I’ll tell you right now, as long as I’m alive, as long I’m breathing, ain’t nobody going to take my guns. That includes Obama.
[Sound: crowd cheering]
ANNA MARIA TREMONTI: You can find lyrics that revere the gun in every genre of music. But the NRA, the powerful US gun lobby, has aligned itself with artists from one kind of music, country. And who that singer you just heard, Justin Moore, is one of the faces and voices closely aligned with NRA Country, a creation of the NRA that uses country music to push American patriotism and an outdoor lifestyle in a bid to rebrand its gun culture and attract a younger following. Some country music stars are denouncing that affiliation in the wake of Sunday night's massacre of country music fans in Las Vegas. In half an hour, the country music industry's questionable ties to the NRA. The fight over gun rights of course was central to last year's US presidential election campaign. But as he watched Donald Trump gather momentum, Charlie Sykes saw fellow Republicans changing in ways he could not accept.
CHARLIE SYKES: I'm talking about the people who decided that they were going to drink the orange Kool-Aid. Who that decided that maybe this is the man who's going to make America great again. And one after another I would look them in the eye and go no no, not you too.
AMT: From his perch at the top of conservative talk radio, Charlie Sykes says he watched the right lose its mind. Hear him on the implications for wider US political strife in an hour. But we are starting today with one of our own, the CBC's Nahlah Ayed just back from documenting the desperate flight of the Rohingya people.
NAHLAH AYED: It's here the border guards introduced us to Anjuwara Baka, of her four children only one remain.
ANJUWARA BAKA: [speaking Rohingya]
NAHLAH AYED: They snatched my 3-month-old baby and turned him to ash.
AMT: The staggering human toll of the political decisions that negate the rights and existence of a minority community. I'm Anna Maria Tremonti, this is The Current.Back To Top »
'It's a mass of humanity': CBC's Nahlah Ayed on Rohingya refugee crisis
Guest: Nahlah Ayed
[Sound: footsteps and murmuring]
ANNA MARIA TREMONTI: Well, the quiet sound, relatively quiet sound of people on the move in the face of a massive crisis. What you're hearing there is how it sounds on the border between Myanmar and Bangladesh. And it is a border that is witnessing an extraordinary migration. According to the United Nations, more than half a million Rohingya Muslims have fled Myanmar since August. It is the largest refugee crisis in Southeast Asia, that Southeast Asia has seen in decades. The Rohingya are fleeing violent reprisals from Myanmar's military after attacks by Rohingya militants. Now, hundreds of thousands of Rohingya refugees who are terrified, tired, hungry, stateless, and desperate, are arriving in an already overwhelmed Bangladesh. For about a week, the CBC's Nahlah Ayed was there watching them emerge into an uncertain future. And Nahlah Ayed joins me from our London, England studio. Hello Nala.
NAHLAH AYED: Hello Anna Maria.
AMT: I'm wondering what you still see when you think about that last assignment? What can't you get out of your head?
NAHLAH AYED: It's the scale Anna Maria. It's just the size of this thing. Because I was told, I, we spoke to, myself and our producer Stephanie Jenzer, talked to aid workers who were there, who were working on the problem, we talked to witnesses, and all of this told us how big this was. And the day before I left, I read it in The Economist, you know, that at its height this exodus was swifter than that during the Rwanda genocide. So I read all this, I heard all this, but nothing prepared me for seeing it. Because the simplest way to describe it is that there were people absolutely everywhere. And that's what stays in my mind.
AMT: So, like you're standing there? Tell me more about what you actually see as you're trying to cover this.
NAHLAH AYED: Right. So we drive away from where we're staying, which is closer to the city of Cox’s Bazaar, and you start heading towards the border with Myanmar. And there are some checkpoints along the way and at some point you sort of start to see small clumps of families, little, you know, few little groups of people sitting in the shade, usually mothers with a few kids. And we were told, you know, people, Rohingyas are waiting to take a taxi or a rickshaw are trying to get to the city. And then those clumps start to get thicker and then you get within, you know, earshot of the camps, which I should say, the biggest one that we saw has been in existence for quite a number of years, because as you know this has been a problem that has been going on for many years. So this is where not only you get a sense of the size of the current problem, but you realize also that this has been a longstanding problem. And so you pass through these small bazaars that are supposed to be small and now they're just churning with people. You pass through this camp and the cars can barely move because of the number of people who are hanging out on the sides. Some of whom are there to try to do some shopping or to meet other people, to try to get some aid, some Anna Maria, are just sitting there waiting for someone to help. Some actually have their hand extended to the cars that pass by them hoping that they of half a million people are actually going to be given money by someone passing by. They're just everywhere. People in the shade, in the sun, building tents, trying to get water, grabbing kids and getting immunization. I mean, it's a mass of humanity the size of which I have never seen.
AMT: And, you know, I'm thinking about some of the pictures that I saw in your coverage. Like, people carrying people in sort of in large cloths tied on sticks, and like this, like a woman was in there, like I guess she’d just given birth or something?
NAHLAH AYED: Mhm. There's an image that I can't get out of my mind and that really also a lot of people who read and watch us and listen to us also can't get out of their mind, is this young woman who was being carried as you say in a hammock, imagine being in a hammock, but on the on the two ends, you know, it's tied on a big bamboo stick that two strong men are carrying. And she's, you didn't even realize there’s a human being in there, in fact it just looks like a very large sack. And suddenly her husband, as we stopped him to talk, you know, pulls back this blanket and there's this young woman with the tiniest little child who doesn't even have a name, you know, eating because this was, they had just seen some aid workers and had just crossed the border, had just gotten the first food they've had in a long time, so she was having a bite. She had just given birth the night before, after having walked for ten days heavily pregnant, from the village that had been burnt down where they lived. And so there's that. We saw people carrying their mothers, you know, again in exactly the same situation. We saw one young man, who I don't know how he did this, he was so weak looking himself, but he carried his disabled uncle on his back for eight days. And prior to that had hid in the forest for seven days with that uncle, eating or surviving on leaves, from trees and the stems of banana trees. So it's I mean, not only were people obviously fleeing but they had relatives to carry and they had children. This is something else I've really been struck with, is a large, you know, 60 per cent we're told of the people who left are children. And so a huge number of kids everywhere you look. And crossing that border you see these exhausted people carrying their parents or their uncles or what have you. But then also near them or around them are these children, who as you can imagine, are doubly exhausted.
AMT: You know, you talk about the overwhelming scale of it all. And the UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres has spoken about this. I've got a clip here. Let's listen to him.
ANTONIO GUTERRES: The situation has spiraled into the world's fastest developing refugee emergency and a humanitarian and human rights nightmare. We have received bone chilling accounts from those who fled, mainly women, children, and the elderly. Testimonies points to excessive violence and serious violations of human rights, including indiscriminate firing of weapons, the presence of landmines and sexual violence.
AMT: Nahlah, in your reporting you met people who give voice to what he's talking about. What kind, what were people telling you?
