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Anderson Cooper 360 Degrees
Oath Keepers Militia Leader And Subordinate Convicted Of Seditious Conspiracy; McCarthy: Nobody Should Be Meeting With Fuentes; Behind The Front Lines As Ukraine And Russia Wage Fierce Battle For Bakhmut; USA Heads To World Cup Knockout Stage After 1-10 Win Over Iran; Some Iranians Celebrate U.S. World Cup Win; China Uses Surveillance, Police Intimidation To Crush Protests; Woman Reconnects With Family 51 Years After She Was Kidnapped. Aired 8-9p ET
Aired November 29, 2022 - 20:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
KATE BOLDUAN, CNN HOST: Today's match played against the backdrop of Iran's brutal crackdown on anti-government protesters. Inside Iran, many were actually celebrating Team USA's win with fireworks and much more.
Up next for the US, the Netherlands on Saturday.
Thanks for being here, everyone.
I'm Kate Bolduan, AC 360 starts now.
JOHN BERMAN, CNN HOST: The law dates back to the Civil War and the crime it describes is as serious as it gets, conspiring to among other things, overthrow or destroy by force, the government of the United States.
John Berman here, in for Anderson.
Tonight, for the first time since 1995, a jury has returned guilty verdicts on the charge of seditious conspiracy against some of the leaders of the so-called Oath Keepers for their roles in the January 6 attack on the Capitol.
CNN's Sara Sidner is live outside a Federal Court in Washington with the verdicts rendered and the history made.
Sara, what more can you tell us?
SARA SIDNER, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: There is no way to overstate just how important and historic this trial was. This is the very first trial in which several defendants were accused of seditious conspiracy -- and now the jury has spoken.
Two of the people on trial, members of the Oath Keepers militia, which is a far-right militia group who was here on January 6, who you saw a video of and the world saw a video of wearing military combat gear and a military sack walking up the steps of the Capitol that is just to my left, and some of them going into the Capitol and bragging about storming the Capitol.
Two people have been found guilty of seditious conspiracy, and they include the founder and leader of the Oath Keepers who founded the group in 2009.
Elmer Stewart Rhodes, III has been found guilty of the most serious charge in this case, seditious conspiracy. He is joined by Kelly Meggs, one of his lieutenants who was also found guilty of seditious conspiracy. That charge is a charge that the jury had to take quite a while to look at because of the seriousness of the charge, which is trying to stop the peaceful transfer of presidential power by force, and the jury said that is exactly what these two men did.
Now for the other three defendants, we have Kenneth Harrelson. He was found not guilty on that charge. Jessica Watkins, not guilty and Thomas Caldwell, also not guilty.
Four of the five of these people were -- they're all veterans, and so they had a certain kind of training as well, that I'm sure the jury looked at and it was certainly mentioned in Court.
What we also saw were several other charges.
Now, seditious conspiracy was the first conspiracy charge, but there were others, including conspiracy to obstruct an official proceeding. Now in that case, Kelly Meggs, one of Mr. Rhodes lieutenants was found guilty, but Rhodes was not found guilty of that particular charge. Neither were the other defendants, the other three that I mentioned.
And so you have this hodgepodge of decisions. They're not all guilty, except for on one charge, all five people were found guilty of obstructing an official proceeding.
These all carry some pretty heavy terms in prison. The seditious conspiracy carries a 20-year maximum sentence in Federal prison. And so by the way, does conspiracy to obstruct an official proceeding.
But this was a really important case for the DOJ and frankly, for Americans to see this play out in Court the way it did over seven weeks of testimony. In the eighth week, the jury came to a decision. They had to go over thousands of pieces of evidence, hundreds of videos. They had some secret recordings, they got to look at.
Some of the defendants actually took the stand in their defense, but when it came to Stewart Rhodes and Kelly Meggs, they did not believe that they were not planning to stop the peaceful transfer of presidential power, and so they were found guilty -- John.
BERMAN: Sara, at this point, could there be additional arrests by the Justice Department?
SIDNER: Here is what we know that there is another case, there are two other cases. There's another case of these Oath Keeper members, different group of Oath Keeper members that will be coming forward where they are not charged with seditious conspiracy, but they have other very serious charges. And you have the case of the Proud Boys, where the leadership of that
group, including Enrique Tarrio are charged with seditious conspiracy. So, I am sure that their attorneys and they are looking at what happened here to see what they are going to do going forward and the DOJ certainly looking at what happened here to see how they will proceed forward in these cases. This was a big deal.
