing. Woof. Now that is some acting. So I just it was just on my heart because I think I’m having a lot of feels about Oscar nominations and I don’t want to talk about Oscar nominations and who was snubbed and this and this and that, because I’m like, I’m over it. The reality is Black people respect and see ourselves in our talent. And to me. That’s kind of all that that matters. Right? And so I don’t know. I saw this article about Robert Townsend and his career and how many people he’s put on over the years, whether it’s, you know, for his first really big break was Hollywood Shuffle, which he produced, directed. And that was a other thing, too, like in back in this day. With the Wayans and Robert Townsend, it just was like there seemed to be, and, you know, obviously there’s nuance in it because, you know, obviously some of these portrayals are questionable and and and beyond a right offensive in some cases. But he also worked with, you know, Diahann Carroll and James Earl Jones and Don Cheadle, Marla Gibbs, John Witherspoon and so many others. And so in this context, it just it you know, I think about the work that my company does in film and doc and I think about the filmmakers. There’s so many brilliant Black filmmakers that we have now who. It’s interesting because it almost seems like there seems to be less content and less opportunity than in the eighties and the nineties. And then the other thing that was sitting with me is I had the pleasure of taking my parents to see the last showing of the piano lesson last night. And it was so first of all, the play is just outstanding, obviously. Right. Um. And Danielle Brooks is incredible. And I was like, Danielle Brooks is just a such an incredible, profound talent that had to be on Orange is the New Black. Like that gets on my nerves. John David Washington, Samuel L Jackson, Michael Potts. And then last year, Trai Byers was actually in it playing Lymon. [correction: Trai Byers plays Avery] So Trai Byers is one of the cuties from Empire, the older brother, if you remember him. He was incredible. And so but before the show started, Glynn Thurman was there. So Glynn Thurman, most of you will know him as um Colonel Taylor from a different world. Okay.
Kaya Henderson: Isn’t it Turman?
De’Ara Balenger: Turman. Turman. Turman. I’m sorry. Turman. Glynn Turman. Thank you, Kaya. Um. But he played Colonel Taylor in a different world. Um. But he’s just had this prolific career, and the audience, which was predominantly Black, stood up and gave him a standing ovation. And I just was like. This is what’s meaningful. We see each other, we know what it takes. To make it in spaces that aren’t for us or built for us or want us. And Glynn Turman, who his first role at 12, was in the original Broadway production of A Raisin in the Sun, and he performed with Sidney Poitier, Ruby Dee, and Louis Gossett Jr. [sigh] It blows my mind. It just was so beautiful.
Kaya Henderson: He was also Preach in Cooley High.
De’Ara Balenger: Listen.
Kaya Henderson: [indistinct] the young people don’t know these things.
De’Ara Balenger: They don’t know Kaya. They don’t know. But it just was like–.
Kaya Henderson: He was Preach in Cooley High and he was married to Aretha Franklin [?]–
De’Ara Balenger: That’s right! He was, he that’s what my mama said, you know, he was married to Aretha Franklin. I was like, no, mama I didn’t know that.
Kaya Henderson: Yes. Ooh, it’s a good thing. It’s a good thing I’m on here to bring a little history to the thing.
De’Ara Balenger: So it just and so and then [laughter] and Debbie Allen was in the crowd. Everybody stood and clapped for Debbie. You know, the show didn’t start till 3:20. It was supposed to start at 3:00. Denzel Washington was in the building. My mom spent the whole time watching Denzel Washington’s reactions to the play. I was like, mama, are you going to watch the play or not? [laugh] But all this to say, I think it’s just been like, just all these thoughts and all these feels and being able to be there last night and then seeing this article on Robert Townsend and just that, like the talent is just so magnificent. It just is. And it’s so beautiful. And I think what the way I’m framing this and the way, you know. Thinking about studios and Hollywood and awards and like. We matter in it and representations that help to shape us matter. And how to support that, you know, will continue to be my life’s work. But it just just all of these things running together. I’m just and I think I just needed. So much something to hold on to, given Tyre Nichols of it all and just to be reminded how valued we are by one another. So that’s my news. It’s all over the place. But. I just. I needed this to hold on to, and it really came at the right time.
Myles Johnson: I have such a deep love of. So I’m always and DeRay will always remind me that that he met me as a writer as much as I want to like, scrub that away because it’s just vibes and selfies right now. But I’ve been like wr– the things that I have been writing, the ways I’ve been able to get out my critique is through um like playwriting and writing scripts since and doing and doing different things like that, and also just consuming things that I maybe I haven’t seen in like years now. Right. And it’s just interesting that you brought this to the pod because Robert Townsend was one of the people like, Hollywood Shuffle was the first film that I saw that I enjoyed. That and that’s that felt like like one of my films. Second was [?], I saw [?] like later I can literally remember the succession of me seeing these films and what like like what a genius Robert um Townsend is. I, I um, I think it should be such just imperative. I think if you are going to make films, I don’t care if you’re going to make Macbeth, I don’t care if you’re going to make whatever else or something of lower. I think everybody should see Jenifer Lewis in Jackie’s Back too like, I think–
De’Ara Balenger: That.
Myles Johnson: –that [?] [laughing] like I think that Robert Townsend is such a genius and uh like just one of like literally one one of my heroes. Um. And yeah, I think from from everything uh that she said, I think it’s super important for us to honor people who are keeping stories alive, keeping and keeping stories going um [?], specifically Black stories if that wasn’t um obvious.
