FRONTLINE AND PROPUBLICA INVESTIGATE VIOLENT EXTREMISM IN “AMERICAN INSURRECTION”

The past three years our colleagues at Frontline have been working with ProPublica to investigate the rise of violent extremism in America. Their probe looked at what led to the deadly attack on the US Capitol, how far-right groups were emboldened by former President Donald Trump and why individuals were radicalized. 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.”

For more information on “American Insurrection,” click here.

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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