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Protesters Attack Saudi Embassy in Tehran; 7 Million People, 15 States Under Flood Warnings; Armed Protesters Occupying Federal Land. Aired 7:30-8a ET

Aired January 3, 2016 - 07:30   ET



[07:32:07] VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN ANCHOR: Breaking news this morning: a crowd fire bombs and ransacks the Saudi embassy in Iran after Saudi Arabia executes a prominent Shiite cleric.

ALISON KOSIK, CNN ANCHOR: That cleric, Nimr al-Nimr, was convicted of sedation and inciting sectarian strife. Leaders around the world are concerned this could lead to sectarian violence in the region.

BLACKWELL: Seven million people in 15 states now under flood warnings in the Midwest. The Mississippi River set to crest in Arkansas and Tennessee over the coming days. We know Missouri was the first state hit. The river there running 15 to 20 feet above average. They are now cleaning up as the water recede.

A state of emergency has been declared to allow federal help to move forward and it was signed by the president yesterday.

KOSIK: A nightmare scenario in southern Illinois west of Miller City as the Mississippi River breaks through the small levee. According to CNN affiliate KFVS, that water flowing for six miles into the state completely surrounding two small towns.

Let's go to CNN's Allison Chinchar joining us now live.

You know, you look at the next couple of days, this water will continue to flow into several more states, making this even more devastating for so many people.

ALLISON CHINCHAR, AMS METEOROLOGIST: That's right, yes, especially in Illinois, they're continuing to look at areas close by to where that levee did actually break. We have 15 states right now with flood watches or warnings of some kind throughout the area. The reason for that is we still have over 250 locations across the Midwest and the southeast that are reporting either at/or above their flood stage. We have all of the water from that rain the last two weeks, it will eventually flow from the Missouri, the Arkansas, and the Ohio, all the way down into the Mississippi because it has to go somewhere.

Now, again, around Cape Girardeau, we had a levee breach around Miller City. Now, the emergency management director out at Alexander County, which is where this levee broke, said it's actually a good thing where the location of the breach actually took place because it's all agricultural area. There's no homes right where the breach actually took place.

And other good news, even though it's an agricultural area and there is a lot of planting, this isn't peak planting season, so it shouldn't affect that either. But the concern is it could breach farther south of that, especially a little bit farther of that, especially as the water continues to flow south and then it could cover roadways or areas where homes are or business. We look at Memphis. They are not expected to crest until January 7th.

Farther down to the south, locations like Greenville, Natchez, Vicksburg not for at least another 10 to 14 days. The problem with these locations, it's not just waiting for that water to come down, but any new rainfall that you would get in the next two weeks could contribute to that also.

Baton Rouge is not expected to crest until January 19th. New Orleans will be a little bit earlier, but here is the thing -- notice New Orleans is the lowest of the colors. It's only action stage, not flood stage.

The reason for that they have the Bonnet Carre Spillway that takes place between Baton Rouge and New Orleans.

[07:35:03] What they're hoping to take place is, as the water comes down through Baton Rouge, they can use the spillway to take some of that excess water and put it into Lake Pontchartrain, so that areas like New Orleans, Alison, don't go through the same problems some of the areas farther upstream have.

KOSIK: And we certainly wish everybody experiencing that weather all the best as they clean up after those devastating floods.

Allison Chinchar, thanks so much.

BLACKWELL: A councilman in Mississippi has some rather advice for his community when it comes to dealing with police officers there. What he said that has gotten him into some trouble. That's coming up next.

KOSIK: Plus, a group of armed protesters occupying right now a federal building in Oregon. They want to use the land as what they call free men and are taking a stand against the government's use of power.


BLACKWELL: All right. Let's take you to Oregon now where armed protesters have taken over the headquarters of a Malheur National Wildlife Refuge. The property is managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. No employees were on the land at the time because the refuge was closed for the holidays.

