'The Melissa Harris-Perry Show' for Saturday, May 16th, 2015
Read the transcript to the Saturday show
Show: MELISSA HARRIS-PERRY
Date: May 16, 2015
Guest: Peter Slevin, Brittney Cooper, Nancy Giles, Kai Wright, Michael
Koval, Kevin Baron
MELISSA HARRIS-PERRY, MSNBC ANCHOR: This morning my question, is America
one nation under God? Plus, breaking news on a U.S. military operation and
the chilling new documentary, "Southern Rights." But first, first lady
Michelle Obama speaking on history that`s not even past.
Good morning, I`m Melissa Harris-Perry. We`re going to begin with breaking
news. The U.S. Defense Department announced this morning, U.S. Special
Operation forces entered Syria to capture an ISIS leader. That senior
leader known as Abu Sayyaf was killed. No U.S. forces were killed or
injured during the operation. Joining me now from Washington, D.C., NBC
White House correspondent Kristen Welker. Kristen, what do we know about
the operation and about its target?
KRISTEN WELKER, NBC CORRESPONDENT: Well, Melissa, a lot of fast-moving
developments. According to a statement released by the NSC spokesperson
Bernadette Meehan, President Obama approved this operation at the
recommendation of his national security team. The mission was aimed to
capturing that ISIS leader that you mentioned known as Abu Sayyaf and his
wife Umm Sayyaf. But during the operation, Abu Sayyaf was killed. Now,
here`s some details according to NBC`s Jim Miklaszewski, senior defense and
military officials say the raid was carried out by Army Delta force
commandos. The Special Operations forces in Black Hawk helicopters and
(INAUDIBLE) aircraft raided an ISIS compound in eastern Syria and an
intense firefight ensued and that`s is when Abu Sayyaf was killed. He was
killed fighting. An official tells me 12 other enemy fighters were also
And I want to underscore that point that you mentioned, Melissa, no U.S.
personnel were killed in that raid. Umm Sayyaf, the wife, was captured.
And is currently in U.S. custody in Iraq. U.S. forces also freed a young
Yazidi woman who was apparently being held as a slave by the couple. And I
was told by one U.S. official earlier today that Umm Sayyaf may have been
involved in a broader human trafficking effort and is also a key player in
Now, Abu Sayyaf was a senior ISIS leader who was involved in the military,
but also had a senior role in overseeing ISIS`s oil and gas operations.
This is a really significant point, I`m told, because oil and gas is, of
course, a key source of revenue. In its statement, Defense Secretary Ash
Carter said "The operation represents another significant blow to ISIS and
it is a reminder that the United States will never waver in denying safe
haven to terrorists who threaten our citizens and those of our friends and
allies." Now, the president is also expressing his gratitude this morning
to the U.S. personnel who carried out the mission and also to Iraqi
authorities. They supported this mission.
Now, the next step, Melissa, U.S. forces are hoping the wife and other
intel that they may have collected from the raid will help them lead to
other members of ISIS. Melissa, back to you.
HARRIS-PERRY: NBC White House correspondent Kristen Welker. Indeed, this
is a fast-moving story. I`m sure we`ll be checking in with you again.
HARRIS-PERRY: And right now I`d like to bring in Colonel Jack Jacobs, the
military analyst for MSNBC. He joins me now by phone. Colonel Jack, I`m
interested, what does this mean, the significance of U.S. Special Forces
actually doing a ground operation inside Syria?
COL. JACK JACOBS: Well, these are special operations forces. You hit the
nail on the head. It is rare that we will admit that we`re inside Syria,
particularly in ground operations, as you know in the past, we`ve gone
after enemy combatants, ISIS operatives using drones from a great distance
away, controlled from a great distance away, but this is a completely
different operation. We were interested in getting this guy so that we
could interrogate him and much more important, all of his computers and
wreckage and so on, this is a finance officer. And much of the cash that
flows into ISIS in that part of the operational area comes from oil and gas
kidnappings and ransoms and human trafficking. And what`s going to result
from this, and why it was so important to actually get on the ground,
weren`t interested in killing him. They actually wanted to get on the
ground is that we would be able to produce an enormous amount of
information that would provide us with intelligence for a long, long time
HARRIS-PERRY: So, Colonel Jacobs, you made such a good point there. The
goal of actually having boots on the ground was to extract this individual,
but we know that instead, Sayyaf was killed during the raid. What are the
consequences for our intelligence purposes?
JACOBS: Well, as it transpires, it`s much better to take him captive
because he can be interrogated, but we got Umm Sayyaf, that`s number one,
and she`s a wealth of information. So, she can be interrogated and will
undoubtedly produce other intelligence, which we can use, but much more
important, we got all the records. And when you have the records and
computers that generally means that you`ve got information about other
operatives, about the chain of command, about future operations, about past
operations as well. As we discovered when we went into Abbottabbad and got
Bin Laden`s computers and records, that`s a treasure-trove and it`s going
to be some time before we actually realize all the benefits of getting that
information. But getting that information is the most important thing.
HARRIS-PERRY: Colonel Jack Jacobs, thank you so much for your insights
this morning. We`re going to continue to follow this breaking news story
throughout the program this morning. And we`re going to have much more for
you even later in this hour. But for now .
JACOBS: Thank you.
HARRIS-PERRY: Thank you, Jack. For now, we`re going to make a turn to a
very different kind of story.
The story of First Lady Michelle Obama`s speech. When the first lady
addressed the Tuskegee University graduating class of 2015 last week, it
was with a history lesson meant to inspire the graduates with the message
about triumph in these days of adversity. She encourages students to look
to the story past of Tuskegee, a historically black university with a long
list of distinguished alumni. And to the example of the Tuskegee airmen,
the country`s first African-American military aviators who were trained at
what was then Tuskegee Institute and who went on to become one of the most
highly respected fighter groups in World War II.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MICHELLE OBAMA: Here they were, trained to operate some of the most
complicated high-tech machines of their day. Flying at hundreds of miles
an hour with the tips of their wings just six inches apart. Yet, when they
hit the ground, folks treated them like they were nobody. As if their very
existence meant nothing.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: This is Obama expanded on her narrative of African-American
pioneers pushing against the confines of racial inequality, offering the
students her own personal experience as one of America`s historic firsts.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MICHELLE OBAMA: As potentially the first African-American first lady, I
was also the focus of another set of questions and speculations,
conversations sometimes rooted in the fears and misperceptions of others.
Was I too loud or too angry or too emasculating?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: The first lady admitted that even her place alongside her
husband on the road to the White House made her one of the most
recognizable people in the country, she struggled to be seen, actually,
seen in the face of those racialized and gendered misperceptions.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MICHELLE OBAMA: Then there was the first time I was on a magazine cover.
It was a cartoon drawing of me with a huge afro and a machine gun.
Now, yeah, it was satire. But if I`m really being honest, it knocked me
back a bit. It made me wonder just how are people seeing me? Over the
years, folks have used plenty of interesting words to describe me. One
said I exhibited a little bit of uppityism. Another noted that I was one
of my husband`s cronies of color. Cable news charmingly referred to me as
Obama`s baby mama.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: First Lady Obama`s real talk to the graduates pulled no
punches in her reminder to them that they too would be facing some of those
challenges and struggles for recognition. Because of their race.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MICHELLE OBAMA: The road ahead is not going to be easy. It never is,
especially for folks like you and me. Because while we`ve come so far, the
truth is that those age-old problems are stubborn. And they haven`t fully
gone away. So there will be times just like for those airmen when you feel
like folks look right past you or they see just a fraction of who you
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: It was not the first time that we`ve heard this first lady
speak candidly about race and how her experiences with racism have informed
her world view and her understanding of the role in the White House and
perhaps proving her point. It wasn`t the first time some of the usual
suspects among her conservative critics cast Michelle Obama`s candor about
race as race baiting. But the context of her speech delivered at Tuskegee
University prompted from some of those critics a particular claim, that she
misunderstood and misrepresented the legacy of the school`s founder Booker
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Booker T. Washington is spinning in his grave like a,
if you`ve ever read "Up from Slavery," that is one of the greatest men to
ever live in America.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It`s the opposite of everything he stood for and
believed and advocated.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Absolutely.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: Glenn Beck was joined in his attempt to teach the first lady
a lesson in black history by the American thinker`s charge that America`s
race-baiting FLOTUS knows nothing about great American Civil Rights leader,
accomplished scholar and founder of Tuskegee University, the late Booker T.
Washington and the American Enterprise Institute`s headline about Michelle
Obama`s disregard for Tuskegee`s university founder, Booker T. Washington.
All of them pointing to a personal - this personal account of racial mixed
recognition as evidence of her insufficient understanding that as the
American thinker claimed this week, "stirring up racial animosity is an
approach Washington shunned," And perhaps it was as Obama`s critics should
take their own advice and read more deeply into Washington`s ideology.
