“We’ve already had a Clinton in the White House. We know exactly what’s going to happen…This is like House of Cards. Frank Underwood doesn’t work alone, he works with his wife.”
Who does Abby Martin think she is?
She’s white. American. She has her own TV show. She’s got thousands of fans. She’s travelled the world. And she gets to report on whatever she wants. So, why is she so angry? Why does she hate America? And why can’t she just enjoy her freedom in the greatest country that will ever exist on God’s green earth?
Maybe her conscience has something to do with it.
Born in California, Martin didn’t grow up politically active or particularly bother paying attention to the news. As a teenager, she was, in her own words, “totally self-involved and narcissistic and had no idea what the hell was going on outside my stupid inane existence…” Everything, however, changed after 9/11. When her then boyfriend immediately enlisted in the army and shipped off to war to seek revenge by killing “ragheads,” Martin began, for the first time, to really start paying attention. And when she dug deeper into why America was going to war, first with Afghanistan, and then suddenly Iraq, her skepticism grew and she fell down the rabbit hole, like many of us do, into a never ending pursuit to understand the world and hold those in power accountable. Soon after, she turned to journalism.
From the start her style was fiercely independent and confrontational. She started her own media outlet, MediaRoots, and began her investigative work. In 2011, when the Occupy movement reached Oakland, she was on location with extensive coverage. Her reporting eventually caught the eye of RT, the Russian owned news organization, and she began to do some correspondent work for the network. It was a large platform for her to provide unfiltered criticism of the inequality issues in the United States and the police’s treatment of peaceful protestors. By 2012, she had moved to Washington, DC and been offered her very own TV show; a space explicitly designed to house her sharp criticism of the US media and government. It was called “Breaking The Set”.
Her presence on camera was instantly unique and unforgettable. Some people were turned off by her aggressive, relentless on-slaught against corporate and corrupt America. But the show quickly became a hit and garnered a legion of fans. The show mixed impassioned monologue op-eds with one-on-one interviews that included prominent American critics such as Noam Chomsky, Oliver Stone and Chris Hedges. The show, and Martin, gained particular notoriety in 2014, when live on RT’s airwaves, she criticized Russia’s military intervention in Crimea. Martin was applauded by many for defying RT’s obvious desire to avoid harsh criticisms of the Russian government.
“Breaking The Set” enjoyed a three-year run but went off the air in 2015. Many thought Martin left due to increasing criticism that she was working as a Russian propagandist, but, as Martin puts it, she decided to take a break from the never ending grind of responding to current events to focus on more longform, in-depth, reporting. Today she hosts and produces a show called “Empire Files” on teleSUR English. It’s a weekly documentary style show which continues Martin’s work critically unpacking the history of the United States government. Her recent episode on Hillary Clinton’s shady political career was a huge hit and has been viewed hundreds of thousands of times.
For her hard-hitting, investigative, journalism, however, Martin has endured a lot of hate. Some label her a traitor (for criticizing the American government, questioning the official narrative of 9/11, for working for the Russians at RT). She’s received death threats (for bashing American war-hero Chris Kyle). Others label her a “regressive leftist”; someone who is so liberal that they refuse to condemn any cultural, or religious, practices for fear of offending. But no matter what you think of Abby Martin, you have to respect the passion and her pursuit of truth.
I was first introduced to Abby’s work a few years back and I’ve followed along since. I’ve wanted to speak with her for some time and really discover firsthand if she’s the real deal. So, I travelled deep into the American empire to speak with Martin at her home in Brooklyn, New York. There is much I WANNA KNOW from the fearless, hyper-critical, American journalist.
From Hillary Clinton, to the myth of the A-bomb, to Islam and Sam Harris, to her love of art, we cover it all.
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LISTEN AS A PODCAST OR READ THE TRANSCRIPT BELOW:
Thank you so much for inviting me into your home. It’s rude not to show up with a gift. I spotted something this morning that I thought would help set the tone for the conversation.
(laughs) Oh no.
It’s a 2016 Hillary Clinton shot glass. I have a feeling that after November you’ll want to be a little more drunk than normal.
This is incredible because I will need it.
You used to live in DC and I’ve heard you refer to it several times as the “belly of the beast”. We’re in New York City. What is New York to the empire?
The financial apparatus. Obviously, banks are really pushing at the peak of the empire, eliciting control around the world. If you’re going to look at the powerhouse of that, it’s definitely going to be New York. Wall Street. A lot of media powerhouses are here as well. DC has the disgusting politicians who are doing all the collusion, but then the banks are right here baby, right down the street. It’s kind of surreal to be in this sphere now, especially being a part of Occupy Wall Street and reporting so heavily on that and just seeing both worlds.
You have a show called “Empire Files”. This idea of empire. It’s a colorful way of talking about America. Even though you can argue and frame it that way, people don’t use words like that anymore. Define what you mean by “empire” so people can understand the premise of what we’re talking about.
When you say the word “empire” people think you’re a conspiracy theorist. Let’s be serious: Karl Rove boasted about this years ago to Ron Suskind in the New York Times. Lawrence Wilkerson, chief-of-staff for multiple people in the former Bush Administration, also openly talks about this. If the US isn’t an empire than we’ve never seen an empire. The US is the biggest, most powerful, empire we’ve ever seen. It’s taken the concept of what an empire is in terms of ancient Rome to a whole new level. Those ancient civilizations, and empires, could never have foreseen what the capabilities are of the US empire now. I think if you look at just the sheer definition an empire is just one entity with a collection of nation states under that umbrella. We have over 800 military bases. That’s not counting the lillypad bases. The Pentagon can’t even admit to knowing how many bases we have. China has one in comparison. So all the fear mongering about Russia and China, you really look at the amount of bases and amount they’ve surpassed their own borders and it’s laughable in comparison. And not only just that, the sheer interventions around the world, not even to mention the covert ones.
So if you’re looking at just the definition itself, I think it’s fair to say that the US is an insanely huge militaristic empire. And after the dropping of the two nuclear bombs is when we really saw this feeding frenzy of empires in World War 2 come to a head where the US came out as the dominant reigning empire supreme. And has basically just reinforced itself as that standing empire, that military hegemon of the world up, until this day. And all other empires have acquiesced and coalesced under our umbrella, under our military rule and shadow lumming over the world. It’s just fucking endless.
