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ANDERSON COOPER 360 DEGREES

Republicans Block Bipartisan Commission into January 6th Insurrection; Trump's Enduring Anti-Democratic Influence; Federal Judge Lashed Out At Trump As Polling Shows Many Republicans Adhere To Conspiracy Theories; Poll: 15 percent Of Americans, 23 percent Of Republicans Believe QAnon Lies; Pastor Under Fire For Making False Claims About Covid Vaccines. Aired 8-9p ET

Aired May 28, 2021 - 20:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[20:00:00]

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN HOST: Before we go tonight, if you're looking for a new book this Memorial Day weekend, check out our colleague Jake Tapper's new novel, "The Devil May Dance." It's available now.

And thank you all so much for being with us. I'm Kate Bolduan. AC 360 starts now.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: Good evening. We begin tonight with what happens when courage is called for, but cowardice answers.

Today, in the very chamber overrun by a violent mob just a few months ago, Senate Republicans blocked the creation of a bipartisan commission to investigate that attack. The bill actually got far more yes than no votes; 54 versus 35.

But under the strange rules of the Senate 35, Trump's 54 and 60 votes are needed for most bills to pass, which means the Minority Party can block nearly anything, even a bill like this one, even to investigate the attack that sent many of the same senators who voted no today into hiding.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY): Do my Republican colleagues remember that day? Do my Republican colleagues remember the savage mob calling for the execution of Mike Pence? The makeshift gallows outside the Capitol?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: They remember and it's not like there is nothing more to be learned. Just today, a CNN review of court records and Pentagon documents revealed that one in 10 people charged in the insurrection are veterans or current service members, a quarter of those defendants have connections to right-wing extremist groups.

So, how deep do those extremists and insurrectionist ties reach into the ranks? It's a troubling question. We don't know. The fact is, there's a lot we still don't know about the day, but also

the threat to democracy, which clearly still exists. So, what could be more frightening to these senators than that?

Well, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell who lobbied hard against the bill said nothing on the floor today or after the vote. However, Alaska senator, Lisa Murkowski, one of six Republicans who voted yes spoke to the question late last night before playing what she said, I just want to read all six names: Bill Cassidy, Susan Collins, Rob Portman, Ben Sasse, Mitt Romney and Senator Murkowski.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

SEN. LISA MURKOWSKI (R-AK): To be making a decision for the short-term political gain at the expense of understanding and acknowledging what was in front of us on January 6th. I think we need to look at that critically.

Is that really what this is about? Is everything -- it is just one election cycle after another? Or are we going to acknowledge that as a country that is based on these principles of democracy that we hold so dear?

(END AUDIO CLIP)

COOPER: Senator Murkowski was talking about the fear her colleagues have of their own voters, a true hero was nearby guarding the Chamber, Capitol Police Officer Eugene Goodman. You'll remember, he is the one who single handedly confronted a mob, lured them away from the Senate Chamber just steps away. With his own safety on the line, he did the right thing.

With far less personally at stake today, the men and women he still protects did not. But chances are, it is not just fear of the next election that made them vote no. Ohio Republican Rob Portman, another yes vote alluded to it today. Here's what he told CNN.

"I've said all along that I think it's important that we get the facts out and I think you'll find a report from the Rules Committee and Homeland Security Committee would be very helpful in that regard." Then he added, "But our scope did not include the motivation."

In other words, a defeated President's big lie about the election, which drew that mob to Washington, which encouraged them to come and senators who fueled the mob's delusion that the election could be overturned. Is shining a light on that and their complicity what Republicans are afraid of? Or is it fear of angering the former President?

Or was their vote a favor to Mitch McConnell? Fear of Mitch McConnell?

We will leave aside the misguided belief held most notably by Senator Ron Johnson that the insurrection just wasn't that big a deal. Truth is, until someone writes profiles in cowardice, we won't fully know what motivated Republicans to vote no, nor do we know tonight what motivated nine Republicans and two Democrats not to vote at all. CNN reached out to all of them and heard back from several. Some said

they had family commandments. Senator Mike Rounds office said he was, quote, "Meeting with strategic partners and military leaders in war zones overseas." North Carolina's Richard Burr mentioned a quote, "unavoidable conflict." Democrat Patty Murray said she had to fly home for a quote, "personal family matter."

Add up how they say they would have voted, and the bill still would have failed, which puts the onus back on 35, who actually voted no, some of whom yesterday met with Gladys Sicknick. The mother of Capitol Police Officer Brian Sicknick who died after defending the Capitol, including the 35 lawmakers who today with their vote, said they just weren't interested.

