Nina Turner Denounces the Enablers of Nazis
In a wide ranging discussion, Nina Turner and Paul Jay focus on the role of Trump, the GOP, corporate Democrats and corporate media in perpetuating systemic racism; they also address whether Nazi’s should have a right to organize public rallies
PAUL JAY: Welcome to The Real News Network live. I’m Paul Jay coming to you from Baltimore, and today we’re going to talk about the tragic events in Charlottesville. We’re going to talk about systemic racism in the United States and the roots of it, and we’re going to talk about what to do about it, and we’re going to talk to Senator Nina Turner, who now joins us from Washington, DC. How are you doing, Senator Turner?
NINA TURNER: [Inaudible], Paul Jay. How are you?
PAUL JAY: Good. Nina Turner is a former Ohio State Senator and is now the president of Our Revolution.
So, you’ve been on CNN talking about this. You’ve had a few days to digest what you think about what happened in Charlottesville. What is your current take?
NINA TURNER: Still heavy. Things are still playing out right before our eyes. We have a President who really softballed this issue when he first opened his mouth to yesterday going very strong in the way that he should’ve done during the first time he spoke, to now tweeting foolishness again, so it’s really hard to tell where the president stands, which is very unfortunate. And not just for him personally and his presidency, but it’s unfortunate for our country and also for the world to see the American President who cannot stand up and unequivocally denounce white supremacy, bigotry, racism, hate and terror. He’s pretty good at being strong on the issues that he wants to be, but when it comes to this matter, he was unable to muster up the intestinal fortitude that it takes to call this what it is.
PAUL JAY: As abhorrent as it is that Trump didn’t come out and straightforwardly denounce this racist and terrorist act in Charlottesville, it’s kind of easy to denounce Nazis as Nazis, overt racists as racists. And even if Trump couldn’t do it until a few days later, which shows his own political agenda and, I guess, his own beliefs … But much of the media is making such an issue out of what Trump said or didn’t say.
But the whole Republican party knew this about Trump, and frankly, the leadership of the Democratic party. They knew this guy was a racist. In fact, we have a clip here from Paul Ryan. Let’s get that ready. This is when Trump came out talking about the Mexican judge. Here’s what Paul Ryan said after those comments of trump.
PAUL RYAN: I disavow these comments. I regret those comments that he made. I don’t think … Claiming a person can’t do their job because of their race is sort of like the textbook definition of a racist comment. I think that should be absolutely disavowed. It’s absolutely unacceptable.
PAUL JAY: But that does not stop Paul Ryan for supporting Trump in the election, from supporting him since. Yes, they’re at odds over certain policy issues, but they don’t come out and denounce him as a racist now, even though he did back then at a time when he didn’t think he might win. The hypocrisy is profound here, and add to that … Again, while you can denounce these Nazis in Charlottesville as Nazis and racists, so many of the people that are talking as if they’re outraged say nothing about real systemic racism every single day that people are living now in the United States.
NINA TURNER: To that, Paul Jay, and for Paul Ryan, for Speaker Ryan and the entire Republican party, it was more important to win, so their political life, their party’s advantage, was more important than the people of the United States of America. And I totally agree with you that it is easy, although we must be out there standing united in a strong symbol that we will not allow our country to go backwards. But you’re absolutely right. Open or overt racism, we can put the finger to it.
But there are so many people also on the left who really wanted Mr. Trump to be the nominee for political gain, and nobody wants to talk about that. It was revealed in the emails. I often heard it on the campaign trail because Democrats took for granted that Trump would be … Or they really wanted him to be the nominee because they believed that he was the one who could be defeated easily.
PAUL JAY: When you were saying “they,” you mean the Clinton camp.
NINA TURNER: Yes, and other Democrats, too. I heard many Democrats say and cheer on, “Let it be Trump. Let it be Trump.” And that was a miscalculation as we see today, so the blame in terms of Mr. Trump being where he is today, and the burden of that falls on both parties.
PAUL JAY: Trump himself is treated as if he’s an aberration in terms of the body of American politics, which I don’t think is true. I think it’s kind of a natural outgrowth of what’s been happening over the last few decades.