It’s interesting you mention the atomic bombs. On the show I work for on Al Jazeera English, “UpFront”, I just wrote a “Reality Check” about Hiroshima and the myth of the atomic bombs that has been told in this country, “We needed to do it. It saved lives. It ended the war.” It’s a mega myth. And as you said, it pretty much started the age of the American empire, so it’s pretty important we know what happened there.
It really shows you how much myths are the glue of society and how much they hold society subservient and complacent. I was just looking at Fareed Zakaria interviewing Susan Rice about Obama’s impending visit to Hiroshima and how it’s this huge deal. He’s the first president to visit Hiroshima. But on a side note, he was saying what is the point of going to Hiroshima if he’s not going to address the fact that the US is the only country in the world to drop not one, but two, nuclear bombs on civilian populations and that it was wrong to do so? And there actually was no justification and that it didn’t save lives. And also, are you just looking at it in a purely jingoistic fashion where American lives are somehow more important than the tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of Japanese civilians who were incinerated? That’s insane.
So I don’t like to justify or rationalize retroactively some mass atrocity just because American lives might have been saved when we’re looking at a vast war crimes of hundreds of thousands of people being incinerated, not to mention the fallout, and for American soldiers too. It’s one of the biggest myths still reigning supreme. I just tweeted something out about it today and I got tons of vitriolic responses of people who are extremely upset. My grandfather died, how dare you say that. You’re saying a hundred thousand American should have died? It ended the war. It didn’t end the war. Japan was going to surrender. That is all documented. And not to mention, you look at Japan’s infrastructure, tons of cities were just firebombed. Tokyo was incinerated by firebombing. It was already so depleted of any military strength at that point and they were on the verge of surrender. Anyone who’s watched “Untold history of the United States” or has looked into the commissions that were formed to analyze the bomb, the Truman commission and also the next Presidential administration analyzed with all the military figures who were involved, and every single one had one uniformed conclusion: that it was completely unnecessary to do and there was no military justification whatsoever. And it’s complete fucking bullshit to say it saved lives or ended the war. Done. Period.
Did you ever hear about the 1995 Smithsonian debacle? On the 50th anniversary, they set up a display with the Enola Gay, which is the plane that dropped the bomb. The curators, knowing this history, set up a more nuanced display. When the veterans saw that they complained so much that it got all the way up to the Senate and it got shut down, and the curator was fired. How do you assess why the myth stays and why it’s protected?
Because the myth reinforces why we’re an empire and why we need an empire. If that myth goes the whole thing crumbles and the whole justification of the US is undermined because the nuclear bombs are still the reason why the US is the biggest arbitrator of moral rights. We can go around the world and say who deserves nukes and who doesn’t. People will justify that saying the US ended the war and used nukes because they had to. But if you look at it in the realistic view of history and the true lens, you would say why does the US have the right to go around and say who deserves nukes and who doesn’t when it’s the only country that’s ever used them? That’s an insane rationale right there. People have to believe that because if they start questioning that then that’s going to call into question why the US is going around telling North Korea, Iran, and legislating nuclear proliferation. Why don’t we start at home?
It’s really complicated to figure out everything. A myth is a cozy, warm blanket and you don’t have to think past it. You can trust that. How much of it do you think is that people don’t even want to figure it out? You and I spend our lives trying to figure out these things and tell people what’s really going on.
It’s hard to say. That’s like getting to the question of why religion exists. Why do these things blanket people in these warm, fuzzy, untruths as Vonnegut would say. But I think that when you’re looking at myths, there’s two types of people: People who are very inquisitive and when they find out they’ve been lied to about one thing they just keep going down the rabbit hole of what the hell else have I been lied to about? It never ends. And the more that you learn the more you realize that you don’t know. Then there’s people where it could just be your lifestyle. Are you overwhelmed and busy and you have a family to raise that you don’t have time to worry about whether bombs that were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki were war crimes? I totally understand that. That’s what’s so unfortunate; it’s like the manufacturing of consent. We have this society that is so overworked but we’re conditioned to think that if we just keep working harder we’re going to make it like Donald Trump has. And we can’t look outside of ourselves and the fact of why it’s like this. Why are we so overworked? Why do these myths prevail? Because it’s just so hard to just live. And I think that’s the struggle.
You recently did a big piece on “Empire Files” about Hillary Clinton. It got a lot of views and attention. During your research, was there one thing that really surprised you that you think really encapsulates her?
As much I thought I knew about Hillary Clinton — the war mongering, the corporate cronyism with the Clinton Foundation, this insane fake philanthropy model and all of her donations, Saudi Arabia of course being one of the biggest — what I really didn’t realize, and it goes back to my childhood, was the new Democrat movement. And how she came from not only a conservative past, a Goldwater girl which is at the time if you’re looking at who Barry Goldwater was, his campaign was the same year that Bernie Sanders was getting arrested at the People’s March. This was the march on Washington, the historical civil rights act. So, Hillary Clinton can reckon back to that time in her life and say I was marching alongside these leaders. But in reality, she was campaigning for the Donald Trump of that time, Barry Goldwater, who was a right-wing, reactionary, racist. He was reacting to the civil rights act and the movement of black people at that time. But not only that, she was the president of the young Republicans club.
Look, I have a lot of discretions in my past ten years ago and I’ve moved on to, so I don’t want to hold that to her feet so much as I do the fact that it just kept going. When her and Bill actually got into the White House, Bill and Gore were campaigning on a platform of veiled racism, ending welfare as we know it. The campaign ads are out and you can see them and they’re surreal. We’re ending welfare as we know it, tough on crime and just coming out there saying, “We’re the new Democrats. We want the death penalty.” I’m like, holy shit. Looking at that now, it makes sense why growing up in a really staunchly Democratic family that my mother and grandfather were really staunchly pro-Clinton that they felt that way. I grew up thinking that the death penalty was good, and immigration was bad, and it was because of the new Democrats that had really campaigned and tried to siphon those white votes from the Reagan sweeping victories that had happened.