This afternoon, Jake Tapper talked to Mrs. Sicknick and Officer Sicknick's life partner, Sandra Garza about their reaction to the failed vote.

[20:05:06]

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GLADYS SICKNICK, MOTHER OF OFFICER BRIAN SICKNICK: I was disappointed, but I realized that was going to happen. I really did. It was just vibes that we got yesterday.

But --

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: What were the vibes?

SICKNICK: No, just -- just feeling that, you know that they did -- they went through the motions, but you can tell it, you know, underneath they were being nice to us.

TAPPER: You know, we hear a lot about backing the blue from politicians especially. They talk about the importance of backing our men and women in blue who protect us. What does it mean, in that sense when -- because you know you're going to hear some of these 35 Republicans talk about in the future how important it is to back our men and women in blue? What will you think when you hear that?

SICKNICK: Unbelievable that they think like that. You know, it's just -- if they had a child that was hurt, was killed on a day like that, they would think very differently. Or if they were hurt. I mean, they could have very well -- somebody could have been killed, one of the congressmen, one of the senators, but apparently, they just think, well, you know, we're safe because of the men in blue. They don't think any further than that.

TAPPER: What do you think? I mean, Gladys, said it was a slap in the face to not have this commission created.

SANDRA GARZA, PARTNER OF OFFICER BRIAN SICKNICK: I think, you know, it's all talk and no action. Clearly, they're not backing the blue. And yesterday, having Officer Fanone and Officer Dunn there to talk about their experiences. I mean, I even learned more about what actually happened on that day,

hearing their stories, you know, close and upfront, in live and in color and I was absolutely appalled.

So, you know, they heard it firsthand. Some of that stuff has not been put out in the media. And, you know, it's devastating, because, you know, they could have -- especially Officer Fanone, he could have been murdered. And, you know, this cannot happen again. It cannot.

So for them to vote no is, you know, it's not protecting law enforcement. And, you know, more importantly, it's not protecting our democracy. You know, people there were not only hurting law enforcement officers. And then of course, like I said yesterday, there's the ripple effect of trauma that is still continuing today.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: Joining us now, CNN special correspondent, Jamie Gangel. Also, CNN political analyst, Rachael Bade, co-author of Politico's "Playbook."

Jamie, you've been talking to people all week about this vote. What's your sense of how and why the majority of Republicans voted against the commission, despite the personal pleas from Sicknick?

JAMIE GANGEL, CNN SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT: I don't know how many times I'm going to say this, but all roads lead to Donald Trump.

You listen to those two women. I don't know how someone looks them in the eye and says no to them, but that's what happened over and over again. And those were the senators, the Republican senators who are willing to meet with them.

This is about fear of Donald Trump, fear of Donald Trump's voters and about one other thing. Mitch McConnell and Kevin McCarthy want political power, they want to regain the Majority and they think this is the only way to get it.

COOPER: I mean, Rachael, it's incredible with the number of Benghazi hearings that were held, valid or not, and the arguments being made by Republicans then could certainly be made exactly the same arguments about why there should be a bipartisan commission now.

Every single lawmaker -- the idea that every single lawmaker wouldn't want to investigate a once in a lifetime event that threaten their own lives, threatened American democracy. I mean, what are you hearing about how this played out on the heels of Mrs. Sicknick's effort?

RACHAEL BADE, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I mean, you mentioned Benghazi. I was one of those reporters who covered it. You know, for two years, Republicans investigated what happened over there, and this is just, you know, the hypocrisy of Washington. And the sad truth of it is, it is very ugly sometimes.

Think about the Sicknick family. I think it is one thing for a Republican lawmaker to hear chiding from a Democrat for their vote against the commission, even from the media, from a fellow moderate Republican who decided to back this mission.

It's a totally different thing to look, you know, the family of a fallen officer in the eyes, to hear their pleas to find out more about, you know, their son's death and still vote no. If that's not going to change your mind, nothing will.

And I mean, Jamie is exactly right. It is two things: it's Trump and it's a desire to flip the Congress. Mitch McConnell and Kevin McCarthy, the leaders in the House and Senate have decided that in order to regain power in Congress, they've got to focus on one thing and one thing alone, Biden and Biden's agenda.

They see this as a threat. This Commission, the report probably would have come out at the beginning of, you know, the midterms really heating up. And they saw that as a liability. They didn't want to be talking about it on the campaign trail. And that is a hundred percent the motivation behind these votes.