NAHLAH AYED: It was stark to me how often people told stories that were consistently similar. Three things seemed to happen to just about everybody. One is that almost everyone we talked to, and obviously we didn't talk to everybody, but the people we did talk to said that their village had been burnt down or had just started to be burnt down when they ran away. Just about everybody we spoke to said that they had lost someone in their family, that they either an uncle or children or their wives or their husbands, someone somehow was killed in the violence or severely injured. And the third is that, as we have already talked about, that they had an epic escape that often was dangerous and took many many days. So very much echoing what the secretary general said. And one woman in particular sticks out in my mind, actually two. We met them in no man's land between Myanmar and Bangladesh. This is an area where about 1,300 Rohingya, who found themselves in this tiny little almost an island, in a no man's land between the two countries and they're not allowed to go into Bangladesh and clearly they're not going back to Myanmar because of what's happening there, and so they're stuck in this spot. And they can only cross this little stream to get a bit of help from the from the Bangladesh border guards before going back there. And there we met two women who told me the most horrific stories I've really probably ever heard. One said that she in the violence and in the fire that was enveloping her village had sort of became isolated and she was on her own for just a few minutes. All the family had kind of scattered and it was then that she found herself face to face with people she described as the military, people wearing uniform, and at which point she was repeatedly raped by several of them over the course of a number of hours.
NAHLAH AYED: And the second case, this is, I mean, this is difficult stuff to hear but it's stark how often you hear similar accounts, if not from your own reporting, but from others and from human rights organizations. The other was this woman who had one boy, a young boy with her who said that she had four boys before all this started and that two of them went missing in all of this. Which by the way has happened quite a bit and there's a large number of unaccompanied children who are involved in this large movement of people. And then there was one child who was three-months-old and she said that soldiers took that child from her and threw him into the fire.
AMT: Oh my God.
NAHLAH AYED: What do you say to that? How do you, what next question is there once you hear that? I don't know what the answer to that is.
AMT: Nor would I, no. You know, Nahlah the very word Rohingya is contentious in this whole issue. Who are the Rohingya people?
NAHLAH AYED: Well if you ask the Rohingya people themselves, they, the first thing they say is that they are Burmese. They belong to Myanmar, that they are people who have been there for many many generations. In fact in one case someone told me that they have been in Myanmar since the 7th century and that they're preceding recent times, that they had rights, that they actually participated in the political process, that they were considered ordinary citizens and a recognized ethnic minority in the majority Buddhist Myanmar. Now, that changed in 1982 when law changes were made that essentially excluded their right to citizenship and that meant that they became stateless. And in the course of the last few decades, that meant also that they had been sequestered to certain parts of the country, that some say that they do not have the freedom to practice their religion. They don't have freedom of education or movement, just the basic ability to be able to move from one part of the country to another. And so they are often called the world's most persecuted people and they themselves call themselves Rohingya. That word is not really accepted by the majority of Burmese people, who often in fact call them Bengali. And in a report that was produced by Myanmar nationals, led however by the former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, they specifically mention in the prelude to the report that they would not use the word Rohingya at the request of the state counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi, but also not use the word Bengali, and obviously because both carry so much contention. The difference though, and the Rohingya will tell you this, is that they call themselves Rohingya. So they were hoping and expecting that they would be referred to by name and certainly that they would have some participation in these processes but they haven't.
AMT: I want to go back to Myanmar's leader Aung San Suu Kyi, the Nobel Prize winner. We know she has been heavily criticized for her silence, inaction on this crisis. Oxford University took down a painting of her from their campus, she had received an honorary degree from them in 2012. And she was also stripped of her freedom of Oxford honour. She did break her silence in a speech two weeks ago. And we've got a little clip of part of it, here it is.
AUNG SAN SUU KYI: I understand that many of our friends throughout the world are concerned by reports of villages being burned and of hordes of refugees fleeing. We too are concerned. We want to find out what the real problems are. There have been allegations and counter allegations and we have to listen to all of them and we have to make sure that these allegations are based on solid evidence before we take action.
AMT: OK. So she's looking for solid evidence. How do the Rohingya people you met view her?
NAHLAH AYED: It wasn't easy to talk about the political situation there, if you will. The people we did talk to about Aung San Suu Kyi said that she is not the one with the power. That the people with the power in that country are the military and that the international community should be targeting the military when it comes to trying to effect change, because that is who has the power there. But often, surprisingly people would talk about what, the situation that exists for them, would talk about their lack of rights and their difficulty in movement. But they when you press them on the political angle of things would say well we're simple people we don't know about politics ask someone else.
AMT: I have another clip here.
NAHLAH AYED: Mhm.
AMT: It's a clip of yours from a Rohingya man you spoke to.
NAHLAH AYED: Yes.
AMT: Let's listen to him.
VOICE 1: I want to go back as soon as possible. I want to appeal to the United Nations, especially United Nations world body to make a safe zone for the Rohingyas.
AMT: OK. So they want to go home.
NAHLAH AYED: Mhm. Again, you know, I guess, you know, this gentleman who we spoke to didn't want to show his face but he was quite vocal. And he said that he called it his native land. He said this is my home why would I want to be anywhere else? Why would I want to be, this man was in the no man's land that I described earlier, he said why would I want to be existing on handouts in a no man's land when I have a village to which I belong? And so yes, despite the horror that they describe of what they experienced, they say they'd like to return home. And this is the gentleman who said also when I asked him directly about Aung San Suu Kyi, he said, you know, he was disappointed but that she's not the woman with the power. He said the people with the power in Myanmar are the military and that’s who the international community should be targeting.
AMT: Well this week we know that Myanmar authorities made a proposal to take Rohingya refugees back to Myanmar. Is that realistic?
NAHLAH AYED: Well I mean, in short no, it's really unrealistic. And the reason is then and this is what aid groups have talked about for NGOs for many years, is that there had been talk previously about repatriating refugees who had left Myanmar. But the rules that are being imposed or the way this would happen is that they would require a certain threshold of information or documentation to prove that they had originally come from Myanmar or had lived there, which makes it almost impossible for most of those people to do. Because a, they left with most of their documents if they had them, being stateless and being undocumented in general. You know, I've met somebody in one of the camps in Kutupalong, who has been in that camp for 27 years. He left in 1991, where an equal number of people, Rohingya people, left Myanmar because of similar circumstances. He's still living in a refugee camp. He still would love to go home. But it has been 27 years. So to imagine that in the course of this period, which has been equally difficult and just as divisive both nationally and internationally, that suddenly some of these people are going to go home is very difficult to contemplate.
AMT: It's a reminder of how much this perpetuates huh? That all those years as a refugee or in the same camp. And of course, you talked about the NGOs, organizations such as Amnesty International are tracking human rights abuses.
NAHLAH AYED: Mhm.
AMT: You spoke to one of the lawyers and I've got a clip from that interview, Matthew Wells. I want you to talk a little further about that. Let's listen to Matthew Wells.
MATTHEW WELLS: This is an area of human rights abuses that there is more evidence than I've seen in many of the other places where I've worked in the past, in part because of the satellite imagery which really shows both the scale and targeted nature of what's happening. And then you have this mass of people who have come out and now are able to speak to what happens.
AMT: So they're able to track this on different levels huh Nahlah?