Washington who was born into slavery and rose to such prominence as an
educator and thought leader that U.S. presidents sought his advice was an
advocate of self-help as the key to advancement for formerly enslaved
people. He believed that black people could earn respectability and
economic independence gradually by dedicating themselves to vocational
education and proving their value and usefulness to their country.
In that regard, Michelle Obama, the descendent of enslaved people, the
product of a working class household, raised by parents who sacrificed to
open the doors of opportunity to their children is the very embodiment of
But the years of hard fought civil rights battle that paved the way for the
Obama family`s occupancy of the White House also stand in defiance of
Washington who believed that sacrificing the social struggle, and political
empowerment was the cost of African-American advancement. You see,
Washington eloquently articulated his acceptance of segregation and voting
discrimination in an 1895 speech famously known as his Atlanta compromise
saying "In all things that are purely social, we can be as separate as the
fingers, yet one as the hand in all things essential to mutual progress."
If the first lady`s address is to truly be understood in the context of
Booker T. Washington`s legacy, it is in the portion of her speech that her
critics overlook because she followed her lived account of racial
injustices with a message to the students very much in line with
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MICHELLE OBAMA: Graduates, today, I want to be very clear that those
feelings are not an excuse to just throw up our hands and give up. Not an
excuse, they are not an excuse to lose hope.
MICHELLE OBAMA: To succumb to feelings of despair and anger only means
that in the end, we lose.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: Joining me now, is Brittney Cooper, assistant professor of
women`s and gender studies and Africana studies at Rockers University and
Peter Slevin who`s author of a biography of the first lady "Michelle Obama:
Brittney, I have so many feelings this will be .
BRITTNEY COOPER: All the feelings.
HARRIS-PERRY: All of them about everything. So, I just want to kind of
open it. What did you hear in that speech and in the critique that
COOPER: Sure. So, what I think is so compelling, it reminds me of a
couple of arguments that you make in "Sister Citizen." One is, about the
significance of the politics of recognition. So saying to them, you will
be misrecognized, folks won`t see your cap and gown when they discriminate
against you I think is so important. But also you make this wonderful
claim that black women`s emotions matter for politics and one of the
things, I think here is that we get a sense about the hurt and pain that
she felt around that "New Yorker" cover.
So, she is having her say and this is the first time we`ve heard her say
that hurt, it kept me up nights and I think it`s so important. Because
that`s a moment where she took off this cloak of strong black womanhood and
validated our right to say the racism hurts, racism is painful, but still
we persist, still we get up, still we move on and so we figure out a way to
make it. I think that`s a very nice balance of a structural critique or an
acknowledgment of structural critique and also an acknowledgment of the
spiritual resources we marshal to deal with it.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, Brittney, that point, and Peter, I think this is part of
why I really wanted you as her biographer at the table here. Was that
point about her pain, is the thing that I think caught me like, I`ve heard
her say many of these, topics and issues and framework before. But when
she said, basically, I worry that I was a liability to my husband`s
presidential campaign. That really, I felt her humanity in a way that I
have not really since I feel like she put up the shield in order to make it
to the White House here.
PETER SLEVIN, AUTHOR, "MICHELLE OBAMA: A LIFE": She was mortified during
the 2008 campaign. You remember when she started being criticized in the
ways that she described so powerfully in Tuskegee and you remember at the
Maya Angelou memorial service, that you attended back in Winston, Salem,
and she said, you know, Ivy League classrooms, I was lonely. On the
campaign trail, my very womanhood was challenged. She is using her story
as she does all around the country and now around the world, you`ve seen in
her recent speeches to say, the deck is stacked. It is not easy, but you
also have to carry on. That`s just the point you`re making too about the
Booker T. Washington part of it all.
HARRIS-PERRY: think for me, you know, I battle with this because she says
- she says it`s hard, but she also says hard doesn`t have anything to do
with the fact that you have to go do it anyway, you have to go draw on
these historical resources. It also feels a little bit to me, Mrs.
Brittney, like maybe the president said he has a bucket list. When he, you
know, at the White House correspondents dinner, he says oh, yeah, you know,
immigration reform, bucket. And it feels a little bit like FLOTUS may also
be bucket. Like, oh you think I`m angry? Bucket (ph), I got through
things I need to say.
BRITTNEY COOPER, CONTRIBUTOR, SALON.COM: That`s right. She was like, how
you like me now I`m in the mix? That`s right. She came and responded to
her critics and she`s right. She`s having her say. Here is the thing
about her critics. Not only are they misrepresenting and flattening out a
series of very complicated conversations in the history of African-American
intellectual thought but also, she isn`t just standing in the traditional
Booker T. Washington and W. - at the same time. She says in the tradition
of his wife, Margaret Murray Washington, who was a famous African-American
club woman, leader, who stood in the gap around women, black women`s
issues. So she was very important in that regard and those women also took
every public opportunity to have their say to defend the virtue of African-
American womanhood and that`s what I see her doing when she stands on the
HARRIS-PERRY: Yeah, there is much more on this coming up. I want to talk
a little bit more about another first lady who also went to Tuskegee and
the responses around race that happened when that occurred.
Plus, we continue to follow this morning`s breaking news. The U.S. raid
inside Syria that killed a top ISIS leader. The target, Abu Sayyaf, was
the head of ISIS`s oil and gas operations. No U.S. forces were injured in
the operation, which the military calls enormously successful. A lot to
cover this morning. Stay with us.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MICHELLE OBAMA: I had the peace of mind of knowing that all of the
chatter, the name-calling, the doubting, all of it was just noise. It did
not define me. It didn`t change who I was. And most importantly, it
couldn`t hold me back.
MICHELLE OBAMA: I have learned that as long as I hold fast to my beliefs
and values and follow my own moral compass, then the only expectations I
need to leave - live up to are my own.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: Again, first lady Michelle Obama at Tuskegee University`s
commencement. Nancy Giles is joining my panel now. She`s writer and
contributor to CBS News Sunday Morning and also joining the panel Kai
Wright, feature`s editor for "The Nation." So, Nancy, I know you want in
on this as well.
NANCY GILES, EDITOR & CONTRIBUTOR, CBS NEWS SUNDAY MORNING: Well, you
know, I never got over that cover of "The New Yorker." I just didn`t. I
mean for starters, just from a hair perspective, you know, Michelle chooses
to wear her hair straight. She doesn`t wear an afro. I like my afro, but
that was like - that was the whole thing was so mean and condescending and
even though we know that readers of that magazine supposedly understand
satire and maybe a little more intelligent, it just sat there without any
kind of response and I remember saying, it might have even been on your
show, the editor said, oh, we`re going to do more satirical covers of the
other candidates. Nuh-u nuh-uh. Never.
HARRIS-PERRY: Well, also for me, satire has to be rooted in a thing that
is real. Right? And so, the image of President Obama that appears on that
cover, that image is an actual picture. So they are satirizing a picture
of then-candidate Obama that actually exists.
GILES: Supposedly virted in reality ..
HARRIS-PERRY: Right, right.
GILES: A framed picture of Osama bin Laden.
HARRIS-PERRY: Sure. Sure, sure, sure. But my point only is that image
exists. There is no moment of baby Michelle Robinson - Michelle Robinson,
a - excuse me, I don`t know, if I can stay (INAUDIBLE) on grown up Michelle
Obama in an afro - right, so that isn`t a satire. That is a holy .
GILES: Not, with no counter. None, whatsoever. It just laid there. And
that always upset me. And apparently, and he was saying, it made me feel
bad to hear her say how bad it made her feel. I mean it was a great
acknowledgment of that myth of the angry black woman. By the way, I am
angry. I think we have justification of being angry.
HARRIS-PERRY: One can be angry about .
GILES: And be sensitive.
KAI WRIGHT, THE NATION: But what`s really striking about this speech, and
this is what`s getting lost in a lot of this. Is that actually, her
message is a black power message. And it`s really important in
understanding, there are two different ways that racial inequity are
discussed and have been discussed since Washington America. There is one
where it`s about black people`s deficits and they got to be lifted up,
whether it`s individually or structurally, we got to fix black people and
then there`s one where the problem is y`all. The problem is white people
and white supremacy and our responsibility as black people is to not let it
trick us into believing we are less than. And that`s what her speech is.
HARRIS-PERRY: It`s very interesting.
WRIGHT: That`s the speech. And she says, all of that`s noise. It`s
noise. That stuff over there. Don`t get caught in it.
WRIGHT: It`s not about (INAUDIBLE). Because I am powerful.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, but there`s also a little bit of sort of the historical
rewriting of that moment. Because of course, it isn`t just noise. I`m
thinking, in this moment, Peter, of the fact that when you are a candidate,
when you are even a candidate for first lady, you appear on the cover, it`s
not just noise. It is actually meaningfully impacting the public`s face.