And then of course, the massive deregulation that happened under Clinton. Look, this is why I think, we’ve already had a Clinton in the White House. We know exactly what’s going to happen. This is a powerhouse couple. This is like House of Cards. Frank Underwood doesn’t just work alone, he works with his wife. Hillary had an enormous amount of influence whether it was bombing Yugoslavia to the super predators stuff. She was out there campaigning for the crime bill. All of these things happen as a unit and the massive deregulation under Clinton paved the way for the collapse of the economy and all the financial problems that we have today. And the consolidation of the media that we’re battling and that’s why I’m passionate to do my job. So, I was shocked actually to see all of this go back to Bill Clinton. Everyone likes to blame everything on Bush, but actually this was implemented far past Bush’s era.
There was a line that really stuck out in the piece where you said, Clinton will “choose the path of death and destruction no matter the consequences.” You spent all that time trying to get in her head, so why would you say that about her?
I think that when you look at this, I know it could be a rash thing to hear. But Elizabeth Warren talks about how she met with Hillary before she won the Senate. She was telling her this important financial bill she needed to pass to regulate Wall Street and Hillary was really passionate. She was sitting down with her and Hillary was like, “We need to stop these banks, Elizabeth.” She said it was the most genuine conversation, and she was so eager, and she met up with and followed up with her many times and actually at that time convinced Bill to vote against this measure. But then she said that when Hillary got in the Senate there she was at the forefront voting for the measure. So I think that when you’re a careerist, you’re just inching your way to the top — I’m sure she wasn’t thinking I’m going to kill a million Iraqis with the Iraq war vote — but look at the funders of the Clinton Foundation. That’s who your base is. It’s no longer about the American people, or the Iraqi people, or what’s best for the country and the world, it’s just about who are your donors and who are you going to repay favors to? And what’s a better a calculated position for you to be in to get further and further? And I think it’s just cold calculated careerism. And unfortunately, when I said the death and destruction thing, it’s because look at all the neocons who are courting her. It’s terrifying to look at someone who’s far to the right of Obama on foreign policy and has pushed for the war with Iran time and time again. It’s terrifying. I really am scared.
How much has Clinton, if you had to speculate, bought into that American exceptionalism myth? Is she trying to make sure America stays in power for the betterment of the world? Or she consciously knows her decisions will have disastrous effects and she doesn’t care and wants to be rich?
When you look at Cheney back in 1994, he was on camera saying this is why they wouldn’t send ground troops into Iraq because pieces of Iraq would fly off and it would be a complete fucking disaster and quagmire. These people aren’t stupid. They know exactly what’s going to happen. Why did I know it was going to happen when we invaded Libya? Why doesn’t Hillary Clinton know that Libya is going to be a vaccuum that ISIS is going to proliferate and destroy and destabilize the Middle East? I don’t buy that it’s for the greater good. I do think that they think America is the best country and they need to stay on top and their lives and livelihoods depend on the reinforcement of the American empire. But I do think that Hillary, as long as her family is good, the blood of a million Iraqis doesn’t really mean much. Otherwise we’d see much more remorse. It took her ten years to even apologize for voting for the Iraq war. It’s crazy.
One of your intellectual heroes, Noam Chomsky, who you’ve interviewed several times, has a new book coming out, “Who Rules The World?” The big pull quote in some of the reviews is that “America is an empire in decline.” Here we are talking about this powerful empire. But do you share his thought that the American empire is in decline? And how are its actions a reflection of reactionary geopolitics to that reality?
Yeah absolutely. And I think that’s why we’re seeing polarization of the ruling class where you see Donald Trump’s more isolationist wing of the bourgeois saying we don’t want to fucking go after Russia and China because it’s insane and it could super destabilize us. And then you see other sectors saying we just want to go after everyone because we’re so desperate. And I think that’s exactly what’s happening. We’re seeing this capitalist crisis that’s global. The economy can’t keep going on as it is. We’ve already seized and destabilized states. The last remaining states that we haven’t destabilized, it’s very obvious where the warring factions are. It’s these states that have either nationalized their resources or stand in some sort of bucking to the US supremacy of world domination.
There’s definitely a desperation. I just keep going back to MLK saying a country that spends more and more on military might than programs of social uplift is facing a spiritual death. And it goes much further beyond just a spiritual death, there’s going to be a slow death in every sense of the word. We just went to Greece the other week and I think that’s where America is heading in 20 years. I mean, when you push austerity measures as a solution to an economic collapse it just keeps making the society more disparate, more disenfranchised, where now anarchists are controlling large swaths of the country. And it’s no surprise. That shit is really, really, scary. Unfortunately our politicians don’t know anything but austerity, inequality and continuing to pushing more of the same because they don’t get it.
There’s this assumption, perception, that the CIA, the US government, is all knowing and all powerful. When I interviewed George Galloway, I asked him about this. He said, “I’m an advocate of the cock-up school, rather than the conspiracy school. That doesn’t mean there are no conspiracies. But not everything is a conspiracy. I always put it this way, don’t imagine our rulers are James Bond, they’re more Austin Powers.” When I came to DC, and would go by the White House, you’d sense it’s the most secure place in the world. And then you turn on the news and someone jumped over the fence and walked inside. How much of how awesome and sophisticated the US government comes from a myth they want you to believe? But really behind the scenes perhaps they don’t know what’s really going on?
It’s hard to say. Before I moved to DC I was way more conspiratorial and thought the bureaucracy was way more insidiously in lockstep. But when you go to DC, you realize how fucked up everything is and how it’s this completely insane bureaucracy and there’s these different parts pulling at each other the entire time. I do think, however, that that shouldn’t distract from the fact that there’s tons of real conspiracies. Wall Street is a conspiracy. There was just banks caught manipulating the global currency and slapped on the wrist with nothing. We covered for Empire Files all the times the government has done secret testing programs on soldiers and the shit is just mindblowing. The Manhattan Project alone is an example of how there can be a very hidden, real, conspiracy to carry out involving thousands of people.