NAHLAH AYED: Mhm. Yes. And actually the third pillar to that which is not mentioned in that clip which he told us about is the inordinate amount of material that's coming out of Myanmar itself. Whether it's video and photos, and obviously all of that has to be authenticated and they have ways of doing that. But just the sheer volume of information coming out of there is extraordinary compared to previous spasms of violence. He specifically also pointed, I found interesting, these recent satellite photos that showed not only the extent of the damage but specifically showed very specific villages where some parts only of those villages were Rohingya dominated. In other words, these were mixed villages and very clearly showed that the parts that were Rohingya dominated were destroyed and that the parts that were not, did not have Rohingya in them were not. And to Amnesty International, these were the most powerful forms of evidence if you will or proof that there seems to be a specific targeting of Rohingya and the places they lived.
AMT: And the international community, how has it responded?
NAHLAH AYED: Well, you saw last week that the UN Security Council held an open discussion about the matter. You know that several countries have said and acknowledged that this looks very much like ethnic cleansing. The United Kingdom has suspended a small program it had of cooperation, mostly training with the Myanmar military. Beyond that I mean, there are prongs to this. There is the political aspect and then there's the aid. And you probably heard again this week as the IOM, the International Organization for Migration, and the UN calling again on donor countries to provide more money because it's going to take millions to sustain this population, because it is entirely dependent on handouts at the moment and will be for the foreseeable future. Then there's the political aspect of this. And if you speak to those who represent Rohingya groups and those who fight for their human rights, they say that there has not been enough action on the international stage. And given the fact that there has been so much talk about this looking so much like like ethnic cleansing, it is surprising that there hasn't been more action. And clearly a lot of those groups would demand that more be done.
AMT: And, you know, it's interesting we're talking about your coverage of this massive movement of refugees. I'm just wondering what stays with you? You are covering, you're documenting these incredible scenes of humanity, of desperate people in different parts of the world.
NAHLAH AYED: It's, you know, it's a tough question because every time you think you saw the worst you see something worse. And all I can really say is as a human being and not as a journalist or as a Canadian or anything, but just as a human being, how shocking it is that this sort of thing goes on in this day and age and elicits this little reaction.
AMT: Nahlah Ayed, thanks for your work.
NAHLAH AYED: Thank you.
AMT: Nahlah Ayed, she is the CBC's foreign correspondent based in London, England. And that's where we reached her today. If you want to see more on the stories and people she mentioned in our conversation, head to our website cbc.ca/thecurrent. Nahlah Ayed talking to us from London today. Stay with us, the news is next. And then it's a longstanding duo, country music firearms, and of course the NRA lobby is in there now with something called NRA Country. In the wake of the shootings in Las Vegas, we're looking at that connection. I'm Anna Maria Tremonti, this is The Current.
[Music: Extro]Back To Top »
Las Vegas shooting: what's the impact on country music, gun culture and NRA?
Guests: Jonathan Bernstein, Kurt Bardella, Robert Spitzer
ANNA MARIA TREMONTI: Hello, I'm Anna Maria Tremonti and you're listening to The Current.
AMT: Still to come, as host of Wisconsin's most popular conservative radio show, Charlie Sykes used to get some impressive callers and he wasn't afraid to talk over them either.
DONALD TRUMP: Almost from the time I started business, I became a celebrity. Talking..
CHARLIE SYKES: Are the rules different for celebrities? Are celebrities allowed to insult women?
DONALD TRUMP: Well, I’ll tell you what, the rules aren’t different, but certainly I never thought I would run for office.
AMT: How Donald Trump changed Charlie Sykes’ mind and led him to write a new book called How the Right Lost Its Mind. Charlie Sykes in half an hour. But first, a loaded relationship, country music and guns.
[Music: Justin Moore]
AMT: That is country singer Justin Moore. And you heard him, he loves guns. Whether Remingtons or Glock's or his trusty Colt 44. Justin Moore isn't just a member of the National Rifle Association, he is closely aligned with the lobby group as a face and voice of its so-called offshoot, NRA Country. Started in 2010, NRA Country promotes the idea of a country lifestyle, including music and guns.
[Music: Justin Moore]
AMT: Justin Moore is not the only country music artist affiliated with NRA Country. There are dozens who show up in slick promotional videos such as the one you're about to hear, reinforcing the relationship between country music and guns.
[Music: rock music]
MANY VOICES: NRA Country. NRA Country. NRA Country. NRA Country.
VOICE 1: The natural alliance between country music and NRA, it's so easy to get there.
VOICE 2: At NRA Country, it really focuses on the lifestyle itself too.
VOICE 3: It’s just about enjoying the outdoors, getting out there.
VOICE 2: Absolutely.
VOICE 4: It’s a lifestyle. It’s about hunting and shooting and respecting the military and being patriotic and loving your country, and that’s what we’re all about.
MANY VOICES: NRA Country. Woo.
AMT: Well of course, country music and guns came together in a horrific way earlier this week at the Route 91 Harvest Festival in Las Vegas. That deadly mass shooting, the worst in modern US history, with a death count which has now reached 59, has some from within the country music world voicing their misgivings. This week singer Rosanne Cash, the daughter of country music legend Johnny Cash published an op-ed in The New York Times. She was blunt writing quote, “the NRA funds domestic terrorism,” end quote. And she is calling on country musicians to take a stand. Guitarist Caleb Keeter who performed at Sunday night's festival, says the incident has caused him to change his mind. He is now coming out in support of gun control. Jonathan Bernstein is a freelance music journalist based in New York City. He's written about NRA Country for among others The Guardian. And he joins us from New York City. Hello.
JONATHAN BERNSTEIN: Thanks for having me.
AMT: What was the original idea when the NRA created NRA Country?
JONATHAN BERNSTEIN: I think the original idea when the NRA created in NRA Country was this is sort of coming at a time over the past, you know, ten, 20 years when I think the NRA has realized that they needed to sort of, you know, expand their demographic reach and sort of reach out to different audiences. As they sort of looked at their own demographics and saw sort of an older whiter male population sort of getting older. And I think that they sort of, they had a number of initiatives that were targeted towards minorities, were targeted towards women, and were targeted towards young people is the really big one. And I think country music checks off several of those boxes in a really sort of fairly natural way. So I think that that's kind of what they were looking for.
AMT: And they were created what? Around 2010?
JONATHAN BERNSTEIN: Yeah, 2009, 2010, I think it was, you know, sort of somewhat of a slow rollout. But yeah, right around that time, so it's been around for just about a decade.
AMT: And how does country music and the country music scene fit into the NRA strategy then?
AMT: So country music over the past, you know, has undergone this very successful transformation of sorts over the past ten, 20 years. And this process it goes past that but, you know, country music has become increasingly mainstream in this country, it's become sort of increasingly suburbanized in a sense. I mean, it is no longer, it does not have the association of being sort of, you know, the NASCAR flag waving sort of really rural really conservative fan base that it maybe once had, at least maybe once had that association. So I mean, at this current day and age country music is the most popular radio format in the United States. It is increasingly a youth format and it's also increasingly a female driven format, in terms of its fanbase. So I think, but at the same time it's still certainly does have, you know, associations with small town, you know, values and rural American, you know, mythology. So the NRA I think looked at it in terms of popular music, it certainly makes the most sense as a genre for the NRA.