DeRay Mckesson: I will say uh Robert Townsend to me will always be Meteor Man. [laughter] That was my first um understanding of a Black superhero. I had never even, like, you know, a non cartoon superhero, Meteor Man was my he is Meteor Man to me. Everything else is like a derivative of Meteor Man. It’s like Meteor Man goes and does other movies, but he will always be Meteor Man to me and I only as an adult that I appreciate how formative it was to just see a Black superhero in that way uh when I was much younger. So shout out to Meteor Man.
Kaya Henderson: Um. Thanks for bringing this to the pod De’Ara. I thought what the article did for me was remind us of our responsibility, but also just how we do business in bringing the next generation along. Like the number of people who Robert Townsend worked with, not just the actors, some of whom we mentioned, but many of the Black directors. I mean, Robert Townsend did his stuff a long time ago, but many people don’t know that he’s directing Kaleidoscope. He’s directing The Best Man, [indistinct] directing, you know, all of these things that we’re watching on TV today. And so one, he still has his handprints all over Black cinema. But also, you know, I don’t know who Eric Garcia is too, but Kaleidoscope is the hottest thing going right now. Everybody’s talking about it. And to know that people that you admired when you were coming up as a aspiring filmmaker are willing to work with you to help you hone your craft on your first big thing, I think is huge. And that’s who we are as people. We are communal people. We are. You know, the pie is not you know limited. Me, you know, helping to, you know, light your light doesn’t dim my light. And so this was a great example, I think, of Black mentorship and Black access and our commitment to each other as a folk, as a people. And so um I like that.
DeRay Mckesson: So my news, I feel like I keep saying this. I’m rarely shocked shocked. And then I read something and I’m like, Lord Jesus, here we go again. So my news is about the neo-Nazis who are homeschooling. So uh Huffington Post did an incredible analysis in an investigatory piece. By the way. I also, like, realize I hadn’t really read a lot of things at the Huffington Post lately. I was like, okay, Huffington Post with original research. So shout out to Huffington Post for still, you know, staying strong. But there is a telegram group called Dissident Homeschool that was run by a married couple that named themself Mr. and Mrs. Saxon. Had about 2500 subscribers, and it was a neo-Nazi homeschool parent group with lesson plans, with worksheets, with history lessons, with talking points, with analysis, with framing around race and white supremacy. What the Huffington Post did is that they backed into who Mr. and Mrs. Saxon were. And name them. And they found them. And that’s sort of one of the biggest things that comes out of the article that is big. But the other thing is that it just highlights like that there is an organized community of people using homeschooling as a way to inculcate the next generation of neo-Nazis. And I just in reading it, it made total sense to me. And these people are like deep, deep in it. Like, you know, the um their dog’s name is is was Hitler’s dog’s name. They have a podcast where they reinforce the ideas. But again, it was all anonymous up until now. Uh. Logan and Katja Lawrence of Upper Sandusky, Ohio. Since they have been named, they have turned off all comments in the chat group. Uh Katja has deleted her Facebook. It’s unclear if the podcast will continue, but 2500 parents is not insignificant. That is that’s a lot of people. And you know, people have talked about homeschooling as a breeding ground for white supremacy. But to see this uh on Telegram as like to see the plan laid out was really something I was floored by.
De’Ara Balenger: You know, DeRay this is really interesting. Um. Well, I mean, it’s like shocking and appalling and all those and abhorrent. But it reminds me of this article I actually read over the weekend about DeSantis appointing really conservative trustee members to the public universities across Florida. So it’s just like I think this is something that’s very calculated and on purpose and gonna and they’re just so smart about being villains. It’s just like wild. They’re so good at it. But I think this is something that is obviously going to it is happening within homeschooling, but I think it’s happening writ large within public institutions where there are conservatives in power that are allowed to appoint these um appoint these people, a dear friend of mine is also on a board of an Ivy League um that I won’t name. But she also found it fascinating because a board member there, it is showing some signs of this conservatism, too. So it’s just like I think it’s also going to be something that happens in some of the the liberal arts, private funded colleges as well. So this is this is wild.
Myles Johnson: It’s and it’s just like, worried about the wrong things. The first thing that my mind went to was like all this hoopla about the critical race and the theory, and this is where this is what’s happening in in um in people’s home schooling. Like if we could just focus on people who like what’s. Ah. I don’t even know at the shock. I’ll be lying if I say stocked about like shocked about anything. But what still I just find, like, just insanely disgusting is that Nazism is gross. And it’s like, uh as well as hateful and all that other stuff. But it’s it’s it’s gross and it’s it’s like cultural, you know, like, like, I don’t know an another way. I don’t know another way of saying it. It really more than the the racist people that I that I grew up with in suburban rural Georgia. There wasn’t necessarily a culture around who you hated, it’s it might have been, it might have been a result of just something that I don’t like Black people because that’s how I grew up and it was kind of, it was a byproduct. And those byproducts can create violence and horrible situations. But it it feels just particularly scary that there’s an act to create like a culture around who you hate, who you think doesn’t deserve to be here. And the fact that now there’s being organized efforts to infiltrate the spaces or to take people who are already in those spaces and just lean them further to what you think in order to gain control, in order to harm harm others and you know, I know that we’re all like triggered about like guns. And we’re we’ve been like talking about this for like the last couple like couple of weeks now. But also it scares me cause I’m like, they can’t not be planning something violent, right? Like that can’t be like, not like. Nazis did the genocide. You can’t not be here teaching kids this stuff, if the end game is not to one day be able to do something violent. And this is the beginning of training a mind to be able to do something violent because Nazis weren’t just Nazis because of what they believed, they were Nazis because they acted out what they believed and they helped kill people. And to me, this is where America’s focus should be and what people who are interested in education should be, not on, you know, critical race theory. And I think that was, Auntie Kaya’s news last week around um what people are like, what’s racist and what’s not being taught and and and things being seen as racist, stuff like that. Yeah, that’s the end of my anti-Nazi rant child.
