Return to Transcripts main page


Trump Again Blames Both Sides For Violence In Virginia; President Trump And The Facts; Family Disowns Relative Who Marched With White Nationalists. Aired 7:30-8a ET

Aired August 16, 2017 - 07:30   ET



[07:32:23] POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: President Trump's astonishing equivalency between hate groups and those protesting them is leading to many scathing headlines in newspapers across the country.

An editorial in the Chicago "Sun-Times" on the front page, calls the president unequivocally, "America's bigot in chief."

Joining us now, CNN political commentator and former senior Trump campaign communications adviser Jason Miller is here. And, Michael Eric Dyson, author of "Tears We Cannot Stop: A Sermon to White America."

Good morning, gentlemen. Thank you for being here on such an important morning.

Jason, let me begin with you.

You're a father, you're a parent. If your children come to you and say what did you say when the president said what he said yesterday, what will you say?

JASON MILLER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR, FORMER SENIOR COMMUNICATIONS ADVISER, TRUMP CAMPAIGN: Well, I think we have to be very careful with our words here. I mean, I'm an American who's very concerned about what I saw on television and what was transpiring this weekend.

I think there were two groups that we saw. There was a group that was clearly practicing hate and there was a group that was clearly standing up and expressing their free speech and their ability to go and push back on such hateful rhetoric.

I think it's very important to go and point out here's a fact that we have to stand up to the racists, like the terrorist who killed Heather Heyer, and we have to make it very clear that this is not OK.

And that's why I was glad to see President Trump stand up and say that these groups -- that there absolutely is no place for these groups to be there and to be practicing such hateful rhetoric.

I think where the president got off track a bit in some of his comments yesterday is in pointing out some of the images and the violence that we saw on television. That there were people from all different groups and sides that were fighting.

But again, there is no moral equivalency between the hate groups --

HARLOW: Off track of it? Off track of it?

I mean, he said both sides were to blame. You'd tell your kid that?

MILLER: Again, what I'm saying is that people who are practicing violence -- when we see these images on T.V., when we see people punching each other, when we see people fighting, that's not OK. And it doesn't matter who is in that mosh pit or those people who are fighting --

HARLOW: It's completely -- OK --

MILLER: -- and going back and forth.

But again, Poppy, just -- I mean, just so we're being fair here.

HARLOW: It completely matters to -- it completely matters if there neo-Nazis and KKK and white supremacists, Michael.

And another question this morning becomes to you, Michael.

There are many Republicans taking to Twitter calling this out but very few, with the exception of John McCain, calling out the president by name, laying this in the president's lap. And do you know how hard it was to get a Republican to come on this show this morning? You just heard from, really, the only one who would.

[07:35:04] MICHAEL ERIC DYSON, AUTHOR, "TEARS WE CANNOT STOP: A SERMON TO WHITE AMERICA": Well, they need to take a page from Beyonce -- say my name. And the reality is that they are not willing to name the reality that we're confronting here -- the bigotry that we're confronting here.

With all due respect to Mr. Miller, his inability -- even though he's courageous enough to come on here this morning, can't even say this is unequivocally wrong. Not the hate that we saw, that he has just said, but that the president was wrong. This is not something you would tell your children.

Even if they're in that quote "mosh pit" and you see people engaging in conflagration, that is nowhere near equivalent to the neo-Nazi, white supremacist, white nationalism that we see articulated with lethal veracity in this country. So what we have to do is to gird up our loins to say this is wrong. We do have a bigot in chief.

The great philosopher and thinker Howard Thurman, a great black preacher, said a bigot is a person who makes an idol of his or commitment.

The fetish of one's own ideology in the face of such horrendous activity reminds us that this president has amplified the worst bigotry imaginable. We look to the bully pulpit of America from the president to tamp down

the things. To say let's calm down. Let's gather up our own moral bearings and let's move forward. We cannot embrace the kind of racism, the kind of anti-Semitism, the kind of anti-black fervor that we see expressed here.

And the inability of the president to say so is one thing, the inability of the Republican Party to name him and to say that this is something we don't represent and is reprehensible is, itself, a form of bigotry as well.

HARLOW: Jason, when you are being thanked by the former grand wizard of the KKK, David Duke -- who did just that right after the president's remarks yesterday, thanking him -- is that not the ultimate gut check that what you have said is wrong?