Well, the armed occupation grew out of a protest earlier in the day in the nearby town of Burns. That rally to show support for two local ranchers Dwight and Steven Hammond. They were convicted of arson and sentenced to five years in prison. They are expected to turn themselves in Monday morning.

Now, one of the men behind the occupation of the wildlife refuge is the son of Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy. Do you remember him? He was at the center of a tense standoff last year with the Bureau of Land Management over grazing fees for his cattle.

Ammon Bundy says he hopes other like-minded people will join the armed protests at the wildlife refuge. Watch and listen.


AMMON BUNDY, LEADER OF ARMED PROTEST: For those who understand what is going on and those who want to feel a need to stand, we are asking them to come. We have a facility that we can house them in.

[07:40:01] We have plenty of work to do to start to unwind all of these unconstitutional land transactions and controls to and we have plenty work to do. We need you to come and be unified with us, so we can be protected and be together. And we are calling people to come, absolutely.


BLACKWELL: Ammon Bundy is on the phone with us now to explain what he hopes to accomplish.

Thanks for making time. I know it's quite early there in Oregon.

I want to start, first, with the question of the purpose of taking over this building. What are you hoping to accomplish to, I guess, engage the federal government to get the land returned from the refuge to the people who live there, a commutation of the sentences? What is the goal specifically?

BUNDY (via telephone): Well, one is to get people aware of what is happening, that from the very beginning of the existence of this refuge, it has been destructive to -- to the people of the county and to the people of the area. This refuge, alone, is 187,000 acres. And in order to make that 187,000 acres, it took a hundred ranchers' homes and livelihoods and everything in order to make it.

And so, we have -- we have just very good example of how government is taking and destroying livelihoods to make their selves a little park.

BLACKWELL: But, Mr. Bundy, let me ask you what specifically then, using that as the context of this standoff, what do you want from the government? Do you want the sentences for the Hammond's to be reduced or do you want them -- what ends this?

BUNDY: Well, this isn't a standoff, by the way. We are not walking around with a bunch of guns and so forth --

BLACKWELL: OK, occupation.

BUNDY: Excuse me?

BLACKWELL: The occupation. We'll use that term. That's fair.

BUNDY: Yes. Basically, we want the government to abide by the Constitution, abide by the authorities in which the people have given it, and to play by the rules so that the people can -- can live and prosper without fear and without being terrorized.

BLACKWELL: What specifically, though? I'm not getting a specific answer. What does the government have to say or a government official have to say that will -- that you'll find appropriate and say that this occupation will end?

BUNDY: Well, we -- we -- they -- it has ended because we've basically removed them at this point from the management, which they do not have authority to be doing in the first place. We are -- we are extremely saddened by what has happened to Dwight and Steven. Innocent people that have -- Steven Hammond, innocent people that have been -- that are symptoms of a much greater problem, but -- and we are saddened that they are being forced to go to prison for the second time for the same crimes up to five years, for five years. And --

BLACKWELL: How many --

BUNDY: But, again, this is just -- they are -- it's a symptom of a great problem which is the federal government controlling the land and resources that belong to the people.

BLACKWELL: How many people are there with you, Mr. Bundy?

BUNDY: Excuse me?

BLACKWELL: How many people are there inside this headquarters with you?

BUNDY: We are not disclosing that yet.


BUNDY: Just -- it would just be for operation safety mostly.

BLACKWELL: OK. You've said this. This is a quote, "If force is used against us, we would defend ourselves."

Flush that out for us. What does that mean?

BUNDY: That means that we have no intention on using force or being aggressive or going on the offense, but just as all people have the right to defend themselves, that's exactly what that meant -- means.

BLACKWELL: You said that you're doing this for the Hammonds, but a lawyer for the Hammonds said they do not welcome your help specifically, and this is from "The New York Times," from "The Associated Press", neither Ammon Bundy nor anyone with his group or organization speak for the Hammond family.

[07:45:01] So why did you travel to Oregon if your help is not wanted?