Kaya Henderson: So first of all, I want people to understand that like this is not just quote unquote, “parental rights” to teach whatever they want. Like one, the article says, one lesson plan about Martin Luther King Junior tells parents to teach their kids that the revered civil rights leader was a degenerate anti-white criminal whose life’s work was to make it impossible for white communities to protect their own way of life and keep their people safe from Black crime. Like this is not like we just want to teach God or blah blah whatever, whatever. This is deeply, deeply racist. Um. And this is not like a new this is not new. This is not fringe. This is not discrete. Like this is the this is the continuation of what happened post Brown Board of Education, where white people did not want their kids to go to school with Black people. And so they pulled them out. They homeschooled them, they started their own academies. It is where you see now a lot of the voucher movement coming from. Pulling public um money for education to making it available to individuals so that they can send their kids to the schools that they want to send them to, not necessarily public schools um where there is very little regulation in home schooling. And back um across education policy, you’ve seen more and more deregulation of homeschooling so that people can teach whatever they want to teach and use public funds to do that. And when you look at all of these school board races and and [?] I mean, the two major I read this a while ago and I’ll try to find an article. I know I posted it on Twitter a while ago. The two largest political contributors in the state of Texas are these two men who are fighting to completely and totally dismantle public education, to voucherize everything so that these kinds of homeschoolers can do what they do writ large across the world, like these book bans, the critical race theory stuff, the public university stuff like this is a full frontal assault on American public education, and it is a full frontal assault on diversity. It’s a full frontal assault on democracy. Like this is a preservation of white power and white culture in ways that like we’re going to wake up 15 years from now and be like, oh my gosh, how did it happen? It happened because they were training these folks in these homeschooling academies where they’re teaching all of this stuff and then come right to my news where now instead of an AR 15, you can get a J.R 15 a youth training rifle which looks, feels and operates like mom and dad’s gun, an assault rifle that is marketed to children. Like this is what it is friends like it’s not. It’s not random it’s not fringe. This is a full assault on democracy in america.
Myles Johnson: Oh that was a good transition.
Kaya Henderson: Hmm. So my my news hoo yi yi, there are um some gun manufacturers. Schmid Tool and WEE1 Tactical um that they specialize in the AR 15 assault style rifle and the AR 15s are what most of our mass mass shooting suspects like to use. They are really military grade weapons that for the last ten or fifteen years the gun manufacturers have been heavily marketing to 18 to 35 year old men. Um. They have now come out with a JR 15, which is a child sized rifle. It’s designed to appeal directly to kids. It is a scaled down version of the AR 15. 20% reduction in size, 2.2 lbs. And the people say it quote unquote “fits kids really well” um the way they are marketing this gun is um there are cartoon skulls showing a boy in a mohawk and a girl in ponytails, all in hopes of cultivating the next generation of American gun owners. Kids are not physically or psychologically equipped to be, you know, shooting assault weapons, but the gun manufacturers are making it as if it’s an American hobby that kids should be able to shoot with their parents at a time where, in fact, hunting as a hobby is on the decline. That’s how most young people have their first experience with guns because their family hunts. When in fact hunting is on the decline. And marketing with these gun manufacturers has gone bananas over the last 15 or 20 years when you know at first when the JF 15 came out big splashy website, all of this stuff and democratic group, of democratic senators looked up and were like, wait, what in the world? And these senators have asked the FTC to launch an investigation into the company’s marketing practices because like, why are we marketing guns to little kids? But that’s what this is all about, they call it. And then the companies have taken down the JR 15 website. They rebranded the marketing campaign they say based on feedback from their customers and now they’re calling it a training rifle and so encouraging families to take their kids to the range and train them on how to responsibly shoot assault rifles. Oh my gosh. Anyway, all of this against the backdrop of the fact that gun violence is the leading cause of death for young people and teenagers in the United States. More young people die from gun violence than from car accidents. And we just watched a six year old shoot his teacher. So I’m not really sure who we are as a country. I actually am sure who we are as a country. Arne Duncan, the former secretary of education, once said, We love our guns more than we love our children in the United States. And when we’re okay with gun manufacturers marketing a JR 15, a junior AR 15, I think he might be right.
DeRay Mckesson: Kaya. I literally hadn’t heard about this at all in any capacity on any show, hadn’t heard about it on twitter at all until you brought this up. I will just say I googled JR 15. First thing I saw was a, a site that was called wee won like playing on like wee as in little kids um and it is a little kid with a assault rifle and it’s like that is mind blowing. I mean, what a world we live in. I didn’t I don’t know. I don’t know what I thought. I knew kids might be using guns. I had no clue that we literally are making a junior assault rifle. That is just wild.