MILLER: Well, we saw a lot of this back during the campaign trail this past year where you would have these fringe extreme elements. Again, who the president has denounced and who he has said he wants nothing to do with and does not subscribe or want anything to do with their ideology.

HARLOW: Yet, he laid them on the same moral ground. He gave them an equivalency to Nazis, yesterday.

MILLER: Poppy, just please let me finish here.

The president has rejected those ideologies last year. He's done it during this week.

But what we've seen is some of these fringe elements trying to take advantage of the situation and get in there and try to get their name into a news cycle, which is absolutely despicable.

But I want to go back to something where I started off at the beginning of this segment here.

I made it very clear where I feel as an American that there were people who were practicing hate that we absolutely have to condemn, and there were people who were practicing free speech.

It is absolutely terrible that Heather Heyer was killed the way that she was. And I think it's absolutely terrible that we're only seeing second-degree murder charges being discussed. I mean, this is -- I mean, this is an act of domestic terrorism.

HARLOW: So why hasn't the president called her family, Jason?

MILLER: Well, the president said in his remarks yesterday that he was going to. I can't speak as to why that has happened or hasn't, but --

HARLOW: It's been -- it's been five days since she was murdered.

MILLER: But again -- but going back to -- I just want to be very careful here going back to the comments that the gentlemen that I'm here speaking with -- I mean, I've made it very clear.

DYSON: Michael Eric Dyson, sir.

MILLER: Michael, I'm sorry.

I've made it very clear that there is no moral equivalency between these groups.

Also, what is important to point out, that there is no place for the violence that we were seeing on television this weekend regardless of who was in there fighting. There's no place for any of that at all.

HARLOW: So, Michael, the president said that we are -- about the monuments -- about the Confederate monuments yesterday -- that we are trying to erase -- we, being American people -- are trying to -- it is trying to erase history, change culture by taking them down. And that sort of completely ignores the fact that they are representing a sanitized, fictionalized history.

I mean, if you look back at these beautiful remarks from Mitch Landrieu earlier this year who quoted the vice president of the Confederacy, Alexander Stephens. And he talked about that cornerstone speech and when he said that the great truth is that the "n" word is not equal to the white man. That slavery and support and subordination to the superior race is his natural and normal condition.

What did you make of how the president addressed these monuments yesterday?

DYSON: This man is lethally ignorant, incapable of even having a kindergartner's comprehension of the history of race.

And for those who say look, the Confederacy is about history and heritage, it is. The history and heritage of racism.

The history and heritage of bigotry, building their sense of biological and, in many cases, theological and national identity upon a lie. A mythology of white supremacy. The belief that some people are inherently superior and some people are inherently inferior.

For the president then to defend the actions against taking down Robert E. Lee or Stonewall Jackson -- and remember, these people hated America enough to want to secede from it.

[07:40:09] The people that we claim -- Black Lives Matter, the Antifa movement, and so on, are interested in preserving the fabric of America.

Mr. Miller says, again, that there was violence there. But the problem is to equate the violence in reaction against bigotry with the bigotry itself is to misunderstand the fact that when you go to cancer treatment the radiation is tough treatment, but it is meant to remove the cancer. So what he fails to understand and what the president, especially,

fails to understand is that you are complicit with the worst occurrence of bigotry in this country when you try to draw a false equivalence between secessionist and racist and Confederate defenders and bigots and neo-Nazis and African-American and white people and others who have defended the right of this nation to really seek a path of healing beyond the consternation we see now.

That's the problem with this president. He ain't got the right moral vision, he doesn't have the right words to express that moral vision, and he lacks an understanding of American history.

This is the most illiterate, incompetent president in the history of this nation and it shows -- and it tells on him in the midst of this racial crisis where he is incapable of showing basic decent compassion for those who are vulnerable and who are victims of white supremacy in this country.

HARLOW: Michael, Jason, thank you both for being here on a very important morning.

DYSON: Thank you.

HARLOW: We appreciate it -- Chris.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: If the president feels like he's been grossly misunderstood and that he didn't want to put out a message about moral equivalence you know what he would do? He'd tweet about it. He tweets about everything else he doesn't like.

He just tweeted this morning and he's using it to change the subject to something that also matters about Kim Jong Un and North Korea standing down on missile attacks. But he's not dealing with what the country is right now so that's something for you to think about.

