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Fascism expert: Strongman Trump radicalized his supporters -- turning this back will be very hard

Calls are also growing for Republican Senators Ted Cruz and Josh Hawley to be expelled or to resign for supporting Trump's effort to overturn the election and fanning the flames ahead of last week's insurrection, and authorities are warning about more right-wing violence ahead of Inauguration Day on January 20. Ruth Ben-Ghiat, a New York University historian whose work focuses on fascism, authoritarian leaders and propaganda, says the storming of the Capitol was "a logical result" of Trump's legitimization and encouragement of right-wing extremism since 2016. "The threat to democracy is not outside our institutions only. It's coming from inside," Ben-Ghiat says.

This interview first appeared on January 11, 2021



This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The Quarantine Report. I'm Amy Goodman.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is threatening to quickly impeach President Trump if Vice President Mike Pence does not support invoking the 25th Amendment to remove Trump from office. During an interview on 60 Minutes, Pelosi said Trump should be prosecuted for his role inciting last week's violent insurrection at the Capitol that left five people dead, including a Capitol Hill police officer.

SPEAKER NANCY PELOSI: Well, sadly, the person who's running the executive branch is a deranged, unhinged, dangerous president of the United States, and only a number of days until we can be protected from him. But he has done something so serious that there should be prosecution against him.

AMY GOODMAN: On Friday, House Speaker Pelosi spoke to the chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Mark Milley, about ways to prevent Trump from launching nuclear weapons in the closing days of his presidency.

This comes as Senators Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania have become the first Republican senators to call for Trump to resign. Murkowski has also suggested she may leave the Republican Party.

Meanwhile, calls are growing for Republican Senators Ted Cruz and Josh Hawley to be expelled or to resign for supporting Trump's effort to overturn the election and fanning the flames ahead of last week's insurrection.

Authorities are warning about more right-wing violence ahead of Inauguration Day on January 20.

Over the weekend, federal investigators arrested a number of Trump supporters who stormed the Capitol, including two men who were photographed wearing tactical gear, holding plastic zip tie handcuffs — a sign that the domestic terrorists may have been intending to take lawmakers hostage.

Federal agents have also arrested a Georgia man named Cleveland Meredith for sending a text message threatening to kill Nancy Pelosi on live TV. At the time of his arrest, Meredith had a Glock handgun, a pistol, an assault rifle and hundreds of rounds of ammunition.

On Sunday, CNN aired shocking video of Trump supporters grabbing a D.C. Metro police officer, pulling him down the Capitol steps, where he was beaten with American flagpoles. Investigations have also been launched into the role of active-duty soldiers and police officers in Wednesday's riots.

Even the president of the United States could face criminal charges for inciting the insurrection. Last week, the top prosecutor in Washington, acting U.S. Attorney Michael Sherwin, refused to rule out charging the president.

President Trump made no public remarks over the weekend after being permanently banned on Twitter. On Friday, he announced he would not attend Biden's inauguration.

To talk more about the insurrection at the Capitol and the Trump presidency, we're joined by Ruth Ben-Ghiat. She's a professor of history and Italian studies at New York University, author of the new book, Strongmen: How They Rise, Why They Succeed, How They Fall. Her new piece for CNN is headlined "Trump's end game? Power at all costs."

Professor Ben-Ghiat, if you can start off by responding to what happened last week, this violent insurrection? Still, the Department of Homeland Security, the president himself, the FBI, the attorney general, none have made comment, even though five people died, another police officer took his own life, and we know the violence that now is becoming increasingly vivid as video after video is released.

RUTH BEN-GHIAT: So, the events of January 6 are the product of two long-term objectives that Trump has sought, successfully. One is, like all strongmen who arrive on the scene, they legitimize existing extremism and anti-democratic tendencies. They give validation to the worst criminal elements in society. And in fact, many strongmen, including Trump, either come to power with a criminal record or under investigation, so they are criminal elements themselves. So there's that. The other thing they do is — and Trump did this with the GOP — is they glamorize and legitimize lawlessness. So lawmakers become lawbreakers. And this has happened.

And what is particularly disturbing — and I think we'll have more of this — there's an AP investigation that has come out on, you know, who are these participants of the January 6 events. And though it's tempting to see them as — which is scary enough — as extremists and militia groups, white power, there were Republican donors. There were Republican officials. There were military. There were law enforcement. So this means the threat to democracy is not outside our institutions only. It's coming from inside.

And this is a logical result of a policy that Trump has followed very resolutely since he started signaling during his campaign to extremist groups, but also made that statement you played at the top of the show about shooting someone. What he was saying, in January 2016, is that he would be — he was above the law, and he was capable of violence, and he would get away with it.