AMT: Mm. How influential has NRA Country become within the music industry?
JONATHAN BERNSTEIN: That's a good question. I mean, in some ways it has done its job in the sense that it has worked, you know, in a certain sense to normalize its presence in Nashville. It's certainly very niche within the country music industry. So I don't think it has had any success at all reaching beyond just the very strict confines of country music. And I think you’ll also find that sort of to the degree that country music has crossed over into the American popular consciousness or the American popular mainstream, NRA Country hasn't followed country music along that progression. It is definitely sort of, the NRA is much more proud to boast about and sort of highlight its connection to country music than mainstream country music is to, you know, eager to promote its connection to the NRA.
AMT: And so we heard the, you know, singer at the beginning there Justin Moore. What's in it for country music singers who promote NRA Country?
JONATHAN BERNSTEIN: That's a good question. Yeah, Justin Moore, I was glad you guys played that clip, he's sort of the most unabashedly vocal sort of NRA country artist. and he is also, he's a rather big country artist. He regularly has pretty sizable big top ten hits on country radio. But for the most part, basically what's in it for these country artists to put it crassly, is the NRA claims that they can help them sell records. So how NRA Country typically works, it’s lifeblood is this campaign that they run called the Featured Artist of the Month campaign. And essentially just about every month, the NRA partners with an up and coming country artist, it’s usually sort of a young up and coming country artist, maybe they're releasing their first single or their first or second album, and country music like the entire music industry, is in a very rough place right now in terms of it’s increasingly difficult, if not impossible, to sell large amounts of records. And so artists and their management companies and their labels look at NRA Country as one of many sponsorship opportunities and one of many possible ways that they can reach new audiences and help sell records.
AMT: And does the NRA Country actually have concerts as well? Like does it promote sponsored concerts?
JONATHAN BERNSTEIN: NRA Country, right. NRA Country has a handful of concerts every year and a handful of events every year. Not that many I would say, really like less than half a dozen. And the majority of these concerts are usually sort of, they're usually sort of associated with NRA affiliated events. So they will have an NRA Country concert every year at the NRA Annual Convention, which I think happens in sort of late spring. And they will, I attended one NRA Country concert last year in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, and that was a really interesting experience. That was that was sort of capping off a week long hunting and trade sort of and gun show in Harrisburg. And so again, that was sort of definitely sort of a NRA focused gun themed event.
AMT: And what was it like?
JONATHAN BERNSTEIN: It was fascinating. I mean, in some ways it was a normal pop country concert in an arena and, you know, there were three acts they play their hits, people loved it. In some ways I was incredibly shocked at how vocal and how loud the NRA’s presence was at that concert. The, you know, kind of early on in the show I was taking notes and I just decided to sort of write down every time the words the NRA was mentioned on stage by a performer. And I think I tallied that it had been, the NRA was uttered on stage like over 20 times I believe.
JONATHAN BERNSTEIN: Which shocked me. But yeah, go ahead.
AMT: So Rosanne Cash, daughter of Johnny Cash, has asked country musicians to stand up to the NRA. What are the chances of that?
JONATHAN BERNSTEIN: I think realistically the chances of that are pretty slim, at least right now. I think one thing that's really important to understand about Rosanne Cash, who I absolutely adore, is that while she definitely, she of course is associated very strongly with country music and at a certain time in the eighties, she regularly had hits on country radio. But nowadays her musical world has almost nothing to do with the world of commercial country music. She's much more sort of in the folk and singer-songwriter and Americana world. So she, and to her credit for coming out and saying this, but she can make a statement like that and not face any career blowback at all. In fact, I think she's gotten probably pretty great press for saying that. But the fact of the matter is that if you're still an artist that relies, in country music if you're an artist that relies on being played on mainstream country radio, there's still a very real and very legitimate fear that your career could be entirely derailed if you sort of came out very vocally in terms of gun control.
AMT: OK. Well, Jonathan Bernstein thank you for being with us today.
JONATHAN BERNSTEIN: Thanks so much for having me.
AMT: That is Jonathan Bernstein, freelance music journalist based in New York City. We did put in a request to speak to someone at NRA Country. The organization did not get back to us.
JOHNNY CASH: I thank God for all the freedoms we've got in this country. Even the rights to burn the flag, you know. We've also got a right to bear arms and if you burn my flag I’ll shoot you.
AMT: Well there you go, Johnny Cash father of Rosanne Cash, who has made that plea. Our next guest says the relationship between country music and the NRA may be overstated. Kurt Bardella is the editor of the country music newsletter the Morning Hangover. He is a political commentator, he's the founder and CEO of the Washington communications firm Endeavor Strategies. Kurt Bardella joins us from Washington. Hi.
KURT BARDELLA: Hey thanks for having me on.
AMT: What do you make of what our first guest just had to say?
KURT BARDELLA: Well I mean, on some level his observations about the state of the music industry, certainly his observations of how NRA Country has tried to become a part of Nashville and the music city scene are accurate. But just think again, in general the idea that NRA Country has this huge footprint within country music, that they have the ability to make or break careers or, you know, do anything that could harm an artist, I think that's completely overstated. You know, I went to the NRA Country show last year in Pennsylvania that they had where they held the concert, and that show was no different than any of the other shows that these artists go to and perform at. It was one of one to 200 shows they'll play that year. And like any show that they play, the artists that are on stage give a shout out to the people that are sponsoring it. That's not unusual, that's not out of the ordinary. So again, I think that a lot, you know, it's easy to cherry pick and look at one or two events or yeah they have an artist of the month sponsorship but so do, you know, half a dozen other different initiatives and digital sponsors. And it's just a very very small component of the overall music city scene.
AMT: Well what's the relationship between country music and guns?
KURT BARDELLA: Well I think there is some relationship, sure. And you can very easily find songs that talk about guns. And I think it's important to say that yeah for a lot of people that are fans of country music, guns are part of their culture or their heritage and there's nothing wrong with that by the way. For a lot of people who have had guns passed down from generation to generation, you know, it's a family heirloom or they like to hunt. That's fine. There's nothing wrong illegal or troubling about that. But when you look at overall artists and their songs, guns represent such a small portion of the catalog. You know, you have artists who have music about combating hate, Maren Morris just put out a song with Vince Gill called Dear Hate, the proceeds of which will go to victims of Las Vegas shooting. You have songs like Tim McGraw’s Humble and Kind, which talks about how we should treat one another. Songs like Kenny Chesney's Noise, which commentate on the political discourse in this country. So, you know, the catalog of country music is very diverse.
AMT: Well actually it's interesting you bring up Tim McGraw because he talked about his views on guns some time ago and he got ripped up for it in Breitbart. When some country music stars speak out against guns they actually face criticism.
KURT BARDELLA: Well and you're going to always have no matter what you say politically, half the people are going to not like what you have to say. That's just the nature of politics, that's nature of certainly the discourse in this country. I don't know any country artist who gives a crap what Breitbart writes about them one way or the other. These are artists who have such broad appeal, broad reach with their own social media channels, through conventional appearances like on Today, Good Morning America. You look at any of the programs in the United States and there's always country music artists, Shania Twain performed two nights ago on the Late Late Show with James Corden. So they have a very broad appeal and broad reach outside of these conservative niche media platforms.