This is one of about 20 trials where conspiracy charges are levied against the defendant, but this one perhaps the most rare charge, this conspiracy, and the most important because it's the first of the 20 -- John.
BERMAN: Sara Sidner, witnessing history outside a Federal Court. Thanks so much for being with us. We're going to have much more on this story coming up later in the program.
Now, Keeping Them Honest, a case of condemning the sin, but not the sinner. The nation's two top Republican lawmakers did just that today about the former President's recent dinner with the antisemitic artist, Ye, and the antisemitic Holocaust denying, White nationalist leader, Nick Fuentes.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, both condemning the whole dining with a White nationalist thing, but neither one directly condemned the actual person who actually broke bread with the actual White nationalists and how they each avoided doing it is fascinating and telling.
Leader McCarthy simply said something that isn't true.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R-CA): I don't think anybody should be spending any time with Nick Fuentes. He has no place in this Republican Party. I think President Trump came out four times and condemned him and didn't know who he was.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BERMAN: Wrong. He didn't do that. Yes, Trump did say he didn't know who Nick Fuentes is. No, he did not condemn him at all -- not once. And while it's impossible to read the man's mind telling that lie certainly helped Leader McCarthy avoid directly criticizing the former President. It suggested falsely, that no criticism was even necessary, because after all, hadn't the former President already done as much himself, by condemning Nick Fuentes. Except, of course, he never did.
The former President posted about the dinner three times. The first time saying he knew nothing about the antisemitic artist's three friends he brought to dinner, then a day later saying: "Also, I didn't know Nick Fuentes." Finally, most recently saying: "He shows up with three people, two of which I didn't know, the other a political person I haven't seen in years." He also gave a statement to AXIOS saying the antisemite artist arrived
with a guest whom he had never met and knew nothing about. And just moments ago on FOX Digital, he said he didn't know Fuentes' views before having dinner with him, and again, did not condemn those views.
Nowhere online or anywhere else on record has the former President condemned Nick Fuentes. Nor have many Republicans directly called Trump out by name for dining with the man. Senator Mitt Romney has, Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson did, so did former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and most notably former, Vice President Mike Pence.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MIKE PENCE, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: President Trump was wrong to give a White nationalist, an antisemite and a Holocaust denier a seat at the table, and I think he should apologize for it and he should denounce those individuals and their hateful rhetoric without qualification.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BERMAN: So you wouldn't think it would be so hard just on general principle, but apparently it is. Contrast that with this today from Mitch McConnell, as you try to figure out who, if anyone specific at all, he is actually talking about.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY): First, let me just say that there is no room in the Republican Party for antisemitism or White supremacy, and anyone meeting with people advocating that point of view, in my judgment, are highly unlikely to ever be elected President of the United States.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BERMAN: So, see what he did there? Unlike Leader McCarthy, who avoided directly condemning the former President by trotting out a specific and transparent lie, Leader McConnell, who was far more careful about what he says, was generic and opaque; so careful, so generic, and so opaque that when asked a follow up by CNN as Manu Raju, he not only continued to keep his pointing finger pointed away from Donald Trump, he won't even rule out voting for the man again.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: In light of what you said that there is no room in your party for anyone who harbors these antisemitic views, if Donald Trump wins the Republican nomination, would you support him?
MCCONNELL: Look, let me just say again, there is simply no room in the Republican Party for antisemitism or White supremacy, and that would apply to all of the leaders in the party who will be seeking offices.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BERMAN: So only the sin never the sinner. The former President, though he has no trouble naming names. In that interview tonight with FOX Digital, he certainly did, attacking Senator McConnell by name.
Joining us now, CNN senior political commentator, a former top Obama adviser, David Axelrod, also CNN political commentator, Scott Jennings, who was close to leader McConnell and served as Special Assistant to the President in the George W. Bush administration.
BERMAN: Scott, when we spoke last night, right at this time, you said you expected McCarthy would take the temperature of his comment before commenting and that "That's the one thing about these guys in leadership is they tend to take the temperature of the people they represent before they make comments." So these comments, he made the sort of the half hedge and then lie there, what does that tell you about the temperature he found?
SCOTT JENNINGS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, what I said was, I thought they would both consult with the members of their conference and come out and make statements today, I was right. Both made statements, both clearly and unequivocally stated that people like Nick Fuentes and the hateful ideology that he talks about has no place in the Republican Party. They both said that today. So, I was glad to hear that.