AMY GOODMAN: So, let's talk about his family's rally, that was held right before the marauders, the domestic terrorists, the insurrectionists — whatever you want to call them — right before they marched to the Capitol. By the way, Trump, saying he would be with them, of course, got in a car and safely watched this from the White House.

RUTH BEN-GHIAT: Yes.

AMY GOODMAN: But let's turn to the video obtained by CNBC of Trump and his family watching a live stream of the pro-Trump so-called Stop the Steal rally at the Capitol last week. This is Don Trump Jr. and his girlfriend, Kimberly Guilfoyle.

DONALD TRUMP JR.: I think we're T-minus a couple of seconds here, guys. So, check it out. Tune in. I'm going to live-stream it. It's going to be — Mark Meadows, an actual fighter, one of the few, a real fighter. Thank you, Mark. Kimberly?
KIMBERLY GUILFOYLE: Yeah. Have the courage to do the right thing! Fight!

AMY GOODMAN: And this is President Trump's personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, addressing the crowd at Wednesday's so-called Save America rally in Washington, D.C.

RUDY GIULIANI: Over the next 10 days, we get to see the machines that are crooked, the ballots that are fraudulent. And if we're wrong, we will be made fools of. But if we're right, a lot of them will go to jail. So, let's have trial by combat!

AMY GOODMAN: "Trial by combat." This is Rudy Giuliani, President Trump's personal attorney, who apparently will be hired by President Trump, along with Alan Dershowitz, to defend him if there is an impeachment trial. Ruth Ben-Ghiat, if you can talk about what this insurrection looks like in world history, you know, the revving on by not the people outside, but the people on the inside, the leader of a country who refuses to accept a democratic election?

RUTH BEN-GHIAT: Yeah, this is classic. You know, it's really interesting because, in my book, it's the first book to put Trump in context of a hundred years of authoritarian history. And he's really using tactics from all three eras. He's got the fascist era, and of course I can't help but be reminded of the March on Rome, when Mussolini was, you know, trying to take over — trying to get into power, but used these Blackshirts. And he took a train, a first-class train, but all the Blackshirts were there in the streets intimidating the king into inviting him into becoming prime minister. And Mussolini is also important because he was a democratic prime minister for three years, eroding democracy from within. And then, when he thought he was going to lose power, he declared a dictatorship. But he had already had these Blackshirts who were threatening violence.

So, and then we have the age of military coups. And we know that Trump was investigating using the regular armed forces, before General Milley put a stop to that. And so he went with these extremists. But the other thing — which, as we see, are not only extremists, but people inside our institutions.

The other thing that he's left for the GOP is a roadmap on how to just nullify elections and treat your political opponent as a political enemy. And so, the GOP was already drifting toward being an authoritarian party when Trump came along. And he has legitimized lawlessness. And in a sense, the whole events leading up to, including the quotes you mentioned — you know, "trial by combat" — they distill this kind of macho lawlessness that's the essence of authoritarian rule and always has been. And it's our turn, as a country, to reckon with this.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to go to a message posted on Twitter Sunday by the Terminator actor, the former Republican governor of California, Arnold Schwarzenegger, in which he compares last week's pro-Trump mob at the Capitol to Kristallnacht, when German Nazis launched a wave of violent anti-Jewish pogroms.

ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER: I grew up in Austria. I'm very aware of Kristallnacht, or the Night of Broken Glass. It was a night of rampage against the Jews carried out in 1938 by the Nazi equivalent of the Proud Boys. Wednesday was the Day of Broken Glass right here in the United States. The broken glass was in the windows of the United States Capitol.

AMY GOODMAN: So, if you can give us the background for this? And then we're going to play more of Arnold Schwarzenegger apparently for the first time in public talking about the complicity of his father and neighbors in Austria at this time. Ruth Ben-Ghiat, give us the history of Kristallnacht and Austria and the Anschluss.

RUTH BEN-GHIAT: So, Kristallnacht was so tragically important because there had already been legal persecution of Jews and plenty of imprisonments of Jews who were leftists and beatings in the street. There was plenty of violence in Germany. And then Hitler annexed Austria and had a plebiscite — Austria had a plebiscite. But Kristallnacht was the first large-scale, coordinated attack on Jewish sites, whether they were stores, they were synagogues. And it was — you know, the Nazis allowed the violence to happen, but actually instigated it.

So, this is — this technique of lighting the match and already not addressing violence and egging on violence, and then letting it roll, is a classic authoritarian maneuver. And, of course, part of the effect was to lead some Jews to get out and emigrate, which is partly what the Nazis wanted. They wanted to get rid of the Jews that way, as well as with violence.

And the reason that Arnold Schwarzenegger —

AMY GOODMAN: Professor Ben-Ghiat, I want to go back —

RUTH BEN-GHIAT: Yes.

AMY GOODMAN: — to Arnold Schwarzenegger now.