[20:10:31]

COOPER: Jamie, I mean, there were two Democrats and nine Republicans who didn't show up at all to vote. How much of that particularly for the Republicans was about them not wanting to be on the record on this?

GANGEL: Well, first of all, I would like to say, I hope they had really a very good excuse for not showing up. I think for some of them, they were looking for a bigger desk to hide under.

But this is what I really don't understand. This is not just any vote. This was a historic vote.

We all saw this firsthand. They experienced it firsthand. They were under attack. Five people died, 140 plus people were injured. It is inconceivable to me that you do not show up for this vote.

COOPER: Rachael, we knew going into this that the majority of Senate Republicans were going to vote this commission down. What do you make of the fact that three more Republican senators voted for it than were originally expected to?

BADE: I mean, look, it could have been some of that lobbying by the Sicknick family. I think Republicans, a lot of them privately will tell you something different than they're saying publicly, which is that, you know, they actually do feel some guilt about this vote.

The excuses have been far and vast. I mean, you know, we heard, you know, this is -- this would be redundant, that this would meddle in investigations by the F.B.I. that are ongoing, that, you know, these congressional committees already have these investigations. And, you know, they're going to be putting out these reports.

But the reality is that none of these investigations from the Justice Department to the Congress are going to look at what happened in the White House. And there are still serious questions of about what Donald Trump knew at various points, what he was doing what he wasn't doing and we're never going to know sort of what happened without this commission.

And so I do think Republicans, obviously the ones who changed their votes or decided to vote for this commission, they felt that pull and they sort of were thinking more legacy, and doing what was right and what they felt was right.

I think a lot of Republicans privately will admit that this was not their proudest moment.

COOPER: Rachael Bade, thank you. Jamie Gangel, as well, thank you very much.

Next, more on what voters couldn't make it today. Also, Brian Sicknick's mom on what it's like to learn that the same senators who were all smiles with her in their offices yesterday meant none of what they said.

Later, in light of QAnon's role in the insurrection, we will talk about the ongoing threat it poses especially with new polling that says nearly one in four Republicans say they believe in the group's conspiracy theories.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[20:17:06]

COOPER: Before we dig deeper into the politics and political repercussions of today's vote to kill a January 6 Commission, I want to play another portion of Jake Tapper's conversation with Officer Brian Sicknick's mom, Gladys, who was at the Capitol yesterday asking Republican senators to support the bill.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: Gladys, I know some of what Sandra just alluded to it and some of the moments in the meetings were tense. I mean, one of the things that I think people don't -- it doesn't really even matter but Brian was a Republican.

I mean, so it's not just turning their backs on an American, they're turning their back on a fellow Republican. Whatever you're comfortable with, tell me about the tense moments and the senator -- with the senators that you met with. You don't have to name them if you don't want no,

SICKNICK No, I'm not going to do that. Just -- they were very charming and they knew what they were doing. They knew how to talk to us. And -- but we kind of held back. And it was just, it was just -- it was tense. And we just made believe, you know, everything was fine. And we were very nice to them for the most part.

TAPPER: It was just tense because --

SICKNICK: Because of -- because we knew -- I think because we knew they weren't sincere. They weren't sincere.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: With us now, CNN political commentators, Paul Begala and Scott Jennings.

Scott, the fact that some Republicans would talk with this grieving mom of an officer who was protecting them from attackers on January 6 and still vote the way they voted. Does that surprise you at all?

SCOTT JENNINGS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR No, I'm not surprised. I mean, it was obvious from the get go that, at least recently that most of the conference didn't want to do this. So the vote count didn't really surprise me.

My heart goes out, by the way to the family of Officer Sicknick. I mean, you can tell they're still in anguish. I'm still in anguish over what happened to my country. I mean, I'm as outraged today as I was on January 6th. I think I told you at the time, I favored a commission and I still do.

I think some of the Republicans, you ask my outraged American hat, let me put on my Republican political operative hat and tell you that I think the air came out of this balloon to some degree because it took so long and I do think Republicans think the Department of Justice having arrested several hundred people already and existing congressional committees getting into this, to them, it gave them a defensible political position to not add another layer here.

COOPER: Paul, in the future when Republicans say that they back the blue and support police officers. I mean, is that going to ring hollow? I guess, it'll only ring hollow to people who disagree with what they did. I think to other Republicans, they'll have a reason to say that it is still supporting police.