Regarding the condemning four times, I don't know what he was doing there. I got the feeling he was confused about the difference between condemning and saying, "I don't know who it is." But either way, that's not true. Trump hasn't condemned it and I suspect that he won't, because this is his pattern. He does dumb stuff and then he tightens down, and never quite, you know, figures out a way back to doing the right thing.
But that's why it's important that a lot of Republicans have done the right thing here, like McConnell, like McCarthy, and clearly and unequivocally stated, there is no room for this in the Republican Party whatsoever.
BERMAN: Well, McCarthy either made something up or the most charitable version of it is was confused, as you say there. Does that indicate to you that he is still trying to walk some line or trying still to curry favor with some part of his caucus that doesn't like the idea of criticizing having dinner with a White nationalist?
JENNINGS: I think what he said was very clear about saying this ideology has no place in the Republican Party. He wants no part of it. And I think that, you know, that was the best message he could deliver. Beyond that, look, I think -- I don't know how much more clearly, you could say, I don't want this party that I represent, and I plan to be the Speaker of the House of this Republican Party. I don't know how much more clearly you can say I don't want any part of it and that is what he should have done.
BERMAN: Right. I mean, you could do it without making something up.
David Axelrod, your assessment of the little bit of a verbal gymnastics particularly from Kevin McCarthy?
DAVID AXELROD, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, look, here's the situation, Kevin McCarthy still isn't guaranteed that he is going to be Speaker of the House. He needs Donald Trump's support to become Speaker of the House, and he is going to need Donald Trump's support because Trump has sway over that group of that smaller group of legislators who are committed to him, the Freedom Caucus folks.
So he is twisting himself in all kinds of knots here to try and not offend Trump, but say enough to condemn antisemitism and Holocaust denial, and so on.
So he may not become Speaker of the House, John, but he could get a spot in Cirque du Soleil by the time this thing is done.
BERMAN: Scott is absolutely right. Scott not only said last night that both Republican leaders should, he also predicted that they would say something today. Absolutely Scott did that.
But again, McCarthy, it does seem like a man in his position knows what he is doing when he says those kinds of things, and there was some kind of deliberate signal that perhaps --
AXELROD: Oh, there is no question about it.
Listen, if you -- Scott said they couldn't have been more forthright in condemning this. Well, you know, Pence was more forthright, Hutchinson was more forthright there.
You know, the fact of the matter is that the former President sat down with these folks, and if you're not willing to condemn that, then you're being evasive. And I think that they're doing -- they are navigating their own caucuses. They are navigating --
You know, this is the same story we've seen for some time. I think the glacier is melting here, and Trump is more vulnerable than he has ever been. There's blood in the water and people are a little bit more venturesome than they have been. But still, you know, they were very, very cautious today, in my view.
BERMAN: David Axelrod, Scott Jennings, our thanks to both of you. We'll get more 100 percent predictions from Scott in the future, hopefully.
Next, CNN exclusive footage and reporting from Ukraine, what it is like on the ground in the battle for a key piece of territory and some of the heaviest shelling imaginable.
And later, the soccer match that was more than a game in so many ways, but was the best possible game in one particular way. America's victory today over Iran at the World Cup, the politics surrounding it and the remarkable events this contest became a part of.
BERMAN: It's no secret by now that Russia's war on Ukraine has targeted civilians and civilian infrastructure almost from day one. And sadly, it is also becoming clearer that this onslaught of rocket and missile strikes is designed to maximize human suffering during the winter months. We see it daily in the footage, Russia's air campaign and the horror it brings.
Tonight though, for the first time we have an exclusive look at ground level fighting from what is reported to be the most hotly contested piece of territory in the entire war.
CNN's Matthew Chance and his team have brought back the footage and the story which is as raw and brutal as you might imagine.
Matthew, thanks for being with us. What did you see?
MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, earlier we were in the strategic town of Bakhmut in Eastern Ukraine, which is described by soldiers on the ground there as the hardest part of the frontline -- constant artillery exchanges and very close quarter fighting taking a terrible toll.
CHANCE (voice over): The brutal fight for Bakhmut where Ukrainian troops have battled Russia's onslaught. These exclusive images from the soldiers themselves, their Commanders tell us dozens of lives are now being sacrificed here every day.
The road into town is heavy with thick smoke and danger. Explosions ahead force us to pullover before another slams into a building close by.