RUTH BEN-GHIAT: Yes, that's what I'm doing. So, Schwarzenegger is —

AMY GOODMAN: No, let me go — we're going to go back to play a little more of what he had to say.

RUTH BEN-GHIAT: Yeah.

ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER: I was born in 1947, two years after the Second World War. Growing up, I was surrounded by broken men drinking away the guilt over their participation in the most evil regime in history. Not all of them were rabid anti-Semites or Nazis. Many just went along, step by step, down the road. They were the people next door. Now, I've never shared this so publicly, because it is a painful memory. But my father would come home drunk once or twice a week, and he would scream and hit us and scare my mother. I didn't hold him totally responsible, because our neighbor was doing the same thing to his family, and so was the next neighbor over. I heard it with my own ears and saw it with my own eyes. They were in physical pain from the shrapnel in their bodies and in emotional pain from what they saw or did. It all started with lies, and lies, and lies, and intolerance.

AMY GOODMAN: So, that's the former Republican governor of California, Arnold Schwarzenegger. Professor Ruth Ben-Ghiat, if you can talk about what he's referring to, everyday Austrians? And then take it back to the United States, as increasingly people around this country are asking questions about the senators and congressmembers who have aided and abetted what Donald Trump was trying to do — delegitimize democratic elections — people like Cori Bush calling for the expulsion — the new congressmember from Missouri — of congressmembers who supported this. But start back in Austria with the Nazis.

RUTH BEN-GHIAT: Yeah. So, you know, what Arnold Schwarzenegger is referring to is that Hitler was supposed to be — and Hitler was the native child, having been born in Austria. He was supposed to be savior of Germany. And instead, he led it to defeat. I have quotes in my book about women in bomb shelters when Hitler abandoned his people and the Allies were bombing and the Soviets were invading, and she said, "Hitler promised us greatness, and he was really out to destroy us." So, there was this, you know, massive, massive tragedy and guilt that was experienced and caused violence, domestic violence. And this is this kind of terrible atmosphere post-Hitler, who killed himself, of course, because the — I have it in the conclusion to my book — the one constant with all these men is that they despise their people, and they blame their people when things go badly, and they leave them in the ditch. Their only loyalty is to themselves.

And the Republicans in America have seen this happening as Trump has turned on the people who enabled him at the beginning, like Jeff Sessions, who was the first person to bring him to a rally. And Trump said, "Oh, I'm being mainstream now." And then we know what happened to Jeff Sessions.

And so, Trump has had an enormous success, to a shocking degree, in domesticating and making as a personal tool the GOP, considering he didn't start his party, like Mussolini or — and Hitler was, you know, a head of the party very early on. Trump came in from the outside. And in only four years, through intimidation, bullying, buyouts — the usual autocratic methods — has completely wrapped the GOP around his finger. And this is how we get this complicity.

And so, those who had to wait for an armed assault with murderous intentions on the Capitol to do the right thing, like McConnell and Pence, I'm not so impressed. They were only reacting to their personal safety being jeopardized. So, any legacy reckoning with the Trump era has to actually focus on how successful he's been at getting people to be their worst selves.

AMY GOODMAN: Finally, Professor Ben-Ghiat, you tweeted, "Historian of coups and right-wing authoritarians here. If there are not severe consequences for every lawmaker & Trump govt official who backed this, every member of the Capitol Police who collaborated with them, this 'strategy of disruption' will escalate in 2021." If you would elaborate further and end by talking about what is deeply concerning to so many people right now, that this was just a first attack?

RUTH BEN-GHIAT: So, when Trump says this, "Our beautiful" — or, "Our journey is just beginning," I had already been very worried that this would be — that Trump and the GOP — Trump will act as an outside agitator when he leaves. And this would be a strategy of trying to delegitimize the Biden administration — they've already been trying to sabotage it with nonaction on coronavirus, economic misery — but to make America so ungovernable and so difficult to govern, so chaotic, so violent, under Biden and Harris, that it creates more desire for law and order, and in come the Trumps back again, or Trump proxies.

So, I'm very worried that this — there's already a, quote, "armed march" being planned for January 17th around the nation. And once you legitimize and give a presidential imprimatur to extremism, and once you convince — you plant people throughout federal agencies, you know, you radicalize law enforcement, as Bill Barr, who stepped away but has a huge amount of responsibility for this, it's very hard to turn this back.

AMY GOODMAN: Ruth Ben-Ghiat, I want to thank you for being with us, professor of history and Italian studies at New York University, author of the book Strongmen: How They Rise, Why They Succeed, How They Fall. We will link to her new piece at CNN titled "Trump's end game? Power at all costs."

Next up, we look at Big Tech's response to the Capitol insurrection. Twitter has permanently banned Donald Trump. Parler is offline. We'll host a debate.