So, it is possible that those representations could have meant a no Obama
presidency and that would have had repercussions good, bad, or otherwise,
but they would have existed.
SLEVIN: I think something lost in this discussion, certainly from the
critics on the right is that these are real lived experiences that Michelle
Obama endured, things that she is sharing, lessons that she is trying to
push forward. She is someone who, in this very role, is saying, look at
the power of my own trajectory. Look, it may not work for everybody, but
right now, it`s all we got. The cavalry is not coming because we can`t get
the cavalry rally quite fast enough. So, take my example, as far as you
can take it and also, recognize what, in fact, is true to an awful lot of
people. This is basic.
HARRIS-PERRY: I just also, as a matter of history, kept wondering. She
didn`t invoke Eleanor Roosevelt, but I kept wondering if she was thinking
about Eleanor Roosevelt, who as first lady, goes to Tuskegee, doesn`t just
go, but stands there in 1941, gets into an airplane with an African-
American pilot, flies for more than an hour, a white woman alone in the air
with an African-American pilot.
The entire public sphere goes nuts as a result.
HARRIS-PERRY: Right, she stands there with these images of Booker T.
Washington. She even writes about it in her extraordinary "My Day"
columns, but that idea of the first lady in Tuskegee speaking on race and
provoking response, I was like, oh, Eleanor Roosevelt.
GILES: Can you imagine if there was Twitter back then? Hashtag what is
the honor .
GILES: Get out of the plane!
HARRIS-PERRY: Oh, man! Twitter would have lost its entire mind. More, I
promise more. Because what the first lady said about what we can do about
all this is when we come back.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MICHELLE OBAMA: You don`t have to be president of the United States to
start addressing things like poverty and education and lack of opportunity.
Graduates, today, today, today, you can mentor a young person and make sure
he or she takes the right path. Today, you can volunteer at an after-
school program or food pantry. Today, you can help your cousin fill out
her college financial aid forms so that she can be sitting in those chairs
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: That was first lady Michelle Obama speaking last weekend at
the Tuskegee University commencement. And last weekend, we were talking on
this show about then-senator Obama`s race speech in Philadelphia and we
were kind of saying, you know, is it time to do that again? And I`m
wondering if first lady Obama was giving the speech that we wanted while we
were talking about it. Because, man, she does something different with the
cousin than -- that ain`t cause of Pookie. That is cousin - Tuskegee
graduate helping to fill out the application. It`s a different story.
COOPER: I think we got to talk about the way that she uses the kind of
black women`s political resources here. So she really steps into what she
can uniquely do as the first African-American first lady. When I listened
to this speech, I was like, this is like the conversation I had with my
mama when I was dealing with racist classmates. Right? So, this is the
way that you say the folks. I know that there`s real structural racism.
It`s legitimate. It intimately affects you. It might even hurt you. But
there what you can address these challenges. You have to get up and try
again. Right, you have to, so help your cousin. I thought, I have a
cousin I helped get into college. Those are very real kinds of
experiences. So, what she hones in on is what it actually looks like on
the ground when young people are in families trying to become, not be
family`s exception but to mark that exceptionalism as a pathway for
HARRIS-PERRY: And that does feel different than the critique, for example,
that - has the codes levels at President Obama about his discourse around
black families. Not that I want to set the two of them in opposition to
each other, but it is a different way of thinking about kind of the Booker
T. Washington of it all. Uplift looks very different in the hands of first
WRIGHT: You have to actually consider them next to each other. Their
messages are just so starkly different. Again, I have to return to the
fact that matters about where you locate the problem. And the president
consistently went talking to black audiences located the problem with black
people. What are our deficits that we must fix? Where how does cousin
Pookie need to do around himself to go vote - whereas the first lady
locates the problem with white supremacy, and says here are the ways that
you can use your strengths. You must remember that you are strong. You
make your choices. I made my choices. You make your choices and let`s
live with them. And they can`t get in your way. That`s her message. It`s
a very different ..
HARRIS-PERRY: And it`s God, and it`s history and it`s family. Right?
What I heard, and institutions, right? So it`s like, it`s how God helps us,
it`s how knowing this history bears us up, it`s how these institutions like
Tuskegee are meaningful and it`s about what we do in our families. And
that feels to me, also, Peter, like the Michelle Obama that I meet in your
text who is those four pieces.
SLEVIN: She is all those four pieces, Melissa, and she - when you get
remember just how pragmatic she is, she is not someone who wants to argue
about how many angels can dance on the head of a pin .
SLEVIN: and the history. She`s saying, this is concrete. This is real.
Here is what you can do in your life to make a difference in your life and,
by the way, once you get there, reach back. Do the whole reaching back.
COOPER: In fact, the whole thing of lifting us, we climb, right? Even
though that has problematic craft implication, on the ground what that
looks like is you actually have to go help somebody do a college
application and a (INAUDIBLE)
GILES: I just love the message that she keeps driving home, of just
recognition, not only recognition of who you are and being comfortable in
your own skin, but the recognition of our history, each individual`s
history which is something that I could just rattle this country`s head
about. Because we`re big with like, don`t go there. Don`t talk about it.
Da da da. Da dada, and just really recognizing where we come from, what
the real situations are.
HARRIS-PERRY: And when you say recognition, I just want to point out that
the other valuable thing that`s kind of happening underneath it, although
she is - quite make explicit is, no matter how good you are, the Obamas are
better than all the rest. They are just (INAUDIBLE). They`ve done it,
right? They went to the best schools, they achieved the best, they are
GILES: President and first lady.
HARRIS-PERRY: Right. And yet, still receiving it. So, you actually can`t
respect your way out of it, you actually can`t perform better. You
actually - all you can do is exist in your own authenticity. You can`t
GILES: Better than that.
COOPER: I also love that she shouted out name discrimination too. Right?
Because we have so much respectability around names. Even I have a little
bit around it, and so I love that she shouts it out and that`s also to
black mothers, right, who are largely doing the same thing to say, don`t
shame. Your name is not your destiny.
HARRIS-PERRY: That`s right.
There was a lot happening in that speech. We could all day, but there are
other things in the world.
GILES: I know.
HARRIS-PERRY: When we come back, we will have more on the breaking news
story that we are following this morning. The U.S. military operation
inside the border of Syria that took out a key ISIS leader.
HARRIS-PERRY: New information continues to emerge on breaking news that
we`re following. A senior ISIS leader has been killed in a U.S. raid
within the borders of Syria. The Defense Department announced this morning
U.S. Special Operation forces entered Syria with the intention to capture
an ISIS leader and his wife. That senior leader, known as Abu Sayyaf, was
killed when he engaged U.S. forces. His wife was captured and is now in
detention in Iraq. No U.S. forces were killed or injured during the
operation. Joining me now from Washington, D.C. is Kevin Baron, who is
executive editor of Defense One. Kevin, what are some of the details we
know about the raid itself and who else was involved?
KEVIN BARON, EXECUTIVE EDITOR, DEFENSE ONE: We know that this was U.S.
Army Special Operations forces and they flew in from Iraq on Ospreys, which
are the tilt rotor half helicopter, half airplane and black (INAUDIBLE).
And they went into a compound, a multi - describe this as multilevel
building with the intention of capturing this man. Instead, he engaged
them with a firefight. That turned into really a hand to hand combat I was
told and in the process, about 12 or about a dozen enemy were killed. I
was told that they were using women and children as human shields. The
report is that no innocents were harmed. No U.S. operators were harmed or
killed. But Abu Sayyaf was killed. There was a lot of intelligence
recovered. Laptops and information and the wife and a, the women you
described who was a slave, the Yazidi, were brought back to Iraq where they
HARRIS-PERRY: So, we now have the U.S. admitting that the U.S. entered
Syria and I`m wondering, when was the last time that this happened and do
you think that we`re likely to see more U.S. operations actually over the
border in Syria in the future?
BARON: Absolutely. You know, I was - we were trying to think of defense
one going back maybe to the James Foley raid when it was announced that
there was a previous attempt to rescue him. But that was rescue operation.
This is different. This is straight for an offensive target. Even though
it was the same kind of snatch attempt to get somebody. What it means, I
think is that the Pentagon and the administration has made a calculation
that it was worth the risk to go in to get this man and they were going to
make it public because it simply appears to be militarily a big success and
I think it shows the administration is doing more for this fight which is
something that I think people have been clamoring for, that the
administration and opponents have been criticizing them for and I think
this is the kind of thing we`re going to be hearing about the way - this is
how the war against ISIS is prosecuting. With special operations, Intel,
other means. It is not a massive boots on the ground.