CHANCE (on camera): All right, well, you can hear the incoming rounds -- the incoming rounds from Russian artillery fire are really intensive here as we have entered the outskirts of Bakhmut, which is, you know, certainly everything we're seeing, everything we've been told is now the most fiercely contested patch of ground in the entire Russia-Ukrainian conflict.
(UNIDENTIFIED MALE speaking in foreign language.)
CHANCE (voice over): So fierce, we made a rapid exit, leaving the relentless barrage behind.
Much of this battle is fought avoiding the artillery threat. In underground bunkers like these, where local Ukrainian Commanders like Pavlo (ph) can respond to Russian attacks.
(PAVLO speaking in foreign language.)
CHANCE (voice over): "They are assaulting our positions from early morning till night," he tells me. "But the real problem is we are heavily outnumbered," he says. But the innovative use of low cost tech is helping to bridge that gap.
In another frontline bunker, we saw how commercially available drones are giving Ukraine an edge.
CHANCE (on camera): Wow. That's incredible because we've just seen an artillery strike in this position that the Ukrainian drone operators have identified as being full of Russians like you can see Russian soldiers as we look at them live now running for cover as Ukrainian artillery pounds their positions.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, this is our position.
CHANCE (voice over): But Battery Commanders at the frontline like Tuman (ph) tell me they are running low on ammunition rounds. That even guns sent from the United States are breaking under such constant strain.
They need more of both, they say, if this battle of Bakhmut is ever to be won.
BERMAN: Matthew, what a remarkable perspective and amazing footage. First, I'm glad that you and your crew are okay. What did you hear about the impact of this assault on the Ukrainian soldiers on the frontlines?
CHANCE: Well, of course, we were able to leave, but those Ukrainian soldiers have to stay to face on a daily basis that artillery barrage. They've also got the cold weather, and you know, the mud to contend with. So it is miserable.
As I mentioned, the casualties are very high, indeed. It's high on the other side as well. I mean, the Russians remember are plowing resources and manpower into the battle for Bakhmut, and even though they're making some progress, it's coming at a very high price for them as well -- John.
BERMAN: So you talked about the Battery Commanders there, the Ukrainian Battery Commander saying they're running low on ammunition and weapons. What else are they saying they need to hold their positions?
CHANCE: Well, I mean, they need the whole host of military supplies -- warm clothing, vehicles, everything like that. But I mean, they're insisting that it's the weapons and the ammunition that are going to make the difference between whether this battle is won or lost.
They need more weapons, they say; more ammunition, more artillery pieces, because the more they have, the more they could rotate them. So they wouldn't have to use each individual items so much and it would last longer and wouldn't break down.
And so that's the renewed call tonight from these officers in the frontline for more weapons from the United States and from other countries around the world -- John. BERMAN: Matthew Chance, just amazing work. Thank you very much.
Please stay safe.
TO Matthew's point about what these troops are going through, I want to turn to CNN military analyst and former Army Lieutenant General Mark Hertling.
General, great to see you. What's your reaction? I know you were watching that as carefully as we all were. What's your reaction to that report we just saw from Matthew?
LT. GEN. MARK HERTLING (RET), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: John it is a throwback to World War One. The trench lines of World War One where static fires, artillery duels, the requirement as Matthew said of more logistics, more ammunition. You know, watching that 777 cannon fire, watching in this picture right now the number of 50-caliber rounds that are being shot from that machine gun and just the back and forth on a static defensive line that has been in place for eight years now.
HERTLING: This isn't something that's just happened since the start of the war in February. They've been fighting in the Donbas, Ukrainians have for eight years now. So, they know this terrain. They know the targeting. As you saw, they have advanced targeting systems with the drones and the computers, which I would bet you don't see on the Russian side. The Russians are just using artillery as area fire weapons and the Ukrainians are trying to do more precise firing.
But notwithstanding all of that, you have to talk a little bit about the physical aspects and the psychological aspects of combat. You know, as you just said to Matthew, he is able to leave there, he spends a day with them and then departs.
But I'm sure tonight, at three o'clock in the morning, which it is right now in Ukraine, with temperatures below freezing, those same troops are looking through night vision goggles, continuing the fight under unbelievable physical pressure, their ammunition is running low, the cannons are firing out their tubes, it's not so much the artillery rounds that are causing the problems. They're firing so many rounds, thousands of rounds a week that their tubes burn out.
