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FRONTLINE: "AMERICAN INSURRECTION"

The past three years our colleagues at Frontline have been working with Propublica to investigate the rise of violent extremism in America. Supported by our Exploring Hate initiative, Frontline is now premiering the first in a series of films chronicling the surge in extremism being felt around the world with “American Insurrection.”

AIRED: April 13, 2021 | 0:16:41
ABOUT THE PROGRAM
TRANSCRIPT

>>> GOOD EVENING.

WELCOME TO "METROFOCUS."

I'M JACK FORD.

OVER THE PAST THREE YEARS OUR

COLLEAGUES AT FRONT LINE HAVE

TEAMED UP WITH REPUBLICA.

AN INVESTIGATION INTO THE DEADLY

ATTACK ON THE U.S. CAPITOL, HOW

FAR RIGHT GROUPS WERE EMBOLDENED

BY FORMER PRESIDENT TRUMP AND

WHY INDIVIDUALS BECAME

RADICALIZED.

R

FR

FRONTLINE IS PREMIERING THE

FIRST OF THREE FILMS "AMERICAN

INSURRECTION" DEBUTS TONIGHT.

IT'S SUPPORTED BY OUR EXPLORING

HATE INITIATIVE HERE AT WNET

EXPLORING ANTI-SEMITISM, RACISM

AND EXTREMISM IN AMERICA.

HERE'S A PREVIEW.

>>> I THINK ABOUT A REVOLUTION

AGAINST THE GOVERNMENT.

WE'RE PAST THE POINT OF PEACE.

>> FROM CHARLOTTESVILLE TO THE

ASSAULT ON THE CAPITOL, THE

DARKEST DAYS IN THE HISTORY OF

OUR NATION.

>> WE'RE SEEING THIS COUNTRY

FALL APART BEFORE OUR EYES.

>> HOW THE FORMER PRESIDENT

GALVANIZED AN ARMY.

>> HE GOT A GUY WHO'S A

NATIONALIST IN THE MOST POWERFUL

SEAT IN THE WORLD.

WE CAN ACTUALLY WIN.

>> PROUD BOYS, STAND BACK AND

STAND BY.

>> LOCK THEM ALL UP.

>> THE FAR RIGHT MILITIAS HAVE

MUCH MORE LICENSE TO PUBLICLY

ENGAGE.

>> THE PLOT TO KIDNAP GOVERNOR

GRETCHEN WHITMER.

>> KIDNAP ME AND POSSIBLY KILL

ME.

>> YOU'RE NOT GOING TO HAVE A

COUNTRY ANYMORE.

>> VIOLENT MOB STOKED BY THE

WORDS OF PRESIDENT TRUMP STORMED

THE BUILDING.

>> THEIR COUNTRY WOULD SOMEHOW

BE TAKEN AWAY FROM THEM.

>> IN THE AFTERMATH OF THE 2020

ELECTION, HOW THESE GROUPS HAVE

BECOME PART OF THE POLITICAL

LANDSCAPE.

>> THERE WERE SOME PEOPLE IN THE

CROWD ASSOCIATED WITH US AND

THEY WEREN'T THERE FOR TRUMP.

THEY WERE THERE JUST TO MESS

WITH THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT ONE

MORE TIME.

>> OVER THE LAST SEVERAL TIMES

FRONTLINE AND PROPUBLICA

INVESTIGATES THE SCOURGE OF FAR

RIGHT POLITICAL VIOLENCE.

>> WHAT DO SOLDIERS AND MARINES

BRING?

>>XPERTISE IN

CERTAIN AREAS.

>> I'M AFRAID THAT MORE INNOCENT

CIVILIANS ARE GOING TO BE

TARGETED AND VICTIMIZED BY THESE

VIOLENT OFFENDERS.

EVERYTHING THAT WE HAVE

PREDICTED HAS COME TO FRUITION

AND IT'S ACTUALLY WORSE.

>> THE FIRST IN A SERIES OF

FILMS ON THE RISE OF EXTREMISM

AROUND THE WORLD.

>> WE DEFINITELY ARE THE MODERN

MILITIA.

WE'RE THE ONES CRAZY ENOUGH TO

ACTUALLY DO SOMETHING.

>> MORE NOW ON AMERICAN

INSURRECTION.

WE'RE PLEASED TO BE JOINED BY

CORRESPONDENT AND PROPUBLICA

SENIOR REPORTER AC THOMPSON.

WELCOME.

THANKS FOR JOINING US.

>> THANK YOU FOR HAVING ME ON.

>> SO LET'S START WITH THE TITLE

"AMERICAN INSURRECTION."