AMT: Yeah, you make the point that there's nothing illegal and of course there's very little is illegal about guns in the United States. But the National Rifle Association is a powerful lobby group and it itself, and you heard it on the clips earlier, it says the natural alliance between country music and guns, it's easy to get there. So they are actually making the link themselves. The NRA is the one, with NRA Country making the link.
KURT BARDELLA: Right. And it's not surprising, as your previous guest said, that they would be looking for at a time where their primary demographic of older white men are getting older and dying that they need to expand their reach and appeal to try to tap into a younger demographic. And certainly country music makes a lot of sense as a target. So more than anything for them it's a marketing effort that they've initiated and tried to reel in younger audiences to become part of the NRA. It's basically a membership drive. But again, that's all fine and well and they're able to do wherever they want to do. But again from the country music side of it, they're just viewed as one of the hundreds of different brands that interact with country music every year.
AMT: What's the responsibility of the country music community in the aftermath of this tragedy?
KURT BARDELLA: Well I think one, again doing things like helping the certainly the survivors of the families that were victims of this horrible attack on Sunday night. And again, things like what Maren Morris is doing, you know, putting out music that the sales directly go to those victims is very much in line with what country music and that community is all about. They're having a benefit in November for the victims of all the hurricanes. You know, this is a community that has a very long and storied history of working with social groups to try to help those who are in need.
AMT: But should they speak out against the NRA? Because again, we're looking at certain gun laws that, you know, cannot be passed because of a gun lobby and they're involved. It's not like hurricanes, it's the NRA.
KURT BARDELLA: Well--
AMT: Don’t they have a responsibility to speak out?
KURT BARDELLA: Well I would say that everyone has a responsibility to speak what they believe. And they can determine for themselves where they fall and what type of policies they want to support. I think it's important to say the NRA didn't perpetrate this attack against anybody. So I'm not sure it’s appropriate to say well they have an obligation to speak out against an organization that had nothing to do with this attack.
AMT: Well that's an opinion and we know that some people think that the NRA creates a climate in the United States that actually encourages wanton rampant gun ownership like the perpetrator of this crime.
KURT BARDELLA: Well but I think there's a difference between owning a gun and going out and mass slaughtering, you know, dozens and dozens of people. Again, I think that that's like saying Ford is responsible if someone takes a car and drives through a bunch of people.
AMT: OK Kurt, we have to leave it there but thank you for your opinion.
KURT BARDELLA: Alright.
AMT: Kurt Bardella, editor of the country music newsletter the Morning Hangover. A political commentator and founder and CEO of the Washington communications firm Endeavor Strategies. He's in Washington DC.
[Music: Miranda Lambert]
AMT: That is country singer Miranda Lambert covering Fred Eaglesmith’s Time To Get A Gun. Ms. Lambert is known for her trademark tattoo of cross revolvers and wearing high heels complete with a miniature gun and holster. She has spoken openly about carrying a gun and in that regard it seems that she is in sync with her audience. American adults who have attended a country music concert in the past year are 68 per cent more likely to own a handgun than others, 74 per cent more likely to own a rifle, 83 per cent more likely to own a shotgun. That is according to data from GfK MRI, which is a US-based consumer research company. My next guest sees this connection as an extension of the romanticized relationship between country music and gun culture in the US. Robert J. Spitzer is a Professor and Chair of the Political Science department at the State University of New York College at Cortland. He's the author of The Politics of Gun Control. And he joins us from Cortland, New York. Hello.
ROBERT SPITZER: Hello. Good to be with you.
AMT: Well, it's interesting to have you with us. I'm interested in your perspective. What did you think when you first heard about that shooting in Las Vegas?
ROBERT SPITZER: Well two things. One was the sheer scale of the shooting, the sheer number of people who were killed and injured was just shocking, frankly. But the other thing was that I heard a recording early on, because people had cell phones and were audio and video recording the events as they were unfolding, and the gunfire that you heard during the shooting was fully automatic gunfire. And that is something that you just don't see or hear with normal crimes or with mass shootings for that matter. Fully automatic weapons have been, are one category of weapons that have been effectively regulated in the United States going back to 1934. And..
AMT: I'll just interrupt you there, we do know now that there was something he put on the gun that allowed a semi-automatic to become a fully automatic. And it is legal to buy that and there's now talk of, talk of maybe outlawing that.
ROBERT SPITZER: That is correct. It's called a bump fire locker, a bump lock. And it's a device that you can fit onto a semi-automatic weapon. It is legal to buy this device and it is illegal to take a semiautomatic weapon that is legal and convert it to fully automatic fire, because you can also buy kits to do that very thing. Even though the kits are legal to buy, the act of conversion is illegal. But you're quite right that this bump stock device is legal to buy and is legal to use. But it was abundantly clear that the sheer rapidity of the firing of the assailant was such that it mimicked automatic fire. And the sound of automatic fire is utterly distinctive. And indeed it does seem as though he used these, he had a couple or several weapons with these bump fire locks attached to it. So that was the other thing that really was stunning to me.
AMT: OK. Well let me ask you, because you heard our first guest talk about how the NRA has been trying to mark itself to a younger audience. How does that fit with what we know about the NRA and its lobby efforts to basically stop any kind of gun control in the United States? Any kind of change in gun control.
ROBERT SPITZER: Well both of your guests alluded to this in various ways. The NRA faces a demographic problem, which is that their base consists of older white males who indeed are getting older and are indeed dying off. Gun habits are on the decline in America despite what people in other nations might think. Fewer Americans own guns and there is less interest in gun ownership and use, especially among younger populations. And the NRA has worked aggressively to try and gin up support among younger people. It has also worked for years to try and get more women interested in guns and also African-Americans and Latinos. Those efforts basically have fallen flat over the years. Their demographic numbers haven't really changed in terms of who owns and uses guns. So they're trying to, you know, resist the demography, the demographic bind that they're in right now. So it makes sense that they would try to reach out to young people, try and get them interested in guns. So far I don't know of any evidence that suggests they're meeting with any great success in doing it. But politically speaking, if their base diminishes and declines that means their political influence could go the same way.
AMT: Well, in The New York Times today has a list of pictures of elected representatives and some of them get millions from the NRA.
ROBERT SPITZER: Well yes, it's true the NRA gives out a lot of money. They gave Donald Trump 30 million dollars in his campaign, which was the most that the NRA had ever spent on a presidential campaign. And the money certainly is important. But America today is awash with money in political campaigns because of some court decisions that have really taken the lid off of the spending by very wealthy people on political campaigns. And the money matters but it's not the crucial thing about the NRA. The NRA is different from many other groups because it has a highly motivated base. And the typical American does not get involved in politics, isn't that interested in politics, but if you're a gun owner and especially if you're a member of the NRA, if you're really a member of the gun community in a strong way.
AMT: That’s the base.
ROBERT SPITZER: You will do things in politics that get you involved.
ROBERT SPITZER: You'll write a letter, you'll attend a meeting, you'll contribute money, you'll do a lot of things, you'll make your voice known. And it’s that grassroots base--
AMT: OK Robert Spitzer.
ROBERT SPITZER: Yes.
