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Putin's 'Denazification'; Interview With Nuremberg Prosecutor Benjamin Ferencz. Aired 1-2p ET
Aired April 15, 2022 - 13:00:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN INTERNATIONAL HOST: Hello, everyone, and welcome to AMANPOUR.
Here's what's coming up.
BENJAMIN FERENCZ, NUREMBERG TRIALS PROSECUTOR: It pains me to see that we have learned so little from the Holocaust.
AMANPOUR (voice-over): He's the last surviving Nuremberg prosecutor. Now, 75 years after those landmark trials, Benjamin Ferencz joins me with an
urgent call to action about Russia's war on Ukraine.
RUSLAN KAVATSIUK, DEPUTY CEO, BABYN YAR HOLOCAUST MEMORIAL CENTER: Putin doesn't care about Babyn Yar, doesn't care about Holocaust, doesn't care
AMANPOUR: Exposing what Putin actually means by denazification. My visit to Kyiv's Holocaust memorial site at Babyn Yar.
NARRATOR: "I have not stopped worrying about the people in Poland. When would the hour of execution come? Would this blind world only then see it,
when it will be too late?"
AMANPOUR: When many looked the other way during the Nazi terror, Raphael Lemkin, the man who lost everything, but had the courage to stand up and
scream bloody murder.
Also ahead, Michel Martin talks to journalist Mark Follman about the mission to stop mass shootings in America.
And, finally, a dazzling performance from the top of the world.
AMANPOUR: Welcome to the program, everyone. I'm Christiane Amanpour in London.
Never again, those two words have echoed through history as a promise to the dead and a warning to the living. Never again would we allow atrocities
to be committed with impunity. Never again would the rest of the world just stand by and watch.
Vladimir Putin's unprovoked war in Ukraine is testing that promise and the West's will to stop him. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy is
accusing him of genocide, a claim now shared by President Biden, who admits that, ultimately, it's the legal process that will determine that.
So, tonight, we look back at the origins of that word genocide and two men who ensured the world would not look away after the horrors of World War
Benjamin Ferencz is the last surviving prosecutor from the Nuremberg trials, winning convictions against 22 Nazi defendants back in 1947. And he
was the first prosecutor to actually use the term genocide in a court of law.
We recently spoke about his experience then and his feelings about the war in Ukraine now. It's clear that, in his 103rd year, Ferencz isn't giving up
his fight for justice or his faith in peace.
AMANPOUR: Benjamin Ferencz, welcome to the program.
FERENCZ: Thank you.
AMANPOUR: It's really extraordinary to be able to talk to you, because of your vast experience that is so relevant now, as always.
I just wonder, because I have heard that you can do it, recite from memory your opening statement from your prosecuting case back in September of 1947
FERENCZ: Well, that's quite a challenge, but I -- if I recall it, may it please your honors, it is with sorrow and with hope that we here disclose
the deliberate murder of over a million innocent and defenseless people. Vengeance is not our goal.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
FERENCZ: Vengeance is not our goal. Nor do we seek merely a just retribution. We ask this court to affirm by international penal action
man's right to live in peace and dignity, regardless of his race or creed.
The case we present...
(END VIDEO CLIP)
FERENCZ: ... we present is a plea of humanity to law.
AMANPOUR: Oh, that is extraordinary to hear that now.
And I ask you because you have had a remarkable, remarkable career. Even before you were a prosecutor, you were in World War II. You landed in
Normandy. It was around the Battle of the Bulge.
But, afterwards, you were assigned to go to the death camps, to Buchenwald, to Dachau, to try to collect the evidence. What must that have been like?
What did you see when you went there?
FERENCZ: It was horror in capitals. It was incredible.
My assignment was to get the evidence of the crimes. That was no difficulty. The evidence was lying dead in every camp I went into. Their
eyes, some of them were still pleading for help. Some were digging in the garbage hoping to find a piece of bread.
That was the scene that I saw. And it was similar in every camp to which I went. I proceeded then, of course, to the (INAUDIBLE) the office, to seize
whatever documentation was still there.
Fortunately for me, and unfortunately for them, the special extermination squads were called Einsatzgruppen, action groups, recorded each town they
were in, who was the commanding officer, and how many Jews and others that they slaughtered.