I SUSPECT ANYBODY WHO SEES THAT

WILL THINK THIS IS GOING TO BE

ALL ABOUT JANUARY 6th AND WHAT

TOOK PLACE AT THE CAPITOL.

INDEED THE FILM STARTS WITH SOME

HAUNTING IMAGES OF THE DAY AFTER

THAT ON JANUARY 7th.

THAT'S NOT ALL THIS IS ABOUT.

WHY THEN CHOOSE "AMERICAN

INSURRECTION" AS YOUR TITLE?

>> WE REALLY STARTED WORKING ON

THIS FILM SHORTLY AFTER THE

FIRST PRESIDENTIAL DEBATE IN THE

LAST ELECTION CYCLE.

THAT WAS WHEN DONALD TRUMP, THEN

PRESIDENT, GAVE A SHOUTOUT TO

THE PROUD BOYS, THE ULTRA

NATIONALIST KIND OF STREET

FIGHTING GANG.

OUR BOSSES SAID, HEY, THAT'S

REALLY INTERESTING.

WHAT'S HAPPENING ON THE

POLITICAL LANDSCAPE NOW, WHAT'S

HAPPENING IN THE STREETS.

WE DIDN'T KNOW, OBVIOUSLY, THAT

JANUARY 6th WOULD HAPPEN.

BUT WE STARTED TRACKING THESE

MOVEMENTS THAT WOULD END UP

PROPELLING US TO JANUARY 6th AND

END UP BEING PLAYERS ON THAT

DAY.

>> WHEN YOU STARTED OFF WITH

THESE HAUNTING IMAGES OF JANUARY

7th AND YOU TALK ABOUT IN ORDER

TO TELL THE STORY, YOU NEED TO

GO BACK TO THE BEGINNING.

THE BEGINNING IS

CHARLOTTESVILLE.

WHY WAS CHARLOTTESVILLE THE

BEGINNING OF THIS STORY?

>> FOR ME, HAVING COVERED THAT

EVENT AND HAVING BEEN THERE THE

DAY OF THAT TRAGEDY, I THOUGHT

REALLY THIS IS A MOMENT THAT

TELLS US THAT THE CURRENT

ADMINISTRATION HAS A DISTINCTLY

DIFFERENT APPROACH AND

RELATIONSHIP WITH EXTREMIST

MOVEMENTS, WITH RADICAL

PARTICULARLY WHITE POWER

MOVEMENTS AT THAT TIME, THAN ANY

ADMINISTRATION IN MODERN

HISTORY.

AND IN SOME WAYS, WHAT WE'RE

DOING HERE IS WE'RE TRACING THAT

SORT OF MOMENT WHERE IT BECOMES

CLEAR TO THE ENTIRE COUNTRY,

THIS IS A PRESIDENT WHO HAS NOT

BEEN UNEQUIVOCAL IN HIS

CONDEMNATION OF WHAT'S JUST

HAPPENED IN CHARLOTTESVILLE.

WE ARE IN A NEW AGE.

WHAT YOU'VE SEEN OVER THE LAST

YEAR IS A CONTINUATION OF THAT

ARC OF A PRESIDENT WHO REALLY

WAS WILLING TO SORT OF ENERGIZE

AND INSPIRE SOME OF THE ANGRIER

AND MORE DANGEROUS FORCES OUT IN

THE STREETS.

>> WERE YOU SURPRISED AT ALL BY

THE PEOPLE YOU TALKED TO?

YOU HAD EXTRAORDINARY ACCESS.

VIEWERS MIGHT BE SURPRISED TO

SEE SO MANY OF THESE PEOPLE WERE

WILLING TO SIT DOWN AND TALK

WITH YOU.

WERE YOU AT ALL SURPRISED BY

THEIR RESPONSES TO THE ROLE THAT

FORMER PRESIDENT TRUMP PLAYED IN

ALL OF THIS?

>> YOU KNOW, A THING THAT I

HEARD FROM MANY PEOPLE WAS,

TRUMP IS AN INSPIRATION, THAT

DONALD TRUMP IS A CATALYST, THAT

WE SEE DONALD TRUMP AS AN ALLY.

BUT I ALSO HEARD FROM PEOPLE

LIKE IN THE BUGALOO MOVEMENT,

WHICH IS AN ANTI-GOVERNMENT,

INSURRECTIONIST MOVEMENT THAT

AIMS TO OVERTHROW THE

GOVERNMENT, THEY SAY WE DON'T

LIKE TRUMP, BIDEN OR ANY OF THE

POLITICIANS, BUT WE REALLY DO

WANT TO OVERTHROW THE

GOVERNMENT.