Blackwater’s youngest victim: 9-year-old Ali Kinani was among victims of Trump’s pardoned killers

President Trump's pardon of four former Blackwater contractors convicted for their role in a massacre in Baghdad has sparked outrage in Iraq. The Blackwater guards include Nicholas Slatten, who was sentenced to life in prison after being convicted of first-degree murder for his role in the 2007 Nisoor Square massacre, when he and other Blackwater mercenaries opened fire with machine guns and grenades on a crowded public space in Baghdad, killing 17 unarmed civilians, including women and children. The youngest victim was a 9-year-old named Ali Kinani. We re-broadcast clips from a short documentary, "Blackwater's Youngest Victim," by The Intercept's Jeremy Scahill and filmmaker Rick Rowley, that first aired on Democracy Now! in 2010.


“Blackwater’s Youngest Victim”: 9-Year-Old Ali Kinani Was Among Victims of Trump’s Pardoned Killers www.youtube.com


Transcript
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The Quarantine Report. I'm Amy Goodman.

President Trump's pardon of four former Blackwater mercenaries convicted for their role in a massacre in Baghdad has sparked outrage in Iraq. The Iraqi Foreign Ministry said the decision violates, quote, "the values of justice, human rights and rule of law" and, quote, "ignores the dignity of the victims," unquote. The Blackwater guards included Nicholas Slatten, who was sentenced to life in prison after being convicted of first-degree murder for his role in the 2007 Nisoor Square massacre, when he and other Blackwater mercenaries opened fire with machine guns and grenades on a crowded public space in Baghdad, killing 17 unarmed civilians, including women and children, the youngest victim a 9-year-old boy named Ali Kinani.

Later in the program, we'll be joined by a lawyer who sued Blackwater over the massacre, but first we turn to a short documentay by Jeremy Scahill and Rick Rowley that first aired on Democracy Now! in 2010. It features an interview with Ali Kinani's father, Mohammed Kinani. This is Blackwater's Youngest Victim.