Now, over the course of the campaign and the presidency these issues kept coming up for the president. He says I was waiting for the facts this time.

We're going to test that proposition and show you a pattern of behavior that led us to this moment.


[07:45:55] CUOMO: The president empowering hate is a moral failure but there's also a matter of fact here. Trump says his second statement on Charlottesville took so long because he was just waiting for the facts.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It was very important to me to get the facts out, and correctly. I couldn't have made it, sort of,becauseI didn't know all of the facts. It takes a little while to get the facts.

I had to see the facts. I want to know the facts. I want the facts.


CUOMO: This is new. In an interview with "Time", he defended his most controversial claims by saying I predict a lot of things. I'm a very instinctual person but my instinct turns out to be right.

So he doesn't always wait. And the examples of false instincts start in recent memory with a racist birther lie he sponsored about President Obama.


TRUMP: I want him to show his birth certificate. There is something on that birth certificate that he doesn't like.

Well, he may have one but there's something on that birth -- it may be religion, maybe it says he's a Muslim. I don't know.

It's one of the greatest scams in the history of politics and in the history, period. You are not allowed to be a president if you're not born in this country. He may not have been born in this country.


CUOMO: Millions of people celebrated after 9/11. Remember that?


TRUMP: When the World Trade Center came tumbling down -- and I watched in Jersey City, New Jersey where thousands and thousands of people were cheering as that building was coming down.


CUOMO: Millions of undocumented immigrants voted illegally. The claim that President Obama tapped Trump's phones.

So, it's clear President Trump does not wait for the facts and when he's pressed on them he often backs off.

But in Charlottesville the facts are clear. There were people there to advocate hate. That blacks, and Jews, and Catholics, and ethnics are inferior. One of them acted as a terrorist and killed in furtherance of these beliefs.

And there were those who stood against hate. There were two sides and by failing to clearly denounce hate, the president chose one. His job is to fight injustice and reinforce morality, to stand firm. He did not and, Poppy, that is the fact.

HARLOW: Yes, it is. Chris, thank you for that. It's critically important this morning.

Ahead for us, something you won't want to miss. A family's disgust. Their white nationalist relative marched in

Charlottesville. Now his father is disavowing him in a post that has gone viral.

A family member who now wants his uncle to change his name will join us next.


[07:50:35] CUOMO: So who are the haters -- the white nationalists who demonstrated in Charlottesville over the weekend? How do they get these ugly views of the world?

Well, one of them is Peter Tefft. He flew to Charlottesville from North Dakota. Take a look.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So what the hell. What's up? Say your source for what you're saying about white people being murdered in South Africa. Like where --



TEFFT: Well, on the Internet.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So like where on the Internet? Is it a news Website?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's a f****** radical.


CUOMO: All right. So that's Peter Tefft. Tefft's family denounces his involvement.

His father went a step further, writing a letter to a local paper explaining his son's views in no way reflect those of the rest of the family. It's a powerful letter. Here's a portion of it that I'll read to you and can see the whole thing online.

"On Friday night, my son, Peter Tefft traveled to Charlottesville, Virginia and was interviewed by a national news outlet while marching with reported white nationalists who allegedly went on to kill a person.

I, along with all of his siblings and his entire family, wish to loudly repudiate my son's vile, hateful, and racist rhetoric and actions. We do not know specifically where he learned these beliefs. He did not learn them at home.

I've taught all my children that all men and women are created equal. That we must love each other all the same. Evidently, Peter has chosen to unlearn these lessons, much to my and his family's heartbreak and distress.

Peter Tefft, my son, is not welcome at our family gatherings any longer. I pray my prodigal son will renounce his hateful beliefs and return home. Then and only then will I lay out the feast."

Joining us now is Peter Tefft's nephew, Jacob Scott (sic). Jacob, thank you for joining us. I know this is not a comfortable situation for you or the family.

I want to play for you some of what your uncle had to say about the reaction to his involvement.


TEFFT: Fascism is just loving your family and doing what's best for your nation. I don't hold anything against them for what they had to say about me because it's the safest thing to do in this political climate.

Nazi is a racial slur towards white people. I'd say there's no objective way to measure any race above any other race or any person above any other person.


CUOMO: Jacob, how are we to understand what your uncle is talking about and what he's about as a person?