BUNDY: Well, that -- that attorney's letter did not speak for the Hammonds either. And we have been in communication with the Hammonds over a period of -- a long period of time -- I guess I should say if eight weeks is a long enough, we know that they have expressed that what has happened to them and what is going on is not only about them, it's about all Americans and as Dwight says, that we need to figure out what is going on with this country and get it right before the wheels fall off.

BLACKWELL: Let me read a statement --


BUNDY: So, that is all we are doing here.

BLACKWELL: I hear you, sir. Let me read a statement from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Department. "While the situation is ongoing, the main concern is employee safety, and we can confirm that no federal staff were in the building at the time of the initial incident. We will continue to monitor the situation."

Have you personally had any communication with federal authorities?

BUNDY: No, I have not.

BLACKWELL: How long realistically are you willing to occupy this building?

BUNDY: Well, we feel that we will occupy this as long as is necessary.

BLACKWELL: Are we talking days, weeks, months?

BUNDY: We need to restore the constitutional rights of the individuals back, and that is pretty much what our goal is.

BLACKWELL: Are we talking days, weeks, months, or longer?

BUNDY: I don't know. I mean, it may be days. It might be weeks. It might be longer than that. But what we cannot do and what we must not do is just allow what is going on to go on.

I mean, people need to be aware that -- that we have become a system where government actually is claiming and using and defending people's rights, and they are doing it against the people. And we cannot allow that to happen. I mean, in order for us to prosper as a people, we have to have access to the land and resources.

BLACKWELL: All right.

BUNDY: And everything we -- you know, everything we live, everything we wear, all of the amenities that we have come from the land and all wealth is generated from the land. So, if America wants to prosper, they have to be able to have access to their land and resources and government has to stop claiming these things and taking them from the people. They just have to or we don't have a future as a country and as a people.

BLACKWELL: Ammon Bundy there at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge that has taken the building there on that federal land. He says he will be there as long as he needs to be. Thank you so much for taking sometime to answer the questions and we will be in touch.

BUNDY: Yes, thank you. I appreciate it.



KOSIK: And when we come back, a councilman in Mississippi had some controversial advice for his community when it comes to dealing with cops. What he said that got him into trouble. That's next.


KOSIK: A councilman in Jackson, Mississippi, is being condemned by other local leaders after he suggested throwing bricks and bottles at police if high speed chases come through city neighborhoods.

Here's C.J. LeMaster with CNN affiliate WLBT.


SHERIFF BRYAN BAILEY, RANKIN COUNTY: A wise man once told me, you can't find jealousy or ignorance. And the statements that Mr. Stokes had made is just complete ignorance.

C.J. LEMASTER, WLBT (voice-over): Rankin County Sheriff Bryan Bailey says what Jackson Councilman Kenneth Stokes told reporters Thursday was highly inappropriate.

Stokes' statements came after police chased someone into a neighborhood in Stokes' district.

KENNETH STOKES, JACKSON CITY COUNCILMAN: What I suggest, we get the black leadership together and as these jurisdictions come into Jackson, we throw rocks and bricks and bottles at them. That'll send a message, we don't want you in here.

LEMASTER: Reaction on social media and from metro area law enforcement was swift.

BAILEY: Actually, Councilman Stokes is inciting racism and violence against police officers.

LEMASTER: Some even say they're concerned about the safety of their officers now.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's why we're here in unity saying we don't agree with it. We are very disappointed in Mr. Stokes' statements we stand unified against that kind of activity.

BAILEY: If I have somebody throwing a brick or bottle at me, it's a threat to my life, to health, and my safety, you know? To me, he's inciting some innocent young person that doesn't understand the law is going to get hurt because of him, because I fully expect my deputies to defend themselves.


KOSIK: Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant called the remarks reprehensible. On his Facebook page he said this, "This is nothing short of an outright assault upon all who wear the badge." He also said he asked the state attorney general to investigate to see if what Stokes said amounts to a criminal threat against police officers.