>> YOU SPEND A LOT OF TIME

TALKING ABOUT PROUD BOYS AND

SOME OTHER ORGANIZATIONS THERE,

BUT YOU DO SHINE A LIGHT ON THAT

MOVEMENT.

WHY WAS THAT IMPORTANT IN YOUR

STORYTELLING HERE?

>> THE THING WE COULD SEE AFTER

CHARLOTTESVILLE IS THAT THE

WHITE SUPREMACIST MOVEMENT, THE

OPEN WHITE SUPREMACIST MOVEMENT

HAD STARTED TO FALTER.

THERE WAS SO MUCH BACKLASH AFTER

CHARLOTTESVILLE THAT PEOPLE

REBRANDED, THEY GOT INTO

DIFFERENT GROUPS, THEY ADOPTED

SLIGHTLY DIFFERENT IDEOLOGIES.

ONE OF THE NEW MOVEMENTS THAT

SPRANG UP IN THE LAST COUPLE

YEARS IS THE SO-CALLED BUGALOO

MOVEMENT.

SOME CAME FROM THE WHITE POWER

SCENE AND OTHER SCENES .

IN 2020 THEY WERE THE MOST

ACTIVE GROUP IN THE UNITED

STATES WITH MORE ARRESTS THAN

ANY OTHER EXTREMIST GROUP.

WE THOUGHT IT WAS CRUCIAL TO

UNDERSTAND THEM AND EXPLAIN WHAT

THEY WERE DOING.

>> I THINK PEOPLE WHO HAD BEEN

FOLLOWING THIS WOULD BE

SURPRISED TO LEARN THAT, THE

ENHANCED ROLE, IF YOU WILL, THAT

THEY'RE PLAYING NOW.

LET ME COME BACK TO THE ACCESS

THAT YOU HAD TO PEOPLE

THROUGHOUT THIS FILM.

IN WATCHING IT, YOU KNOW, I KEPT

SAYING TO MYSELF, HUH, I'M

SURPRISED THAT THESE PEOPLE ARE

WILLING TO SIT DOWN AND TO SAY

WHAT THEY'RE WILLING TO SAY

HERE.

WERE YOU AT ALL SURPRISED THAT

YOU GOT SUCH EXTRAORDINARY

ACCESS?

>> YEAH, I WAS AT SOME POINTS.

I HAVE TO SAY THAT OUR PARTNERS

AT THE UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA

BERKELEY JOURNALISM SCHOOL DID

REMARKABLE WORK IN GETTING AN

INTERVIEW WITH STEVEN PRIA WHO'S

AN ALLEGED BUGALOO BOY FACING

THE DEATH PENALTY FOR ALLEGEDLY

KILLING A FEDERAL OFFICER.

ONE THING IS WE DON'T WANT TO

PLATFORM THESE PEOPLE.

THAT IS A TOUGH ISSUE.

WHAT'S THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN

GIVING THESE PEOPLE A MICROPHONE

AND PUTTING THEM ON SCREEN SO

PEOPLE CAN UNDERSTAND WHO THEY

ARE AND WHAT THEY WANT?

THAT WAS SOMETHING WE HAD TO

WRESTLE WITH.

SOME OF THESE PEOPLE WANT TO USE

US TO PROCSELYTIZE AND GROW THER

MOVEMENTS.

>> SOME OF THESE PEOPLE YOU

COULD TELL WERE VERY

INTELLIGENT.

THEY UNDERSTAND BY TALKING TO

YOU THEY ARE GETTING PLATFORM

AND PERHAPS MILLIONS OF PEOPLE

WILL LISTEN TO THEM THAT THEY

WOULD NEVER BE ABLE TO GET

ACCESS TO OTHERWISE.

HOW DO YOU AS A FILMMAKER SAY,

HE GETS ON, HE DOESN'T?

HOW DO YOU RESOLVE THOSE ISSUES?

>> YEAH.

IT'S NEVER PERFECT, RIGHT?

IT'S A COLLECTIVE PROCESS

BETWEEN EVERYONE ON OUR FILM

MAKING TEAM.

I THINK THE THINGS WE WANT TO

DO, WE WANT TO SHOW THESE PEOPLE

AND LET THEM SPEAK IN THEIR OWN

WORDS.

I CAN DESCRIBE THEM TO YOU.