But even this issue itself over the statue … I guess people who have been following this story know this, but the statue that they wanted to take down of Robert E. Lee was erected in the 1920s. This isn’t some historic thing from the Civil War. This was a statue specifically erected to reassert white supremacy in the South in the 1920s. We interviewed historian Gerald Horne yesterday who talked about how black soldiers coming back from the first World War, that this statue was erected to intimidate them, to tell blacks, “Don’t think you’re living in a liberated South here.”
NINA TURNER: That’s right, and that your service doesn’t matter. The fact that you’re putting your life on the line for this country. African-Americans that fought in every single war that this country has ever had from its inception. Black folks have been willing to stand up and love a country that has never really loved us, so the Professor is absolutely right when it comes to that. But, folks, we don’t go a deeper dive, Paul, into the history, into the legacy, the very fact, and I think the Professor made this point, that racism and bigotry is in the DNA of this country, so it always boggles my mind. And a lot of folks do this, especially political types, who talk about how great this nation is and how we’re not going to accept this because we never did historically in this country when nothing could be further from the truth. The genocide of the Native Americans, to stealing other Native Americans’ land, the slavery in this country, the black codes, the Jim Crow, the lynchings that took place in this country …
I was on with Don Lemon last night, and I talked about how I hear very distinctly Nina Simone singing, “Mississippi Goddam,” and also hear her singing “Strange Fruit.” This is the type of legacy that we do have in this country that we, the collective “we,” have been unwilling to deal with in a deep way, Paul Jay, unless, until we see symbols and tragedy and bigotry to the magnitude that we saw in Charlottesville, Virginia. But make no mistake, as soon as this moment is over, as soon as this blip on the screen is over in this country, folks are going to go back to business as usual.
PAUL JAY: The rise of this kind of overt white supremacy, at least poking its head out, it’s not really new. They’ve been around for years. They come up, they go down. You see them, and you don’t. With Trump in the White House, do they feel enabled? I would say I guess they do. Certainly people like Steve Bannon that advise Trump have talked about the far right and the far racists as being something they can manage within the right-wing movement. But much of the soil, the conditions that gives such anger that this sort of has a wider effect perhaps, certainly amongst people that voted for Trump, and the very thinly or not-thinly veiled racism at all of the Trump campaign, has to do with the profound inequality that developed not only under Republicans but also under Democrats.
NINA TURNER: No doubt about that, Paul, and I’m glad you talked about the conditions which, I think it was Albert Einstein who said poisonous weeds and corn can grow in the same soil if the conditions are right. He said, “I believe that the conditions matter more than the soil,” and that’s really what you’re getting at. The conditions in this country that allow this kind of bigotry and hatred to flourish generation after generation after generation, and as a country, we’ve never done anything real about it. We kind of nibbled around the edges.
We have made some advancements. When you look at the Civil Rights Act, the Voting Rights Act. When you look at the fact that Asa Philip Randolph and others in the 1940s pushed President F.D.R. to make sure that he desegregated the military industry. We have seen progress in our nation over time, but that progress has not come because the brass tops decided that it was the right thing to do. It has really come because the grassroots pushed. The people who gave it their sweat, their blood, their tears. People who actually died by force. People who were killed, and there were people who were willing to put their lives on the line and did. Folks who were fighting for freedom and equality.
Black folks were actually killed, and lynching. Lynching started, as we know, right after the African-Americans were freed. The KKK started in 1866, and so this whole notion that you want to keep black folks in their place and terrorize them, this is what the KKK was designed to do. And in many cases, we still see that. Not just what we just saw over the weekend, but systematically. A system in this country designed, whether it’s the prison industry that Professor Alexander talks about in the new Jim Crow. Systems designed to keep African-Americans in their place, and we don’t deal with those kinds of deep seated issues.
And even after this, Paul Jay, we’re not going to deal with that, because as you mentioned, it is easier. Now it’s necessary. Don’t get me wrong. I don’t want anybody to mistake that. But it is easier to deal with this that is in front of us in lieu of dealing with the systems. Economic, political, social, environmental systems that continue to create an environment where African-Americans are treated as second class citizens. Other people of color in this country, and especially if you’re poor, treated like second class citizens. Your poverty becomes your sin in the United States of America in the 21st century.