But when it comes to our foreign policy I think it’s more along the lines of, we know what needs to be done to maintain empire despite the consequences. I think there are different poles of how we can get that done without fucking up too bad. But a lot of people just don’t care. What happened in Syria is insane. If Hillary Clinton got her way we’d be in a full fledged war, stand-off, with nuclear states. A no-fly zone is an insane thing to call for. So was that a conspiracy to try and overthrow Assad? Yes. There is a very open conspiracy, very blatant, for regime change there but it’s just different factors for how they’re going to get that done. And I think all of it is super fucked up and incompetent. When you’re looking at how we’re trying to fight ISIS at the same time. It’s the biggest bumbling idiotic thing about the war on terror is this hypocrisy going on in Syria.
I’ve had the experience of watching some top US intelligence officials being interviewed. I’m always surprised at how unintelligent their answers can be. Sometimes I wonder if they are just figure heads for these large organizations, but behind-the-scenes there’s some super intelligent people calling the shots. Have you ever wondered about the logic, and smarts, of these extremely powerful people?
Mike, my partner, brought up something very funny. He was in the invasion of Iraq. We were just at his house where he grew up. He had all these photos from when Bush was the commander-in-chief of the armed forces. It’s hilarious to think that that was his boss. It came to a point where not only did I realize Bush is a complete fucking idiot. He’s like but everyone in charge of my unit and then the person in charge of that unit, they’re all idiots. How do you possibly stay in the military at that point and do this? So yeah, it is really crazy and I think that someone who’s been inside that apparatus has a completely different view. I’m looking at everyone like we’re in a fake it until you make it world, but Christ, these people really have no idea what’s going on.
A lot of people frame you as anti-American. They attack you and want you to shut up. What do you love about this country that you don’t often get time to talk about?
If everyone just takes the time to drive through the country and go to the National Parks. I’ve travelled to almost every continent, other than Antarctica, and I think America is one of the most beautiful, and has the most to offer in terms of nature, and just cities. New York, I think, is one of the best cities in the world. And I can’t stress enough driving through all these national parks. Arizona and Utah: mind-blowing shit. Absolutely breathtaking stuff. I want to preserve that so much. I want people to experience that. And a really sad thing, when I was going to all these national parks in an RV trip last summer, every single person at the parks was foreign. Barely any Americans are looking at what this country has to offer. I think Americans don’t travel as much as other countries for whatever reason. And they don’t really tend to get out of their comfort zones and really explore. And it was really just an amazing thing.
And of course, just the ability to speak out. I hate to use that tired trope of like, “Oh, I love America because I have the ability to criticize it.” But to a certain extent I do realize that a lot of other countries, if I’m saying the things that I am, obviously that would be a huge problem. But my whole argument to people who say, love it or leave it, this stupid false dichotomy of get the fuck out of this country if you’re not 100 percent behind it. I want to make it better. I care about making the country better. I don’t want to see the empire implode. I don’t want us to be in an empire. I want us to just be in a normal country that can co-exist with the world, that the rest of the world isn’t terrified of getting invaded or bombed. And I want to provide this enormous vast wealth that we create to our citizens and help other people in the world. So I see these horrible things happening and I want to reverse the trend. And so, yeah, there are a lot of amazing things about this country and there’s also a lot of wasted opportunity and that’s what’s so frustrating about it, especially when people call me anti-American, because I’m the most pro-American person ever. I’m pro-maintaining this country and not having it collapse.
So it’s fair to say you’re less about watching the empire fall, but maybe more like: Make America Great again?
(laughs) Let’s take a shot for that.
That was my gotcha question. I was looking for a good transition into Trump. Watching the media cover Trump has been fascinating and then reading that he’s received essentially billions of dollars worth of free press. Did the mainstream media create Trump? Is that a black and white thing to you? Did they fail America in that sense?
I definitely think it’s a two-fold thing. It’s not black and white, but I definitely think the media has been at the forefront of legitimizing his candidacy, of course. Because as a complete joke at the beginning, Les Moonves, the head of CBS ,there’s a famous quote from him just saying, “Donald Trump is horrible for America but he’s amazing for this network.” Keep going, Donald Trump, keep going. I think that says all you need to know about the nature of corporate media. As someone working at Al Jazeera you understand the abysmal state of journalism in this country and why hard hitting journalists gravitate towards state funded media because they can say things a lot of journalists can’t on corporate media. It’s actually really sad and it’s become a complete joke to see this whole election unfold. I’ve just been glued to the TV. It’s been an hilarious practice in how dysfunctional our media is.
But the whole time people are saying he’s a complete joke but they can’t stop themselves from covering it. Whether it’s Trump saying, “I have the best words,” or whether it’s him just walking out of a fucking alley or it’s him calling a woman beautiful. They can’t help themselves because they know how titillating the Trump brand is. But then of course once he slays 16 candidates, comes out on top as the Republican nominee, then they’re like, “Oh fuck, what just happened? We thought that mocking him this whole time would be good. And we’ve given no other candidate coverage.” There was that study that said Trump got 23 times the coverage of Bernie Sanders just on one network and I think it says it all. And especially with people who are already disillusioned with the system, and think that Trump is this anti-establishment figure, when they hear the media apparatus and the political establishment denouncing him, plotting against him, conspiring how they can possibly usurp his nomination. People are actually looking at that and thinking, oh wow, I like this guy, why are all these people against him? When I’m disillusioned with the whole system I like the fact that this guy is going against the grain and that’s dangerous too.
Do you think that his rise, as well as Sanders, is a sign too of the state of the empire? That things have gotten so bad, that people are so fed up.
Oh my God, yeah. I think that this election perfectly symbolizes why the empire is in the decline. You have one insurgent candidate, Bernie Sanders, who’s actually calling out the entire system saying it’s completely rigged, from the top down, how we need a political revolution, and just calling out how banks control everything. That’s amazing. That’s unheard of. To see someone on the national stage actually taking it that far, moving the dialogue that realistic. On the other hand, you have this insurgent candidate, who’s coming out of the fucking blue, of course the Republicans didn’t rig the game as well without super delegates that would have prevented someone like Donald Trump from getting in, he gets in based on this rhetoric of I don’t give a fuck, I’m going to call everyone out and I’m going to say things that he knows appeals to people. For the first time it’s not the NAFTA thing, for example it’s this shocking reality that everyone knows but you’ll never see someone like Hillary Clinton or anyone in the political establishment admit it was a complete disaster, cost millions of jobs and destroyed the Mexican economy.