MOHAMMED KINANI: [translated] I'm not just remembering the scene. I'm reliving it as if it were happening now. I will never forget those few minutes. So whatever you ask me, I will answer with absolute clarity.
All I could hear from my car were gunshots and the sound of glass shattering and the sound of tires blown out with bullets. I started to scream, "They killed my son! They killed my son!" What can I tell you? It was like the end of days. With cold blood and stone hearts, they continued shooting.
JEREMY SCAHILL: Baghdad, September 16, 2007. Shortly before noon, a convoy of four armored vehicles departs the Green Zone, the heavily fortified U.S. base in Iraq. The men inside of the vehicles were elite private soldiers working for Blackwater. Their code name: Raven 23.
The men had defied orders from their superiors to remain in the Green Zone and proceeded on to the streets of Baghdad. As they departed, they were again told to return to base. They didn't.
Within minutes, Blackwater Raven 23 would arrive at the congested Baghdad intersection known as Nisoor Square. Fifteen minutes later, at least 17 Iraqi civilians would be dead, more than 20 others wounded, in a shooting that would go down in infamy as Baghdad's Bloody Sunday.
You probably have never heard his name, but you likely know something about how 9-year-old Ali Mohammed Hafedh Kinani died. He was the youngest person killed by Blackwater forces at Nisoor Square.
This is the story of the death of young Ali Kinani, and his father has provided us with the most detailed eyewitness account of the Nisoor Square massacre ever given to a U.S. media outlet.
Mohammed Hafedh Abdulrazzaq Kinani and his wife Fatimah lived with their three children in Baghdad. Mohammed ran his family's auto parts business, and he adored his youngest son Ali, whom the family affectionately called by his kid nickname, Allawi.
MOHAMMED KINANI: [translated] He would sleep on my arm. He was nine-and-a-half years old, but still slept on my arm. He had his own room, but he never slept alone.
When he turned 9, I told him it was time to stop using my arm as his pillow. I said, "Son, you're getting older. Go sleep with your brothers, on your bed in your room. Your name is Ali. We used to call you Allawi, but you'll be a man soon." So he said, "As you wish, father." He always said that.
So I looked and saw his feet under the door. I called him in. He opened the door and said, "Dad, I'm Allawi, not Ali." He was telling me that he was still a child. After that, he kept sleeping on my arm. It was the only pillow he ever had.
JEREMY SCAHILL: When U.S. forces rolled into Baghdad in April of 2003, Mohammed proudly took his son to greet the men he called their liberators, the U.S. military. Mohammed was that rare personification of the neoconservative narrative about the U.S. invasion.
MOHAMMED KINANI: [translated] The first day the American Army entered Baghdad, I handed out juice and candy in the street, to celebrate our liberation from Saddam.
JEREMY SCAHILL: Before September 16th, 2007, Mohammed had never heard of Blackwater. Now he thinks of them and that day every waking moment. He remembers that Ali was not supposed to be in his car that day. Mohammed had just pulled away from his family's home on his way to pick up his sister Jenan and her children for a visit. Ali came running out of the house.
MOHAMMED KINANI: [translated] He was quiet the whole ride. But then we passed a newly built park, a garden. So he turned to me and asked, "Daddy, when are you going to bring us here?" I told him, "Next week, hopefully, if God wills it."
JEREMY SCAHILL: Mohammed and Ali picked up Jenan and her three children and made their way back home. The return journey would bring them through Nisoor Square. When Mohammed found himself in a traffic jam at the square that day, he thought it was a U.S. military checkpoint. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary to him when he saw the armored vehicles block off traffic.
MOHAMMED KINANI: [translated] One of the guards gestured toward us with his hands. This gesture means "stop." So we stopped. I and all the cars in front and behind me stopped. We followed their orders.
At that point, I didn't even know they were Blackwater. I didn't know it was a security company. I thought it was some sort of American Army unit, or maybe a military police unit. In any case, we followed their orders.
JEREMY SCAHILL: As Mohammed and his family waited in the SUV, the man in the car next to them was frantic. "I think someone was shot in the car in front of you," he told Mohammed. It was then Mohammed watched in horror as Blackwater gunners, for no apparent reason, blew up a white Kia sedan in front of his eyes. Inside, Mohammed would later learn, were a young Iraqi medical student and his mother.
MOHAMMED KINANI: [translated] There was absolutely no shooting or any sign of danger for us or Blackwater. No one was in the slightest danger.
Suddenly, in the flash of a second, they started shooting in all directions. And it wasn't warning shots. They were shooting as if they were fighting in the field.
By the time they stopped shooting, the car looked like a sieve. This is the only way to describe it, because it was truly riddled with bullets. They finished with the first car and turned their guns on us. It turned into the apocalypse.
JEREMY SCAHILL: As chaos and blood flooded the square, Mohammed remembers the fate of one man in particular who tried to flee the Blackwater gunmen.
MOHAMMED KINANI: [translated] Everyone was trying to escape. Whoever wasn't shot dead in their car just wanted to escape somehow. When one man tried to run, they shot him. He dropped dead on the spot. He was on the ground bleeding, and they were shooting nonstop. They shot like they were trying to kill everyone they could see. He sank into his own blood. And every minute, they would go back and shoot him again, and I could see his body shake with every bullet. He was dead, but his body shook with the bullets. He would shoot at someone else and then go back to shooting at this dead man.
The man is dead in a pool of blood. Why would you keep shooting him?
JEREMY SCAHILL: As Mohammed sat in his SUV with his 9-year-old son Ali, his sister Jenan and her three children, he realized that, for them, attempting to escape was not an option. As the shooting intensified, Mohammed yelled for the kids to get down. He and Jenan did the same.
MOHAMMED KINANI: [translated] Bullets were coming from the right and the left. My younger sister was trying to cover me with her body. So I pulled out of her grip and covered her with my body to protect her. I have pictures that show the headrest of my sister's seat is full of bullet holes. It was horrific, extremely terrifying. I still wake up from sleep, startled.
Why? I ask. Why would they do this? We were civilians sitting in our cars. Most of the cars had families in them. So why did this happen?
I kept hearing boom, boom, boom in my car. Bullets were flying everywhere. It was horrific, horrific. I don't know. I don't know how to describe it.
After they had killed everyone in sight, my sister and I kept still. I had her rest her head on my lap, and my body was on top of her. We would sneak to peek from under the dashboard. They continued shooting here and there, killing this and that one. Then it cleared. Nothing was moving on the street. Only the Blackwater men were moving. Then, they drove off.
JEREMY SCAHILL: It seemed to Mohammed like a miracle had blessed his car. "We're alive," he thought. As the Blackwater forces retreated, Mohammed told Jenan he was going to check on the man who had been repeatedly shot by Blackwater. It was then Mohammed's world crumbled.