So all of those things are factors, and then you add the psychological component, constantly being under shelling, constantly being in the cold -- the smells, the sights, the sound of warfare.
You know, John, I can only compare it to my own experiences -- Desert Storm, you know, we were on the attack for four days without a lot of sleep with some artillery attacks, but then it was over. You know, Operation Iraqi Freedom where we were deployed for 15 months, but the fights in that kind of combat were sporadic. There were terror involved incidents, that would happen arbitrarily, as units did patrol.
What you're seeing now on the frontlines of Ukraine is just constant fighting, and it will drain on individuals and really cause some both physical effects and psychological effects.
BERMAN: You mentioned the temperature. Earlier today, NATO Secretary General accused Putin of using "winter as a weapon." How does winter and the temperatures play for both sides here?
HERTLING: Well, you know, it's equal. The weather plays an equal part on both sides, truthfully, but what you're talking about is the preparedness and the discipline within the force.
What we've seen in the Russian force so far is a lack of discipline, a lack of leadership, poorly equipped. They are not prepared to address the kinds of things that are associated with winter warfare. You know, oil for equipment, the kinds of things you need to stay dry, the uniforms that will keep you warm.
What NATO is providing Ukraine right now is the type of uniforms they need to sustain themselves. They have the shelters. I saw a picture the other day of a Russian shelter that was basically Saran Wrap, wrapped around trees just to keep the wind out.
The Ukrainians have tents. They have underground shelters. So the combination of equipment, performance standards, and discipline in my view, even though weather is equal to both sides will give Ukraine the advantage in this winter fight, but it is still going to be very tough.
The other thing that's important is during the winter, the daylight, certainly less time of daylight that you can fight. The Ukrainians have night vision devices that they can see during the nighttime. So you know, all of those things play a part and I give the Ukrainians the upper hand in a winter fight in this.
BERMAN: Retired Lieutenant General Mark Hertling, we always learn so much from you. Thank you so much for being with us.
HERTLING: Thanks, John.
BERMAN: Just ahead, what is next for the US Men's National Team at the World Cup? They've reached the knockout stage after a thrilling one-zero performance against Iran.
We'll have a live report from Doha in Qatar, plus, reaction from the Iranian side.
BERMAN: Red, white and blue sparkling lights on the Empire State Building tonight a celebration of the U.S. Men's National Team after advanced to the knockout stage of The World Cup with its one nil win over Iran. The moment of the game that goal in the 38th minute Weston McKennie with a beautiful cross. Sergino Dest then delivers the header to Christian Pulisic you can see just sacrifices his whole body, the whole thing to put the ball in the net. Pulisic was also a hero with an assist in the match against Wales, he was injured you can see on the play right there. We're going to have much more on that in a moment.
That would be it for goals in the game but not for drama, because Iran would mount an attempt at a comeback late in the match several attempts to tie the game including an Iranian header that missed the goal wide. Plus, this one that really just will stop your heart. The ball gets through goalkeeper Matt Turner's legs. I think you will see that in a second. But it was quickly swept away by defender Walker Zimmerman there, oh kicks it out just in the nick of time. Afterwards, it was all celebration. I watched the game alone and I still nearly lost my voice.
Two reports now on the game and the politics is never far away from it. I'm joined now by CNN's Don Riddell he's in Doha in Qatar site of this year's World Cup, and CNN's Jomana Karadsheh on Iran's reaction.
So, Don, as I was saying, I was screaming the whole time watching the game. What was the atmosphere like actually being there?
DON RIDDELL, CNN HOST, WORLD SPORT: You know, it was extraordinary. And I'll put it like this. If I was screaming, I wouldn't have been able to hear my own voice because I just had a wall of sound to my left. I was sat right next to the Iranian supporters and from the whistle until pretty much the end. They just didn't stop. (INAUDIBLE) drums that it was just all noise. The only time he stopped really was when Pulisic scored that incredible goal and what an important goal that was because as you say, the USA had to win this game. One goal from Iran, and it would have been a completely different story, the Americans would have been packing their bags, instead they're settling back into their hotel.
I can give you a little update on Christian Pulisic. He was taken to hospital, he missed the second half of this game, where he underwent some scans. The team reporting that he is day to day. It is a pelvic injury that they're dealing with for the USA star player. And he took to social media afterwards to say, so proud of my guys, I'll be ready Saturday, don't worry. He injected a little language bomb in there when he wrote that, I think I guess the adrenaline was still pumping John. But he says he'll be ready. We'll see. Certainly, the U.S. fans will be hoping because it's the Netherlands next. And they're going to be a pretty tough beam team to be.