And I captured those documents. With that, it was very easy for me to proceed to trial. I had not been originally assigned as a trial lawyer. I
had come out of the Harvard Law School with honors specializing with -- I was a researcher for a professor of international criminal law.
And I was eager to use the material I had. And they -- so they assigned me the job as chief prosecutor. I presented my case in two days, and rested my
case and convicted all of the 24 selected high-ranking Nazi officials; 13 of them were sentenced to death.
It was a historic trial, and the convictions and the prosecution were -- made history.
AMANPOUR: Mr. Ferencz, when you see what's happening in Ukraine at the moment, we also have found ourselves scenes of bodies summarily executed,
just the worst horrors as the Russian forces retreat from around Kyiv.
What do you think, all these years later, given what you hoped would be the case, in holding that kind of crime accountable back in the Holocaust?
FERENCZ: I am heartbroken.
I have spent the rest of my life after the Holocaust trying to create a world of peace and harmony for everyone, regardless of their race or creed.
And we have been making some progress in that direction by creating new international criminal courts, by teaching humanitarian law in
But to see it happening again, very similar, kids being shot, homes being blown up, it pains me to see that we have learned so little from the
Holocaust and from the trials. And I hope that we will come to our senses soon.
I am urging a cease-fire immediately to all the troops engaged in these combats, and use that cease-fire time to promise them a conference of all
the leading participants in the next couple of weeks to find a peaceable solution, as was anticipated when the United Nations Charter was drawn up.
And the most important quote that I have for you is a quote of my commanding general during the war, commander of all of the allied forces,
later general -- General Dwight D. Eisenhower, later president of the United States.
As president, he was leaving. He said, in a very real sense, we can no longer rely on force. If civilization is to survive, it must turn to the
rule of law.
Those have been my guiding lights, Republican President Dwight D. Eisenhower, the wisdom that he passed on to the rest of the world, and
which, unfortunately, is being disregarded today.
AMANPOUR: Disregarded terribly by Russia, which was in part an ally during World War II and actually helped liberate some of those camps. It is
extraordinary to see what they are perpetrating today in Ukraine.
So, Mr. Ferencz, do you think somebody like Vladimir Putin and his commanding generals can be held accountable? Already, our world leaders are
accusing him of war crimes. We journalists and others have discovered the evidence? And, today, we have the video. All those years ago, you had the
Do you believe that he can be held accountable?
FERENCZ: Certainly, he can be held accountable.
You cannot justify by any argument the murder of young children, taking them out of hospitals, killing their parents. That's what's happening
repeatedly. And we have crimes against humanity have been punishable, not only in Nuremberg, but later many jurisdictions. And these are crimes
You have aggression. The invasion of Ukraine would probably classify as a clear case of aggression. And murder has always been a crime against
humanity. So there is no difficulty in classifying the nature of the existence of the crimes under which whoever is responsible for it can be
held to account.
And Mr. Putin, if he be the man who has been behind all this, would certainly have a tough time walking out of the courtroom.
AMANPOUR: So how do you envision that, and in what kind of courtroom?
Because you were instrumental in helping to set up the International Criminal Court. But neither Russia, nor Ukraine and nor the United States
of America are signatories and participants. How do you envision, in what forum prosecuting the crimes of this war?
FERENCZ: We have set the model by the existing courts.
Unfortunately, not every nation is willing to accept an obligation not to murder the people they think are their enemies. So we have enough models
and enough different courts. We had a court for crimes committed in Yugoslavia, crimes committed in other places.
So there is no shortage of models where to put them. The difficulty is to get them to accept the jurisdiction of the court. The criminals will never
want to have a court. But it's up to the public to either put them in jail or put them on trial or throw them out of office. They cannot continue this
way to have people of importance in the administration of office telling their troops to go out and kill people they don't even know for crimes they
can't even describe.
And they kill them by the hundreds and the thousands. That's the world in which we live. And it's the world which I'm still trying to change, and at
103 years of age. And I'm not discouraged. I say, never give up, never give up, never give up.
AMANPOUR: And you were recently recognized by your own state. The governor awarded you with the highest honor for all your work.
I am really interested to hear you say after all these years that you don't give up, you're not discouraged, that you are still, I guess, optimistic
that justice will be the ruling determinant, and that rule of law will survive.
Where do you get that optimism from?