MOHAMMED KINANI: [translated] When I got out of the car, my nephew said, "Uncle, Allawi is dead." My sister started screaming, and I turned to look at Ali.
I turned and saw that his window was broken. It was shot. I looked at him, and his head was resting at the side of the door. I opened the door to see if he was OK. I opened the door, and he started falling out. I stood there in shock, watching him as the door opened and his brain fell to the ground between my feet. I looked at his brain on the ground, and I pushed him back into the car. I told my sister that they had blown his brains out.
I started to scream, "They killed my son! They killed my son!" I was turning and screaming. People were standing on the roof of a nearby building, saying, "Get out! Get out!" But I was in another world. They killed my son, and I was looking at his brain.
I didn't know what to do. I didn't know what to do. I reached through the window to check his heart, and it was beating. I told my sister, who said, "Let's rush him to the hospital. Maybe he still can make it." But I knew. His brain was on the ground. He's gone.
I turned the car, which had no water, no tires, and I spun it around. I drove towards Yarmouk Hospital.
JEREMY SCAHILL: At the hospital, Mohammed was told that because of Ali's severe head injuries, an ambulance would need to rush him across town to a neurological hospital.
MOHAMMED KINANI: [translated] Riding in the ambulance, I was completely destroyed. My son was dying in front of my eyes. He was suffering. His arms were shaking and almost pulled out the IVs. So I held his hands still.
He died. What can I say? My son. Up to the night before his death, my son never slept alone.
JEREMY SCAHILL: After Ali died, the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad contacted Mohammed, offering his family a $10,000 condolence payment, making clear it was not a remedy for what happened and not a substitute for any potential legal action against the shooters. Initially, Mohammed refused the money, but the embassy pursued his family, urging them to take it. They eventually did, but with one condition: that half the money be donated to the family of a U.S. soldier killed in Iraq. Mohammed's wife Fatimah delivered the gift to the U.S. Embassy.
MOHAMMED KINANI: [translated] This is a gift from Ali's family to whichever family you choose, the family of any soldier who lost his life for the sake of Iraq. I want you to give it as a gift. I know it is insignificant, but it is an emotional and moral gesture from us to them.
JEREMY SCAHILL: Mohammed carries around a letter sent his family by General Ray Odierno, the commander of U.S. forces in Iraq. "Your substantial generosity on behalf of the families of fallen American soldiers," Odierno wrote, "has touched me deeply."
While Mohammed and his family mourned the death of Ali, half a world away in Washington, D.C., Blackwater's owner, Erik Prince, was summoned before the U.S. Congress. Blackwater, Prince said, had been the victim of an armed ambush by Iraqi insurgents at Nisoor Square, and he defended the conduct of his men, saying they had, quote, "acted appropriately at all times."
REP. DANNY DAVIS: You do admit that Blackwater personnel have shot and killed innocent civilians, don't you?
ERIK PRINCE: No, sir. I disagree with that. I think there's been times when guys are using defensive force to protect themselves, to protect the package. They're trying to get away from danger. There could be ricochets. There are traffic accidents, yes. This is war. You know.
JEREMY SCAHILL: Mohammed watched those hearings live and was outraged.
MOHAMMED KINANI: [translated] I wish they would ask the head of Blackwater: Did he think that this child was a threat to his company? This giant company with all the biggest weapons, guns and planes — was this boy a threat to them?
JEREMY SCAHILL: At the hearing, a State Department document was produced revealing that before Nisoor Square, the department had coordinated with Blackwater to set a low payout for Iraqi shooting victims, because, in the words of a department security official, if it was too high, Iraqis may try "to get killed by our guys to financially guarantee their family's future."
Despite Prince's brazen denials, the thought of suing Blackwater didn't cross Mohammed's mind. He didn't want anyone's money. He readily cooperated with the U.S. military and federal investigators, and he believed that justice would be done in America.
Then, he says, Blackwater stepped in.
In February of 2008, ABC News did a brief story about Mohammed. The day the story was posted online, Blackwater's attorney threatened to take legal action against the network, accusing ABC of defamation.
What outraged Mohammed was that Blackwater denied its forces killed Ali, claiming instead that he was killed by a stray bullet, possibly fired by the U.S. military an hour after Blackwater personnel had departed the scene. Blackwater claimed Ali was hit by a warning shot that ricocheted and killed him. It was not even possible, the Blackwater lawyer claimed, that Blackwater was responsible.
Shortly after that, Mohammed said an Iraqi attorney approached him. But he wasn't just any lawyer. Ja'afar al Moussawy was the chief prosecutor of the Supreme Iraqi Criminal Tribunal, which prosecuted Saddam Hussein. He was the Iraqi lawyer. Mohammed agreed to meet with Moussawy and Blackwater's regional manager. He says they offered him $20,000.
MOHAMMED KINANI: [translated] I said, "I'm not taking a penny from you. I want nothing." I asked them if they wanted to resolve the problem. They said, "Yes." I said, "OK, get me a pen and paper." I said, "Look, I have the paper, and I can sign and waive all my rights. All of them. I will sign now, but under one condition: I want the head of Blackwater to apologize publicly to me in America and say, 'We killed your son, and we're sorry.' That's all I want." I told them, "I don't want $50 or $20,000. I just want him to publicly apologize. That would be enough for me."
Blackwater's regional manager said, "We do not apologize." I said, "You kill my son and go on TV and publicly accuse me and all Iraqis of being mercenaries who intentionally have you kill us for the compensation. And you were under oath in front of Congress, and you tell me you will not apologize. What did you want, then? Why did you bring me here?" He said, "No, we won't apologize."
JEREMY SCAHILL: Mohammed then confronted the Blackwater manager about the company's claim that the U.S. military, not Blackwater, may have killed Ali.
MOHAMMED KINANI: [translated] I told the manager, "My son was killed in the car with me. How can you say it was the military? Do you want to stain the reputation the American Army? The American Army is innocent of this. Why would you blame this on them? Do you want us to hate them more? Aren't you an American company, and this is your national military? Why would you do this to your own?" I told them, "We love the American Army more than you do."
JEREMY SCAHILL: Mohammed threw the pen and paper at the Blackwater manager and left the meeting.
MOHAMMED KINANI: [translated] So I had no choice but to go the legal route and take things to court.
JEREMY SCAHILL: As we wrap up our time together, Mohammed Kinani shows us a cellphone video of young Ali hopping around a swimming pool with his cousins and siblings. With a smile ear to ear, Ali approaches Mohammed's cellphone camera and says to his dad, "I am Allawi."
ALI KINANI: [translated] I am Allawi. I am Allawi.