And meanwhile, John, just to talk about the experience of this game. I've never covered a sports event like it. Of course, it was all about what was going on the field and all about what was happening off it. I spoke to an Arabian fan before, he said he was rooting for his team to lose because of what the team represents. And we're now seeing videos coming in from Iran all over Iran, of fans celebrating their team's defeat. It's like living in the upside down. But that's how complex this situation is. Right?
BERMAN: Yes, we're going to talk to Jomana on in just a second for the Iranian reaction, which is super important.
RIDDELL: Yes. BERMAN: Just on the game though, we did get some footage just in and I want you to look and listen to this, if you can of the U.S. Men's National Team returning to their team hotel after the match. And as far as Christian Pulisic is concerned, you can actually see him here so hopefully this is a good sign. Let's watch and listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BERMAN: All right, so you can see all the cheering, you could see Christian Pulisic there, hugging his teammates. I'm sorry, I'm too much of a fanboy when it comes to this. That's just wonderful to say.
RIDDELL: That is brilliant video. Absolutely wonderful. So, uplifting. Great to see these young players. This is one of the youngest teams in the tournament. Many people thought they would be all set to go for the next World Cup, which they're co-hosting in four years time with Canada and Mexico, but they seem to be ahead of schedule. We've known for a few years now that the Americans have great players, there now, many of them are starring in Europe and in the Premier League. But could they do it as a team? Could they do it on the biggest stage? There were concerns going into this tournament that they weren't quite gelling? It wasn't quite working out, right? But hey, looking at everything now.
BERMAN: Yes --
RIDDELL: So far, so good.
BERMAN: Looks like they were gelling right there. And let's hope the pill that contusion heals by Saturday. Don Riddell, thank you very much.
Again, as Don was just mentioning, this was much more than just a game, serious implications and reverberations inside Iran. Let's go to CNN's Jomana Karadsheh. Jomana, what has the reaction been inside Iran to this loss?
JOMANA KARADSHEH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I mean, John, truly remarkable scenes that we've been seeing celebrations, people are celebrating their own team losing. We've seen video trickling out from different cities, including the capital Tehran where we see people chanting and cheering and then you've also got a lot of video coming from different cities across the Kurdish region, one of the parts of the country that have really borne the brunt of the brutal crackdown by the regime. In the air, you see people out on the streets dancing, honking their horns, even fireworks in the hometown of Mahsa Amini. One young Kurdish man I spoke to today said he is happy because he said this is the government losing to the people. He said a team against a nation isn't a national team. While there are Iranians who tell you that's unfair to the players who've been under immense pressure. And as we've reported, they have faced threats by the regime to them and to their family members. There are a lot of Iranians John, who felt that this was an opportunity for this team, the team Melli as it's known the nation's team to have taken a stance to show support to the people of Iran. And they feel that was a missed opportunity. It disappointed them that they didn't do that, like other athletes have done, who have gone to jail or who have faced threats, but they did stand by the people.
And also at the same time, John, there was a moment that I feel was a turning point for a lot of Iranians. And that's when Iran beat Wales last week and we saw these celebrations on the streets of Tehran where you had the security forces really surreal scenes. The security forces that are accused of killing hundreds of people during this crackdown, horrific human rights abuses over the years. They're out on the streets. Celebrating at a time where a crackdown is ongoing. There's people are burying their dead it was a very, very painful moment for a lot of Iranians. And a real turning point for many, you know, who felt that this team was no longer a team that united Iranians no matter how they felt about the regime, they felt that it was now representing the regime. And I think that explains a lot about what we're seeing tonight.
BERMAN: So much going on beyond your soccer there. Jomana Karadsheh, thank you very much.
So, years of COVID lockdowns have unleashed unprecedented rare protests in China. The communist state responding with even more intimidation to crush the dissent. See how lie from Beijing. That's next.
BERMAN: You don't see mass uprisings in China often, hardly ever, not the kind of country that takes kindly to dissent. That's why the show of opposition right now two years of highly restrictive COVID lock downs. It's truly extraordinary. Protesters have taken to the streets and at least 15 Chinese cities demanding the lockdowns be lifted, some are being beaten by police, others are having their cell phones seized as the government tries to snuff out the protests.