So when you hear Trump saying things like that, you’re like, “Yeah, this is great.” So in a way I almost understand why people like his candid, refreshing, attitude but on the other hand the refreshing stuff stops when it starts getting racist, misogynist and just blatantly bigoted and crazy. You’re like, “Oh fuck this is actually really scary and unpredictable. Where is he going to go?” But I think it’s totally symbolic of where we’re at. Already, before this election, 60 percent of Americans identified as independents and totally did not identify with any of the two major parties. So I think that if anything else there’s enormous room. There’s an opening now, where you have one candidate criticizing capitalism in the biggest capitalist country in the world. The other candidate, the peak of the capitalist empire, not only that but this reality star billionaire. I love that it’s the symbol of the collapse of empire because you’re looking at someone like Trump and it’s like, we get the president we deserve. And this is almost indicative of everything that America represents: this export of reality stardom and fucking money and this attitude. It’s amazing.
I’ve heard some people suggest they hope Trump wins so he’ll bring the collapse of the current American system and wake people up. Is that something that appeals to you on any level? Or you wouldn’t go that far?
Well, I wouldn’t go that far to say that I’d rather him win. I’m definitely terrified of Hillary. I definitely do not believe in the voting of the lesser of two evils and in this instance I don’t know who’s the lesser of two evils to tell you the truth. So I’ll be voting with my conscience, like I do every time. But I have heard that argument. I do know people who are voting for him because they’re like, “Look, not only do I not think Hillary is a lesser evil, but I also think that look how dormant the war movement became under Obama.” They just think there’s going to be a really hardcore movement of fighting on the ground under Trump and really getting shit done. But then again, a lot of bad things can happen really quickly that can upset that.
Did you see this coming with Trump? Did you think he could last this long?
I thought they would do everything in their power. I thought they would broker the convention. Because they were just like, we’re not going to allow this to happen. I thought it was so rigged. I’m looking at how rigged every election has been, the Supreme Court picking the one in 2000, all these irregularities in 2004. Every time it’s just been so fake that I was like, there’s no fucking way they’re going to let Trump be the nominee, but low and behold, I think it became so obvious that there was no way they could do anything to prevent it. It’s to their fault.
They created this beast and now they have to face it. Once you foster these really radical Ted Cruz’ and all these Tea Party people who totally siphon that energy from the real Tea Party, like the Ron Paul and true libertarians, and just became all about birthers and all this crazy shit. You’re fostering and legitimizing sect and that’s going to create the rise of someone like Trump. It’s this beast you can’t control now. And now you have to deal with it.
Talking about mainstream media. You have this very interesting position. You started out very independent, and though you’re still fiercely independent, you have had the backing of these really controversial but fascinating states. Your stuff with RT and Russia, you were called a Putin supporter. And now with teleSUR. For you, who doesn’t really have a stake in Venezuela or Russia, do you see a mutual using relationship? Because they love when you bash America.
I think that you’re absolutely right. And I think it’s a fascinating climate right now. People who don’t understand why journalists work for these state entities have no idea how fucked up journalism is. That’s the first thing. So all these corporate media outlets, there’s so much censorship. Sitting on the board of Project Censored, every year we publish 25 censored stories. It’s absurd how much information Americans don’t know that they should. But there’s so many conflicts of interest. This is what I always tell people, when you’re navigating news, know the bias coming in. Al Jazeera, the bias is Qatar. RT, Russia Today, you’re a fucking idiot if you’re going to go in there and say, I’m going to get the truth about everything that’s going on in Russia from watching Russia Today. Yes you’re going to get the Russian perspective which is actually super crucial when we’re sparring with Russia constantly. But I think it’s really important to understand the bias going in, navigate around that bias and get your news from a variety of different sources while understanding where they’re all coming from.
When you’re looking at corporate media. There’s so many different biases and different levels of censorship, whether it be self-censorship because the host doesn’t want to write about that, or there’s these third rail issues, whether it be Israel or something else, or the funders and subscriber base or the advertising base. So there’s so many different things going into that that it’s so convoluted that it’s really difficult. Whereas state-funded media, it’s so much more straightforward. I always told people that working at RT that I’ve never done a pro-Russia story. You can call me a Russian propagandist because I’m doing truthful news about my country, but you really can’t because I’m not hired to do PR for Russia. And I’m doing it exactly as you’re mentioning. There’s certain reasons why people work for these networks, my reason is because you cannot talk about Monsanto, Nestle. You cannot talk about the US empire. You can’t even say that word working for some of these other outlets. So that’s why I worked for RT. RT gave me an international platform to bring my perspective to an international audience, to talk about whatever the hell I wanted, completely unfiltered and uncensored, literally. I fought with my boss many times and I pretty much won every time because I put my job on the line multiple times saying, I have so much integrity and I want to assert my independence, that I’m going to put my job on the line. I think that looking at media today. For example, the plane MH370, if I were working at those outlets, I would say I refuse to cover this story. I literally cannot cover this story anymore. It makes me realize these people really aren’t journalists. And they’re really not risking much by going out there and either being stenographers or just repeating the story of the day on loop for two months straight just because that’s what gets ratings. I would much rather be fighting tooth and nail about one issue, that’s the funding base of RT, then work for corporate media.
When it comes to teleSUR, it’s a little different. RT obviously exists to promote the Russian perspective. It’s more about pointing out the hypocrisies and contradictions of US rhetoric, I would say. Russia as a country is a lot more conservative than I align myself with. I don’t know much about Russia. It’s still very foreign to me. I’ve never been there. I do support treating Russia not like Hitler, like Hillary calls Putin. I think it’s absurd the kind of rhetoric we hear about Russia, that Putin’s a dictator. It’s insane and very obvious when it comes to these countries andthe rhetoric we hear. When it comes to teleSUR, it’s much different. Yes, it’s majority owned Venezuela but it’s also a bloc of Latin American countries that have started this network to try to combat US supremacy in this media dominated world where you have corporate domination of the media. So Argentina, Ecuador, Costa Rica, Venezuela, all of these countries came together and were like, “We want to provide some sort of leftist people’s perspective of these issues.” When you’re looking at that I fall in line much more with that perspective than I do RT. So I feel a little more comfortable working with teleSUR because of that. But I do feel, yes, it’s a mutually beneficial relationship otherwise I think they’re interested in me because I have a different perspective on US empire and that’s why their whole network exists, to combat that historical revisionism and narrative about Latin America, how empire affected Latin America and I’m happy to bring that truth to the public as much as I can.