AMY GOODMAN: That's Blackwater's Youngest Victim, a short documentary by Jeremy Scahill and Rick Rowley that first aired on Democracy Now! in 2010.

Trump’s plot to overturn the election is total madness and a failure -- but it is making him rich

As President Trump continues to look for ways to overturn the 2020 election, he has also continued to raise massive sums of money — over half a billion dollars since mid-October, including more than $250 million since Election Day. The New York Times reports more than $60 million of what Trump raised has gone to a new political action committee that he will control after he leaves office, an unprecedented war chest for an outgoing president. There are few legal limits on what Trump can do with the raised funds, and he could use it to pay off his massive $420 million debt or to fund a potential 2024 run. "This is entirely unprecedented," says Brendan Fischer, director of federal reform at Campaign Legal Center, who has been closely following Trump's fundraising since the election. "It's a loosely regulated political vehicle that Trump can tap into after he leaves the White House to retain influence in the Republican Party and also to potentially benefit himself and his family financially."


Trump Plots to Overturn Election: An Attack on Democracy or a Scheme to Make Millions for Himself? www.youtube.com


Transcript
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The Quarantine Report. I'm Amy Goodman, with Juan González.

As President Trump continues to look for ways to overturn the 2020 election, he's also continued to raise massive sums of money — over half a billion dollars since mid-October, including more than $250 million since Election Day alone. Trump's largest single days for online donations actually came after Election Day. On November 6th, he raised nearly $750,000 per hour.

The New York Times reports that more than $60 million of the money he's raised has gone to a new political action committee that Trump will control after he leaves office. For a sense of the scale, this is about as much money as Trump spent to win the Republican presidential nomination in 2016.

The Times report opens, quote, "Donald J. Trump will exit the White House as a private citizen next month perched atop a pile of campaign cash unheard-of for an outgoing president, and with few legal limits on how he can spend it." The Times also documents how Trump's new PAC, called Save America, has actually been receiving nearly all of the money he gathered from supporters who donated to what was billed as a Georgia election fund to fight the two runoff Senate races there. Neither Republican senator on the ballot will get the money. Will Trump use the money to pay off his massive $420 million debt or to fund a potential 2024 run?

For more, we go to Brendan Fischer, director of federal reform at Campaign Legal Center. He's been closely following the money Trump has been raising since the election.

Welcome to Democracy Now! This is an astounding story. For people who are looking at what he's doing and saying, I mean, is it total madness, as he continues to allege electoral fraud, taking case after case to federal courts and the Supreme Court, as — what? — close to 50 cases have been thrown out of court? Even the Trump-allied judges are saying no to him. He won't accept it. Is this madness? Or is it that every time he does this, he has another incentive and fundraising letter to say, "Let's fight the fraud," though, ultimately, that money goes into his pocket, Brendan Fischer?

BRENDAN FISCHER: That's right. I think it's fair to say that this is entirely unprecedented. You know, typically, after a president leaves office, he fades into the background. He begins to focus on writing his memoirs, setting up his presidential library. But Trump has been on a fundraising tear since Election Day, asking for donations to an election defense fund or to support the Senate races in Georgia.

But most of every donation has instead gone to his new leadership PAC, Save America. And Save America is not financing any of Trump's post-election litigation. It is not financing the Senate races in Georgia. Instead, it's a loosely regulated political vehicle that Trump can tap into after he leaves the White House to retain influence in the Republican Party and also to potentially benefit himself and his family financially.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, could you talk about that, the potentially benefiting himself and his family? Because most people are not aware that when you have campaign cash — first of all, he has not declared himself a candidate, so that if he did, he would have to then — he would then have to have more restrictions on how he could use money. But could you talk about the potential ways that he could directly benefit, that this could become the ultimate grift here, on his way out the door?