AMT: We’re out of time. We have to leave it there.
ROBERT SPITZER: Sorry.
AMT: But that's the base they're trying to grow obviously through their NRA Country.
ROBERT SPITZER: Exactly right.
AMT: We'll leave it there. Thanks for your time.
ROBERT SPITZER: You bet.
AMT: That’s Robert Spitzer, Professor Chair of Political Science department at State University of New York. His book is The Politics of Gun Control. Stay with us, this is The Current.Back To Top »
How the right went wrong: Conservative commentator Charlie Sykes
Guest: Charlie Sykes
ANNA MARIA TREMONTI: Hi, I'm Anna Maria Tremonti and this is The Current. Well let's move the dial back in time to one of the many controversies that dogged candidate Donald Trump on the presidential campaign trail last year. That time he disparaged his rival Ted Cruz's wife.
CHARLIE SYKES: You want some free advice seriously? Since you’re now here in Wisconsin. Honestly, if you stand up there and you say folks let me just say this, you know, I'm running for president, Ted Cruz is running for president, let's leave our wives out of it. Both of us have married intelligent beautiful women and from now on we are not going to be talking about one another's wives. People in Wisconsin will love that Mr. Trump.
DONALD TRUMP: I don't mind that at all. I think it's great. I think that's fine. Who wouldn't agree to that? I think it's great. Again, I didn't start it he started it. If he didn't start it, it would have never happened. Nothing like this would have ever happened. But he started it so.
CHARLIE SYKES: [crosstalk] But just remember, remember we're not--
DONALD TRUMP: But I would say what you just said is fine with me.
CHARLIE SYKES: We're not on a playground. We're running for president of the United States.
DONALD TRUMP: I agree with that 100 per cent.
AMT: Well of course what's most remarkable of that exchange is not Donald Trump's less than presidential bearing, but the radio host who stood up to him. And that would be Charlie Sykes. He was for a long time the most popular conservative radio host in the state of Wisconsin. He was a loyal soldier for the political right through the years, helping to elect Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan, State Governor Scott Walker. But for Charlie Sykes something changed with the advent of Donald Trump. His new book is called How the Right Lost Its Mind. And we've reached him in New York City. Hello.
CHARLIE SYKES: It is great to be back.
AMT: Nice to have you back with us. What was the response to that interview?
CHARLIE SYKES: Well, I think I was taken by surprise by two things. Number one, that he called into my show given the fact that I was pretty clear that I was Never Trump. And then number two that there was so much reaction to it because this was at the end of March of 2016. And apparently this was one of the first times that anybody in the conservative media had actually pushed back against Donald Trump had asked him difficult tough questions. Which is really quite remarkable when you think about it and certainly part of the story of how the right lost its mind.
AMT: Mm. And you told him he wasn't on a playground. [laughs]
CHARLIE SYKES: Yeah but it is, that’s what nine-years-old, well he started it. He started it.
AMT: So President Trump has now been in office for almost ten months. Has he lived up to your concerns about him?
CHARLIE SYKES: Yes and he's lived down to my expectations rather dramatically. In a certain way, nothing that's happened is surprising. If you were paying attention to Donald Trump in 2015 or 2016 or really any time over the last several decades, nothing that he has done should come as a big surprise. On the other hand, there's still something shocking about seeing it happen in the Oval Office. Seeing a president of United States, the commander-in-chief, the leader of the free world tweeting out juvenile insults, behaving in this particular way.
AMT: So how would you describe his presidency so far?
CHARLIE SYKES: Shambolic. This is one of those presidencies where well, not one of those presidencies, because we've never experienced anything like this. It has been a rolling series of oh my goodness what did he do next? We've created a news cycle that seems to be changing every five minutes, it's difficult to keep up with everything he is saying and doing. But it certainly has to be a disappointment for people who thought that he was actually, if they believe that he was actually going to do many of the things he said he was going to do, it's got to be a disappointment.
AMT: And we have seen this week he has had to confront and deal with the massacre in Las Vegas. How do you think he did on that?
CHARLIE SYKES: Well I thought his comments were appropriate. But with this president you have to just give it a day to see where you're going to go. And one of the things that we look to our presidents to do is to be that voice of healing in unity. And it's going to be extremely difficult for Donald Trump to be that voice, because this is somebody who loves to pick fights, who loves to stoke the culture wars. And unfortunately the gun debate in this country has become so polarized, has become so tribal eyes and it's very clear where he's going to come down on that. So we'll have to see what he does, but we're not going to see the pivot to Donald Trump the healer, Donald Trump uniter, because at this point I think we ought to recognize that is simply not going to happen.
AMT: Charles Sykes, let's go back to the months leading up to the election. You called Donald Trump's campaign a slow rolling version of the Invasion of the Body Snatchers. What did you mean by that?
CHARLIE SYKES: Well I've said that I borrow that phrase from my friend Jonah Goldberg, who I think had the same experience. And this was watching conservatives, including people that I had known for 20 years, intelligent, decent, principled individuals who valued character and judgment. One after another decide that they were going to get on the Trump train and watching as they sold out their principles, they swallowed down their objections and decided that they were going to go along with this campaign. And we've seen that since. That was happening during the campaign. You know, there were of course people who just simply voted for him because they thought he was better than Hillary Clinton. I do understand that. But I'm talking about the people who decided that they were going to drink the orange Kool-Aid. Who decided that maybe this is the man on the white horse, maybe this is the man who's going to make America great again. And one after another I would look them in the eye and go no no, not you too. [chuckles] They got you too. But that's been the story. And in my book, I think in the first line of the book is this is not a book about Donald Trump, although he plays a major role. I really want to shift the focus to what he has done to the culture, starting with conservatives and Republicans. What he has done to this party, what they have been willing to accept, what they have been willing to enable and to rationalize because that's the story that really I think is going to have the longest term implications.
AMT: Well, how do you explain why so many conservatives, people who you thought were well-reasoned were so willing to jump aboard a movement that you say is anti-reason?
CHARLIE SYKES: [sighs] I think in the end it comes down to the tribalization of American politics. The incredible polarization that we have right now. That politics is less and less about ideas and policies and more about attitude. It's about loyalty to the team, to the tribe. And many conservatives convinced themselves that this was a very simply a binary choice. It was either Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump. And no matter how bad, no matter how awful Donald Trump was, you know, despite him engaging in racist rhetoric about Mexican-American judges or mocking POWs or mocking a disabled reporter or bragging about sexually assaulting women, that he was still better than Hillary Clinton, who was, you know, quintessentially evil. And so they made this sort of Manichean choice between lightness and dark, which unfortunately has become kind of the style in American politics. Now, of course there are many who just simply held their nose and who will still say well at least we got a Supreme Court nominee. But there were others who basically decided that they were going to adjust all of the standards that they'd held for most of their professional lives in order to support Donald Trump.
AMT: What kind of blowback have you received then from people on the right after it has become clear that you do not support him?