Myles Johnson: You know. And I and I it’s funny that I even mentioned it today because I feel like I don’t mention where I grew up because I for don’t talk about it, [laugh] but I actually have more empathy than maybe not empathy. I have like more understanding because growing up in rural suburban Georgia of like the culture around hunting specifically, even because all the people who I grew up, [?] hunt and use guns were Black people and that was like a thing that they would do with their kids and stuff like that. And I went hunting with my stepfather a few times, too. So I it’s not surprising, I think, that there is such a intense culture around being able to provide for oneself and being able to show that you’re not losing any of your capacity as like a a a real human or a real man or a real country person. And you can go in and and and hunt and do [?] you’re not like the city folk and stuff like that. And I like stand ten toes down that I understand it, but it doesn’t work because people who have mood disorders, people who are being indoctrinated in to do violent things because of people’s races. Um. Teenagers are having access to guns and killing people and killing people. And it’s just like this weird denial that it’s that it’s happening and this kind of like kid washing of what these rifles are going to do and trying to make it seem like oh this is just about hunting. Yeah. Probably for most people who get those guns, for their kids, that’s all it’ll be, be about. But it takes just one time for there to be a tragedy. It takes two times for it to be a tragedy.
Kaya Henderson: You don’t need an assault rifle to kill a deer or a moose or a rabbit or whatever it is you shoot. And when you look at these websites, there is no Black people in these in these advertisements.[laughing]
Myles Johnson: Yeah. Yeah. No, I’m not I wasn’t I was never even insinuating that it was being, it wasn’t I was never even insinuating marketing towards them. But I think that because I grew up seeing Black people engage in that, like, engage in hunting. And because those Black people were doing it not just with other Black people. With white people, too.
Kaya Henderson: Yeah, you can you can get with gun ownership. This is this is not about not no gun ownership. This is about assault rifles of the caliber that our people in the military are using to take out our national enemies like that, where now we now think it’s okay to give to children whose full frontal cortex is not fully developed, who, you know, can’t manage their emotions the way adults can. I mean, and the, you know, concerted effort that this I mean, a lot of this plays on race war, the potential of a race war and the loss of white power and the loss of white manhood. And like owning a gun is different than like this thing.
Myles Johnson: We totally agree with each other and no it’s ins– insanely wrong. I guess, in my head. And not that that is even our listenership. In my head, I’m like appealing to people who are I’m like, Oh, I get why you at, I wouldn’t do it, but I understand the culture of maybe somebody else who maybe grew up in like a little more like a liberal place or a place where there’s no gun ownership being like, what that’s ridiculous. Why would you ever buy your kid any gun? You know, where it’s like, oh, I get it, but I get why somebody will buy them– their kid a gun. Why not protect your right to have a gun? Or why not protect like hunting if you think it’s so sacred. Why not like, actually be reasonable. I guess is what I’m thinking. Like why not say that not this gun, you know, instead of just rallying for everything? Cause like you’re saying, these are things. These are military grade weapons, so like. I Yeah, I just. I don’t know. I guess I just long story short, I met a lot of people whose are, were seemingly reasonable, seemingly not racist who have gu– gun ownership. And I’m like, why is that? Why is it not people amongst tho– that community who are saying, you know what, we do guns, hunting’s a part of our heritage, hunting’s a part of our hobbies and we don’t think we need these guns either, because I know that it’s not just these kind of like hicks who just do a thing, who–
Kaya Henderson: Mm hmm.
Myles Johnson: You know, like, it’s not like that community is not just made out of the fringe people who do who do those violent things, but the so why not stand up for it and be like, no, this is ridiculous. I guess is all I’m trying to say in a more sloppy way.
De’Ara Balenger: And I think it also just goes part of that, Myles, I feel like, is now we’ve had so many decades of gun culture. Right. It’s like they’re they’re they’re like Vegas style conventions around, you know, guns and different new kinds of guns. And here’s the newest thing. It’s almost like. Culture con but for guns, you know what I mean? So I think part of it is just like they are coming out with the most ridiculous versions of things. I’m sure things that we have no context of, of no visibility into, because that’s not our vibe. But I can only imagine what it’s like going to those shows, like in the wildness that they that they come up with and that people buy. Right. And what’s running alongside that culture is, you know, conservatism and radicalism and and nazi, it like it all of these things are like all so intertwined. And I think that’s, that’s the scary part, right? I think it is. It is that I mean, to DeRay’s point. He hadn’t seen this, had never heard of this ever. So just imagine how many things like this that again, we haven’t even heard of the fact that they think it’s okay to have videos, have YouTubes of little six year old kids shooting assault rifles is just. Beyond. It’s beyond. [music break]
DeRay Mckesson, narrating: In this week, we welcome Ben on the Pod to talk about his new podcast called American Terror. Now, we talked about Nazism and police terrorism all throughout today’s news segment, but this combo helps us to zoom in even further. Vice Journalist exposes domestic terror groups and far right extremists in the United States, breaking down what the public needs to know about them and how they might be stopped. Here we go.
DeRay Mckesson: Ben, thank you so much for joining us today on Pod Save the People.
Ben Makuch: Thank you very much for having me. I really appreciate being here.
DeRay Mckesson: So let’s start with how did you become a journalist and you’ve written about you know, I was going through. You’ve written a lot and you’ve written about like foreign affairs. We’re going to talk about the podcast. Like, how did you get into this sort of like, I don’t know, not niche, not genre, I don’t know, like this focus area of your writing. What was that story?