So, whether it`s, you know, a few dozen operators flying in the helicopters
for these kind of raids, this is the way that these wars are being fought
against terrorism now and they will be for the future.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, when you say this is how these wars are being fought,
you use the language of war, undoubtedly they are the thing that will come
up in the coming days, is whether or not this was happening just at the
level of the administration or whether or not congressional approval at any
form or even just congressional information was offered. I just know
that`s going to be part of this discussion and conversation. So I`m
wondering if you know what the protocols typically would have been in this
kind of decision-making.
BARON: Well, this is not, you know, a kind of a bin Laden raid level
incursion. There are AUMFs. And the authorization for the use of military
force, and the administration says that the same one that allowed them to
fight al Qaeda is the one that allows them to fight ISIS. Congress has
kind of, you know, hemmed and hawed about some members are - they are not
sure about that. But Congress is taking a sideline. And nobody thinks
that Congress is actually going to put this to a vote because no member of
Congress wants to go on on record voting for a war that maybe they later
need to say they`re against. So, this kind of isolated, you know, action
is completely within the realm of the administration to make happen.
And I say wars, because this is - and really it`s one war. This is one war
of terrorism that`s going on across the entire Middle East and North Africa
against several different groups that are linked in ideology, if not any
way else. But it is a war, and make no mistake about it.
HARRIS-PERRY: Kevin Baron, thank you so much for joining us this morning.
More on this morning`s breaking news, the U.S. military raid in Syria and
what it means in the campaign against ISIS is next.
HARRIS-PERRY: We continue to follow breaking news out of Syria where an
overnight raid by Army Delta Force commanders killed a man U.S. military
officials say was a key player in ISIS. I`d like to bring in retired
British senior officer and former advisor to the U.K. Ministry of Defense,
Michael Kay. Mike, what can you tell us about this particular area in
Syria where the raid took place?
MICHAEL KAY: Well, Melissa, let`s just start more broadly. Over there
there`s been a lot of domestic news going on this week in America, but
what`s been happening in the Middle East over the last week has been quite
intensive. ISIS have basically been on the rampage across Syria and Iraq
over the last week. In Ramadi, particularly, which is in Anbar province to
the southwest of Baghdad, the forces have been - the Iraqi security forces
have been fighting ISIS specifically in Ramadi.
Now, ISIS have actually put a flag up over the government headquarters
within Ramadi and then now declared control over Anbar province, which is a
significant area of Iraq. Meanwhile, coming back over here into Syria, in
Central Syria, in Palmyra, where there are ancient artifacts and ruins, and
we know that ISIS has been on the rampage in terms of trying to destroy
anything that isn`t associated with what their version of Islam is. In
Palmyra, that is where the forces are gathering at the moment, but Diarazo
(ph) is particularly interesting. There`s been a battle going on here for
over a year. Now, the components are very interesting, but this is where
Abu Sayyaf, very near to Diarazo is believed to have been struck by U.S.
Special Forces. Now, my sources back home in the U.K. have been telling me
for the last 12 months that U.K. and U.S. S.F. Forces have been operating
in Syria striking operations and training operations for over a year. So,
this is an interesting development in terms of striking the leadership.
HARRIS-PERRY: How important is that development of ISIS` extension in Iraq
to what you suspect is probably the likely decision-making about our Syria
KAY: Well, Abu Sayyaf was effectively the COO, if you like, of ISIS. He
was the person that controlled the revenue streams. Whether it`d be oil,
whether it`d be through Internet and - or Raqqa, Raqqa here is a self-
proclaimed capital of the Islamic state in Syria. So, he was an incredibly
prominent figure when it comes to the revenue streams and we know that the
revenue streams are vital when it comes to bankrolling an organization like
ISIS. This is just but a small component. The dynamics in Syria and Iraq
are incredibly complex because what we aren`t talking about is the regime,
the Syrian regime on where Assad is in all of this. The components
basically are you`ve got ISIS on the one hand. You`ve got Syrian regime
with Hezbollah, which have come in from south Lebanon and then you`ve got
the Nusra Front, which are al Qaeda-linked organization. And they`re sort
of competing for control in Syria and Iraq. If you like. Now, there are
reports that Assad is kind of collaborating with ISIS, if you like, in
order to sort of give them - give them a counterbalance of importance
So Assad basically is - Assad basically is saying the reason you need me in
Syria is because you have ISIS and in doing that sort of collaboration, it
gives him a raise on that. Just the components are very complex, Melissa.
HARRIS-PERRY: Michael Kay, thank you so much for your insight this
KAY: Thank you.
HARRIS-PERRY: We`re going to continue to follow this breaking news
throughout the show, but up next, newly released video of a controversial
police shooting in Madison, Wisconsin. The police chief is going to join
HARRIS-PERRY: On Tuesday in Madison, Wisconsin, prosecutors cleared police
officer Matt Kenny in the shooting death of unarmed 19-year old Tony
Robinson. Police say on March 6 they were responding to multiple calls
about a disturbance involving Robinson who according to toxicology tests
had taken hallucinogenic mushrooms and other drugs. Officer Kenny says he
entered an apartment building where Robinson was located after hearing
sounds of struggle. He says he opened fire after an altercation with
Robinson. After the announcement that Kenny would not face criminal
charges the Wisconsin Department of Justice released a dash cam video of
the marching counter. I just want to warn you that some viewers may find
the following video to be disturbing.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Stop right there. Don`t move.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: Dane County D.A. Ismael Ozanne called the close-range
shooting a lawful use of deadly police force, but according to the
"Wisconsin State Journal," Robinson`s family members have criticized
Kenny`s final shot saying he was not in danger once he was outside the
home. Robinson`s mother Andrea Irwin says she plans to file a civil suit
against the police department. The decision reignited protests in Madison
where hundreds took to the streets calling for justice. Madison Police
Chief Michael Cobalt acknowledged the tensions surrounding Robinson`s death
and added that Madison`s issues go well beyond policing to include poverty
and joblessness. He issued a statement saying in part, "I`m not going to
absolve law enforcement for whatever role we have played in being complicit
in the calculus of racial disparities. Given the sobering backdrop, one
can understand why there`s a sense of hopelessness and desperation, with
those who have not enjoyed or even had the same access to all of the
opportunities that many of us take for granted. Chief Cobalt joins me now
Chief, I appreciate you joining me - and also very much appreciate your
kind of structural, historical statement, but when we look at the video and
see an officer backing up as he shoots someone who we now know was unarmed,
it`s difficult to see that as - like a broad structural moment. It feels
like an injustice happening between two people.
CHIEF MICHAEL KOVAL, CHIEF OF POLICE, MADISON, WI: Yeah. Those are going
to be difficult dynamics because of the dimensions of that camera footage
you have. And of course, the physiology of what an officer can respond to,
what a subject is providing will always be a sort of a gap in real time.
And so, we don`t know to what extent that threat was still advancing.
Sufficed to say that based on the totality of the work, the D.A. must have
concluded that there was no criminal culpability.
HARRIS-PERRY: Will Officer Kenny return to regular duty on the force?
KOVAL: Well, we have to conclude an internal investigation to make sure
all of our training procedures and protocols have been fulfilled. But at
some point, yes, there will be an opportunity for him to return to full
duty. In what capacity on what assignment, that has yet to be determined,
but he has that due process right and he has been exonerated.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, I know you`ve worked hard to try to develop good
relationships with community. So, again, we don`t know yet the
circumstances under which Officer Kenny may return, but is there some kind
of protocol that you`re beginning to think about - about how to manage that
kind of moment relative to your community.
KOVAL: Well, I do think that we have to be mindful that the lessons
learned here already has been shown that we didn`t have the same
illustration that we saw in Baltimore and I believe that`s owing to the
fact that we have been in constant dialogue with our community constituents
in looking at and dialoguing about what are our issues short term and long-
term. And I think that gives us an edge.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, I want to pull up to my table for just a second, chief.
Brittney Cooper is still at the table and she was actually in Madison
involved in some of the early protests after Mr. Robinson`s death. Do you
want to come and jump in here a bit?
COOPER: Sure. The thing to say, I think, is that while I`m glad that we
see some level of due process and that we definitely see the officer here,
the chief having a structural analysis, the real goal is to stop these
killings of unarmed black citizens every time they have these encounters
with law enforcement. So yes, we want trials, we want convictions, we want
due process. But we want there to be a disruption of the thing that makes
black folks feel like a threat and makes it so that these encounters are
more dangerous than they have to be and are frequently deadly. That`s not
HARRIS-PERRY: So, chief, can you respond to that? Because I think that`s
an important part of an entire movement here that says, yes, we want
justice on the back end, but at the front end, we want to be safe in
interactions with police officers.
KOVAL: Well, I agree. I think we have some fences to mend and bridges as
well. Because the trust gap is unmistakable, it`s undeniable here. I`m
going to have to have our officers redouble our efforts to regain that
momentum that we had lost in terms of looking at where we could find
collaboration and trust. I don`t want to have to meet with African-
American moms and say why their teenage sons have to worry about driving
around in the city of Madison. We have to create a different paradigm so
that isn`t the norm or the expectation.