PAUL BEGALA, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I suppose you know, you really can't fool some of the people all the time and those people will fall for it. But I think a lot of people, if the Democrats make their case, frankly, if the media keeps them honest the way you've been, will point out, you have no right to say you back the blue if you voted to cover up, to not investigate a riot and insurrection in our Capitol where the very Senate floor itself was breached.

[20:20:25]

BEGALA: Where Mrs. Sicknick's son gave his life to save the lives potentially even if those very senators who voted to cover it up. It is the most cowardly thing that you can possibly imagine.

I mean, those women and men in the Senate are safe today because of the Capitol Police, because of the D.C. Metro Police, because of the National Guard, and those 138 injured officers, four dead, and for those Republicans to pretend that they back the blue and they stand for law enforcement, crime is going to be a major issue in this upcoming midterm. And Republicans seem ready to demagogue the rise in crime that we are seeing.

Boy, this is really going to make it impossible for them to credibly make the case that they back to blue when what they're doing is covering up a riot and an insurrection.

COOPER: Scott, is it as simple, as I mean, as you know, Jamie was saying that just fear of Donald Trump among Republican senators and fear of, you know, the Trump base or being primaried?

JENNINGS: I don't think it's quite that simple. I think that's part of it. Certainly, that they don't want to get Donald Trump riled up about this. And certainly, some members are affected by that. But as a as a broader political matter, what the Republicans want to talk about in the midterm election is Joe Biden and Joe Biden's policies and how they would argue he is failing the country and they see this commission as a continuation of keeping Donald Trump at the center of the election.

Now, Donald Trump being at the center of an election most recently caused the Republicans to lose, and we lost the midterms in 2018. And so, the Republicans see it as Democrats wanting to keep Trump in the middle of it. Republicans want to put other issues front and center, hence, the votes today to try to essentially make this go away in the short term, so that it doesn't mess up the midterm strategy.

By the way, I think Republicans have a really good chance to at least take back the House and they don't want to interrupt what history would say is a probable outcome.

COOPER: And Scott, sorry, yes, go ahead.

BEGALA: That's a factual flaw, and I love Scott. He is a really good guy. He really is. He's a friend of mine.

The Commission by law must report by December 31st of this year, that is 312 days before the election, 44 weeks before the election. That's plenty of time. The Democrats would love nothing more than have an argument about Joe Biden is very popular or his policies which are very popular.

This cover up is not I think, because they're worried about the election, I think they are worried about what we'll find. They are worried, God forbid, if anybody they know was somehow instigating this or promoting this or pushing this.

We don't have the facts yet, because we haven't had the commission. But this is not about just trying to make sure the election is about issues that are favorable to Republicans. It's about covering up an attack on our capital.

COOPER: Scott, Jamie Gangel reported that ahead of the vote, Mitch McConnell was asking Republican senators to block it as a, quote, "personal favor." I know you voted for him. Do you have -- how rare -- assuming that is true, how rare is that? Or I mean, how powerful is that? How effective is that?

JENNINGS: Well, I mean, it's -- I mean, if you look over the term of his being leader, it's pretty effective. I mean, one of the hallmarks of his leadership tenure, which is now since the '06 cycle, is he tries to drive as much conference unity as possible. In fact, I think that's the number one pillar of his leadership is: I

need most of the Republicans together, most of the time. I need as many of them on board, every vote we take.

He doesn't like it when the conference appears divided in public. And so I think he was trying to once again, drive conference unity here, because most of his conference didn't want to do this.

And it's where he wound up, frankly, on impeachment. You know, he was pretty angry about January the 6th, and said so on the floor, and that's enshrined in the Congressional Record. He wound up voting to acquit Donald Trump in the impeachment trial, because ultimately, that's where most of his conference was, and you don't have such a long tenure as leader by siding with six over 44 very often.

And so I think this was really a continuation of what he sees is his job as the leader and that's to keep as much cohesion among the Republicans to keep division out of the public eye and to keep people together and focused on the issues that they think are going to be most politically advantageous.

I mean, candidly, Anderson, it doesn't make me feel very good because I hated what I saw on January the 6th, and it wouldn't bother me if there were a thousand commissions to tell us what we kind of already know, Donald Trump was at fault.

His people were at fault. He incited a mob. They threatened Mike Pence, et cetera, et cetera.

I think we're going to get that ultimately because we already know most of it.

COOPER: Scott Jennings, always appreciate you being with us, thank you; and Paul as well, thanks so much.