I CAN SAY THAT BARRY CROFT, THE

MAN WHO ALLEGEDLY HELPED MASTER

MIND THE KIDNAPPING PLOT OF

GRETCHEN WHITMER, I CAN SAY THIS

IS WHAT HE'S LIKE, BUT IF YOU

SEE HIM ON CAMERA, YOU GET A

MUCH BETTER IDEA.

WE WANT TO LET YOU UNDERSTAND ON

A VISCERAL LEVEL WHO THEY ARE,

BUT ALSO WE WANT TO PUSH BACK ON

THE THINGS THEY SAY THAT WE

THINK ARE SIMPLY FALSE.

WE WANT TO BE CRITICALLY ON

THEIR BACKGROUNDS AND WHO THEY

REALLY ARE.

IF THEY ARE ACTUALLY THE PEOPLE

THAT THEY PORTRAY THEMSELVES AS,

IF THEY SAY THINGS WE DON'T

AGREE WITH, WE WANT TO HIGHLIGHT

THAT.

>> WE'RE TALKING WITH AC

THOMPSON, THE CORRESPONDENT ON

FRONTLINE'S "AMERICAN

INSURRECTION."

CHECK YOUR LOCAL LISTINGS FOR

THAT.

AC, IN TEHIS IS A JOURNEY OF

DISCOVERY FOR YOU.

YOU'RE TRYING TO FIND ANSWERS TO

QUESTIONS HERE.

WHEN YOU TALK TO THESE PEOPLE

AND WHEN YOU DELVE INTO THE

BACKGROUND OF SO MANY OF THEM

ONE OF THE RECURRING THINGS WE

SEE IS A MILITARY BACKGROUND FOR

SO MANY OF THESE.

HOW DO YOU THINK THAT PLAYS INTO

WHO THEY ARE AND THIS IDEOLOGY

THEY'RE BACKING?

>> THE FIRST THING I WOULD SAY

IS OBVIOUSLY THE VAST BULK OF

SERVICE MEMBERS DO NOT SUBSCRIBE

TO EXTREMIST IDEOLOGIES.

WHAT'S CONCERNING IS THERE'S

THIS HARD CORE OF PEOPLE WHO

SHOW UP IN THE LAST FEW DECADES

THAT COME FROM THE ARMED FORCES.

OF THE GUYS WE MET, A LOT OF

THEM WOULD SAY, I GOT OUT OF THE

MILITARY, I WAS DISENCHANTED

WITH THE MISSION, I FELT USED BY

THE MILITARY, I WAS BROKE AND I

WAS ANGRY WITH THE GOVERNMENT.

SO HERE I AM, I'VE TAKEN UP ARMS

AGAINST THE GOVERNMENT.

IT WAS A THING WE SAW OVER AND

OVER AGAIN.

>> AS YOU'RE LOOKING AT THIS AND

YOU MENTIONED BEFORE THAT ONE OF

THE CONSEQUENCES OF

CHARLOTTESVILLE AND I THINK THAT

WAS A SURPRISE CERTAINLY TO ME

AS I VIEWED THIS, HOW ONE OF THE

CONSEQUENCES, THE BACKLASHES YOU

MENTIONS WAS IT PUSHED SOME

GROUPS BACK, IF YOU WILL, HAD

THEM CHANGE THEIR BRANDING AND

MAYBE WALK AWAY FROM SOME

THINGS.

DO YOU THINK SOMETHING SIMILAR

MAY TAKE PLACE ON THE HEELS OF

THE INSURRECTION ON JANUARY 6th

AND THE IMPACT THAT THE

SUBSEQUENT PROSECUTIONS MIGHT

HAVE?

>> YOU KNOW, THAT'S A GREAT

QUESTION.

THAT'S A REALLY GOOD QUESTION.

A LOT OF PEOPLE IN THESE

MOVEMENTS HAVE PUT ON A BRAVE

FACE.

THEY SAY, WE'RE NOT GOING

ANYWHERE, THIS WON'T CHANGE

THINGS.

I THINK IT ABSOLUTELY WILL.

I THINK THERE'S A GOOD CHANCE

THAT WHAT YOU SEE IS A BACKLASH

AND PEOPLE NEEDING TO BASICALLY

REBRAND, RESTART, ADOPT A

SLIGHTLY NEW IDENTITY WITH THEIR

ACTIVISM AND MOVEMENTS.

I THINK THAT'S ABSOLUTELY

LIKELY.

>> WHAT ARE WE SEEING IN TERMS

OF REACTIONS BY STATE

GOVERNMENTS, LOCAL GOVERNMENTS,

FEDERAL GOVERNMENTS IN TERMS OF

THEIR TRYING TO DEAL WITH THESE

GROUPS?