When we’re talking about media coverage and myths, 9/11 of course still remains a huge talking point. I was curious to get your thoughts on the 28 unreleased pages of the 9/11 commission report. What’s your take on how significant this could be?
So, I proudly call myself a truther. I’ve been ridiculed for it of course. This is another third rail issue that no one can talk about. However, I find it very disturbing that 28 pages of joint congressional inquiry have been classified since the 9/11 commission formed, that basically point to Saudi Arabia which is the number one ally of the United States. Fucking think about that for a second. The number one ally of the United States, we have been actively covering up the fact that not just officials living in Saudi Arabia, but government officials, part of the monarchy, they were financing the hijackers. It’s like hello.
We’ve already invaded countless countries, eviscerated civil liberties in this country, spent endless amounts of money, quote on quote, on the basis of 9/11 and the war on terror. Well, the perpetrators, a really clear line points to our biggest ally in the world. The one that we’re continuing to arm every year, giving aid and weapons to kill civilians and brutalize their own population. It’s disgusting. It makes no sense. It’s the biggest hypocrisy in the world. Hillary Clinton herself has admitted this in WikiLeaks cables. I think these 28 pages that have been classified for so long could reveal and expose so much that would be so detrimental to our relationship that the government has already said we can’t afford the cost-benefit analysis of releasing these pages. We would much rather maintain this disgusting vile partnership than actually hold 9/11 perpetrators accountable. I think that says all you need to about the event and everything that’s happened in the entire premise of the war on terror. And if that doesn’t outrage everyone, I don’t know what will.
It’s crazy how demonized you become if you question the 9/11 narrative. But then these 28 pages emerge, and you even have Republicans who worked on the report saying their conscience has gotten to them so much and they’re coming out and saying how white washed the report was, but people say you’re crazy. This stuff is definitive, but people are saying we have to just trust our government.
Nuclear bombs, baby. It’s the same thing. It’s the same shit when you’re looking back at this myth. I was vilified. That’s why I don’t even talk about anything except for things that I can prove, obviously now as a journalist. And that’s the difference between me as an activist. I learned a lot more as a journalist, what can you actually prove? Looking at just the facts itself: If you just talk about the warnings, it’s not just the PDB, the August 6th presidential daily briefings saying Bin Laden was planning an attack in the US. It was literally dozens and dozens delivered directly to the chief of staff, the person directly under Bush. He was even sleeping on an aircraft carrier weeks leading up to the event because he was so fucking scared because they knew something was impending and they knew that it involved planes. But if you say that, you’re crazy. How dare you even insinuate that the government could have known and let it happen? And if people can’t even accept that, looking at all the provable, look at the Gulf of Tonkin. That literally didn’t even happen and that was used as an event to just invade invade Vietnam. I just would encourage people to just question more. Now I’m working for RT again. But seriously question what you’re told. Going back to this whole fatherly-motherly myth that the government loves and cares about you and looks out for your best interests, how could you possibly think that’s true, when every single thing proves the opposite?
I’ve heard you reference 9/11 as a big turning point for you and someone you used to know it sent them off to war and that changed your perspective when you learned about the rhetoric that was going on. But pre-9/11, what were your political leanings? Did you care about this stuff?
I was a regular senior in high school, just totally self-involved and narcissistic and had no idea what was hell was going on outside my stupid inane existence of caring about popularity and whatever the hell else people in California cared about. When my boyfriend at the time joined the army, as a reaction to 9/11, that was really crazy because I was just like, what is going on? There was so much hatred and he wanted to go, quote, kill “ragheads” and get revenge. So it was this bloodlust that I was witnessing. I had no part of it and I didn’t feel this bloodlust but I was extremely worried that he had become this bizarre, crazy, person. That was just the road where they went into boot camp and I started becoming aware of what the military did to people to brainwash them and this person became completely different. It was just a microcosm to awaken me to what was actually happening. That was a turning point for me to be like, not only is the military crazy for what it’s doing, but just the entire 9/11 era and everything that happened after that.
9/11 was one thing, the Afghanistan war was one thing. I remember not really having an opinion about the Afghanistan war. But then as a freshman in college, watching the media just start talking about Saddam one day and I called my mom because I was talking to her all the time about my boyfriend going to Iraq and training to go there and all this crazy shit happening. I was just like, wait, what happened? Did Saddam bomb us? Why is all the media talking about Saddam? And she said, I was wondering the same thing. What happened? So seeing the media just switch from one day to the other; from talking about Bin Laden and Afghanistan to talking about Saddam Hussein. It made no sense. I was looking around me thinking, does anybody else see how fucking weird this is? And I remember people talking about the bloodlust again. I remember people watching that invasion of Iraq and seeing Baghdad being obliterated and being in the mess hall of my college campus and everyone cheering. I was crying and like this is fucking sick. Just seeing how disturbing that was and how people could be just so easily swayed and manipulated into supporting this non-sensical war. Ever since then it’s been non-stop. I tried to get involved in amnesty and anti-war activism and just trying to do whatever I could to understand what’s happening. At that time I still really blamed the Republican party because I couldn’t see outside of that until going through the elections with Kerry and realizing what a shill he was. I was like, OK, this it not just the Republicans it’s the entire political apparatus. And then also the media. I was like, how is the media letting this happen? Why are they lying? Why aren’t they telling us the truth about these things? Then you realize everything is implicated because it’s the entire system that maintains and perpetuates empire.
You said “raghead” and that plays into this idea of Islamophobia. The media has played a role in inflaming these things. There’s a lot of confusion surrounding the religion of Islam, especially in the country we’re in right now. People like Sam Harris, and Richard Dawkins, have led the way in trying to tell people about how Islam is a messed up religion, it’s not compatible with Western democracy, it’s not compatible with the values we fought so hard to have in this country. You have publicly had a spat with Sam Harris. How would you explain how you got involved in that particular issue?