FERENCZ: I have no choice.
The horrors are so great that to sit by and do nothing is just -- I can't possibly do that. I was awarded five Battle Stars for having survived the
five major battles in World War II, from the landing of the beaches at Normandy, to the final Battle of the Bulge. And I have seen the horrors of
And to let the world continue to use that as an instrument of persuasion is so stupid and so incredible, that I simply can't stop doing it at the age
of 103. And, someday, I will be able to hope to look back and see there was a court created and it was functioning, and it was functioning well, and
deterring the crimes.
AMANPOUR: Yes, that would be an incredible legacy. As I say, it's halfway there, Mr. Ferencz. You have done a huge amount of work for this.
Can I ask you just to lay out, as a prosecutor, how one would, let's say, go after a Putin? What is the command responsibility that has to be
FERENCZ: We have to first have a command, cease-fire. Cease-fire means you put down your gun and you stop shooting. And anybody who's got a gun and
keeps shooting, shoot him first.
So, the first command from all the commanders, cease-fire. And then they have settled down. Give them a week at all. And then convene a conference
and saying, our boys, follow the Eisenhower -- General, President Eisenhower's advice. Let's turn to the rule of law and settle this by
peaceful means only, as the United Nations Charter demands, and hope that we can stop these senseless, massive killings.
AMANPOUR: Part of what you prosecuted actually happened in Ukraine, Babyn Yar, the murder of more than 30,000 Jews and others there.
And I just wondered, this is what's happening again, not necessarily Jews, but many Ukrainians are being massacred. And I just wondered how you would
prosecute Putin, obviously, a cease-fire, end of the war, and international conference.
But what has to be established, as a prosecutor? What do you need to tell the court in order to show his responsibility, if that's possible?
FERENCZ: You have referred to the Babyn Yar massacre, which the Germans committed. They killed 33,000-plus Jews, which was their goal. And they
were very proud to issue their report.
The situation today is similar in many ways. You try to bring the main culprit to a trial. You have him arrested. And you hold only the leaders
accountable, because, otherwise, you are going to be punishing the whole army. And under standard principles of humanity, you charge them with
aggression, crimes against humanity under the existing statutes.
We have the statutes there. We just don't apply them. And we don't have a court competent to do it. So we have to get away from this independence of
sovereign states, so-called, who feel they have a right to kill all their neighbors whenever they think it's in their own interests to do so.
And it's a savage thing. Animals don't do that. They kill each other because they need food. If you require every soldier to eat his enemy,
might them discourage them a bit. But the precedents are there. We don't really have to invent new laws. And, basically, it's treat human beings as
human beings, and not as animals.
AMANPOUR: Do you remember back when you were prosecuting the 22 who you successfully got convicted that your superiors at first, apparently,
thought that you might not be able to do it? They were reluctant to bring this case. Do you remember that?
FERENCZ: Well, I wouldn't say they were really reluctant.
And I brought this case to who was my chief then, General Telford Taylor, who later was my law partner in New York. He was assigned to have 12
subsequent trials after the trial against Goering and company. And there were some opposition to having any more trials.
But he was convinced, and they just didn't have any more lawyers to assign. I was doing investigative work. And I said, you can't let these bastards
go. I have in my hands proof, their daily reports to the front, which were sent back to Berlin. And they were consolidated into like telephone books,
and sent out to 99 people of the S.S. I had their list and the names as well.
So I said, you can't let these guys go. And he said, well, can you do it in your spare time? I said, sure. And so he said, OK, you do it. And I rested
my case in two days, and convicted all of them.
FERENCZ: Of course, I was a Harvard Law graduate, and had specialized in criminal law, and always wanted to be a criminal lawyer. And I was very
glad to see that they were all convicted.
AMANPOUR: And you were only 27. I mean, that is quite something.
Do you ever reflect back and think, wow, I was such a young person when this all happened?
FERENCZ: Well, I'm only 103 now.
FERENCZ: So, what I did when I was 27, I think it was quite interesting.
And I'm still doing the same thing, trying to create a more humane world.
FERENCZ: And it's still very difficult to do. I need help.
AMANPOUR: I love the way you say you're only 103.
FERENCZ: So, I appreciate the...
FERENCZ: That's right.
AMANPOUR: Can I also ask you, Mr. Ferencz?