JACOB SCOTT WIEBER, NEPHEW OF WHITE NATIONALIST PETER TEFFT: Well, you know, he says that he doesn't believe that there's any objective way to measure one race against another, but what he told me in private was that he believes that black people have an inherently lower I.Q. than white people. That I.Q. is genetic and that white people simply have a higher I.Q. and that makes them better.

[07:55:08] So if he says that he doesn't believe that white people are superior, he's just lying.

CUOMO: So, where do you think this came from in him? I mean, we all read the letter from his father saying he didn't learn this in our house. What's your experience?

WIEBER: Well, you know, I wanted to talk about that. I wanted to talk about how we think that he was radicalized online.

You know, back in 2008, 2009 he was like pretty much anybody else in the family. He was a feminist, he was a progressive, he was a vegetarian.

But around the time of Ron Paul's presidential campaign back in 2012 he started spending a lot of time on these sort of fringe Internet spaces like 4Chan and getting all his news from like Infowars and other places like that. And over time he just started to move further and further right.

And this happened completely behind our backs. The first we had any indication of this was maybe two years ago. I mean, we knew he was like a men's' rights activists.

But around two years ago he showed up to a family gathering and he started ranting about the Jews. And I went inside with him and I said do you identify as a -- as a -- as a white nationalist? And he was like yes, I'm a fascist.

And before I could say anything else he goes the good kind of fascist though, by which I mean an efficient one.

And, you know, I feel that as a society we need to be talking about this phenomenon of like white -- young, white, asocial men who are going into these Internet spaces and they're becoming radicalized, often without their family's knowledge.

And it's becoming a real problem in our society. We see the explosion in popularity of these neo-fascist groups among these young, white men and it's tearing families apart. It's torn my family apart. And it bears, frankly, a scary resemblance to the recruiting tactics of terrorist groups like ISIL.

CUOMO: Yes, a lot of experts see similarities that you take people who are outcasts, who are downtrodden, who are disaffected and they're looking for a rationale for their own lives and hate, very often, can take root there.

When the family realized that he was going this way were there any attempts to try to talk some sense to him?

WIEBER: Yes. You know, I have had a few conversations with him since this kind of arose as an issue. I had a conversation with him just recently where he was talking about the supposed inherent I.Q. of the races.

You know, I -- people say online, you know, you can't reason with Nazis. And I went into my discussion with Peter -- my most recent discussion a few months back -- you know, thinking maybe I can at least get him to question his own beliefs. Maybe I can get him to consider the idea that he might be wrong about some of these things.

And I really tried to pose these sort of alternative explanations for all of the social ills that he observes in the world. And, ultimately, at the end of it, you know, it just seems like we were going in circles a lot. You know, he's got -- he's got like a million reasons for believing every little thing he believes and he gets it all from all these different sources.

As the guy in the video said, it's like a rabbit hole that they go down and it just poisons their mind and you can't get them back from it.

CUOMO: What do make of what happened with the president yesterday and him saying, you know, there's problems on both sides of what he saw happening in Charlottesville?

WIEBER: You know, I think it's disingenuous. I think it's, frankly, very upsetting because, you know, only one side is advocating for racial separation and racial supremacy.

You know, I consider myself pretty far left. I consider myself a Democratic socialist.

And Peter has talked to me on a few occasions about how oh, you guys and us, we should team up. You know, we have the same goals. We're both fighting against the establishment. We're both fighting against the globalists.

And, you know, I say something, you know -- Peter, you advocate for racial separation, I advocate for racial reparation. I believe in social justice and equality. There is no similarity between us.

There is -- you can't compare the Nazis and the people who fight against the Nazis and say that there's some kind of moral equivalency there.

CUOMO: What do you think the president is doing with his statements? What do you think his motivation is?

WIEBER: I think -- I think his motivation is, frankly, to try not to drive off the people who have given him their most ardent and loyal support over years, which are the white nationalists.

I mean, when my -- when my Uncle Peter -- when he showed up to that family gathering when he was ranting about the Jews, he showed up wearing a 'Make America Great Again' hat. He had two of them, so there's definitely a connection there.

CUOMO: Did he support Trump or do you think he just saw this president as an opportunity to kind of advance his own agenda?

WIEBER: I think he initially -- he initially definitely supported Trump. More recently, he's falling back on sort of this idea that Trump was compromised by the deep state and no longer works for them. But he still regards Trump as this lesson that nationalism can win and he changed the conversation and, you know, things of that nature.