I’ve always reported on the side of the oppressed and marginalised. The people’s voices. When I’m looking at an issue like Islam and Islamophobia, and when the empire is maintained on otherism and demonization of 1.5 billion people around the world, that’s problematic. I’ve always been very jarred and upset by the fact that Muslims are generalized as one group, very blanketly and unscientifically. And talked about as if they all are radical and they all need to apologize every time some crazy Muslim picks up a gun. Christians aren’t asked to apologize if the Planned Parenthood guy says what he does. I just try to see past this otherism because I understand that it’s the basis for empire and the basis for war. And this kind of dehumanization. And that’s why drone bombings happen and people don’t care. That’s why no one cares when a fucking car bomb goes off in Iraq and kills 66 people because they’re Muslim and brown. So I’ve always just been very acutely aware that we’re all just brothers and sisters and human beings. I care just as much if an Iraqi dies than my neighbor.
What is your understanding of the religion of Islam? Have you been looking into the religion more deeply? Because a lot of people are criticizing your take on Islam saying you claim to be a feminist but don’t speak up about Islamic practices in certain cultures.
That’s really insane and bizarre emotional manipulation, where you’re like, you’re not liberal enough if you’re not criticizing Islam enough. That to me is kind of erroneous. All religions say crazy shit. I’m agnostic. I’m a spiritual person. I’d say I’m more atheist than not. I never grew up religious. I had the benefit of never being indoctrinated or conditioned into a certain religious sect, which I’m really grateful for. So it’s interesting to look at these tendencies and you look at the evolution of every religion, every religion has evolved in different ways. I think that when you’re looking at Islam. If you look at, for instance, Palestine. It’s hard to look at Palestine and you can’t just look at it in a vacuum and say religion is why Hamas exists. Because that’s an unscientific way to look at the development and evolution of why Hamas exists and why there’s a more radical sect that’s actually governing this territory. You can’t look at Iran, and basically everything in the Middle East, without understanding the context, socio-political context, of how empire have shaped that region and helped proliferate certain radicalization tendencies. There’s that famous quote by Karl Marx that everyone knows the first half of but no one knows the back half of which is that religion is the opiate of the masses. But he also says religion is the sigh of the oppressed. It’s a really interesting point because it’s true. When you have nothing. When your family has been bombed, when everyone you know has been fucking killed, sometimes Islam is the only thing you can go back to when all you have is that prayer five times a day. And I think it’s really arrogant and insane for people who are extremely privileged sitting in their ivory towers to look at people in Palestine and say that they’re a death cult and that they worship death without understanding anything about why Palestine is the way it is and just be an apologist for empire and colonization.
And sometimes I think that’s what people like Sam Harris fail to see: if you’re from Palestine, if you’re from Lebanon and from the South, if you’re in these countries that have been oppressed and divided by empires for so long you are going to find a radical interpretation because you want meaning and war is the only meaning you know. Do you think people take the time to even think about that?
This is an age old thing, the clash of civilizations, by Bertrand Russell. This myth has been used to perpetuate empire and to stigmatize Islam for quite a while. And it’s total bullshit. It’s basically saying Islam and Western civilizations cannot co-exist. That the Muslim world and Western world are destined to clash in some epic proportions and epic world war. But really when you look at how it’s all developed over the last 100 years it’s hard to look at, like I was saying, Iran without looking at the usurping the democratically elected leader and putting in the Shah. Look at Afghanistan, there was a democratic revolution where there was modernity for women, where women were not wearing burqas. And then we went in and funded Bin Laden. So it’s really hard to look at the Muslim world and say they’re barbaric, they are unevolved, well that’s not true and it’s extremely important to understand the context of everyone of these countries and understand our role and setting back the clock for a lot of these people. And also radicalizing a lot of them and this doesn’t happen in a vacuum. Terrorism is what I call the wars and drone bombings that we do, it’s actually just a much larger scale of terrorism that perpetuates blowback and hatred and revenge for generations. So it’s a never ending cycle and it’s really important.
I think Chomsky was asked about Sam Harris and his answer was really interesting where he said we’re different because I like to get at the root of why terrorism exists and people like Sam Harris don’t. When you look at Sam Harris’ argument it’s really interesting because as an intellectual scientist he’s kind of anti-scientific in his analysis of how religion forms and exists, by saying everything boils down to the stupidity of religion. I think it’s an intellectual cover for a lot of people to justify their hatred and Islamophobia. I’m not trying to generalize all his fans, but I have seen a certain trend in the Chris Kyle fanatics, they come at me saying misogyny, bigotry are meaningless tropes. It seems like you guys think of religion and women and social justice warriors in a very insular fashion where you’re just living on Reddit threads. These terms just don’t really mean anything out in the real world. Do you ever go and talk to women? Or do you just sit there seething in hatred for Islam and women? The people who hate and dog on feminism and say everyone needs safe words and safe spaces, I don’t experience any of that. And I don’t know what they hell you’re talking about.
Let’s unpack this term, “regressive left”, because you are lumped sometimes with this group. This is a new buzzword created by Maajid Nawaz, which you know because he tweeted at you.
Maajid Nawaz is a really interesting person. He was hired by David Cameron for the Quilliam Foundation, it’s a pro-intervention think tank which actually advocated for the Libyan bombing, the Syrian war. So I don’t take that shit lightly. I don’t take think tanks funded by war criminal governments lightly when they’re pushing for intervention in Muslim countries. So I don’t care who’s at the forefront of it, that is a term that is a pro-war funded term. Millions of dollars have gone into this think tank. This guy makes up this word and it’s parroted like nothing. It’s a really expensive PR talking point.
They’re saying “regressive left” to shut you up. And you’re trying to expose the bigotry to shut them up. When you hear people like Maajid, and Sam Harris, saying we just want to have an honest debate. We’re not saying “all Muslims” but we’re saying let’s look and some of the essential evilness of this. You said it’s about looking deeper into the DNA and deeper into how these religions evolved. Sam Harris is someone who hates religion, he doesn’t believe in God, those who believe it are intellectually inferior to him. So he comes at it from there. You come from it as a person who’s open to exploring religious ideas and histories. So do you think you’re both coming from different perspectives and you’ll never be able to see eye to eye?