You were the first to use the word genocide, the term genocide, in a court of law. I want to play a little bit of that part of your statement back in
1947. Let's just play it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
FERENCZ: So, here, the killing of defenseless civilians during a war may be a war crime, but the same killings are part of another crime, a graver
one, if you will, genocide, or a crime against humanity.
This is the distinction we make in our pleading. It is real and most significant.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: So talk me through that a little bit.
You employed that word for the first time in a court of law. And, of course, they're using that term, by and large, in Ukraine as well.
FERENCZ: I used the term because it was more meaningful. It has a different term.
The killing of people simply because you think you are a superior race, and they are an inferior race, is not a tolerable conception which should be
enforced at all. And genocide was a way of saying, it's a crime.
AMANPOUR: Benjamin Ferencz, you just told me you were only 103.
And you keep up a quite rigorous regime of exercise. You clearly take good care of yourself. You're completely healthy, it seems, in every which way.
And yet you have witnessed some of the worst kind of trauma and horror that anybody could be subjected to.
How did you learn to live with that?
FERENCZ: I didn't. I don't live with it. I'm aware of it all the time. And it drives me.
It's a trauma which has set in. And people say, why are you doing this? There's no money in it and it's impossible.
I can't stop, because the crimes are continuing, unfortunately, in many different places. And the least I can do is show them what it means to be
the victims of this sort of mentality. And I can't stop doing it. And that's why, at these advanced years, I'm still sitting here, giving you a
FERENCZ: ... hoping that the people will agree with what I say and will help in the future.
AMANPOUR: Yes, I'm sure they will.
You're giving us a broadcast. You're also giving us a massively important history lesson and eyewitness testimony.
And I just wanted to ask you, what brings you joy, Benjamin Ferencz? What brings you joy today?
FERENCZ: It brings me joy when I see justice being done, but it's very rare.
When it is done, occasionally, it brings me satisfaction. I won't say joy is the right word for it, because they're going to try to give the
murderers some of their own medicine, and it's not a joyful thing. It's a very serious thing. And I take it very seriously.
And I am satisfied with the progress that we have made. We do have courts. They are functioning, not adequately, they are functioning. They're
beginning. We have universal declaration of human rights. So we're making progress.
And we mustn't give up, because, if you give up, then you're dooming everybody. And you have to give up the notion of settling your disputes by
killing thousands of innocent people, which is the current practice. And I can't rest with that. We have got to put a stop to that stupidity.
AMANPOUR: I just want to ask you, finally. The United States is not a signatory, does not recognize the jurisdiction of the International
Criminal Court, presumably because it doesn't want to be hauled before that court.
And I just wondered what your thoughts are, sort of justice for thee, but not for me. Do you think the U.S. should join up, sign up?
FERENCZ: Absolutely. Absolutely should be in the lead, as were on so many things, and taking a sensible position, instead of taking, well, do we need
it? Is it -- are we going to be restrained?
Nobody likes to be restrained. All the murderers think they're doing it in the national interest. I regret I have one -- only one head to give for my
To die for your country is not glorious. To live for your country is glorious. And so we have it all backwards. And I don't know how many more
people must die before we begin to realize it.
AMANPOUR: Mr. Benjamin Ferencz, it really was a privilege and a great pleasure to talk to you.
FERENCZ: Thank you very much for your help.
AMANPOUR: So that was remarkable testimony from a truly remarkable man.
And you just heard Benjamin Ferencz talking about the atrocities committed at Babyn Yar in Kyiv, where more than 33,000 people, including children,
were murdered. Some of the perpetrators were among those Ferencz successfully prosecuted back in 1947.
And just last week, in Kyiv, I visited the memorial, because of the reasons Vladimir Putin has given for his war.
AMANPOUR (voice-over): There seems to be few limits to what triggers Putin and his Russian nationalists. Take the idea that he launched this war to
So we visited Kyiv's Holocaust memorial site at Babyn Yar to try to understand that term in a nation with a Jewish president and several
ministers who have outlawed anti-Semitism.
(on camera): And they say, so and so Ukrainian is a Nazi. It means anti- Russian or anti-Semitic?
KAVATSIUK: Definitely, Putin doesn't care about Babyn Yar, doesn't care about Holocaust, doesn't care about Jews, when he's speaking about
AMANPOUR: How powerful an entity are ultra-nationalists or fascists here?