Ben Makuch: Well, I honestly I think it kind of starts back in when I started to become a journalist. I had a brother who served in the military and was deployed to Afghanistan, and I kind of became very into the war on terror to understand what was happening. And it was sort of this it was like our our era’s Vietnam War. And I really became sort of obsessed with it in some ways. But when I became a journalist and I got into an internship, I sort of focused on it and I slowly kind of accrued these sources within the military because of my brother, because of some of those connections. And I got a position with what is Associated Press in Canada. And as a junior person, I was quite tired of sort of reporting on politics, which is what my beat was. And I started to look at sort of what was happening in the world and saw that an organization called ISIS was fermenting itself. And a lot of it was sort of attracted, attracting these very young, angry men from all over the world. And I slowly sort of became embedded in many of their online networks. I did a bunch of reporting on that, which got a lot of attention in Canada, in the United States. It rang me up against the uh Canadian FBI, the RCMP, for some source materials. But while that was happening some time in 2015 and 2016, I certainly noticed that there was sort of the same thing happening, except it was on the far right and it was largely attracting very angry young white men. And the things that were exchanging the ideologies, the philosophies, the books, the figures. It very much sort of paralleled what how the rise of ISIS and Al-Qaeda had had sort of found itself online. And from there, I began to report on it, and it slowly kind of got worse and worse and worse is the best way I could describe it, until I think really culminating into the reporting that I did on this group called the base, which was sort of this predecessor, I think, to some of the violence we eventually saw and which we’re still seeing.
DeRay Mckesson: Well, let’s talk about the podcast now. Now, what made you do a podcast? So you’ve been a writer for so long, you’ve written, you know, all styles, a long form, short form, like what why a podcast?
Ben Makuch: Well, what happened was one of the sources that I was in contact with in The Base, which is this neo-Nazi acceleration, this terrorist group, which its founding ideology is to take down the U.S. government in order to build a white ethno state from its ashes by terrorist attacks. Now, this group is very uh insular, very, very secretive. And they had they had these sort of recruitment calls where the leader of the group would get on a conference call and speak to a potential recruit. Now, I had a source who infiltrated the organization at a pretty high level and started to record these calls. So when we were thinking about it, about how we would tell this story, having these calls as a as just pure audio, which is what they were, it was sort of a perfect you know way to tell it, is to tell it in podcast form that you could hear these voices. And it really is sort of this I mean, it hasn’t worn off on me, these sort of chilling interviews where, you know, it’s an interview to be a white supremacist terrorist, essentially. Uh. And even into that, it’s mixed in with getting a really all access look at why these people think the way they do and and also how they organize themselves and and how how they how they also spread and recruit. So it was a it was a perfect way just to tell this particular story. So we had 90 I think it was like 80 or 90 hours of of phone calls.
DeRay Mckesson: That’s wild, so let’s uh I want to know what you learned and help us demystify some of the things about uh about the way the neo-Nazis are organizing, but I have some questions from my listening. So one of the things that I thought was like so interesting, I think it’s in the um ooh maybe it’s in the final episode. All the episodes are running together cause you know, the neo nazis are racist in all of them. And I was like, well this is wild, um but one of the things that I that you that like is a sort of small moment in one of them, but it was like a big it was a big note was the relationship between neo-Nazis and misogyny, like you you sort of highlight that they are very explicit about controlling women and having babies with women like under false pretenses just to birth white kids. Can you talk more about like, did you go into it thinking it was going to be that explicit? Or like, did you stumble acro– upon that in one of the calls? Like, how did you? I was I was interested in that because that is what I had thought. But like, I didn’t know it would come out so clearly.
Ben Makuch: Well, I would say fir– uh the reporters that I worked with on this as well, we all kind of very early on thought that this was a major feature. I don’t think we understood just how major a feature it was in that you look at something like the 14 words, which is, you know, a neo-Nazi credo which which essentially dictates securing a future for white children. Now, that obviously implies a lot, right? That implies you need to have white kids. You have to have a white wife or white partner. That is sort of the core ideology of Nazism. This goes way back to Hitler. You know, so misogyny really is a central component of these ideologies. And I would say it’s also I mean, not not just Nazism, but I think also anything far right. It has sort of this subjugation of women attached to it. I mean, we even see it right now with you know the present day GOP and its rolling back of abortion rights. There is always something that has to do with controlling women and also, I should say, controlling people of color and Jewish people. This is something that’s a central component to all these these groups. But the other thing that I found was sort of a startling not so much revelation as much as I I just made the connection was that, you know, this these groups and extremist, you know, organizations like ISIS and Al-Qaeda, they they have a lot of that in common. You know, it’s about the subjugation of women. And I you know, I’ve spoken to I spoke to one Al-Qaeda operative a few years ago, and he told me that that was a central thing. Like they they were it was about controlling women and getting married to women and and procreating and and and spreading this these types of systems forward. And you look at you look at what these neo-Nazi organizations are like, and they were doing the exact same thing or they they they professed to want to do these exact same things.
DeRay Mckesson: Now, because you infiltrated a group that had taken a lot of measures to go unnoticed and off the radar. I’m like so I was listening and I’m like, do their families not know this is happening? Are they just turning a blind eye. Like it just some of the calls are just so wild and like this has to spillover or like the guy who was like, you know, um there’s like that one part where he’s like, he says he’s in the National Guard it’s like. I’m like, does nobody know or like what’s your read on that?