And here’s the thing, I know exactly where Sam Harris stands. He has a neocon ideology. As much as he wants to mask it in some liberalism, it’s neo-conservative. He legitimizes the occupation of Palestine, he’s pro-Israel, he’s written pieces saying, “Why I support Israel,” he’s written pieces on Palestine being a death cult. He’s written pieces on why he supports torture. Why the Iraq war was justified. All of these things could be giant thought experiments, but that does not absolve you from promoting a neoconservative foreign policy ideology and being extremely pro-empire and pro-American exceptionalism. And I don’t think there’s ever going to be a common ground just like I wouldn’t find a common ground with Dick Cheney who’s just going to continue to legitimize all the atrocities and war crimes the US commits because we’re better. Because we’re morally superior and whoever the fuck we’re bombing, so it’s just a difficult thing to come to terms with. He’s a neocon, really no other word describes his ideology. I know where he’s coming from, he knows where I’m coming from and that’s really it.
I think the common ground is that you will acknowledge that we should be critical of racist, homophobic, gender biased ideas in religion. Because I think that’s what people will call you out on, the “regressive left”, who say we can’t talk about it because it’s their culture. There is that divide where they would accuse you of that, so your response is?
My response is: of course you can criticize the insane, bat-shit aspects of religion. That is unquestionable. But my question to these people is why are you so obsessed with only talking about Islam? I don’t understand that. That’s what I think is a little bit strange. I look at the world right now and I think the empire is the biggest threat of stability, biggest threat to global peace, I don’t think Islam is. And I think a lot of these people are so obsessed and scared and I think it really just comes back to being terrified. It’s kind of sad. I felt like we made a lot progress since 9/11 once people realize you’re more likely to be stung by a bee and die. So once this fear mongering is just constant. There’s been more toddlers that have shot people and killed them than people who have died from terrorism in this country in the last couple years. So when I ask people why are you so obsessed with Islam? Sure you can criticize Islam, but why are you so obsessed and scared? It’s a sad thing.
With Sam Harris, and I ask this question genuinely, how much of how hard it is to sit and listen to him is the sound of his voice and how his face looks?
I really got solidified in my opinion by reading his articles. Yes, at face value, I’m like, “Oh my God, he does kind of look like a serial killer and he kind of sounds like he lacks empathy.” But then I was actually told by so many people you’re not giving him a fair shake, you should really listen to what he’s saying. And then I did. And I was stunned. A lot of people have said I don’t get it. And I’ve had a lot of nuanced conversations with people who really love his books on spirituality. That’s amazing. I’m just talking specifically on his argument on Islam. And I think it’s weighted against his arguments against other religions. I hate to paint all his supporters with a broad brush, because I have met a lot of them who are totally not like the people I’m talking about, it just seems to be the most reactionary members online are these Chris Kyle type people who are very sycophantic and what not. I actually have read his articles. I’ve tried to listen to this debate with him and Chris Hedges, it was a three hour debate, and the moderator had to actually stop it, he was like, “I have to stop the debate because Sam you continue to not give any context to your points.”
I think some people, when you started “Breaking the Set,” were like, woah, no one talks on TV like that. It built your fan base because people thought you meant what you were saying. But did you ever get any of that backlash saying your persona was too intense?
Well, the first episode was fucking nuts. It was like me coming out like I was the Tazmanian devil. So I definitely lightened up, if that’s hard to believe. But no, I definitely got feedback being, “OK, way too intense.” And I agree with that because I didn’t know what I was doing in the beginning. But I think people are refreshed. I would love to see more corporate news anchors act like robots when they’re talking about genocide and war crimes. And I think it’s really refreshing to see a human, someone who wears their bias and opinion on their sleeve because I’d rather know, than guess. I think objectivity is bullshit. And I think this unbiased kind of journalism, and as someone who went to J-School you probably were a lot more indoctrinated than I was about how to be a proper journalist, and I think because I was never regimented that way it’s been advantageous for me to wear my heart on my sleeve. I make mistakes, I admit it. But I think people appreciate the candid, the refreshing truth and honesty.
I noticed that you have something very close in common with George Bush.
(laughs) What’s that?
You love art. When George Bush wants to calm down he grabs a brush and draws Putin and other world leaders. And you reach for the brush as well. How does art keep you going?
(laughs) Well, art is definitely therapy. I think everyone is an artist, they just haven’t explored the avenue of what they can put out there. And I think art and music are the first things cut in public education. I think that’s a tragedy. Because I think everyone has something to offer artistically. It’s just a matter of finding that medium that speaks most to you. Art has always been therapy. I love abstract art. As soon as you can apply your political passions, a lot of cool shit can happen. Lately I’ve been into really psychedelic nature scapes. And trying to intertwine different cultures, and things around the world, to show that we’re just one human family. And showing that with my imagery. Art is amazing. I think it’s super crucial for everyone to do can’t stress that enough.
Being a journalist myself, you and I are always dealing with really intense subject matter on a day to day basis. Do you ever feel like you’re going to burn out? And maybe want to step away from this and do something different?
A lot of people think I left RT because of the politics. That wasn’t the case. That’s because I was going to be burnt out. And I told my boss if I keep going like this on a three-person staff, five days a week live show, I’m going to fucking fall apart and have a mental breakdown. So out of my own mental sanity, I did foresee that happening and I had to step back and say I need a different format. I need to reassess what I’m doing. But even taking that step back for a couple months was really tough because I was like, “I wish I could have a show to say this or that about this.” You just can’t turn it off. It’s like an addiction. You’re so involved in everything that’s going on. It’s like an addiction. Maybe two weeks vacation is all I can do. But I can never unplug myself this is my life, this is what I’m just so passionate about. Until the day I die, I’m going to be doing this and hopefully people will keep listening and pay attention.
If Trump wins, you’re welcome to come up to Canada. We’ll welcome you in and appreciate you.
(laughs) As long as he doesn’t build the Northern wall.
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