Up next, is that Senate rejection of the January 6th Commission a sign of an overall decline in democracy itself. Coming up, I'll ask about that -- I'll talk about that with authors of a book published three years ago that foreshadowed some of the actions playing out now, a book called "How Democracies Die."

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[20:28:58]

COOPER: We heard from Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer at the top of the program decrying Senate Republicans' rejection of a bipartisan commission to investigate the January 6th riots and asking his colleagues if they truly remembered what took place.

He also said, shame on the Republican Party for trying to sweep the horrors of that day under the rug because they're afraid of Donald Trump.

Well, eerily, two Professors of Government at Harvard, Daniel Ziblatt and Steven Levitsky predicted much of what we've been watching come to fruition in their book "How Democracies Die." They published it back in 2018.

According to a "Washington Post" article, President Biden, quote, "Became obsessed with the book around that time and would carry it everywhere." The authors join me tonight.

Steve, when your book first came out, you warned that while many dismiss the former President as all talk, that his talk could have severe consequences. How do you view today's move by Senate Republicans to block this commission?

STEVEN LEVITSKY, CO-AUTHOR, "HOW DEMOCRACIES DIE": Clearly his talk has had consequences. In fact, it has had consequences far, far more severe than we ever anticipated.

[20:30:03]

When we wrote the book, we did not imagine that the Republican Party really, firstly, the entire Republican party, would not only Trump eyes but become an anti-system, anti-Democratic political force. And that, unfortunately, as painful as it is to say is where we are today.

COOPER: And yet they don't see themselves as that, which is it? I mean, it -- there seems to be a kind of cognitive dissonance here.

LEVITSKY: In public, I mean, very few authoritarian forces anywhere in the world declare themselves openly authoritarian. They always believe, or at least purport to believe that they're doing the right thing that they're operating the name of the common good, or democracy or the law. So, the Republicans wouldn't be the first to believe they're doing the right thing.

COOPER: Daniel, I mean, short of a civil war, is there anything more anti-Democratic than an insurrection or an attack against the Capitol on the day that Congress is certifying the results of a free and fair presidential election?

DANIEL ZIBLATT, PROFESSOR, SCIENCE OF GOVERNMENT, HARVARD UNIV.: It's really quite striking, because it really combines two different things on the one hand, not accepting the results of elections, which is the core pillar of democracy. And second of all, allowing for violence to take place political violence, and not unambiguously separating themselves from that. So, you know, so in terms of the question of Are they really authoritarian, even if they don't say they're authoritarian? Those are two key checkmarks against this.

COOPER: They've also know Daniel, I mean, taking it a step further, which is, you know, not only was the big lie pushed, but the former president continues to undermine democracy, continues to undermine and talk about push the big lie. The Republican Party has embraced the big lie, and they are now legislating creating legislation in state houses across the country based on this lie.

ZIBLATT: This is the biggest threat facing American democracy today is what's happening across U.S. states and Republican led states. You know, one of the points of our book was that democracies don't die at the hands of generals anymore, and military coups democracies die at the ballot box. And I think the biggest threat that we face is that in 2022, if the Republicans retake the House, which they very well might, you could very well imagine in 2024 election, no matter who the candidate is, no matter what the results are, the state legislators across the country will throw the election to the House of Representatives. And you have to wonder, will a Republican Trumpified House of Representatives ever vote in favor of a Democratic nominee for President if the Democrat has -- even if the Democrats want?

COOPER: Steven, has there been another point in American history where democracy was as threatened as it potentially is now?

LEVITSKY: The Civil War.

COOPER: Yes.

LEVITSKY: Beyond the Civil War? No. Certainly no one's living memory has not Nixon, not Roosevelt, not McCarthyism, democracy has never been under threat in this way. There is a -- and we do not consider ourselves particularly alarmist and we are now convinced that there's a serious chance that the Republican Party tries to steal the 2024 election. I think 2020 ended up being a dress rehearsal, in which Republicans learn that there are levels of levers that they can pull to throw out ballots of in rival strongholds, based on false allegations of fraud, or based on technicalities.

COOPER: Daniel, I spoke a lot during the last administration with former CIA Director General Michael Hayden about what he called the Thin Veneer Of Civilization, which I thought was a term. I thought it was a very accurate term, essentially, that the stability of our Democratic institutions that we think is sort of deeply rooted and established is actually it's covered by a thin veneer. Just how thin is that veneer?

ZIBLATT: Well, look, rich countries that are Democratic tend to survive. We're a rich country. Countries that have a long Democratic history tend to survive. That's what the social science teaches us. But what I think is also clear is that those two things are no guarantee. I mean, the reason those two things generally predict the democracy survive, is because citizens mobilize politicians abide by Democratic rules and norms. So there's nothing automatic about it.