BRENDAN FISCHER: Yeah. Well, so, first of all, it might be helpful to define just what a leadership PAC is. A leadership PAC is effectively a second pot of money, separate and apart from a candidate's own campaign funds. A leadership PAC is supposed to be used to support other candidates, but very often they are used as a slush fund, because they're loosely regulated.

The key distinction between Trump's campaign funds and the funds held in Save America are that Trump campaign funds cannot be used for personal expenses, but the Federal Election Commission has not interpreted that personal use ban to apply to a candidate's leadership PAC, which opens up all sorts of different ways that Trump could potentially use his leadership PAC funds to benefit himself or his family financially. He could pay himself a salary. He could put Tiffany Trump on the payroll. He could buy enough copies of Don Jr.'s book to put it on the New York Times best-seller list. He could rent out entire floors at Trump Hotel. There are really very few limits as far as the way that the FEC has interpreted this law.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And what about Trump's MAGA PAC?

BRENDAN FISCHER: So, Trump's MAGA PAC is really the fundraising vehicle for Save America. So, the flurry of fundraising appeals that have gone out since Election Day, asking for donations to a nonexistent election defense fund or asking for donations to support the Senate races in Georgia, are actually going to Trump MAGA PAC. And when you read the small print on the fundraising appeals, it shows that every donation to Trump MAGA PAC is then reallocated. At this point, 75% of every donation that you give in response to a Trump fundraising appeal is going to be allocated to Save America, and 25% to the RNC. But for the first week after the election, most of every small donation was going to be routed towards Trump's 2020 debt retirement. And then, after Trump set up Save America, now most of every donation goes to finance Save America.

AMY GOODMAN: So, this is President Trump's former personal attorney and fixer Michael Cohen speaking to MSNBC after the explosive New York Times article on Trump's taxes broke.

MICHAEL COHEN: I think what's really bothering him the most, though, is that Trump has over $420 million in outstanding loans that are coming due. Now, in the event that there is a potential tax liability for the time period that they're talking about, I mean, it could be hundreds and hundreds of millions of dollars. If you add those together, I mean, he's very — I mean, very realistically facing a potential bankruptcy. … He'll find some corrupt foreign entity to help him out of the situation.

AMY GOODMAN: So, he can either find a corrupt foreign entity, as Michael Cohen says, or he can just send out these fundraising letters, sometimes a number a day, and raise the money he needs. He leaves, when he is no longer president, also presidential immunity, leaving himself open also to lawsuits, which might explain some of these astounding meetings he's having at the White House right now, back with, for example, Sidney Powell, who they just forced out because of her outrageousness and unfounded conspiracy voter claims, possibly talking about making her some kind of special counsel on electoral fraud, but also talking with people like the man he just pardoned, the general, Michael Flynn, talking — he's pushing for martial law, so that Trump doesn't have to leave office. Can you explain what happens after he leaves and what kind of accountability there is for the money, and what needs to be done to change the entire system? Because it's not only President Trump that could take advantage of this.

BRENDAN FISCHER: Yeah, you know, and the phenomenon of scam PACs are not entirely new. There is an entire bipartisan industry of shady political operators using incredibly misleading fundraising appeals to ask people to donate money that is not actually going towards the purposes for which people donate. But it's rare to see such misleading appeals coming from a candidate, much less the incumbent president. You know, campaign finance law really does not look at the veracity of fundraising appeals.

Where there could be some movement is with the FEC and extending the ban on the personal use of campaign funds to leadership PACs. We have a pending rule-making petition with the FEC, asking it to clarify that a candidate or a politician, like Trump, cannot convert leadership PAC funds to his own personal use.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: There's one Trump donor, the North Carolina businessman Fredric Eshelman, who sued the campaign to recover his $2.5 million donation, citing, quote, "disappointing results" in these lawsuits. Do you think there might be other such lawsuits? And do they have any chance of winning?

BRENDAN FISCHER: Yeah, so that lawsuit actually pertains to a separate group, True the Vote, which also took money from Eshelman — or, which took money from Eshelman with promises to try and overturn the election results, and, of course, failed.

You know, I think a distinction between where a lot of the money is coming from for Trump's leadership PAC and Eshelman is that a lot of the money for Trump is coming from small donors, from people who may not have the resources to sue Trump or to really even identify that their money is being misused. And again, I think that's part of what's unique about this, because, typically, candidates have an incentive to maintain a level of trust with their supporters. They might use inflammatory fundraising appeals, but they want to —

AMY GOODMAN: Five seconds.

BRENDAN FISCHER: — maintain a level of trust so people keep giving. You know, of course, Trump is the person who said he could shoot somebody on 5th Avenue and still maintain a level of support. And this post-election fundraising might just be the political version of that.

AMY GOODMAN: We want to thank you, Brendan Fischer, director of federal reform at Campaign Legal Center. I'm Amy Goodman, with Juan González. Stay safe. Wear a mask.

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