Ben Makuch: Honestly, it’s ki– it’s a mixed bag. I would say there was certainly one individual who was the leader of the Georgia cell. It was pretty clear that his family had some sort of idea of what was going on. And I know that there were others where I think their families did know and denounced it. Uh. That said, I actually do believe that many of these families had no idea. And I can tell you, the amount of times that I’ve we’ve we confronted family members with information like this before, and their families will say we had no idea. Now, whether or not that’s true, I can’t say for sure. I will say that these these types of people that were in these groups, some of them were were pretty professional. Some of them are really trying to hide what they believed and others weren’t. So I would say that I think one of the more frightening things is that, you know, I do think that some of these kids that were and I do say kids because some of them were 17, 18, 19 that joined. I think some of them picked it up on their own. It wasn’t their parents. They’re just these kids that kind of believe they’re disaffected. White kids from the suburbs who have some, you know, some interest in history and politics and philosophy, and they latch onto this really toxic politics. And next thing you know, you know, they’re they’re reading Mein Kampf, they’re reading The Turner Diaries, they’re reading Siege, which is another really, you know, horrific uh neo-Nazi handbook on terrorism. So I would say it’s a it really is a mixed bag. And the more frightening cases were the ones who really were able to hide it.
DeRay Mckesson: And why were you know, there’s a whole episode of [indistinct] like a whole moment and [?] throughout because I first came across you talking about uh the guy in the National Guard was not in episode six. It was in like one of your earlier episodes. But why why do you think that former military people are easy targets for this? Like and I ask it not like obviously I can think about some reasons why, but the military has people of all races and, you know, like it is like there’s an argument to be made that like, you might you might actually be exposed to more culture in the military if you came from some random you know place that was only white, the military is not necessarily like that. So I guess I under appreciated that they would be targeted for Nazi groups when they come home.
Ben Makuch: Yeah. Well here’s the thing. I think and experts would agree the majority experience of people in the military is it is this like it is like is probably one of the most effective melting pots of American society. But at the same time, we also know and I would urge people to read a book by historian uh Kathleen Belew called Bring the War Home, where she details how essentially since starting from the Civil War, mark every single major war, there’s been a massive influx of both extremist organizations and the creation and extremist acts of violence. Now, this obviously starts with the Klan, and many of the the original Klan members were Confederate soldiers. I mean, you look at someone like Nathan Bedford Forrest, he was a Confederate cavalryman who was actually called the Wizard of the Saddle, which is why he created the first grand wizard. So you see just sort of that that real connection to postwar trauma, postwar organization, and the fermentation of extremist groups. And I think part of it is that it’s these sorts of wars are violent experiences for all of society. And they also reinforce, they’re opportunities for Black veterans to come back, Jewish veterans to come back and assert their newly found powers. Right. And that was part of what gave rise to the Klan in the 1920s after World War One. You had a, many Black veterans who came back and they were not you know they were not taking some of the the Jim Crow laws that were in place and they were defying them. So this is something that’s continually happened across all of America, all of modern American history. The Vietnam War was another very, very, I think, traumatic moment for Americans, but it also gave rise to tons of extremism. Some of these more militant neo-Nazi groups came out of that war. I mean, you can’t you don’t have to look very far back in history to look at someone like Timothy McVeigh. This guy was in the military, decorated and then he bombed the Oklahoma City uh Alfred Kimura buildings and killed, I think, a hundred and 60, 60 plus people. And this guy was a deep, deep racist who was involved with the militant neo-Nazi community. So it’s both people who come back and they’re upset and, you know, they don’t know where to look. And they looked at these sorts of groups. It’s also the same reason why it was pointed out to me during our work on this that credit card companies target veterans because they’re more likely to bring more people into whatever they’re whatever they’re doing, whatever they’re consuming, whatever they’re buying because of the brotherhood and the community that’s involved in being a veteran. So when one gets into an extremist group, it tends to drag others in. And also they have this sort of this prestige in society that, you know, you’re a veteran. So if you’re an extremist group and you see that some guy in the Marines is there, you’re you’re more likely because you think this is the real deal, maybe we are going to start a revolution, maybe we are going to overthrow and storm the Capitol, which is what we saw. You know, there’s many veterans who were, who were key in in what happened on January 6th.
DeRay Mckesson: Now, can you help us think through you know when I think people hear about terrorism when they think about Nazis. They’re like a few images of what they do that are you know, it’s like some people think oh Jaunary sixth, people think about the civil rights protests and like blocking schools. I do think the images are very in– like it’s I don’t think that we have a conception of the everyday violence of Nazis, like neo-Nazis in this moment. How would you describe like what they what they were doing when you were listening and like, what were they planning ah like? Was it to blow up a building? Was it something else? Like, what was the what was the [indistinct] in terms of the actions?