I mean, there's a -- we have a kind of self conception of our society in our democracy. That's a machine that runs of itself. And I think it is not a machine that runs itself. It requires vigilant action by citizens and politicians in order to survive.

COOPER: And Daniel, I mentioned earlier, The Washington Post's recently reported that President Biden has been obsessed with your book, How Democracies Die. Were you aware of that? And what lessons do you hope? I mean, if it's true, what lessons do you hope that he takes from it and governs based on?

ZIBLATT: It was mentioned in a biography about him and also we'd heard sort of secondhand that he had been recommending it to people on Amtrak during the campaign, on the campaign trail. So we'd heard secondhand about it. [20:35:03]

So, you know, it's quite striking and we wrote the book, you know, for two general audiences hoping to shape public debate. And so in this sense, I think we hope it has. And I think one of the key lessons I think that I hope that he learns and that all our senators and congressmen learn is again, this point that democracy doesn't run by itself. It requires vigilant action, it requires Democratic reformed and it requires constant mending.

I guess to the second point I would make is that one of the key concepts in our book is this notion of mutual toleration, where you don't treat your rivals as enemies you treat them merely as rivals.

COOPER: Yes. Professor Daniel Ziblatt, Steven Levitsky, I really appreciate it and I recommend your book. Thank you so much.

LEVITSKY: Thanks for having us.

COOPER: It is a fascinating read.

More fallout from today's decision by Senators coming up. A federal judge again lashes out of the former president and what a striking new poll is saying about the number of Republicans who believe the QAnon conspiracy theories.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: Today's vote in Washington came the day after a federal judge scolded the former president for continuing to quote propagate the lie that inspired the attack on a nearly daily basis. Judge Amy Berman Jackson's remarks came in connection to the case the case of two defendants charged an insurrection. The anger she wrote quote, continues to be stoked by multiple media outlets as well as the state and federal party leaders who are intent on -- who are intent on censoring. Those who dare to challenge the former president's version of events. A great many of those defendants have expressed belief in those off the wall QAnon conspiracy theories.

[20:40:09]

In a new poll from the Public Religion Research Institute, 23 percent of Republicans said they believe in those same theories. While 22 percent of evangelicals agreed. In total 15 percent of all Americans subscribed to core QAnon fantasies. That's about 50 million people.

Perspective now, from CNN senior law enforcement analyst and former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, also Georgia State -- Georgia State University's Mia Bloom, author of The Forthcoming Pastels and Pedophiles inside the Mind of QAnon Women.

Andrew, I mean, when you do the math, the idea that if this poll is accurate, nearly 50 million Americans believe in the basic QAnon tenant that there's a cabal of sex trafficking, pedophiles, who are at the heart of media and government in this country. That's extraordinary. ANDREW MCCABE, CNN SENIOR LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: It is it's extraordinary. And I think it's extraordinarily concerning, right. And I think in addition to that number, from the survey that in case people who really believe the core beliefs, there was another category of QAnon doubters, they refer to it in the survey. So those are people who indicated, they don't agree with everything in QAnon, but they don't reject it outright. And that was a number of I think 55 percent of Republicans fell into that category of tonight data.

So these are people who kind of know what's wrong, but don't dismiss it outright. It's just -- I don't know that we've ever been in a position to confront a challenge like this to the basic tenants of our democracy when we have such a significant portion of the country that's willing to believe, just ridiculous falsehoods. They're so invested, I guess, in the idea of their kind of political team, you know, winning elections and maintaining power that they're willing to embrace these absolute falsehoods. It's a tough spot (INAUDIBLE).

COOPER: Mia, what is it about this moment in time? I mean, I know as part of your research you deeply mesh online where people are being radicalized. Why now? I mean, I guess it, there's always been the strain in this country. But what is -- what about QAnon has taken hold so fast?

MIA BLOOM, EVIDENCE-BASED CYBERSECURITY RESEARCH GROUP, GEORGIA STATE UNIV.: QAnon really was on its way out. And then the pandemic seems to have given it, you know, a shot in the heart. What happened was, we had more or less the flat curve as far as people who believe in QAnon. And then because of the pandemic, either because of the fact that you had people who were home, and they were online, and they were being exposed to this awful conspiracy on Facebook and other social media platforms.