CHARLIE SYKES: Well I, at least in my home state of Wisconsin I think it's fair to say that I've been excommunicated from the conservative movement. There are people who, you know, continue to be Trump skeptics. But we are a much smaller band of brothers and sisters than I think that we expected. And there are real demands for party loyalty. So the second half of the year last year was people calling into my radio show and saying I will never listen to you again, we're going to boycott your show. You're a Judas. You have betrayed the cause. You are the traitor. My response of course is no, I am saying exactly what I have said for the last two years. I have not changed one thing, but those who felt the need to do the 180 flip flop are unhappy about that.
AMT: Mm. What role did the left play in this?
CHARLIE SYKES: Well this is an interesting question, because I do think obviously, my entire book is is aimed at conservatives to say, you know, you're in the wilderness now you need to look at yourself in the mirror. This is a time of introspection. I think the left needs to do the same thing. I do think that the left needs to look in the mirror and ask OK, it's true that the right has become largely reactionary. They know what they're against rather than what they're for. That's true. But they did have something to react against. And I do think that there was a period where conservatives regarded the left as being, I use the phrase in the book, at ramming speed, that they were pushing through legislation very very rapidly. Of course this is ironic given what Republicans are doing now, with the barest of you know partisan margins. There was a sense among many conservatives, including Christian conservatives, that they were under siege, that their religious liberties were under attack. And I think there was an insensitivity to that. And then secondly, there was the decades long disdain for I would say a certain class of voters who were constantly being called well, you're racist, you're a bigot. And the use of that term racist over and over and over again to the point that I think it was a little bit like crying wolf, so that when the real thing came along in 2016 in the shape of the alt-right and some of the things that Donald Trump was engaging in, the left was out of ammunition. And I think the right had become numb to it.
AMT: That's an interesting point huh, because it did seem to roll off everyone on some level.
CHARLIE SYKES: Oh it did. And the response that I would get and I understand this, is, you know, if someone says well you know this the alt-right they’re racist. And the conservative rank and file said OK, oh roll their eyes, no that again. Because for years Ronald Reagan was a racist right? Mitt Romney was a racist, John McCain was a racist, George H.W. Bush was a racist, George W. Bush was a racist. Every prominent conservative over the last 30, 40 years has been called a racist. At a certain point the word loses its power. And I think that's one of the things that I think folks on the left need to step back and realize that we need to make distinctions, that not everyone is the same. Do not throw everyone in and that you're unlikely to persuade someone if you attack them in that way.
AMT: Let's talk about the use of another another phrase, another word, let's talk about the role of fake news. During the election a number of websites were established solely to push fake news stories. Some of those stories obviously defied logic. Why were so many people willing to believe them?
CHARLIE SYKES: Well that's a fascinating question. And this was particularly a problem for the political right, when I was part of it. And I experienced this in real time, as I found as a conservative talk show host that I was unable to push back against many of the bogus stories and the hoaxes. In part I think because in American politics we had created an alternative reality silo. That we'd gone from just being an alternative media to having an echo chamber that could not be penetrated. And that after a while we had succeeded in de-legitimizing the mainstream media to the point where there were no referees, there were no guidelines anymore. And so the right’s immunity to false news had been destroyed. But you ask a more interesting question, why were people so gullible? And I do think it goes back to this tribalism, that we would like to think that people use their intellects in order to reason, in order to determine whether something is true or not. In fact, as social psychologists like Jonathan Haidt have pointed out, many people use their reason and their intellect to strengthen their ties and their bonds to their tribe. They believe things because they want to believe things. It's the, you know, confirmation bias is extremely powerful. And I think that we really saw that at work last year.
AMT: Mm. So he uses fake news to describe stories he doesn't like and that essentially insulates him from criticism.
CHARLIE SYKES: It does. And by the way that is very clearly a conscious strategy on his part to insulate himself, that Donald Trump is set out to de-legitimize any independent check on his power or his authority. And, you know, it basically signals to his followers no matter what they report about me, no matter what they tell you about me do not believe it. I am the only source of truth, everything else is fake. So here's a president who actually got elected in part, and only in part, because of this explosion of false news, viral deception out there. And yet has managed somehow to boomerang this around and use this against the reality-based news media. It's an extraordinary moment.
AMT: And to bring so many conservatives with him, because the idea of de-legitimizing every check on authority, conservatism and Republicans in the United States are all about too much authority we have to keep a check on what they're doing.
CHARLIE SYKES: Exactly. That again is one of the ironies of all of this is that you don't want all of this power and authority and prestige to settle on the presidency of the United States. And this is one of the things that bothered me from the beginning, the kind of whiff of authoritarianism that comes off Donald Trump, a vindictive authoritarianism, a lack of respect for the rule of law, a lack of respect for the checks and balances in the Constitution, all things that conservatives used to claim they cared about.
AMT: I have another clip I'm going to play, you know this clip. This is Alex Jones, host of Infowars, speaking about President Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton during the election campaign.
ALEX JONES: There are dozens of videos and photos of Obama having flies land on him indoors at all times of year and he'll be next to a hundred people and no one flies on them. Hillary reportedly, I mean, I was told people around her that they think she is demon possessed OK? I’m just going to go ahead and say it OK?
AMT: What the hey? [chuckles] What was that about?
CHARLIE SYKES: That is Alex Jones. And as I sat back and tried to figure out what just happened to us, I came to the conclusion that one of the key moments in the right losing its mind was when the Drudge Report which is a very very popular website, that is essentially the assignment editor for much of the conservative media, started linking to this guy started linking to Alex Jones and Infowars, and brought him into the mainstream of conservative thought. I mean this is nutty stuff. This is weapons grade conspiracy nut jobbery, let’s not make any bones about that. But Donald Trump went on this guy's show and reportedly, according to The Washington Post, called Alex Jones, the president-elect of the United States, who theoretically was quite busy the week after the election, called Alex Jones to thank him for his role in helping get him elected. So this was an election where you had some of these obscene denizens of the fever swamps of conspiracy theories who were brought into American politics, who were enabled and then empowered by the Trump campaign and now by the Trump presidency. And if you wanted to pick like one the thing that is the most disturbing, that would certainly rank right up near the top.
AMT: Well let me ask you, has the Republican Party done enough to isolate conspiracy theorists such as Alex Jones?
CHARLIE SYKES: Clearly not. Clearly not. And historically, the conservative movement has had to police its borders in order to keep out the crackpots. And I talk in my book about what William F. Buckley Jr. did back in the 1960s. He was, you know, the Godfather of the modern conservative movement, but he felt that he had to excommunicate the John Birch Society. And the John Birch Society were the folks who went around saying there was a Communist conspiracy everywhere and Dwight Eisenhower was a Communist agent. William F. Buckley Jr. was very anti-communist but he said these guys are crackpots, these are nut jobs. We have to make it clear that they are not a legitimate part of our movement. But we no longer have those gatekeepers. And I think that what happened was that people on the right, including the Republican Party, turned a blind eye to some of this. They didn't push back against it. There kind of was a wink and a nod assuming that well, we can control them at some point and then in 2016 we found out that we couldn't. And keep in mind by the way, that Donald Trump himself I think effectively launched his presidential campaign by trafficking in a bogus conspiracy theory. The whole birther theory--
CHARLIE SYKES: Was that the first African-American president the United States was in fact born in Kenya. This was Donald Trump's ticket into the conservative movement. And we see where it led.