HARRIS-PERRY: Have you had an opportunity to meet with Mr. Robinson`s
KOVAL: Yes, I have met with Andrea as a post-script to the actual killing
of Tony, but not as a post-script to this verdict, no, ma`am.
HARRIS-PERRY: Let me just ask a final question here. You acknowledge
Baltimore and obviously, the long-term questions and issues that have been
raised by it. How has your department there in Madison been responding -
discussing - having conversations about what`s happening in Baltimore?
KOVAL: Well, I think that we looked at it from a logistics standpoint, as
any incident command should, but moreover, I think we looked at where we
could look to our community leaders, whether they are titled or de facto as
such and say, how could we help our whole community as one and having them
project themselves into the field? We had over 150 parade marshals or
mentors who are preaching a sense of restraint and moderation, which helped
infinitely in our particular situation.
HARRIS-PERRY: Thank you to Madison, Wisconsin police chief Michael Koval.
You joined us earlier, you joined us again. I always appreciate you making
yourself available for us here at MHP Show.
KOVAL: Thank you, Melissa.
HARRIS-PERRY: And here in New York, I want to say thank you to Brittney
Cooper and to Peter Slevin, also to Nancy Giles and to Kai Wright.
Coming up next, the latest on this morning`s breaking news - the U.S. raid
inside Syria that killed a top ISIS leader. We have much more at the top
of the house.
HARRIS-PERRY: Welcome back. I`m Melissa Harris-Perry. The latest now on
breaking news that we`ve been following for you this morning. U.S.
Military officials say a senior ISIS leader who led its oil and gas
operations was killed during a U.S. Special operations raid inside Syria.
The U.S. Defense Department announced this morning the mission was to
capture Abu Sayyaf but he was killed when he engaged U.S. forces.
His wife was captured and now in detention in Iraq. A U.S. official
said 12 enemy fighters were also killed in the raid. No U.S. Forces were
killed or injured during the operation. Joining me from Washington, D.C.,
NBC White House Correspondent Kristen Welker. Kristen, what do we know now
in this hour about the operation and its target?
KRISTEN WELER, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT: Melissa, well, here`s the very
latest. According to a statement released by NBC spokesperson Bernadette
Mien, President Obama approved this operation, it was at the recommendation
by the national security team. The mission was aimed initially at
capturing ISIS leader who`s known as Um Sayaaf his wife. But during that
operation, Abu Sayyaf was killed. Now, here`s some of those details
according to NBC`s Jim Lifsashefski. Who says that. senior defense and
military official say, the raid was carried out by Army delta forces
commandos, the special operation forces and Black Hawk Helicopters and
Osprey Tilt Wing Aircraft raided an ISIS compound in eastern Syria and then
an intense fire fight started to break out and that`s when Abu Sayyaf was
Now, an official tells me, as you say, Melissa, there are 12 other
enemy fighters who were also killed. No U.S. personnel were killed but Um
Sayyaf, the wife was captured, she was taken into custody, currently in
U.S. custody in Iraq. Now, U.S. Forces also freed a young woman who held
was apparently being held as a slave by the couple and I`m told by one U.S.
official that Um Sayyaf may have been involved in a broader human
trafficking effort and is also a key player in ISIS.
Abu Sayyaf was a senior ISIS leader who was involved in the military
but also had a senior role in overseeing ISIS` oil and gas operations.
U.S. officials tell me at this hour, they are trying to get information
from Um Sayyaf, the wife, in the hopes that she will lead them to other
ISIS operatives. Melissa, back to you.
HARRIS-PERRY: NBC White House Correspondent, Kristen Welker, thank
you. And now, I`d like to bring in Richard Engel, NBC`s Chief Foreign
Correspondent live from Istanbul. Richard, U.S. officials were praised in
these operations for its success. But what are the accomplishments of this
RICHARD ENGEL, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think the number one
accomplishment is that it was in Syria in the middle of an ISIS stronghold.
This took place evening time, local time yesterday with the Ospreys and
Black Hawks going into an area of Deir ez-Zor Province which is practically
the heart of the ISIS state in Syria. Very hostile territory, no friendly
operative on the ground. With the Delta force commandos going in initially
on a snatch and grab operation and then after a fire fight broke out, the
primary target, Abu Sayyaf was killed along with 12 to perhaps 20 other
gunmen who were in the area and then the wife who`s known by a known name
Um Sayyaf was taken into U.S. custody.
So mostly, it is a psychological blow. It shows ISIS that U.S.
commandos will come with their helicopters and land in the heart of
unfriendly territory and conduct operations. We`ve seen the U.S. operating
openly, extensively in Iraq but we have not seen this kind of mission in
Syria. Incredibly risky. If it had gone wrong, then you would have had a
situation where you could have had American troops killed or even captured
in the heart of ISIS territory.
HARRIS-PERRY: So we heard from Mike Kay in the last hour that ISIS
has been gaining ground in Iraq. Consolidating its control. And I`m sort
of wondering about how this strike in Syria might impact those, that ground
control in Iraq.
ENGEL: ISIS is still able to operate offensive operations, if you
look at what`s happening in Ramadi right now, an Iraqi city west of
Baghdad. There were a series of car bombs and ISIS finished to take over a
government compound in the center of Ramadi. ISIS`s troop are right in the
outskirts of the historic city of Palmyra, in Syria threatening to bulldoze
yet another archaeological site.
So the global picture is still quite grim but the fact that the U.S.
launched this incredibly risky operation authorized by the president to go
into the heart of ISIS territory and ultimately kill, but the initial
intention was to capture a top figure shows a kind of aggressiveness in
Syria which we haven`t seen this far.
HARRIS-PERRY: Thank you to NBC`s Richard Engel for joining us this
morning. We will have coverage of this breaking news throughout the day
here on MSNBC including much later in this hour. But for now, we`re going
to turn to news back home.
In a surprising study released earlier this week, you see, it`s a
common theme among presidents that the United States is at its heart, a
JOHN F. KENNEDY, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED OF STATES OF AMERICA:
The guiding principle and prayer of this nation has been is now, and ever
shall be "In God We Trust".
GERALRD FORD, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED OF STATES OF AMERICA:
In God We Trust. Let us engrave it now in each of our hearts as we begin
RONALD REAGAN, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED OF STATES OF AMERICA:
America was founded by people who believed that God was their rock of
safety. He is ours. America has always been a religious nation. Perhaps
never more than that.
BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED OF STATES OF AMERICA:
God bless you and God Bless the United States of America.
GEORGE W. BUSH, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED OF STATES OF AMERICA:
May God grant us wisdom and may He we watch over the United States of
HARRIS-PERRY: Now you might think it`s been this way from the
beginning. But our current understanding of the United States as a
Christian nation began just 60 or so years ago. In the space of a few
years in the 1950s when Dwight Eisenhower was the president and the U.S.
was fighting quote, "The Godless Communism" we added under God to the
pledge of allegiance for the first time. Made the official national motto
"In God We Trust" and created the national prayer breakfast at which the
president still speaks. This year, President Obama spoke about one of his
favorite lines of prayer.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA:
Keep us at tasks too hard for us that we may be driven to Thee for
strength. I`ve wondered at times if maybe God was answering that prayer a
little too literally. But no matter the challenge, He has been there for
all of us. He`s certainly strengthened me "with the power through his
Spirit," as I`ve sought His guidance not just in my own life but in the
life of our nation.
HARRIS-PERRY: But despite this centrality of faith, there are number
of American adults who say that they are not affiliated with any religion
is big and growing. According to a new Pew Research Center report, nearly
a quarter of us are now unaffiliated. That`s an increase of almost 7
percentage points in just seven years. The last time PEW did the religious
landscape study. The survey asked more than 35,000 Americans about the
religious beliefs, making it the most comprehensive picture of faith in
America that we have.
And the sense is does not tally religious identity. The growing
number of unaffiliated folks, now 56 million includes atheists and
agnostics but most people who say their religion is just nothing in
particular. Unaffiliated now make up a bigger share than Catholics,
mainline protestants and every non-Christian faith. Arising number of
unaffiliated folks seems due largely to two factors.
Younger people, the Millennials are less likely to be affiliated with
a particular religion and of adults between the ages of 18 and 33, about a
third are unaffiliated but it`s also due to people of every age dropping
out of religions that they were initially raised in.
For example, a whopping 19 percent of American adults are now former
Christians. Joining he me now, Christopher Hale, Executive Director of
Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good and a co-founder of Millennial
Journal for Young Catholics in the U.S. Kelly Brown Douglas, Professor at
Goucher College Professor of Religion, an author of "Stand Your Ground:
Black Bodies and the Justice of God." Chris Stedman, Executive Director of
the Yale humanist community, an author of Faitheist: How an Atheist found
Common Ground With the Religious" and Reverend Samuel Cruz, a Lutheran
Minister and professor of church society at the Union and Theological
Thank you all for being here. What do you think is going on with
this decline? Particularly among the young in religious affiliation?