Ben Makuch: So this group in particular was much more the way they saw themselves was in an almost like an insurgency. And it was, you know, I should point out it was led by a man named Reinaldo Nazarov, who is a Pentagon contractor that worked with the Special Forces on targeting missions that was compiling lists of people in groups like ISIS and Al-Qaeda and the Taliban to kill by drone strike or by by special forces uh capture kill missions. So this was a person who had a real understanding of how to create a terrorist organization because he had, you know, in part been been hunting these types of people for years. And what they kind of slowly began to commit to was sort of these really more intense acts of violence, like there was an assassination plot of two or one anti-fascist uh activist in Georgia. There was a plot to shoot up a gun rights rally in Richmond, Virginia, with the hopes that the gun owners that were at the rally would turn their guns on the police and that they could kick off a race war in this way. There was defacements of of uh Jewish communities. But I think one of the interesting things about this particular group, the Base, is that the FBI did make it a top priority to infiltrate them and take them down, and they put a lot of focus on it. And they had actually, through some undercover, were able to get into the group and stop some of these actions. But the things that they were doing and plotting and thinking about were much more paramilitary than, let’s say, the January 6th mob attack. That said, this same group probably, I think it was in 2019 or 2020, literally discussed storming the Capitol during the confirmation of the election results. This is something that, you know, they were even thinking about. So these groups were much more sort of, I would say, think about, you know, classic terrorist organizations. They shared bomb making manuals and things like this. So they weren’t like sort of the street walking skinheads who tried to beat people up or even tried to do a lone wolf mass shooting, because to them, one one person doing that wouldn’t really affect their political goals. And they really did see their goals and they do see their goals as political.
DeRay Mckesson: There’s definitely a consensus among anybody that listening to this podcast that Neo Nazis are bad. Nazis are bad, all like just not good. What do we learn from studying them in this moment? You know, because I’ll say I would love to have like been around a Nazi. I mean, like, I mean, this is like a [indistinct] I probably had and didn’t know it. This is, I guess. But here we are. We listen to your podcast and we learn about the inside, the inner workings, the recruitment the like strategy that they have that is rooted in bigotry and misogyny and white supremacy. What do we do with that?
Ben Makuch: Well, I think one of the things for me that was maybe one of the most terrifying parts of the reporting was that, you know, I was really watching the exchange of their and we know, we dev– devote an entire episode to it where we talk about how they have a book club. And part of the thing was they really wanted to sort of germinate American society and the American right with some of their ideas just with with hopes of them of that then, you know, disseminating into the broader public and the broader public becoming more and more violent, which is sort of a condition for their overtaking of the, of the US government. Now, I saw them exchanging stuff in 2018 on the great replacement theory on much more what were at the time, clearly neo-Nazi ideas. Now fast forward to 2022 to 2021. Tucker Carlson has taken this idea and latched on to it. It’s it’s found its way onto it’s found its way to I’m assuming some of the writers in his in his staff, I you I don’t know that for sure. But it’s pretty terrifying that these extremely neo-Nazi ideas that really do call for violence against people of color, against Jewish people, against anyone that they deem to be sub them. And it’s something that I really wanted to make sure that people saw. Look, understand that this is something these aren’t just the idea of great replacement theory isn’t just something that’s, you know, let’s have a conversation about immigration. It’s like, no, this is having a conversation about white purity in society. You just don’t realize that’s what’s happening. And we really need to be aware of that. We really need to be able to call out some of the symbols they have so they can’t hide in plain sight. Something like a sonnenrad. It’s a very, very it’s a it’s sort of this weird, creepy looking black sun thing. A lot of people used to wear those to gyms because it was a way of of having a fellow like, oh, you see my sonnenrad, maybe you’ll come talk to me. Maybe we can organize together. This is something that was really true. That they did. Now. Now it’s starting to be that you can’t wear that to gyms because people are starting to understand that that’s out there. So for me, it was about the awareness of it. And also, I think to show Americans and people around the world that, you know, this is something that I think a lot of countries have been grappling with for a long time that didn’t just start when Donald Trump came into power. It didn’t just start after the recession. We saw a rise of populism. This has been around for a while. We just kind of refuse to address this very obvious, deep seated white supremacy that’s violence in our societies.
DeRay Mckesson: One of the things I thought was so interesting about your podcast is that you have the actual recording, I don’t know what I got when I when I first listened I was like, I knew it’s recordings but I was like, is there and I was like oh my goodness, this is like, this is nuts. They know the podcast is out. Do you think they’re worried about being uncovered? Like, obviously these people were hiding. I mean, they weren’t like, this wasn’t on YouTube, you like actually had to have a source to get this. Um. But people know the base exists now like do you, are they worried about being uncovered? Are they? Because a part of me is like they want the press from being uncovered you know like, or, is it a mixed bag? Like?
Ben Makuch: I think it’s a bit of a mixed bag, but I think this has certainly made them more and more nervous. Like, if they aren’t, they probably should be because, you know, I think it was like way over a dozen members have been picked up in FBI counterterrorism probes. So they are a target of the FBI, which I think, you know, when it comes to like these types of groups, that’s probably the last group of people you want coming after you. So I think I’m assuming that there is some amount of and this is something that national security and terrorism reporters have a tough time weighing is that when you’re reporting on extremists, you kind of have to talk about them. So then you’re kind of giving some amount of of validation to their existence. And I think, you know, I have tons of reporters I speak with, and I think one of the things you have to weigh sort of the public interest in this and whether or not they are a danger to us and I think with the Base was pretty obvious and I think now. I think if you if you were which they do do they used to poster a lot in certain communities. I think now the fact that we’ve done the podcast, we’ve done so much reporting on it, I think people will be aware and see it and I have you know, I’ve been tagged in pictures where they’re saying like, look, the Base is here in this in this community or, you know, recently uh one individual was picked up in Italy and part of it was somebody noticed the the postering and wrote about it. I think it’s it is important work to call this out. And I am. Yeah. I mean, to answer your question, I think if they’re not worried, they probably should be.