KAVATSIUK: In Ukraine, they tried to go for elections a couple of times, every time succeeding to get 1 percent. So it's a very -- people are very
reluctant to give any power to override.
AMANPOUR (voice-over): Ruslan Kavatsiuk is deputy director of Babyn Yar. He tells us yar means ravine and he shows us the precise site where more
than 30,000 Jews were executed on September 29 and 30, 1941.
Today, the most beautiful synagogue has been built to memorialize them. The Swiss architect and Ukrainian engineers have devised an elaborate and
complex structure, revealing itself through a system of pulleys, to be in part based on synagogues that used to dot the ancient countryside.
Over 1.5 million Jews lived here before World War II. About one million were killed in the Holocaust. It's believed that 43,000 Jews still live in
Ukraine, although perhaps four times that number claim Jewish ancestry.
As we peer into the audiovisual history of how 100,000 Jews and others were simply gunned down during World War II in this area alone, Ruslan tells us
that Russia needs to respect Ukraine's tragic past, not distort it.
AMANPOUR: So, as we said, Benjamin Ferencz was the first to use the word genocide in a court of law. That term was actually coined by a Polish Jew
named Raphael Lemkin in 1944.
And I reported his story in a 2008 investigative special called "Scream Bloody Murder" about the horrors and the history of genocide.
A warning that the following images do match that history. They're graphic and disturbing. But in order to recognize atrocities, we have to bear
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Unprecedented crimes were perpetrated by the Nazis, starvation, abuse, beatings and tortures. Bodies stacked one upon the other
were found outside the crematory. Inside are the ovens.
AMANPOUR: Today, we call what happened here at Auschwitz and at the other death camps genocide.
But, back then, there was no name for the Nazis' crimes. The word genocide didn't exist. It was created by a Polish Jew who lost everything he had and
everyone he loved.
(voice-over): His name was Raphael Lemkin. In 1944, he wrote a book about the Nazis. In it, he combined the Greek word genos, for race, with the
Latin word cide, for killing -- genocide, a new word for a crime that he would spend his lifetime trying to prevent.
Lemkin's interest started early, as he wrote in his autobiography.
NARRATOR: "I started to devour books on the subject. The appeal for the protection of the innocent followed me all my life."
AMANPOUR: As a teenager, Lemkin learned through news accounts that the Turkish government was slaughtering its Christian Armenian citizens. The
government claimed it was putting down an Armenian revolt. And over eight years, it killed a million Armenian men, women and children in massacres
and forced marches.
To this day, the Turkish government denies a genocide took place and few of the perpetrators have ever faced justice.
NARRATOR: "I was shocked. Why is the killing of a million a lesser crime than the killing of a single individual?"
AMANPOUR: Raphael Lemkin made a bold plan. He would create an international law that would punish racial mass murder and prevent it from
ever happening again.
In 1933, Hitler took power in Germany. And Raphael Lemkin, now a lawyer in Warsaw, created a proposal for an important international conference.
NARRATOR: "I moved fast. Now was the time to outlaw the destruction of national, racial and religious groups."
AMANPOUR: But nobody listened and no one supported Lemkin's legal remedy, even as anti-Semitism was becoming Germany's national policy.
When Hitler invaded Poland in 1939, Lemkin knew that his worst fears were about to come true. Lemkin fled, leaving his country and his family behind.
NARRATOR: "I felt I would never see them again. It was like going to their funerals while they were still alive."
AMANPOUR: Lemkin became one of the lucky few to reach America, after a friend helped him find a job at Duke University Law School. But he remained
afraid for his family, and his countrymen.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I had not stopped worrying about the people in Poland. When would the hour of execution come? Would this blind world only then see
it, when it will be too late?
AMANPOUR: Soon the letters from home stopped coming. The Nazis had captured his parent's village. It was a death sentence for 40 members of
Lemkin's (ph) family.
By 1942, America had entered the war and the Germans had accelerated their deadly work. Concentration camps ran day and night, like assembly lines.
Here at Auschwitz, more than 1 million people were killed.
Jews arrived packed into trains. The Nazis sorted them on the platform, sent the doomed to the gas chambers, stripped, shaved and tattooed the
Elie Wiesel was number A7713.