>> YOU KNOW, IT'S BEEN SO

INTERESTING TO ME TO SEE WHAT'S

WHAT HAPPENED PARTICULARLY WITH

THE PENTAGON.

THAT'S BEEN THE MOST INTERESTING

THING TO ME, BECAUSE WHEN WE

WERE DOING OUR EARLIER REPORTING

ON THIS, THEY ISSUED A STATEMENT

SAYING, LOOK, WE'VE HAD 27

INVESTIGATIONS OR WE'VE HAD 27

REPORTS OF EXTREMIST ACTIVITY

WITHIN THE SERVICES OVER A

FIVE-YEAR SPAN.

THAT'S 1.5 MILLION PEOPLE AND

THEY'VE GOT LESS THAN 30

REPORTS.

THE SORT OF WHOLE NOTION WAS,

LOOK, THAT'S NOT A VERY BIG

PROBLEM.

I WOULD SAY NOW THAT IS NOT THE

POSTURE OF THE PENTAGON AT ALL.

>> YOU MENTIONED IN THE

BEGINNING OF THE FILM, YOU TALK

ABOUT THE FACT THAT YOU HAVE SO

MANY QUESTIONS AND YOU'RE

LOOKING FOR SO MANY DIFFERENT

ANSWERS IN SO MANY DIFFERENT

PLACES DURING THE COURSE OF YOUR

RESEARCH AND YOUR REPORTING

HERE.

WERE THERE QUESTIONS THAT WERE

PARAMOUNT IN YOUR MIND THAT YOU

STILL HAVEN'T BEEN ABLE TO FIND

ANSWERS TO?

>> YEAH, ABSOLUTELY.

THE BIGGEST ONE AND I THINK IT'S

A PROFOUND QUESTION FOR ALL OF

US, OBVIOUSLY, IS THE IMPACT OF

THE TERRORISM IN THIS COUNTRY BY

PEOPLE WHO ARE ANGRY ABOUT THE

OUTCOME OF THE ELECTION, BY

PEOPLE WHO HAVE DECIDED TO

OVERTHROW THE GOVERNMENT, BY

MEMBERS OF THESE MILITIA GROUPS,

I THINK THAT IS AN OPEN

QUESTION.

>> IT'S THE FIRST IN A FRONT

LINE SERIES.

WHAT CAN WE EXPECT?

>> FROM HERE WE'RE GOING TO GO

GLOBAL.

WE EXPLORE HOW THESE MOVEMENTS

ARE BRANCHING OUT AND HOW

THEY'RE AFFECTING POLITICS IN

OTHER MAJOR NATIONS.

>> I THINK WE ARE SO CONCERNED

ABOUT WHAT'S HAPPENING TO US

THAT WE HAVEN'T HAD' EITHER THE

OPPORTUNITY OR THE ABILITY TO

SEE HOW THIS FITS INTO WHAT'S

GOING ON GLOBALLY.

I THINK OBVIOUSLY LOOKING FOR

THAT AND TRYING TO FIND SOME

ANSWERS TO THAT WILL BE

SOMETHING THAT WILL BE IMPORTANT

FOR US.

AC THOMPSON, AS I MENTIONED

BEFORE, THE CORRESPONDENT ON

FRONTLINE'S "AMERICAN

INSURRECTION" ON PBS.

I WILL TELL YOU AS A COMPLIMENT,

I MENTIONED THIS BEFORE YOU AND

I STARTED TAPING, I SAT DOWN TO

WATCH THE FILM, FIGURED I'D

WATCH A LITTLE BIT AND THEN COME

BACK AND WATCH A LITTLE BIT MORE

AND WRAP IT UP IN PREPARATION

FOR THIS.

I COULDN'T WALK AWAY FROM MY

COMPUTER.

IT'S POWERFUL, IT'S SEARCHING,

IT'S COMPELLING.

INDEED, IT'S PROVOCATIVE.

IT ANSWERS, I THINK, SOME

QUESTIONS THAT WE HAVE, BUT

MAYBE THE MOST COMPELLING ASPECT

OF IT IS, AS YOU MENTIONED, IT

LEAVES US WITH A LOT OF

QUESTIONS THAT ARE UNANSWERED.

MARVELOUS FILM MAKING, GREAT

REPORTING BY YOU.

WE APPRECIATE YOU SPENDING SOME

TIME WITH US AND WE LOOK FORWARD

TO GETTING YOU BACK ON AS

"FRONTLINE" CONTINUES THE SERIES

HERE.

THANKS SO MUCH FOR JOINING US.

WE PREEAPPRECIATE IT.

>> THANK YOU.


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