With us now to discuss this is CNN legal analyst and defense attorney Joey Jackson, and Jonathan Gilliam, CNN law enforcement analyst and a former police officer.

Jonathan, I want to start you, because you're a former cop. What do you think, if you were chasing someone into this guy's jurisdiction, does it sound like a threat to you that he's encouraging people to throw rocks and bottles and bricks?

JONATHAN GILLIAM, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Well, I don't think it sounds like it. I think it was. And I think that, you know, this guy needs to be held accountable if anything happens, because, technically, you can't go into a theater and yell fire and expect to get away with it. You're inciting a riot.

And in this case, he's inciting violence against law enforcement. He's in an official capacity. And he should be held accountable.

And he shouldn't also be asking, why are so many cops coming into his neighborhood. As a councilman, maybe he should be turning around and trying to help heal whatever problem he has within his community.

KOSIK: Joey, what do you think. Could the councilman face charges?

JOEY JACKSON, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Alison, these are tough times, as we know within around the country for relations as they involve communities and police. And I think certainly, any responsible elected officials need to bridge the gaps, work on closing the relationships and shoring up the relationships between a police community and clergy, and forging those relationships. And police can do their jobs and go home safely and residents can live in peace and go home safely as well.

You know, when it gets to the issue of freedom of speech, we should talk about the following. Freedom of speech is a founding principle, of course, this country, as you know very well, Alison, the First Amendment protects the free speech. There are limits however.

Now, in terms of what he says, the analysis will be whether it crossed the line. Jonathan Gilliam mentioned you can't yell fire in a theater.

[07:55:02] That's an exception to the rule of free speech, why? Because it puts other people in danger. And when you're putting other people in danger, it's a problem.

However, when you analyze the exact statements he made, the issue is going to be, was it the threat sufficiently immediate to cross the line? Was he advocating immediate lawless action and what his statements likely produce immediate lawless action? So, that's the question.

If you're the Supreme Court has said, if you're advocating some kind of idea or violence that's indefinite, at some future time, then it doesn't run afoul of any type of criminal statute and it's protected.

And so, the issue is, is he saying do you immediately go and do you immediately something to the police, if he's not doing that, then it does not -- does not constitute a crime.

KOSIK: But, you know, even if you put law aside, Joey, he's fanning the flames, even racial tensions saying let's get the black -- let's get the black leadership together and do these things. It's almost like he's inciting a riot.

JACKSON: Yes, you know, Alison, I would hope if and when the black leadership comes together or any other leadership, multicultural leadership, every leadership comes together, that the focus, again, will be on letting people know that, you know, you need to work with police. Communities need work police and police need to work with communities.

And perhaps as a result of the statements, the flames will be less centered upon fighting and, you know, getting up in arms with police and communities coming together and meeting and talking with the police about whatever divides or issues there are, or whatever could make communities safer and people safer.

And so, ultimately, I think that, you know, that need to be the focus here. And it should not be any advocacy of violence against anyone, including police officers.

KOSIK: Or maybe open up the lines of communications between jurisdictions. That could be a first step.

Joey Jackson and Jonathan Gilliam, thanks so much for your time.

GILLIAM: You got it.

JACKSON: Thank you, Alison.

BLACKWELL: All right. Ahead, our coverage of the violent protests in Iran over the execution of a Shiite cleric in Saudi Arabia. We've got live reports straight ahead on the next hour of your NEW DAY.


KOSIK: Good morning, everyone. I'm Alison Kosik, in for Christie Paul.

BLACKWELL: I'm Victor Blackwell. Good morning to you. KOSIK: And we begin with breaking news. More demonstrations are expected today after the execution of a Shiite cleric in Saudi Arabia ignited a firearm storm of protests.

BLACKWELL: In Iran, dozens of demonstrators attacked the Saudi embassy there in Tehran.