ELIE WIESEL: I was young, frightened.
AMANPOUR: The Nazis killed his mother and his younger sister.
WIESEL: The question of the killers has obsessed me for years and years. How could they kill children? I don't know. How could they?
AMANPOUR: As Wiesel suffered in the camps, word of the slaughter reached America. But it seemed of little interest to the press and the politicians.
Raphael Lemkin was outraged.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The impression of a tremendous conspiracy of silence poisoned the air. A double murder was taking place, it was the murder of
AMANPOUR: Jewish groups pressed Washington to bomb the camps, or at least the rail lines. The allies refused, even though their planes were scouting
targets nearby. Twenty-six thousand feet below, Elie Wiesel seen here in a barracks was clinging to life.
They knew what was happening?
WIESEL: They knew.
AMANPOUR: And they had a direct shot at stopping it?
WIESEL: They knew. From 10 to 12,000 men, and women, and children were killed every single day. The trains were running, running, running.
AMANPOUR: But the U.S. didn't want to divert military resources from winning the war.
WIESEL: The truth? It wasn't a priority.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The wrongs which we seek to condemn -
AMANPOUR: After the war, the architects of the Holocaust were tried at Nuremberg. They were sent to prison, or to the gallows. But the world
powers made no commitment to intervene, should it ever happen again.
Lemkin knew he must act. He set his sights on the fledgling United Nations, put everything aside and worked himself to exhaustion for two years to
create an international law against genocide.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The convention is adopted by this assembly by unanimous vote.
AMANPOUR: Finally, in 1948 the genocide convention became law, and it required nations to act to stop genocide. Some called it Lemkin's Law.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Article 1, the contracting parties -
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Genocide, whether committed is a crime under international law -
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: - which they undertake to prevent and to punish.
AMANPOUR: It was a hard-won victory after a lifetime of sacrifice. A decade later Lemkin would die penniless and alone. In the years to come,
others would take up Lemkin's cause. A brash American in Iraq. A defiant Canadian general in Rwanda. And a missionary who took on the murderers in
And as we can see, it's still happening. And in times of such suffering, everyone needs some sort of support. So, for these Ukrainian children it is
hope that dogs could provide much needed therapy as they do in many parts of the world. This humanitarian aid center in Zaporizhzhia, Ukraine -
- is welcoming displaced children who flee the fighting in the east with 28 canine friends for them to pet and play with, and a volunteer at the center
says that it is a chance for those traumatized children to spend a bit of time with "nothing to remind them of what they went through."
But now we turn to a different crisis across the Atlantic, gun violence in the United States. Journalist Mark Follman has spent the last decade
focusing on that issue. His new book "Trigger Points," details how leaders could go beyond their thoughts and their prayers, and actually solve this
problem. And he joins Michel Martin as Brooklyn is still recovering from this week's subway shooting.
MICHEL MARTIN, CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Thanks, Christiane. Mark Follman, thank you so much for joining us.
MARK FOLLMAN, AUTHOR, "TRIGGER POINTS": It's a pleasure to be here, thank you.
MARTIN: So after the massacre at the movie theater in Aurora, Colorado in 2012 you and Mother Jones created a - I think it was the first of its kind,
like an open source database documenting mass shootings in the United States. So, would you just tell us a little bit about your research? Just
set the table for us, tell us some of the basics. How do you define a mass shooting? Has it changed over the years?
FOLLMAN: So after the Aurora theater massacre, I was asking the question what's going on here? This was, at the time, an unprecedented event. And I
really wanted to know more about this particular type of mass attack. And I went looking for data and was startled to find that there was virtually
So that was the catalyst for building this database that we began working on at Mother Jones, and collected data on dozens of cases going back 30
years. Of course, we began adding to it with frequency and have ever since. And one of the interesting findings early on was that a lot of the guns
being used in these crimes were obtained legally.
Another I think very stark data point was that many of these mass shooters were suicidal, which speaks (inaudible) the mental health issues going on
in these cases. And perhaps to prevention work (ph).
And another thing that I learned pretty early on from studying these cases and digging deeper into them was that there was indeed a trail of
behavioral warning signs in all of these cases. That there were ways to see this coming, contrary to this popular theme that we have in our media
coverage that nobody could have possibly imagined this guy would have done this.