CHRIS STEDMAN, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR OF YALE HUMANIST COMMUNITY: Sure.
Well, there`s a lot going on here. And you know, I myself am a millennial
and also a none. So you may not be surprised to hear me say this but I
actually think this is really good thing.
I think it`s encouraging and I think people of faith should agree.
And here`s why. What I think that this signifies one thing is signifies is
a growing openness and tolerance in this country for religious differences.
We are now living in a country where people are much more free and open to
be able to change their religious affiliation without losing their friends,
their loved ones without facing these grave social consequences and that`s
great and that`s something we should all celebrate.
My sister is a Christian. I`m an atheist. My sister is also a
mother, she has three young children and she asked me to be a godfather to
her youngest child recently. And I asked her, is this an issue because,
you know, in case you forgot? I`m an atheist. And what she told me I
think is a really beautiful thing.
She said, I think you being an atheist is actually a really good
thing for this because I want my children to grow up knowing that they will
be loved and they will be a part of this family even if their beliefs
change or they don`t share my beliefs as a Christian. And I think that`s
something that we should hope to see more and more of in this country.
HARRIS-PERRY: It`s interesting story this idea of being a godfather
while not having a faith in God. My daughter, my youngest daughter is
Catholic, my husband is Catholic. And when we made the decision to find
our Godparents, the Catholic church, not so much on this. There are real
rules about who can stand as the official Godparent of a Catholic child in
the process of baptism and to Catholicism and it was fascinating to
navigate those questions about whether or not my Episcopal cousin could
stand in this role and her priest needing to write a letter. And I`m
wondering is it about sort of opting out of God or is it an opting out of
CHRISTOPHER HALE, CATHOLICS ALLIANCE FOR THE COMMON GOOD: Well, I
think we really see, this might not be a Christian nation anymore but there
still a high belief in God. There`s still a high level of spirituality in
the United States. So some people argue that young people are searching.
Some people argue that they`re not searching at all, actually. They`ve
actually, they`ve found themselves. But I think we should caution the
decline in religion as a good thing.
Number one, I think a lot of times, religion blames the Isms,
secularism, consumerism, atheism but what Pope Francis really taught about
the Catholic Church that really need to look inside itself. The Christian
faith in the United States have really lost the radical message of Jesus.
Jesus is the most compelling thing about Christianity, not the rules. And
we lost the radical politics of Jesus. It sanitized over years, and lost
the compelling message and become a board wash with really no attraction.
HARRIS-PERRY: So that language of radical message of Jesus, Kelly,
this is why I wanted you at the table. Your book just come across my desk.
You have various points. Present reengaged in radical motion of Christ and
particularly, this context, around the idea of a Black lives matter
movement this kind of pressing social question. Does recognized religion
in the U.S. have anything meaningful to add or like Millennials opting out
in part because it doesn`t have anything left to add.
KELLY BROWN DOUGLAS, PROFESSOR OF RELIGION, GOUCHER COLLGE: You
know, I think that is perhaps precisely the point. What we`re saying in
the millennial generation. First of all, is that they are the most diverse
population, ethnically, culturally, and in terms of gender identity and
sexual orientation, we`re also seeing that they`re the most educated
generation and we`re also seeing that this is the first generation that has
been completely raised on the Internet.
And so they`re the cyber generation. And what this means in many
respects is that, one, they are looking for more complex answers to
complicated questions that they raise. They are living in a diverse world
and diverse community even as they themselves are diverse and in as much as
religious institutions do not respond to the very questions that they have
and those religious institutions aren`t even able to meet them where they
are as ethnically, culturally, sexually, genderly diverse peoples, then
they are opting out of those institutions.
HARRIS-PERRY: And yet, part of what I found fascinating on the Pew
city, is that one group of people who remained church are Black folks in
the Protestant church and people of color in the world Catholic
communities. So it is mostly White American Protestants and former
European Catholics who are now opting out. Whereas the Blacks and Browns,
we are still with the God.
SAMUEL CRUZ, PROFESSOR, UNION THEOLOGICAL SEMINARY: I think the
study is misleading main terms of the decline because for so long now,
sociologists religion have equated the decline in mainline Christianity
with religion in general. As if Christianity hat is not White, it`s not
important. So White Christianity dies, religion dies. But the reality is
that in terms of the future, studies have shown that immigrants to the
United States become more religious here than in their homeland.
Meaning that we`re going to have more religious people in this
country perhaps in the future rather than the decline that the study
HARRIS-PERRY: Stick with me. I promise we come back on all of this.
But I did send some of my producers out to the field to ask the Millennial
about their faith and well find out about that when we come back.
Plus, we want continue this morning`s breaking news. The U.S. raid
inside Syria that killed a top ISIS leader. The target, Abu Sayyaf, was
the head of ISIS` oil and gas operations. Military officials say 12 enemy
fighters killed in the raid but no U.S. forces were hurt in the operation.
Much more to come at the top of the hour.
HARRIS-PERRY: this morning, we are talking about a new study that
shows the percentage of Americans who identify as Christian is declining.
The number of adults in this country who do not identify with any religion
is growing. But I was interested in hearing particularly from young
adults. And I sent a couple producers out with one specific question.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What role does organized religion play in your
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What role was organized religion play in your
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What role does organized religion play a role in
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Every role. Who I am, what I say, how I dress.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Not much at all.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Organized religion actually helps me with moral
support. It shows me right from wrong. When I`m tempted to do wrong, it
helps me do right.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It doesn`t play a role at all.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I`m pretty open with it. I wouldn`t say I`m
super religious but I definitely believe.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Organized religion doesn`t play that much of a
role in my life anymore. But it has set the basis for the who I am.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I`m not religious, I`m not an Atheist, but
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I went to church one time. And it was the date
the girl wanted to meet me out in the Church.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I consider myself Atheist. I think just try to
be a nice person and to be other people. Should be enough and certainly
enough for me.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think the problem isn`t so much the role it
plays in our life but the role it`s not filling. I think a lot of people
feel as if organized religion doesn`t take the time to address what`s
concerning people now.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think that a lot of the pillars that
religions are built on, our generation doesn`t agree with.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: for me personally, I feel like the more I stepped
away from organized religion, the more I was at peace with myself.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Organized religion, institutionalized religion
represents division, divisiveness.
HARRIS-PERRY: Well, I think you know that.
DOUGLAS: I think, of course, what we see from the survey of the
Millennials on the street is precisely the point that those trying to
address that it`s Organized religion, Institutionalized religion, as Much
as they don`t see these religious institutions responding to the questions
and concerns that they have in the way they live their lives. They tend to
live in more pluralistic settings. And so they talk about organized
religion being as being divisive et cetera.
And so I think that there`s a difference between organized religion
and some of the Millennials describe themselves as spiritual but not
religious. And so they reject institutionalized religion but I like to
piggy back on something that Reverend Cruz said in terms of the Black
Church and populations of color and relationship to the church and
Do you see the church playing a different role in the lives of people
who find themselves socially, politically, culturally marginalized? It has
to be that institution which picks up, where other social institutions do
not? So whether or not, for instance, a Black person may say I`m not
churched, yet in times of crisis, it is the church that they turn to. Give
the church the steps in as we see is the case in Baltimore.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes, look, I will say that, you know, I love that
package of my producers right here in New York. Christians are doing it
right here in New York. I live in North Carolina. And if you go out and
ask the same question in North Carolina, you get a very, very different set
of answers even from young people and especially young people of color.
Some on their dates because it`s part of where you go to find and
make a family, right? But it`s also because it`s playing these multiple
CRUZ: What do people mean by young affiliated also because you have
the question, if you ask people in my congregation, do they believe in
institutional religion? They say, no. 90 percent of them but they are at
church. Because they are looking at the church not an institution but a
Union Theological Seminary has a lot of unaffiliated non-believing
people in a seminary. So what does that mean? It`s a way of people
distancing themselves from the corrupt aspects or the aspects of religion
that don`t work for them.
HARRIS-PERRY: And I think you know, as I wonder the ways, when it is
an actual institution, how an institutional change can shift. I was
saying, my husband is Catholic. My daughter is Catholic. And this
particular Pope, this particular Papacy makes me think, I wonder if I would
have a willingness towards that tradition. Because in an institution, any
part of institutional change can feel so compelling.
HALE: One thing about Pope Francis, he talks about his image of
church. Listen to this. He once said the church is dirty, bruised and
broken because it`s been out in the streets ministry and closed its on
small-minded rules. That`s not the church young people see quite honestly.
Even as a young catholic, close eyes, they imagine the priest, the bishop.
