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Thousands Flood Streets Of Boston In Dueling Rallies; Trump Hit With Backlash Over Mixed Charlottesville Messages; Bannon Returns To Breitbart After Turbulent W.H. Run; GOP Outcry Pours In Over Trump's Charlottesville Response. Aired 12-1p ET

Aired August 19, 2017 - 12:00   ET



FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: -- not going to Sara Sidner yet either. All right. So, let's talk about these dueling protests. It's very early in the process to really know what is at hand and what is going to take place, what the focus is.

But I do have a panel with me now, if we can talk further about what is going to transpire here. Joining me right now, Tim Wise, an anti- racism writer, activist, and author on several books on race in America.

Lecia Brooks with the Southern Poverty Law Center, she is also the director of the Civil Rights Memorial Center, CNN's national reporter for Race and Inequality, Tanzina Vega, and joining me by phone, former skin head and author of the book "My Life After Hate," Arno Michaelis.

All right. Thanks so much for all of you for being able to join me. So, Tim, let me begin with you because while we are seeing what appeared to be hundreds of people descending on downtown Boston, we're hearing everything about dueling rallies, one about free speech, the other about peace and love.

It really is difficult to discern what the messages will be from these dueling rallies and why they are considered dueling rallies. Free speech is very American and the pursuit of peace and love also very American. So, Tim, help us understand, what do you believe is transpiring here?

TIM WISE, AUTHOR, "DEAR WHITE AMERICA": Well, first of all, let's be clear. The so-called free speech rally is not some abstract rally for free speech. The people who were initially invited, many of whom have since pulled out to be speakers at the so-called free speech rally, it's not like they invited the head of the ACLU or people whose job it is to safeguard free speech in the courts.

The people they invited were people with a history of blatantly racist, anti-Semitic rhetoric, people who deny the holocaust happened, people who praise Adolf Hitler, people who want the white ethno-state.

So, they're hiding behind the cloak of free speech, which they do have constitutionally, but they're making it sound as if that's their only cause. That's like confederates, for instance, and neo-confederates making the civil war about states' rights in the abstract.

Conveniently ignoring the fact that the states' rights they were actually fighting for was the right to own other human beings. So, I think it's a smokescreen first of all that we need to understand on that side.

WHITFIELD: So, Arnaud, given that, you know, you are a former Skinhead and author of the book "My Life After Hate," and you're on the phone with us now, is that your interpretation or best understanding of what this Boston free speech coalition is all about?

It describes itself as a coalition of libertarians, progressives, conservatives, and independents. This Boston free speech coalition is the one that is holding this demonstration downtown in the Boston common area.

But what's your understanding about whether this name free speech is indeed a facade, what the real intention is here?

ARNO MICHAELIS, FORMER SKINHEAD (via telephone): I certainly agree with my old buddy, Tim. Tim, how you doing?

WISE: Good.

MICHAELIS: It's absolutely a smoke screen. And I agree 100 percent, if this rally was really about free speech, then let's have the ACLU there and let's have other social thought that sometimes a target of people who want to sensor things.

So, considering that the content of the rally is all far-right, white supremacist, holocaust deniers really vile sentiments that are tending to cultivate fear and hate and strife in our society, by all means those people do have the right to say those things, and I would defend their right.

I respect the ACLU for defending the right to march in Charlottesville. I think it's really important and hopefully this is the way it's shaking down today is the counter-protests demonstrate first of all that the fear being espoused by the right is unfounded.

And second of all that diversity and humanity and love and human kinship is a far better way to live your life and that it's not only possible, but it's happening as we speak.

WHITFIELD: So Arno, what is your concern or your thoughts that this demonstration taking place, as you describe what you believed the spirit behind the Boston free speech coalition to be happening one week after Charlottesville, Virginia, leading to the death of one woman, so what are your thoughts and concerns today, one week later?

MICHAELIS: My biggest concern is that violence breaks out again and people get hurt, not only because I don't want anyone to be hurt but because that kind of violence plays directly into the hands of the neo-Nazis, of the so-called alt-right, so-called white nationalists, any kind of aggression they can provoke serves their purpose. [12:05:04] And even if somehow, they all got beaten horribly and were chased off, that would be a victory for them as well because now they feel like martyrs, they would feel like they're standing up against these incredible odds.