But also, because of things circulating on the internet like plandemic. What ended up happening is that this was the perfect storm for QAnon. And for evangelicals in particular, because instead of being able to go to church on Sunday, and have the kinds of community and suffer that going to church offer them, they also stayed home. And they were being exposed to these terrible of conspiracy theories that just preyed on them.

And so, we have about one in four evangelicals that believe in QAnon, as well as the fact that we're seeing other religions falling down the rabbit hole.

COOPER: Andrew, according to Sam Ford (ph) mentioned earlier, 23 percent of Republicans 15 percent of Americans mostly or completely agree with the statement, because things have gotten so far off track, true American patriots may have to resort to violence in order to save our country. I mean, again, that's incredibly alarming.

MCCABE: It is. And you know, Anderson, it's not just a statistical theory, we saw that happen on January 6. And as these beliefs continue to perpetuate, there's no reason for there's no good reason for us to believe that that couldn't happen again. And you know, in many other places around the country, and as our political leaders continue to kind of deny what happened on the 6th, and fanned the flames of these underlying lies, like the stolen election, we edge closer and closer, I think, to those threats.

COOPER: And Mia, I mean, it's one thing to kind of dismiss people who believe far fetched conspiracies as being out on the fringe. But when you see polling like this, you take into account that many QAnon lies are basically an apocalyptic worldview, based on kind of age old stereotypes and anti-Semitic beliefs, anti-Catholic beliefs. Do you think people are taking this group seriously enough?

BLOOM: Well, I think people are beginning to take it seriously. I think it was very easy to dismiss because it seemed so loony -- like Loony Tunes at the beginning, but because we now have two members of Congress that are spouting QAnon, but also the fact remains is that it's not just the evangelicals that have fallen down the rabbit hole, as many as 18 percent of white Catholics also believe in it, Hispanic Catholics and even 12 percent non Christians. The part that's so shocking to me is how many Orthodox Jews believe in QAnon, despite the fact that it's so filled with these anti-Semitic tropes.

[20:45:30]

So I think we need to take it seriously. We need to understand that as long as the Republican Party doesn't disavow QAnon, and it keeps, you know, I'm basically allowing people like Marjorie Taylor Greene to say outrageous things. We're going to see more and more QAnon candidates.

COOPER: Yes. Andrew McCabe, Mia Bloom, I really appreciate your time. Thank you.

A quick programming note, our documentary inside the QAnon conspiracy is going to air tomorrow evening at 7:00 p.m. Eastern on CNN.

(voice-over): Up next, the pastor preaching lies about COVID and the vaccines, the family grieving the loss of a loved one who went to the church believe the mistruths with deadly consequences.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[20:50:03]

COOPER: Tonight a Tennessee pastor is under fire for preaching lies about COVID and vaccines. Our Elle Reeve first talked to the pastor last December and he doubled down on his mistruths.

Now, months later, a family whose uncle attended the church and died of COVID is distraught over the misinformation from the pulpit just a few days ago.

Elle Reeve went back to the church wanting to ask the pastor more questions, but it didn't go as planned. Here's her report.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

GREG LOCKE, PASTOR, GLOBAL VISION BIBLE CHURCH: If you'd like a one minute that those political elites actually got that vaccination, you are smoking meth in your mom's basement.

ELLE REEVE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Pastor Greg Locke has grown his audience over the last year by calling COVID-19 a fake pandemic and the vaccine a scam.

LOCKE: I ain't get no (INAUDIBLE), I don't care what. I'm interested in fake fraudulent administration says,

CHIP DAVIS, UNCLE DIED OF COVID-19: I lost my relationship with my uncle over the church.

REEVE (on-camera): Over Greg Locke's church? How?

DAVIS: Part of it, because I was so vocal with my immediate family about what I felt about Global Vision. And just the spirit that I detected from Greg that I didn't feel was anything Godly.

REEVE (voice-over): Chip Davis and his brother Billy, are singer- songwriters outside Nashville. Several members of their family have attended Locke's church, including their uncle Coburn, who died of COVID-19 in April 2021.

BILL DAVIS, UNCLE DIED OF COVID-19: He got sick with COVID. And he decided he would wait a couple of days before he went for help. And those couple of days were probably critical to whether he was going to survive COVID or not.

REEVE (on-camera): Did you go to your uncle's funeral?

B. DAVIS: I did not go to my uncle's funeral.

REEVE (on-camera): Your not.

B. DAVIS: That would have involved putting myself in the presence of Greg Locke, and a bunch of people that I don't think are thinking properly right now.