CNN's Selina Wang is live in Beijing for us. And Selina it's not just increased police presence How far are the Chinese authorities willing to go right now to stop the protests?
SELINA WANG, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It's all about stopping the momentum in its tracks, John, because a key priority of China's giant security apparatus is precisely to prevent social unrest like what we're seeing. Authorities, they've got a big toolkit of repression, surveillance and individual intimidation. Some protesters are even getting calls and home visits from the police. What's really chilling, though, John, is that in places like Shanghai, some of this intimidation, it's playing out in broad daylight. Police randomly stopping people in the area where the protests had broken up days before ordering people to delete content from their phones, and other videos appear to show police randomly checking the cell phones of passengers on a subway and Shanghai. Protesters have told us police are also checking if people have installed VPNs on their phones to get around China's firewall in order to use those banned apps like Twitter, and Telegram which some protesters have been using to communicate.
And all of this it is preventing people from gathering. We see the protests become smaller and more scattered since the weekend. Police on Monday broke up and attempted protests. In Hangzhou video show a woman being dragged away, screaming authorities violently pushing people. All of this this aftermath, it's a reminder that this is a police state where there is virtually no privacy. People know that even their private messages on Chinese apps are monitored. All of our movements are tracked with COVID health apps, security cameras are all over this country. So, as you say the fact that these protests happened at all across the country. It's just extraordinary.
BERMAN: So, we've seen some footage of protesters getting arrested. What do we know about the people who are detained? What happens to them?
WANG: Yes, we spoke to a protester who was part of a large group of people detained in Shanghai Saturday night, and this person said they had their phones confiscated. Police collected their fingerprints, the retina patterns. They were later released and had their phones returned. But they said police deleted photos and removed apps. A Beijing protester told us that she's received a phone call from police asking if she took part in, quote, illegal activities. And she said something pretty striking that police may have been calmed during the actual protest, which I witnessed myself as well. But the Communist Party, she said is very good at doling out the punishment afterwards.
And John, we've also finally gotten some sort of response from Chinese officials to the protests, even though it was a veiled response. China's security chief said law enforcement needs to quote, resolutely strike hard against infiltration and sabotaged activities by hostile forces, as well as illegal and criminal acts that disrupt social order. So tough language there that may signal a more aggressive crackdown ahead. But meanwhile, health authorities they are still defending zero COVID. But now saying they want to reduce the impact of COVID restrictions on people's lives. That's nicer language, but no concrete changes. John.
BERMAN: Selina Wang, thank you so much for your reporting. Please keep us posted.
For more context on these protests and what it could mean for President Xi. Let's go to Fareed Zakaria host of "FAREED ZAKARIA GPS" Fareed, here's Selina Wang, to talk about what it's like on the ground in Beijing. But when you look to the wider lens, how significant is this moment?
FAREED ZAKARIA, CNN HOST, FAREED ZAKARIA GPS: It's very significant. China has actually allowed protests over the years, but they've always been local protests, you know, local corruption or pollution or, you know, food shortages. This is about a policy that is not in local policy. It is a central policy. This is XI Jinping's policy, one that he has boasted about repeatedly. He's talked about how the Chinese have handled, and his government has handled COVID better than anyone else. And so, this is a frontal assault on Xi Jinping.
But it's also worth noting that you're watching these images, the great problem the Chinese Communist Party has going forward, which is this is a pretty modern middle-class society. Lots of people have electronic equipment. And lots of them are aware, they're watching the World Cup, for example, and noticing that people are not wearing masks and these stadiums with tens and tens of thousands of people, which is by the way, being censored by the Chinese for precisely that reason.
So, what you're watching now is a government that is ruling a much more alert, restive, aware population than say in 1989 in Tiananmen, these are richer, more urban, more educated, more tech savvy, and yet it has no -- it seems to have no way to course correct, which is one of the things the Chinese Communist Party used to do before Xi Jinping. They would move around and adjust and change policy, but they seem to locked in to zero COVID.
BERMAN: How much of it isn't about COVID at this point Fareed? How much is COVID -- how much is either the shifting demographic or the genuine concerns about government overreach?
ZAKARIA: Well, clearly the trigger is COVID. And you know, the really draconian lockdowns and clearly local governments have been excessively zealous, you know, this is what happens in China, the local governments try to show off to the center, and each has sort of done the other in some ways. But I think that it's fair to say, yes, that there is a broader dimension to this, which is people are saying, we don't want to live in a society where the government has this kind of power. Where we are this -- that we are pawns in, in a government spas (ph). You know, we, we often look at the United States and all the chaos of our COVID policy, and all the politicization that we talk about.