They don`t imagine themselves. Young people don`t imagine themselves
within the church. That should be the reality of the catholic church.
HARRIS-PERRY: And yet, all is still different, I don`t want to miss
the claim though that, so for all various roles that the church is playing,
it`s also based fundamentally in a spiritual belief and a faith claim and
one simply is not making the faith claim, even if it`s institutionally
valuable, one would not necessarily need that institution.
STEDMAN: Well, I don`t know about that really. So I think that the
question of why so many Millennials are leaving institutional religion is a
really important question. I am glad we`re wrestling with it today and
it`s very clear that the nuns are a complex group. They`re really a bunch
of unaffiliated believers, atheists, agnostic, they are lot of different
people and it`s hard to talk about them in a general way but the why
question is important but I think the where question is much more
important. Where are these people going? Where are they going in times of
crisis, where are they going in times of need, where are they going to
I mean, I worked in a church on the south side of Chicago and I saw
just how important religious institutions are in a lot of communities.
Christ Missionary Baptist Church. And when I was a young person, I turned
to churches even though some might associate as well, Christian churches
with harm to people actually turned to Christian churches for my safe space
in high school. I know firsthand how important these communities are and
my concern about the none is where to go.
HARRIS-PERRY: Just so what people know what you mean, just explain
in 15 seconds.
STEDMAN: The religiously unaffiliated is where are they turning to?
Religious institutions are a powerful hub of social capital and it`s how
HARRIS-PERRY: OK. Pause right there. We`re going to take a break
but I want to come back on exactly that. Because social catholic, yes, but
political capital as well and one of the question I have about what`s
happening with the none, the N-O-N-E-S is whether or they are going to show
up in the polls later so. Up next the role of religion in politics and why
presidential candidates may walking a fine line.
HARRIS-PERRY: Republican presidential candidates have a tight rope
to walk. They have to appeal to early state primary voters to get the
nomination all without alienating the other folks who they`re going to need
to convince if they do get the nomination.
Here is one big difference between GOP primary voters and the General
electorate religious identity. Evangelical Christians make up 23 percent
of the general election voters, at least in 2012, they did. But that same
year they accounted for 57 percent of Republican and 65 percent of the GOP
primary voters in South Carolina. One of the things we`re finding in
general is that the nones, those who are unaffiliated, are also less likely
to show off to vote at all. And so I`m wondering yes part of it is belief
but the other part of it is church is a place where you go and get your
social capital and your you know, you get reminded to register and
sometimes you get a rise to the polls.
STEDMAN: That`s exactly right. I mean, before the break we are
talking about some of the value of institutions and I think one of the
valuable roles that religious institutions are accountable to their
beliefs. They remind them to be their best selves and the create
opportunities for them to act on their values. American Grace, talked about
religious are more civically engaged than the non-religious.
They call them better neighbors but they also found non-believing
spouse of a religious person who participated in their partner`s community
just civically engaged and they suggest the correlation between being
politically active, volunteering in the community and being religious has
more to do with belonging than has to do with belief and they suggest that
moral communities for non-religious people like humanist communities or
other communities like that can provide opportunities, inspiration and
outlets for non-religious people like myself to act on our values and get
HARRIS-PERRY: So here`s my one concern about acting on values,
reverend. Is that there are times I think of acting on values as being the
sort of radical level that I see coming out of Christianity but also has
met often and this is part of the kind of republican primary piece, often a
narrowing, less radical, sometimes a conservative effect in our politics at
least from some other perspective can be problematic or troubling.
SAMUEL CRUZ, PROFESSOR, UNION THEOLOGICAL SEMINARY: Well, the church
has always had the history has either been an agent of oppression or
liberation. So it depends what kind of message you`re getting. That`s why
I think the, there`s a changing face in Christianity in the United States
and a result of Black and Latino religiously. In which it`s much more
contextualized. And has to - and deals more with real issues.
Progressive Christianity, White progressive Christianity in the
United States, no denominations has over 2 percent people of color and you
wonder why there is a decline. They`re not relevant at this point.
HARRIS-PERRY: Do you think that, for example, if a Supreme Court
decision, that affirms 50 states of marriage for marriage equality, we
could see a reinvigoration of conservative religious kind of backlash in
the 2016 election that might result of in fact of social change that`s
moved in another direction?
KELLY BROWN DOUGLAS, PROFESSOR OF RELIGION, GOUCHER COLLGE: Oh, for
sure. And I think, first of all, we`ve already seen that tilt, right?
Because the Evangelical Protestant group makes a larger percentage of the
electorate. As you just pointed out even though they don`t make the
largest percentage of the population.
And so for them, much at stake because there seems to be a changing
of the guard, changing values. And so, typically, they know what they
stand for. Right? That they`re for or against marriage equality. For or
against abortions. Those Millennials and those that are less conservative
typically aren`t that rigid in what they`re for or against. They`re more
for open society. They`re more for choice and these kind of things. So
they don`t see, on the one hand to have much at stake and doesn`t drive
them to the polls.
HARRIS-PERRY: Polls, right, right.
DOUGLAS: In the way that which when we see rapid change of values
for instance, it drives the more religiously fundamentalist or
conservatives to the polls because they have something to protect.
HARRIS-PERRY: Right. Right. This is always my on the one hand, I
want to see if these is relevant because they don`t build the social
capital and that creates the political capital that gets people to the
polls. On the other hand, we don`t want to ever presume from whatever
ideological situation we stand for right. The people coming to the polls
isn`t always precisely what we were into.
OK. Thank you to Chris Hale, to Kelly Brown, to Chris Stedman and to
Reverend Samuel Cruz, I appreciate all of you thinking this through with me
this morning. And up next, we have more on the breaking news on the U.S.
military mission from inside the borders of Syria
HARRIS-PERRY: The senior ISIS leader is dead this morning after U.S.
Army Delta force commandos conducted an overnight raid inside Syria. U.S.
Military officials say the intent of the operation was to capture Abu
Sayyaf, but he was killed when he engaged U.S. forces. His wife was
captured and now is now in detention in Iraq. No U.S. forces were killed
or injured during the operation. Joining me now is Aki Peritz, a former
CIA counterterrorism analyst. And author of Find, Fix and Finish: Inside
Counterterrorism Campaign that Killed Bin Laden and Devastated Al
Aki, Bernadette Miemba, of the National Security Council has released
a statement and says
Sayyaf`s wife is being questioned. What kind of information are they
likely trying to obtain?
AKI PERITZ, FORMER CIA COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: Well, one of the
things they`re trying to get is information about his whereabouts, or
sorry, where the senior leaders, Abu Bakr Baghdadi the head of ISIS and his
other senior folks. Chances are that Mr. Abu Sayyaf, was since as a senior
leader, had a relationship with other senior leaders and so, they are
looking to build targeting information to capture or kill these other
Another thing that they`re trying to get information from is his
actual economic and financial knowledge. Supposedly, this individual was
part of the whole oil and gas infrastructure that ISIS had built up. If
she had information about who was funneling what money to whom, she would
be extremely, extremely valuable. And finally, there was this idea that
they might have some relationship with other hostages being held by ISIS.
If she has any information on that issue, obviously, the United States
would want to know that.
HARRIS-PERRY: So a law has been made around the relationship around
oil and gas. With that said, I presume in a complicated organization as
large as ISIS that one individual is not the only lynchpin here. I wonder
if we can understand just how impactful this particular kill and then the
capture of his spouse is.
PERITZ: Right. Remember that the American forces were actually
trying to capture, not kill him. So if they wanted to just kill him, they
would have sent an F-16 to the compound he was and put a bomb on him but
they were willing to send multiple American special operations forces to
capture him. It didn`t work out that way, unfortunately, but the fact this
individual would have information intelligence that we could actually use
to break, let`s say the financial backbone of this organization would be
So, for example, killing one fighter or one spiritual mirror in the
organization would put the organization back a little bit. But capturing
their head accountant. Now, that person would have a lot of information
that United States would really want to know. So it looks like this
person, unfortunately, he`s dead now.
HARRIS-PERRY: I wonder if there`s other things we learned in the
context of the U.S. official announcement of this raid, about how the
United States is, in fact, operating in Iraq and Syria.
PERITZ: Well, one of the issues that was actually quite interesting
when you read the relatively terse statement was that the United States was
working with the full consent and that`s an exact quote of the Iraqi
leadership. So the Iraqis actually knew this was going to happen.
Obviously, when they mounted this capture mission, they had to bring these
people to somewhere. And so the United States are operating a detention
facility of some size in Iraq itself. The information did not actually say
they turned it over to Iraqi authorities.
So that means, that the United States has special operations troops
in Iraq right now probably in a military base near the Syrian border and is
willing to sort of capture people in Syria and bring them back for
detention and interrogation. This is an interesting phenomenon that we
haven`t really seen since the time that we pulled out of that country.