LOCKE: I get it. I promote it. And I discourage everybody under this tip to (INAUDIBLE), if you think that you don't get healthy over a vaccine, they're supposed to do away with a virus that has a 99.9 percent survival rate. You can watch it too much Fox News games (INAUDIBLE).

And so no, look, I have not changed my stance.

I haven't softened my stance, I have strengthened strictly my stance against the vaccine --

C. DAVIS: I'm going to take a break.

LOCKE: -- it is not FDA approved.

C. DAVIS: Going to take Xanax. I'm serious. My pulse is out the roof right now.

REEVE (on-camera): Can you just explain why. C. DAVIS: The only way he could have been proven wrong with maybe if my uncle had taken the vaccination. If you don't want to take a vaccination, that's entirely up to you. But to spread misinformation about it is dead wrong, and it could potentially lead to more loss of life.

REEVE (voice-over): We interviewed Locke in December 2020, when more than 4,900 Tennesseans had already died of COVID-19. He told us this.

LOCKE: There's no pandemic. COVID-19 is not a pandemic.

REEVE (on-camera): But what is a pandemic then?

LOCKE: Not what we're experiencing. I'm 44 years old. We've not had one in my lifetime. So I don't know. And this is not yet.

REEVE (voice-over): He often talks about that interview with significant embellishment.

LOCKE: CNN showed up when this whole thing went down. And they said we'd like to know why you are so arrogant. Why would you be willing to kill every elderly person within 250 miles of Nashville? We ain't killed nobody yet by the way.

REEVE (voice-over): We went back to Locke's church on Sunday and we're set to interview him the next day. But he canceled on us after we arrived and his publicist said he didn't feel comfortable doing it.

Locke did not respond to our questions via e-mail. But later that day, he posted a video to Facebook.

LOCKE: And I'm telling you we almost had to call the police on CNN, on three chicks from CNN. We tried to be super nice, benevolent, compassionate, the whole deal. They're trying to say we're killing people. They're trying to say that we've had a COVID outbreak. If you're going to run me out of church with a whip you better be a full grown man, ladies and gentlemen, a full grown man is what I'm telling you.

Well these chicks diabolical. She has a bill spear and I'll call it like idiots.

C. DAVIS: There can be no justice for my uncle. He's gone. If Greg would find a modicum of humility and just say all this wrong. Mask have saved lives. It's been proven time and time again and not be belligerent.

REEVE (voice-over): In December, Locke also told us this.

LOCKE: People can call us conspiracy theories for what they want to. But, you know, there are aborted fetal tissue within the context of all of these vaccines.

REEVE (voice-over): Several people at his church told us the same thing. And the fetal cell lines were used to develop the vaccines. They do not contain any fetal tissue. Then in February, Chip's uncle Coburn said in a family group chat that he wouldn't get the vaccine because it had fetal tissue in it. He died two months later.

C. DAVIS: This is the family room chat. And so he says, there's stuff in this vaccine such as aborted fetuses. As for me, I'll do as I have for many, many years. I'll put my trust in my Almighty God. Each of you do what you feel love my family.

[20:55:07]

REEVE (on-camera): How did you feel hearing your family members parrot the things that Greg Locke had said about COVID that weren't true?

C. DAVIS: It made me angry.

REEVE (on-camera): And then see them get sick from it.

C. DAVID: It made me very angry.

REEVE (voice-over): Even after what happened to Coburn some members of this family still don't want to get the vaccine.

(on-camera): What do you think about coronavirus?

RAYMOND DAVIS, FATHER OF CHIP AND BILLY DAVIS: What I think about? It's dangerous. But a good feeling sometime, this population control?

REEVE (on-camera): Yes.

R. DAVIS: Just like abortion.

REEVE (on-camera): Chip, and Billy told us they felt like in the last five years the politics had made more tension in your family. Do you think that's true?

R. DAVIS: They think me and their mother are stupid. OK.

REEVE (on-camera): I don't think that's true. But why do you say that?

R. DAVIS: Well, because their views and I can't believe we believe the way (INAUDIBLE).

C. DAVIS: I'm actually shocked that we were able to even get together (INAUDIBLE). This is what Greg Locke and that type of cultish religion has robbed me of I feel like time with my uncle, because this is very rare.

REEVE (voice-over): Elle Reeve, CNN, Mt. Juliet, Tennessee.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: One family in America. Thanks to Elle Reeve for that report. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[21:00:23] COOPER: We wish everyone a safe Memorial Day weekend. The news continues. Want to hand over to our good friend Michael Smerconish. Michael?