PAUL JAY: Also I think something that hasn’t been commented on very much is as much as this Klu Klux Klan-Nazi activity in Charlottesville that took place was directed at African-Americans, against blacks, it was also against Jews. And when you watch some of the interviews of the people who were involved in that march or rally, whatever you call it, they were as anti-Jewish as they were anti-black. But many of the big Jewish organizations, which are now, of course, outraged at that, themselves … Number one, they support in Israel itself, they support very unjust policies of Israel towards Palestinians, and then in the United States, many of them … Think Sheldon Adelson, first of all … Actually supported Trump. Others, like Haim Saban and others, support the kind of corporate Democrats that helped create the inequality that helps sow the soil for this kind of activity.
NINA TURNER: True, and reconciliation is the first thought that comes to mind. I know you said in the opening that we would talk about solutions. This country needs to do in similar fashion what South Africa did after apartheid, which is to have truth and reconciliation. We have not had the courage, the intestinal fortitude, that is necessary to go deeper than what has happened generation after generation. But to really go deep and look inside ourselves, to change this. To really, really turn the tide.
It’s unfortunate. One of my Twitter followers had commented that she believed that we only do enough to just hold it off for a little while, and as hopeful as I am that we’re going to get to a place, I hope, if not in my generation and generations yet unborn, that one day some generation will be able to say that we have conquered this insidious evil that is in our nature, that is in the very DNA of this country. But to hear folks who really believe that we won’t quite get there in any of our lifetimes is very disappointing. Sad. Sad that people feel that way. It’s heavy that people feel that way.
PAUL JAY: We’re getting some questions on Facebook and some of the other platforms we’re going live on. I believe we’re live on the Real News website, Facebook, YouTube, and maybe some other places. There’s a [Silver Pursinger] sends a question, and I’m going to kind of paraphrase the question because basically he’s saying that sections of the American left didn’t want to vote for Clinton because they saw her as such a warmonger, and in some ways didn’t mind if it was Trump. I don’t think they voted for Trump. They probably voted Green, or maybe for one of the other, smaller, left wing parties. But they thought maybe Trump would be more isolationist, and actually saw Clinton as the greater danger.
There’s always this push/pull between this choice, between a kind of overt, reactionary Republican, and a corporate Democrat. And he’s asking what should people do in terms of going forward to try to fight this issue.
NINA TURNER: I thank him for that. In this country, folks get an opportunity to have a choice, and I know a lot of people in 2016 did not necessarily believe that they were choosing between the best choices during the election cycle. I do also believe that right now we have an opportunity to create, that there is promise in this problem. That we have an opportunity moving forward if we plan right now to create the type of environment, atmosphere, and conditions that will be right in 2020. We can’t wait for that moment. We have to start the collective consciousness of this country. We have got to start to make our demands on the types of people that we want to see become the next President of the United States of America, and not just accept the lesser of the two evils, and not feel like we do have to accept the lesser of the two evils.
There are many folks that are out there, even folks who have not been even named at this moment, but we do have to come together to decide what type of nation that we want, and what type of leaders we want. And it doesn’t just rest with the presidency. It is about who we elect to our school boards. Local elected officials matter, too. The legislature matters. That has been the level of government … I’m speaking from experience as being a former state Senator in the great state of Ohio and serving in the Ohio legislature, where my Republican colleagues had super majorities. That we turned our back, or Democrats as a party did not concentrate as much as we should have on state legislatures and governor’s mansions.
So, we have an opportunity right now. If we can see the promise in the problem to turn this thing around and create a better future than what we have right now. But that really starts today. So, I don’t begrudge any citizen in this country. People have choice and people get a right to vote for whoever they want to in the United States of America. We have to take the bitter with the sweet, but that does not absolve us from planning right now for the type of future that we want tomorrow. And that starts with all of our elected leaders on every level, but it also starts with us as individuals. It’s not just about the people who we put in power, but we must remember that we put them in power. And that is what Our Revolution is about. We are out there in the trenches every single day empowering the grassroots to reclaim their power and to make certain demands of people who are running for office. That is why we are pushing the people’s platform right now.