And it would continue to cultivate sympathy for their cause in a broader sense in our society. So, my concern is that their aggression would be reflected and, fortunately, it looks like there's some really amazing leadership in Boston as far as the counter-protest is concerned and hopefully we can avoid that.

WHITFIELD: And so, Lecia, with the Southern Poverty Law Center, you've been monitoring hate groups for a very long time, helping people to get a better understanding about named groups, some duplicitous identities that many have.

You heard Arno talking about why some of these groups might be looking for any kind of aggression, any means in which to provoke them and it best serves their cause, it helps to cultivate more sympathies.

So, explain to us what you're seeing in the behavior perhaps or the strategy of some of these hate groups or extreme groups. It's difficult to know what to call them, so I'll let you place the best label these days.

But what are your greatest concerns or what have you learned about the change in strategy or the modifications that some of these groups have been making based on, you know, the climate of this country?

LECIA BROOKS, DIRECTOR, CIVIL RIGHTS MEMORIAL CENTER: Thank you. What we're seeing strategy-wise is what we saw in Charlottesville. The coalition of different white supremacist groups, and there's what they are, white supremacist organizations who have come together to position themselves or make it look like they're victims of free speech or they're victims of push for democracy and diversity and inclusion.

They seek out as Arno and Tim mentioned, attention. They want to wrap themselves in the cloak of free speech so that they can continue to speak out and have people believe that whites in this country are under assault, and that is their strategy.

WHITFIELD: And there are hundreds of people who have turned out in what we're being told as a counter-protest. Is it your concern, Lecia, this group, as you describe, cloaking itself with the viewpoint of they are only there for free speech, that they might be looking for an opportunity to be provoked?

BROOKS: Absolutely. Absolutely. If they were people of good will or good people as the president tried to suggest last week, they would have canceled this so-called free speech rally today out of respect for the loss of life that happened in Charlottesville and all those that were injured, but they did not do that.

I want to applaud the peaceful protesters that came out also exercising their free speech rights to say no and take a strong stand against hate and white supremacy.

WHITFIELD: OK. So, Arno, Tim, and Lecia, hold on a moment because I want to go to Sara Sidner, who is there in Boston. And she is there where many of what are being called counterdemonstrators, people who are marching through downtown Boston, where they'll eventually be trying to convey their message to this group calling itself the free speech coalition -- Sara.

SARA SIDNER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: They're actually out here to convey their message to the city, the country, and the world, and that includes those that are going to be taking part in that free speech rally at Boston common. There are thousands of people here.

We are watching the crowd as it walks by. This was organized mostly by Black Lives Matter, but you will notice that the crowd is extremely diverse. There are as many white folks here as there are anybody else and they have all sorts of different kind of signs like hate has no place here.

You will also note that it is very peaceful, it is very calm, people are chanting. They are here in solidarity with those who -- one person who lost her life as a result of being hit by a car there in Charlottesville.

But also, they want the country to see that they will not put up with this sort of racist rhetoric that has been used in some of these alt- right marches. You are really seeing a real sense of the city and the people in this city.

There are people from all over, but a lot of these folks are from right here in Boston, and they have all sorts of different messages, but their main message is that racism and white supremacy has no place in America.

WHITFIELD: All right. Sara, thank you so much. And so back with my panel, you know, Tim and Arno and Lecia. Arno, I know you were on the phone with us, a former Skin head an author of "My Life After Hate."

[12:10:090] I want to keep reminding people pause they're not seeing you and may be hearing your name for the first time as well, Arno. So, this opportunity that this free speech coalition has taken, what do you believe their primary objective is to gather at the Boston common?

To, in the words of Lecia, saying they're cloaking themselves with this free speech objective here, what do you believe the main mission is here? What are they up to?

MICHAELIS (via telephone): I think that's a really important question. Anytime you're in a conflict understanding your opponent's objective is key, and there are a number of objectives that the so- called free speech rally is going after.

One is to cultivate fear and strife in our society. The more people who are afraid, the more ripe they are for recruitment into that kind of ideology. And their second objective, which is the same objective of any sort of violent extremist group, the same objective that the so-called Islamic State tries to provoke is that they want to sound like they speak for all white people.

In the same way that the so-called Islamic State wants to say that they speak for all Muslims, the alt-right, the people behind the free speech rally want to say that they are speaking for the majority of white people or all white people.