You know, we hear these kinds of comments from people who are close to the perpetrators of these attacks, often that he was a quiet guy, and I
couldn't have imagined this. And it conveys this sense that these are undetectable and that they sort of burst out of nowhere, and that's not
In all of these cases there is a whole trail of behavior and activity that is often noticeable to people around the perpetrators of mass shootings. So
I think that was an important early discovery, and that's part of what led me to write the book.
MARTIN: Any changes over time in what you've seen the trajectory here, or is it the similarities that standout to you?
FOLLMAN: Yes, well one big question early on that also prompted the search for data is, is this happening more often? And we developed a set of
criteria because one of the challenges with studying this issue is what is a mass shooting? And there's been some considerable debate about that in
recent years, and there's some broader criteria that is often used by the news media to say there are hundreds of these cases a year. That's not the
way we came at it.
We used a much more narrowly defined criteria that looked at public attacks often by a lone shooter in which four or more victims were killed. That
later on changed to three or more because we were following the guidelines of the federal government, which then decided to define it as three or
more. But ultimately this is an arbitrary baseline for victims.
MARTIN: But why killed? I mean, you can be grievously hurt in a shooting and not die.
MARTIN: I mean, you can have lifelong injuries.
FOLLMAN: Right. It underscores that there is no perfect way to define this problem, right? Because the New York City subway attack that we just saw,
no one died fortunately. But that is this type of mass shooting where a whole bunch of people were injured. And so it is a problem of defining and
understanding this issue.
But in order to get a data set you have to draw some lines, and so that's the way that we did it. And with that more conservative approach what we
found is that this problem has escalated over the past decade by nearly threefold. So it is a growing problem in terms of these specific types of
public mass shooting events.
MARTIN: Any thoughts about why?
FOLLMAN: It's a really tough question to answer. I think there are some broader cultural and political forces in play, right? And certainly in
recent time with the stresses of the pandemic, with our political volatility in recent years, polarization that's going on, the continual
increase in the amount of firearms that are available in the country. There was record gun buying in the last couple of years.
So all of these things coming together, I think are creating a more volatile mix. And even with that though, it's hard to answer that question,
what is it that makes our society so violent in this way?
MARTIN: Let's talk about the latest incident that brings us together, this horrifying incident in the New York City subways. And for people who are
not from New York, who've never visited New York, it's just - I just feel like I need to explain just how important the subway is to the life of New
You know, subway is kind of the lifeblood of the city, it's how people get around. It's - I don't know, it's like, it's a fundamental part of life in
New York for most people. And you know, a man (ph) - all of - it's horrifying on every level. Smoke, you're underground, you're in a closed in
space, it's rush hour, you're surrounded by people and then the person starts shooting.
Now, we do know that the person has - the person's been apprehended, and some facts about this person are starting to emerge. So just tell me what
stands out to you about this incident.
FOLLMAN: Yes, I think that it was very horrifying in the way that you're talking about - you know, in a certain sense touched people in a way that
is very broad based. To imagine going through that, for people who use public transportation. And that is part of the nature of this problem, as
I've studied it.
These mass shootings, there is a quest for sensationalism in a lot of the perpetrators. If you think back to when a man walked into a movie theater
in Aurora, Colorado and opened fire, and shot dozens of people. At the time that was an unprecedented act in a movie theater.
That wasn't entirely a coincidence, and we've seen this happen with schools and other settings. And so, this is a clue to some of the behaviors that go
into these attacks, and they are planned attacks. These are people who were (ph) thinking about carrying out what they see as a valid idea for a
solution to their grievances, and rage, and problems - and they're seeking attention for it in many cases.
And I suspect that that's in play in this case too. I want to be careful because there's still a lot about this case that we don't know yet. But we
do know that this was an attack that was planned over a lengthy period of time, and therein lines the promise of this approach of behavioral threat
assessment, that the field of prevention work that I write about in "Trigger Points," which is to focus on this process of behaviors and
circumstances, and thinking that leads up to these attacks, and use that as a window of opportunity to intervene before it's too late. The question
MARTIN: Tell us more about why you say - you say that one of the big myths is that people just snap. And you're saying that that's just not true, that
most of these attacks are in fact, planned. Tell us more about that.