PAUL JAY: We have a question from someone who calls themselves “Post-Millennial.” What is the role of corporate media in diverting, co-opting the narrative about systemic racism? I guess what they’re saying is there’s lots of critique of what went on by these open racists in the media right now, but in a sense, co-opting it because it doesn’t go any deeper into what systemic racism and classism … Some people are using that term … What that means every day. You get a chance to appear on mainstream media. What do you make of that?
NINA TURNER: I do. Again, even just last night, to use Don Lemon as an example on CNN. He really … I gave him a shout-out, Paul Jay, during the show because he did what very few commentators or very few people … He’s not a commentator, but very few people who have a show, very few of them do this. He did go back. He showed historic clips. He tried to educate. He took a portion of that show to educate us as Americans about from whence we came, as James Baldwin once said.
So, all of us could use our platform. Certainly mainstream media has a larger platform, and some of these shows do try to do that, but that is not all. We can do it also for ourselves, and what we have in the 21st century that generations ago did not have is that we do have the power of social media. The key word being “media,” where we can do teach-ins for ourselves. Each one teach one. Where we can gather with our neighbors either on Periscope or Facebook. We can do Google Hangouts. We have at our disposal the technology necessary for us to teach and to dialogue with one another.
But I would like to see more mainstream media folks who do have their own show do exactly what Don Lemon did last night. He did go deeper than what people usually do.
PAUL JAY: Yeah, it’s quite the exception really because … And it’s not only about the history. It’s about, for example, in Baltimore, the previous Department of Justice before Trump did a report the Baltimore Police Department that said every day people’s constitutional rights are being violated in Baltimore. Every day police are breaking federal law. Eddie Conway who works with us is a former political prisoner. He made this point very well when there was all kinds of kerfuffle about constitutional rights, when there are whistleblowers, NSA stuff, and he said, “I’m happy you guys are all talking about constitutional rights now, but there hasn’t been constitutional rights for many people in Baltimore for decades and decades.” That doesn’t get talked about in the corporate media.
NINA TURNER: No, but again, Paul Jay, I don’t think as informed citizens, as conscious-minded citizens, that we should simply rely on the mainstream media to do what it is that we need to do. Mainstream media has a role and they’re fulfilling their role, but we also, as every day citizens in this country, we have a role, too. And I certainly believe that their are more conscious-minded folks across the political spectrum, as hard as that may be to believe right now in this moment, across the ethnic, religious, gender, sexual orientation, religious spectrum. So it is our job to advance social justice and economic justice and political justice, and to be #Woke at all times.
And to make the types of demands on the people who hope to serve us to embody our power for a term or two, or three or four terms, as they win these offices to actually advance the rights of the people. To actually advance a positive agenda, a progressive agenda if you will, for the people in this country. If they are not doing it, then the burden falls on us, on we the people to elect and encourage other types of people to run because it is ultimately our power, Paul Jay.
I don’t want to just [inaudible] this on the mainstream media. We have a role to play, too. You’re doing it. The Real News is doing it right now. You go deeper, and we need more of that. Everybody can Facebook live, they can Periscope. Again, they can go onto Google Hangout or they can knock on their neighbor’s door. They can go to their churches or their synagogues or their mosque. They can go to their corner of their streets, and we all can have a conversation about the type of country we want to live in. And then beyond that conversation, what are we going to do about it?
PAUL JAY: Now, I know you have to leave in just a few minutes, but one of the debates that’s taking place around what happened in Charlottesville is now going to come up again. Apparently the same Nazi group is going to have some kind of a rally in Boston, I understand. There’s one coming up in Richmond, Virginia. Do you think cities should allow these things to happen? Some countries, for example Canada, have hate speech laws that I think would actually ban such rallies. Should cities allow these things to take place?
NINA TURNER: We pride ourselves in this country, Paul, in the First Amendment. It is a right time to open up that debate. Maybe we might be able to do something similar, but it is going to take a collective action and collective will to push that because we do pride ourselves in America on freedom of speech. And it’s not just the speech that we love or the speech that we find acceptable. We uphold that portion of the constitution, that First Amendment right, for even speech that we do not like.