DeRay Mckesson: One question to ask you that I before we ask the last two questions. And the question is what did you uncover or like come across in this that like legitimately surprised you, that you were like And I ask you know, I’m hesitant to ask because you had so much footage that I feel like in all there’s a lot of these conversations I was like, wow, this is it’s like gloves off wild. But like, was there any part of it and you’ve had a long career reporting on all types of terror stuff. So like, you know, maybe just none of this was surprising, but was there anything?
Ben Makuch: I think for me, one of the most surprising things was and I remember the morning I had been looking at this group very closely and one of my reporting partners and I had done the very first story on them because we’d had a source looking at them and we were like, this is bad. And there’s some part of you I think as a reporter where you’re like, I really hope I’m like, I think this I think I’m right here. And I remember it was I think it was January, mid-January, 2020, and the FBI had done this huge operation taking out you know multiple cells of the Base across the U.S. And you know it was a New York Times alert. And I remember thinking to myself, wow, this really was true. And I think part of it is that I think people don’t realize how easy it is to start to get together with a group of people that you mutually hate something or something and have an ideology and really start to create something that’s possibly very dangerous and how easily you can hide from it and hide from authorities. So I think to me it was sort of like a very much a visceral interaction with that. And, you know, I saw something grow and it got worse and worse. And then I think one other thing I thought to myself was, I’m glad this group was stopped right before the election in 2020. I mean, how much worse can it get? And, you know, it obviously did. And that for me, I think, was it was like I didn’t want to be right, but I was. And that was sort of a shocking experience, I think is the way to put it.
DeRay Mckesson: And the two questions uh that we asked everybody. The first is, what’s a piece of advice that you’ve gotten that’s stuck with you?
Ben Makuch: Oh, man. As a journalist, I remember my mentor told me because I was, I was complaining about, you know, was the too many hours, too much work. And this man said to me, and he was a great, really great investigative reporter. He said, journalism is not a great job for being paid by the hour. [laugh] And I thought to myself, that’s true, because if you want to get the story and you want to commit to something that’s going to affect change, you really just have to do what you, do what it takes. And that’s something I’ve definitely I sort of the intensity of reporting and really making sure you stick to something and know everything about it and really go for it. Um. That’s something that that has really driven the way that I, I go after stories and I investigate something.
DeRay Mckesson: Boom. And the last question is, what do you say to people who feel like they’ve done all the things and it hasn’t changed, right? They listened to your podcast, listened to mine. They protested, they emailed, they called the senator, they voted, they like, and it’s still bad. What do you say to those people?
Ben Makuch: This is something that I grapple with, you know, because I think it’s it’s really difficult because there’s a lot of really, really, like awful things that have happened in the last few years. And I’ve certainly felt it. And there’s a real hopelessness at times where, you know, you’re reporting on something and you think, I’m making a difference, I’m making a difference, and then something else worse comes along or something else comes along. And for me, it’s just I think it’s as simple as, you know, you just have to keep doing it. Because if you don’t, then the bad guys are going to win. It’s just as simple as that. I mean, I don’t want to stop confronting and trying to expose Nazism and extremism because I don’t really want to live in a world where you have the normalization of the 14 words, because one of my my uh my grandfather was a uh a Polish soldier who was also interned by the Nazis and you know, I think one of the things he always said to me was just how quickly this all can happen. And you don’t realize how quickly it can happen. And if you don’t fight back, it happens. So. You know, that’s something I think of uh you just you have to keep trying. [laugh] You have to. Uh. You’ve got to find whatever is whatever’s left in your tank and and keep going.
DeRay Mckesson: Boom, well, can you shout the name of the podcast? And can you also let people know where they can find you so they can stay in touch with your writing?
Ben Makuch: Yes, please. Thank you so much. Uh. American Terror is on Spotify and it’s a Gimlet Media production with Vice News and all eight episodes are out right now. So please go and binge listen to them or take your time because it is [laugh] not the happiest of listens. But it is interesting and I think there’s a lot there that is important. And the entire team that I worked with uh are were incredible. And I don’t want to take just credit for for myself because I work with such a massive team that are wonderful at vice audio and I’d like to shout them out.
DeRay Mckesson: And where can people go to stay in touch with what you’re writing or your next project? Is it Twitter? Is it Facebook, is there a website?
Ben Makuch: Check me out on Twitter at @BMakuch. B-M-A-K-U-C-H. I’m on there. You can see my latest writing. You have my links there and I’m also on vicenews.com where you can see all the latest things that I’ve been writing about.
DeRay Mckesson: Boom. Well we consider you a friend of the pod and can’t wait to have you back.
Ben Makuch: Thanks so much DeRay, I really appreciate being here. It’s a lot of fun. [music break]
DeRay Mckesson: Well, that’s it. Thanks so much for tuning into Pod Save the People this week. Tell your friends to check it out. Make sure to rate it wherever you get your podcasts, whether it’s Apple Podcasts or somewhere else. And we will see you next week. Pod Save the People was a production of Crooked Media. It’s produced by AJ Moultrié and mixed by Veronica Simonetti. And executive produced by me. Special thanks to our weekly contributors Kaya Henderson, De’Ara Balenger, and Myles Johnson.