But you know, in a way, it's a good thing, because you have open contestation, you have arguments, you have disagreements, and then policy gets adjusted. China has, does not really have the ability to have that kind of policy adjustment, you know, it wouldn't be such a mark of Xi's weakness, where he didn't now given that he's trying not to -- what the government is trying to do is race to the point two or three months from now, where they will probably have an mRNA vaccine that they have, you're an indigenous Chinese one, they don't want to use Western ones. And then they can vaccinate the whole population, and then presumably, they'll start opening up. It still sounds like a very, very tough challenge, because that's a long way away. So.
BERMAN: And maybe a lot of suffering for the Chinese people. Fareed Zakaria, thanks so much for being with us tonight.
ZAKARIA: Always a pleasure. BERMAN: Coming up, the story of two parents reunited with their daughter more than 50 years after she went missing. The surprising way she found them. That's next.
BERMAN: Tonight, a family is reunited after more than five decades apart. Melissa Highsmith was just a baby when she was kidnapped in 1971. And now thanks to a DNA testing kit. She's found the family she did not know she lost.
CNN's Ed Lavandera has her story.
ED LAVANDERA, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Moments before Melissa Highsmith reunited with her parents, you can see the emotional excitement overwhelming her. Highsmith mother and father waited 51 years for this embrace.
ALTA APANTENCO, MOTHER OF MELISSA HIGHSMITH: Just couldn't believe it. I thought I would never see her again.
JEFFRIE HIGHSMITH, FATHER OF MELISSA HIGHSMITH: And they said Dad, she's alive. And I started crying. And after 51 years, it's so emotional.
LAVANDERA (voice-over): Back in the early 1970s, Melissa Highsmith was 22 months old, her parents were separated at the time. Her mother Alta, put an ad in the newspaper looking for a babysitter to care for Melissa so she could work. Alta's roommate at the time handed off Melissa to the babysitter on the morning of August 23, 1971. The woman and Melissa never returned. Melissa's disappearance made headlines in her hometown of Fort Worth, Texas. Alta wrote an open letter asking the kidnapper to call her. I'm begging you again for the return of my little girl. I've been going out of my mind with worry. The call never came.
But DNA testing did decades later. Melissa's family submitted their DNA to 23andMe and got the results a few weeks ago with a match to one of Melissa's own children. The now 53-year-old confronted the woman. She spent nearly her whole life believing was her own mother.
MELISSA HIGHSMITH, REUNITED WITH FAMILY: I asked her, is there anything that you need to tell me? And it was confirmed that she knew that I was baby Melissa. So that just made it real.
LAVANDERA (voice-over): Since the Highsmith families reunion over Thanksgiving, Melissa has started reconnecting with her parents over old baby photos.
M. HIGHSMITH: It's good to see what I looked like when I was a baby.
LAVANDERA (voice-over): And this meeting three sisters and a brother she never knew she had.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Welcome back, sissy. Welcome to the family.
M. HIGHSMITH: My heart right now is just full and first thing was so much emotion.
LAVANDERA (voice-over): It's unimaginable emotion. In an instant, Melissa Highsmith's world changed. She had no idea a family had spent decades searching for her.
M. HIGHSMITH: It is overwhelming, but at the same time, it's just the most wonderful feeling in the world.
BERMAN: And Ed Lavandera joins me now. This is an amazing story. What are the authorities saying about the woman who took Melissa as a child?
LAVANDERA: Well, investigators say that they and this is in Fort Worth police, they say they will they will look into this, they will investigate the matters of this abduction and how all of this happen. But believe it or not, criminal charges are not likely, John, the statute of limitations on this case ran out when Melissa Highsmith was 38 years old, so she's 53 now, so that was about 15 years ago. And right now, the family says they're going through the process of doing more official DNA testing, just to confirm the biological connection here.
But right now, it's a family just simply overwhelmed by the magnitude of what they are experiencing, trying to connect and make up for a ridiculous amount of lost time. John.
BERMAN: Fifty years, I can't imagine. Ed Lavandera, thank you so much.
Major convictions for the Justice Department at the first January 6 seditious conspiracy trial. We'll walk you through the mixed verdicts and what they could mean for future insurrection defendants. That's next.