HARRIS-PERRY: Thank you so much to Aki Peritz for joining us this
morning and bringing us your insight. We`re going to continue to follow
this breaking news and new development right here on MSNBC.
Up next, I`m going to play for you a tape of a phone call and I`m
going to warn you now, it`s disturbing. But the story behind it and what
came next is worth sticking around for.
HARRIS-PERRY: This is a warning that some of what you are about to
hear is disturbing but I do want to play a 911 call that took place in a
small Georgia town in January of 2011. The caller`s name is Norman
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: 911.
NORMAN NEESMITH: I need a deputy to come to the house, please.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What`s wrong?
NORMAN NEESMITH: I had a little trouble out here a while ago.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: With who? Is this Mr. Neesmith?
NORMAN NEESMITH: Yes.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You and your daughter?
NORMAN NEESMITH: Uh-uh, no no.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No?
NORMAN NEESMITH: A friend of hers that was over here.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: OK.
NORMAN NEESMITH: No, Daniel`s OK.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: All right. Well, that`s good to hear.
NORMAN NEESMITH: Yes. But I need a deputy to come out of here
because I think I hurt one of them.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What did you do, Mr. Norman?
NORMAN NEESMITH: I hate to say it, but I shot him.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You think you shot him?
NORMAN NEESMITH: Yes.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You don`t know who it was Mr. Norman?
NORMAN NEESMITH: It was just a Black boy.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It was a Black boy?
NORMAN NEESMITH: Yes.
HARRIS-PERRY: Just a Black boy. Those were the words used to
identify 22-year-old Justin Patterson, who lay dying just feet away from
Mr. Neesmith`s porch.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Just talk to me Mr. Norman, OK?
NORMAN NEESMITH: Oh, yes.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Did you shoot him in the residence or outside
NORMAN NEESMITH: In the house.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: In the house?
NORMAN NEESMITH: When he slammed me into that wall, busted the side
of my head, my elbow and my knees. I wasn`t going to let him hurt me.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you need an ambulance Mr. Norman?
NORMAN NEESMITH: No, no, it`s just I`m all scraped up.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: OK. What kind of gun did you shoot him with
NORMAN NEESMITH: A 22.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: 22 pistol, right?
NORMAN NEESMITH: Yes.
HARRIS-PERRY: A little later in the call comes this.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And you have put the gun up, right?
NORMAN NEESMITH: Yes. I got it laying here on the floor beside me.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: All right. I`m going to let you know, yes,
Black male. Do you know what he had on, Mr. Norman?
NORMAN NEESMITH: Some kind of dark jacket is what he finally put on.
I got his hat. He left his hat in the yard when he went out the door.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: A dark jacket?
NORMAN NEESMITH: Yes and those baggy bricks.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And baggy bricks.
HARRIS-PERRY: There`s more to the story and how it connects to the
small town that segregated its promise. More on that story, join me next.
HARRIS-PERRY: Drive 160 miles south of Atlanta and you`ll find the
rural city of Mt. Vernon, Georgia. The small town has only four square
miles and home to slightly more than 500 residents. 52 percent of whom are
White and 42 percent of them were Black. Almost half and half there.
Traditions run deep in this community situated in the deep South.
Just in 2009, a photo journalist Julien Lowe, went to two of this
town to photograph Montgomery County High School integrated proms. Again
in 2009, just six short years ago an American high school have separate
proms of Black and White students. What Lowe found a much bigger story.
JULIEN LOWE, PHOTOJURNALIST: In 2009, I was commissioned to go down
to Georgia and photograph the integrated proms.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I was told that my date is going to be Black.
He would let me let in.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I was so mystified how it could still be
happening in the 21st century. And little did I know, as film would
unravel there would be so much more than just a story about integrated
proms but real story about race in general.
LOWE: I always knew that I wanted to return to this town so I
thought that I was making a story about a town coming together to have
their first integrated prom. And then a tragedy happened.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: 911.
NORMAN NEESMITH: I need a deputy to come out Here. Because I think
I heard one...
HARRIS-PERRY: That voice that you heard, the one saying I think I
hurt one of them is Norman Neesmith, the White man who shot and killed 22-
year-old Black man, Justin Patterson. And Norman at the center of the
documentary film Southern Rites premiering on HBO this Monday at 9:00 P.M.
I`m joined now by the film`s director Julien Lowe.
I just - so people won`t be confused, we should explain that John
Legend is not in the film but he was a part of helping to produce to bring
the story to light.
LOWE: Yes. He was executive producer. And we wrote and sang a song
for the film.
HARRIS-PERRY: I watched the film last night and I had an opportunity
to see it early and it is I think very complicated. Talk to me first about
the prom story that initiated I think much of the country`s attention on
LOWE: Right. Well, I learned about the town in 2002 because a
really brave student at Montgomery County High School wrote a letter to a
magazine that she subscribed to, Spin Magazine, and it was a really a cry
for help, a plea, "Please come to my town. Show the world what`s
happening." I - we have segregate a promise here and I can`t take my
boyfriend to the prom because he`s Black and I`m White.
So prom season had passed and the next segregated event was
Homecoming. So we went down to Montgomery County in 2002 and I
photographed the segregated Homecomings. And I was so shocked about what I
saw. You know, this was something that I read about in history books. I
didn`t know it was still happening in our country. So I knew I wanted to
return. And then in 2008, I thought there is no way that they`re still
segregated proms. Obama is President, this can`t be happening. So I
called the school. And I said just on a whim, I was just wondering when
your prom is. And they said which one? The White folk`s prom is this
weekend and the Black folk`s prom is in a couple weeks.
HARRIS-PERRY: I want to pause and listen for a moment to this moment
about the integrated prom which you initially were returning to photograph
when you found this other story. Let`s take a listen for a moment.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I went to the prom and it was Whites only, but
it wasn`t really as fun as when it was together. Not to me. Everybody
should be together. We all go to the school together we - I mean, we grew
up together. Go to prom together.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Two years ago, it was segregated. You had the
White prom and you had Black prom and that was that. After prom, we
probably got together, but you could not have went to a White prom if you
are a Black and vice versa. So it was great to finally come together.
HARRIS-PERRY: So this should have been the arc of the story.
There`s a segregated prom, it changes. Because of natural pressure, you
have in integrated prom and you go at that time photos. But instead it
becomes a much more complicated story because of it shooting that we talked
about in the last block. Norman Neesmith whose daughter is Black, an
adopted daughter from his niece, who shoots two young men - who shoots at
two young men who he finds in his home late at night.
HARRIS-PERRY: One of whom dies when he shoots him.
LOWE: Yes. So I was trying to tell the story of change in this
town. And the proms were coming together. One of the students that I met
that I fell in love with, her father was running to be the first African-
American sheriff. And years before there was no way he could run. He got
death threats when he even threatened to run. And so now he was running
with like a lot of support from the town and the community.
So this was the story that I wanted to tell. And then in early 2011,
he let me know that her high school love, her prom date of 2007, was shot
HARRIS-PERRY: And you know, I just want people to see it I want
people to stop and to watch it, but it`s also not just like, oh, this is
such a clear obvious act of malicious terrible - it is so much harder
LOWE: So complicated.
HARRIS-PERRY: I come away feeling a bit like there is no clear
villain. But it is also terribly tragedy. I want to play one more piece,
this is the mother of the young man who was shot by Norman Neesmith. At
the trial to Mr. Neesmith to put the humanity in it.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This man will never know what he has done to my
family. No one will ever get me to understand why it was necessary to kill
my son. This was a senseless death to me and it just didn`t have to
HARRIS-PERRY: It was senseless.
LOWE: It was. It`s tragic. Really, really tragic what happened.
And I think everyone has suffered all around.
HARRIS-PERRY: Tragic and deeply interwoven with race, but not in a
completely clear way. So a film worth watching. Thank you to Julien Lowe
for making it and also coming to talk to us about it today. The HBO
documentary film southern rites debuts on HBO Monday, May 18. And that is
our show for today. Thanks to you at home for watching. I`m going to see
you tomorrow morning. 10 A.M. for eastern and Ephraim Supreme will be here
and we`ll be talking things rock and hip hop. But right now, it`s time to
preview ok weekend.
MSNBC CORRESPONDENT: Yes (inaudible). Thank you so much.
HARRIS-PERRY: Here` we`re going to tell you about the new
development in the deadly train derailment in Philadelphia. Find out why
the FBI has been brought into look at the train`s windshield and also hear
from a veteran engineer about what he thinks went wrong.
Thunder, lightning and hail hitting parts of this country right now
and more on the way. Look at that wow. Plus off the grid, a couple with
10 kids living with no running water in a tiny home and today they`re
fighting to regain custody after authorities took their children from them.
I`ll be right back.
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY
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