And that's why I'm very heartened to see that white people are turning out for these counter-protests and say, look, they don't speak for me. This is not what I think America is all about. This is not the kind of society I want my children to grow up in. And it's crucial that white people along with everyone else make that point.

WHITFIELD: And so, Tim, while we're looking at images of the counterdemonstrators as Sara, you know, described are organized to meet the message of the free speech coalition with a sense of unity.

And they're there in solidarity of the young lady, Heather Heyer, who was killed in Charlottesville last week, does this demonstration, particularly -- and that it's in Boston -- does this in any way also convey another message?

Show that extremist groups, if we want to call that free speech coalition an extremist group, if they are emboldened, if other groups like it are emboldened, if there is a sense of a greater freedom in which to exhibit this feeling?

WISE: Well, I hope that the counter-protesters will demonstrate particularly the white ones, who have decided to act in solidarity with people of color who are always, always under the heel of white supremacy, not just from Nazis and the folks like the ones in Charlottesville but from a systemic inequality that continues to plague the country.

I hope that white folks will continue to act in that way to demonstrate that there is a different way to live if this skin that we have that one doesn't have to throw down on the side of white supremacy.

But, listen, unless those white folks are also going to join the Black Lives Matter, who helped to organize that demo in Boston when folks are killed unjustly by law enforcement, unless they're going to protest inequities in health care, in wealth and income and all of those areas where people of color continue to suffer structural white supremacy, then I'm afraid we're not doing enough.

We have to be there to fight overt white supremacy and we have to be there to fight systemic white supremacy and demonstrate that racism is not only not going to be tolerated when it comes from Nazis.

But it's not going to be tolerated when it comes from the president, it's not going to be tolerated when it comes from law enforcement, not tolerated when it comes from landlords or teachers or anyone else in this country. WHITFIELD: All right. We'll leave it right there as we continue to look at the live images out of Boston for these dueling demonstrations. Tim Wise, Arno Michaelis, Lecia Brooks, and Sara Sidner also for being with us. Thanks to all you.

We're continuing to follow the dueling rallies in Boston where thousands have descended on the city there. Stay with us.



WHITFIELD: All right. We're continuing to follow the protests, demonstrations, multiple ones taking place in Boston. Thousands of people are taking part in these dueling rallies.

You are looking at live pictures from an aerial view of thousands of people who are marching through the streets of downtown Boston. Sara Sidner said that demonstration is mostly organized by Black Lives Matter, a multi-cultural demonstration in solidarity of the young woman, Heather Heyer, who died last week in Charlottesville, Virginia, during demonstrations there.

Then there is another demonstration taking place in downtown Boston being organized by a group calling itself the Boston Free Speech Coalition and that's where we find our Polo Sandoval to give us a better view about what is behind the Boston Free Speech Coalition. What are you finding from people on the ground?

POLO SANDOVAL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You know what, Fred? We love to ask that, but it's very difficult to access them. Here's why. We're standing in the middle of Boston common and way off in the distance you may be able to see the concrete structure. That is the band stand.

Those are the individuals that have permit for the free speech rally that organized by that group. We're in the middle of the counter- protest, which if you look on this side you can see is definitely much larger and this crowd is expected to only grow.

That group that Sara Sidner showed is going to make it here and those groups will then merge. Obviously, safety is a concern here for authorities.

[12:20:05] That's why we're not able to make our way to the other demonstrators, for their own safety. The police department has essentially corralled them or at least closed off the area around them.

There was a fairly tense moment a little while ago as a gentleman with a bright red make America great hat tried to make his way toward that demonstrations. Of course, he was quickly surrounded by some of these counter-protesters.

They were yelling at him saying shame. Police had to intervene and provide an escort for him so he can make his way there. So, that really is the extent of any sort of tense situation.

Things have been very peaceful. People have been coming together almost to a certain extent even a party atmosphere, but the serious undertone here, law enforcement still keeping a very close eye on the crowd.

It's only seven days since the tragedy of Virginia, still fresh on the minds of the people here in the heart of the city of Boston -- Fred.

WHITFIELD: And then Polo, perhaps you heard earlier we were talking to a former Skinhead who talked about the motivation behind a group naming itself the Boston Free Speech Coalition.