What should not happen, though, is violence. That should not happen, and you’re just reminding of me of a time … And I’m not sure if these cities should definitely research, but in 1999 when I worked for Mayor Michael R. White, I remember this like it was yesterday. The Klan came to our city, and I remember when the mayor shared with his cabinet that he had gotten a call by the Grand Wizard at that time … I don’t recall this person’s name, that they were coming to the city of Cleveland. The mayor was African-American, and certainly he did not want that in his soul and his being, but he knew that he took an oath to uphold the charter of the City of Cleveland, the constitution of the State of Ohio, and also the constitution of the United States of America.
But what he did, Paul, was he sent members of his cabinet into other cities at that time where the KKK had gone and where violence had erupted, where these neo-Nazis had gone and wreaked havoc on communities, and then he devised a plan along with his cabinet to do it a different way. Our city spent a half a million dollars on this Klan rally, and the mayor got beat up pretty harshly by leaders of the NAACP in our own city, and other elected leaders who believed that he should’ve resisted that and just had the KKK take him to court. But, again, the oath that he took …
But what he did, he ensured that life was protected, and that property in the city of Cleveland was protected, so that when they left, it was almost as if they were not here. Police officers went and picked them up, Paul Jay, from the airport, from wherever they were coming from. Drove them in, brought them to the Justice Center, downtown Cleveland, where they could put on their robes, their costumes. The things that they use to torture folks with because they’re big cowards, and then they were able to come up from the Justice Center and have their rally and have police officers of all ethnicities and genders stand in front of them to protect them. Meanwhile, they’re calling black folks all kinds of names, and Jewish folks all kinds of names.
The Mayor had fences erected where on one side was the pro-hate group side, and the other one was the anti-hate side, to keep those two sides apart. It cost the city an enormous amount of money, but when all was said and done, our city was still intact. Our human dignity was still intact, and so I would encourage other cities to look into that, to research that.
By God, we shouldn’t have to spend money that way, but if it takes that type of investment to keep people safe, to try to ensure that what happened to Heather and what happened to 19 other people in Charlottesville, Virginia, does not happen. The fact that two law enforcement officers on their way there to that accident were killed in a helicopter … All of these things are tragic and they are heavy, heavy, heavy-
PAUL JAY: But hasn’t this crossed a line now? I saw an interview with one of the leading Nazis, who said in the interview that the guy that drove the car that wound up killing one of the protestors and injuring several others, that he called that justified.
NINA TURNER: They’re sick.
PAUL JAY: If you had a protest coming in, saying “Long live Al Qaeda,” and advocating terrorism. Not doing it, just advocating it, those people would be in jail in a millisecond. Why shouldn’t that apply to these Nazis?
NINA TURNER: You’re right. It’s a sickness and we have to deal with it. So let’s have that conversation about that, and cities should think about, and state legislatures, city councils and mayors … The city councils, they have the power to create the type of laws that make will make it quite difficult for these types of groups to be able to come into a city and cause total chaos and destruction, and states can do the same thing in this country.
That’s another thing. I’m glad to see that the DOJ is going to investigate this. I hope that they use an exercise the full weight and force of the power that we have in this country, because another point is this, Paul Jay. The President of the United States took an oath of office to protect this country from all enemies, foreign and domestic. Make no mistake about it, these KKK-inspired groups, these neo-Nazi groups are domestic terrorists. We should be able to protect ourselves from those groups on all levels of government.
So I want to see the DOJ come out with the same type of furor and … What’d the President day? “Fire and fury” that he talked about in terms of international dealings. I want him to have that same kind of fervor or … commitment, I should say, is a better word when it comes to protecting this country from domestic terrorism, and leave no doubt that in this country we are a nation of progress, and that in the 21st century, this type of display of bigotry will not be tolerated, will not be accepted, and that we will stand firmly against it.
PAUL JAY: I promised Senator Turner we’d let her go at 1:30, so thanks very much for joining us, and thank all of you for joining us live on the Real News Network. We’re hoping we’re going to be able to talk to Senator Turner mostly every week, so we’ll be able to pick this conversation up very soon. Thanks for joining us. Thank you, Senator Turner.
NINA TURNER: Thank you, and thank all the Real News viewers. And, please, keep the faith and keep the fight. We will overcome this.
PAUL JAY: Thank you and thank you for joining us on the Real News Network.