AMT: Well, let's talk about another birther Roy Moore, just won the primary to be the Republican Senate candidate in Alabama. Tell us more about him.
CHARLIE SYKES: Well this is an extraordinary moment, because he was elected despite the fact that Donald Trump endorsed his opponent. So I think that Donald Trump may have realized, to the extent that he can realize these things, that even he cannot control some of the forces that he has unleashed. And the question of course is whether or not the Republican Party is going to embrace someone like Roy Moore, who is let's say, out there. I mean, here’s a party that claims to really care about the Constitution, the rule of law. Roy Moore is someone who has been removed from his judgeship not once but twice because he was going to ignore the Constitution, who has trafficked in these conspiracy theories, who has suggested that Muslims not be allowed to hold public office in this country, et cetera.
AMT: Yeah, he suggested criminalizing homosexuality.
CHARLIE SYKES: Yes.
AMT: He suggested some communities in Illinois and Indiana are operating under Sharia law.
CHARLIE SYKES: Which they are not.
AMT: Yeah. It goes on eh. What did he say at 9/11?
CHARLIE SYKES: This again was something that we had brought upon ourselves because of all of our sins, including apparently legalizing sodomy. And this man is about to become a member of the United States Senate. Donald Trump is now the face of what the Republican Party is, but Roy Moore may be the face of what it is becoming. That it can no longer control these forces that they have unleashed. And you start to imagine what would happen if you start to have way Roy Moore-like candidates knock off mainstream conservatives around the country in these primaries? What a nightmare that would be not just for the Republican Party but quite frankly for the country, because let's face it, this is not just a Republican problem anymore. This is an American problem and it really runs the risk of tearing us apart.
AMT: I have a clip of Roy Moore being interviewed by The Hill website. Listen to this.
REPORTER: You have said that Donald Trump was put in the White House by God.
ROY MOORE: Everybody else thinks it's the Russians, I think it’s providential hand of God. I think it was by providence that he was placed there. Yes.
REPORTER: You were I assume a supporter of Ronald Reagan in the eighties, what do you think he would think of the proximity between the US and Russian president right now?
ROY MOORE: You know, one thing I've learned in politics is not to think for somebody else. And to assess what Ronald Reagan would think, I just couldn't simply begin.
REPORTER: But he said that Russia was the focus of evil in the modern world.
ROY MOORE: You could say that very well about America, couldn’t you?
AMT: What do you think of all that, given that he has now won the primary.
CHARLIE SYKES: You know, this is really again this amazing moment to watch conservatives, who once would have been horrified at any sort of comparison of the United States with Russia, who would have been horrified by the idea that the Russians had attacked our democracy. Now not only seem indifferent to it but are willing to say comments like that. I mean, I don't know, I am old enough to remember, it feels like five minutes ago that a candidate who suggests the United States was the focus of all evil in the world, that would have been a disqualifying comment. But you do wonder whether anything matters anymore in some of these elections.
AMT: Well I want to stay on Russia for a minute.
CHARLIE SYKES: Yeah.
AMT: Because of the latest revelations of Russian interference in the election. CNN has reported that highly sophisticated ads on Facebook targeted Michigan and Wisconsin, and that these ads they had a Russian connection. What do you make of that? What do you think? Again, is that just considered fake news by Trump supporters?
CHARLIE SYKES: I was in Wisconsin and I, look, I'm just going to speculate for the moment. Remember I'm a conservative talk show host, I was on for three and a half hours a day during this campaign, and I could feel something that was changing in, you know, in among the conservative base. There was a flood of the fake news of the false news, I could feel it, it was harder and harder to push back. Many people that I had worked with for years and years and years, their Facebook feeds were just filled with just the most absurd stuff. And you could not break into all of that. Now, was that because of the Russians? I simply do not know. But there's no question about it that something happened in this election that should be deeply deeply disturbing.
AMT: So let's go back to the Republican Party itself. What's your biggest fear as you watch the Republicans?
CHARLIE SYKES: My biggest fear is they're going to stain themselves for a generation by linking themselves to somebody who has alienated young people, women, minorities, who continues to, you know, offend our allies, undermine the character of our culture, coarsened our culture. And that it’s going to be very difficult for the Republican Party after Donald Trump leaves the stage, which he will at some point, to turn around and say well that wasn't us, that's not who we are, because right now that is who they are. The election of Roy Moore is really the first indication that Trumpism is, and by the way he's like more Trump than Trump, that there is that populist nationalist firestorm down there that might shift the centre of gravity in the Republican Party. But, you know, there's still going to be a civil war ahead, there's no question about it. I mean, the Republican Party right now is suffering from a severe identity crisis and it may not resolve that for several decades.
AMT: When you say civil war spell that out for me.
CHARLIE SYKES: A civil war between people who believe in liberty, inclusiveness, and small government, versus the Steve Bannon nationalist, nativist part. There may be multiple factions. You know, we talk about the establishment. There's also just simply the mainstream of the party, the mainstream being part of the party that thinks that governing is part of their responsibility. And then you have of course the Tea Party let's burn it all down crowd. And then you have this nationalist populist anti-free trade wing of the party. For a long time there had been these tensions in the Republican Party but they were held together by well, you know, the Cold War or the shared support of Ronald Reagan or shared opposition to Barack Obama. But now that those things are all gone, all of those divisions are now exposed and out in the open.
AMT: Charles Sykes, thanks, it's good to hear your ideas.
CHARLIE SYKES: My pleasure.
AMT: A little disturbing but good to hear you.
CHARLIE SYKES: Yes. [chuckles]
AMT: Thank you.
CHARLIE SYKES: Thank you.
AMT: Charlie Sykes conservative political commentator. His new book is How The Right Lost Its Mind. He joined us from New York City. Well it's time to recognize the people who put The Current together this week.
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VOICE 1: Hi, I'm Ashley Mak, one of the producers here at The Current. This week the show was produced by Idella Sturino, Howard Goldenthal, Yamri Taddese, Ines Colabrese, Kristin Nelson, Karin Marley, Samira Mohyeddin, Mary-Catherine McIntosh, Pacinthe Mattar and Willow Smith. Special thanks to our network producers Suzanne Dufresne in Winnipeg, Michael O'Halloran in Calgary, and Anne Penmen in Vancouver. The Current’s writer is Peter Mitton. Our web producer is Lisa Ayuso. Ruby Buiza is our interactive producer. Transcriptions are provided by Rasha Shehata and Rignam Wangkhang. Our technical producer is Gary Francis. Our presentation producer is Lara O’brien. And our documentary editor is Liz Hoath. Our senior producers are Richard Goddard in Toronto and Cathy Simon in Vancouver. The executive producer of The Current is Kathleen Goldhar.
AMT: That is our program for today. Remember you can always take The Current with you to go on the CBC Radio app free from the App Store or Google Play. And we're going to go back to what we were talking about in our second half hour. It was the singer-songwriter Rosanne Cash who got us talking about the relationship between country music and guns today. Her op-ed in The New York Times pulled no punches. It also reflected the frustration and sadness many Americans and people around the world feel in the wake of the Las Vegas massacre. We will end things today with Rosanne Cash and her rendition of Sea of Heartbreak. I'm Anna Maria Tremonti, thank you for listening to The Current.
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