FOLLMAN: That's right. This is one of the, I think very unhelpful myths that we recycle in the news media after every one of these attacks. You
always hear the question asked, what made the guy snap? As if this was an impulsive crime, an impulsive act - just went crazy and decided to go shoot
up the subway. No, that's not what happened here.
If you look at the case evidence that we already have, even just within a couple of days this is a person who was thinking about doing this for a
long time. Planning it, taking steps toward it, and then going and doing it. And so, if we understand that better we have more knowledge to work
with to try to get at the nature of this problem, and get in the way of it.
MARTIN: So talk to me about the mental health aspect of this. You say that you think that the kind of mental illness dimension of this is
misunderstood. I'm struggling with - to understand your point of view here, because this is - is this you think people are not mentally ill who engage
in this conduct? They think this is kind of rational behavior? But isn't that one of the hallmarks of some aspects of mental illness is you don't
know you're sick?
FOLLMAN: It's a great question, Michel. And this is a tough aspect of this, I think in part because we sort of run up against the limits of
language, in a certain sense, with our lay (ph) understanding of mental illness.
The issue here is that, as I was saying earlier, these are planned attacks. These are not people who are insane who are just snapping. And that sort of
popular narrative is misguided in terms of understanding what's going on here.
There are other issues with blaming mental illness, and we see mental illness often blamed for these attacks as the cause. But there isn't really
any scientific evidence to support that. There's a long body of case research and broader research in the mental health field that shows that
mental illness is not correlated with violent behavior in any meaningful way, it's not predictive of violence.
Most people who have clinically diagnosable mental illness are not violent, and in fact are more likely to be victims of violence.
So when we blame mental illness, it's counterproductive and stigmatizing. Where this gets difficult in the context of mass shooters is that these, of
course, are people who are not mentally healthy. They have lots of very serious problems, and mental illness may be in the mix. But the
distinction, I think is what we tend to call crazy or insane.
You know, we regard these people as completely detached from reality. But that's not the case in most of these cases. These are people who do have
rational thought processes in terms of - you know, developing an idea for what they want to do, and then planning it, and carrying it out. So to just
dismiss it as crazy doesn't help us understand it, let alone prevent it from happening.
MARTIN: So what would help? What is a more constructive way to look at this phenomenon?
FOLLMAN: Well, I do see a lot of promise in this method, behavioral threat assessment that I write about in "Trigger Points." I was able to gain
access to a lot of cases, particularly in school settings, and one in particular in the city of Salem, Oregon which is one of the pioneers of
this model in an educational setting.
And with these cases, see a whole range of individuals who were struggling with some serious problems and then behaving in ways that were raising
alarm. And in the hands of a multidisciplinary team, a threat assessment team that brings to bear expertise in mental health, in education, in law
enforcement, in juvenile social services - bringing together these people to evaluate and then develop a plan to manage and (ph) offer constructive
I've seen cases where over time, over many months that helps a person onto a better path away from violent thinking. And in the long-term, goes on to
do OK, or just fine and doesn't commit violence. It is one of the tricky things about this field, is the question of how do you measure success,
Because the evidence of success in a threat assessment case is the absence of evidence, it's the absence of a violent outcome. So in a certain
fundamental way we're relying on that counterfactual information to measure the efficacy of the work. But I been -
MARTIN: But you argue - but you argue in the book that there have in fact been numerous potential incidents of violence that have been averted
because of these specific methods.
FOLLMAN: Yes, I think as much as we can say that in the context of a counterfactual, right? I talk about - I write in detail about one case in
the book of a high school kid named Brandon, who threatens to bring a gun to school and shoot up the school in a very specific way. He talks about
the day he's going to do it, he talks about how he's going to acquire the gun from his father's gun safe, he's obtained the code.
These are important signals to a threat assessment team, that kind of specificity. They looked at him quickly to understand what's going on
there, and to try to assess does he have access to a weapon? What else is maybe driving this violent thinking?
He had a whole history of problems and circumstances that were going on that they were able to address through reaching out to him with counseling
support, with educational support, monitoring him closely, working with the family - which isn't always possible.
So it's complicated work, but in this particular case that I write about in the book you could see how over time getting this kid the help that he
needed was very effective.
MARTIN: It's a tricky issue because the reality of it is, Mr. Follman, that statistically white males are more likely to own a gun than any other
demographic in the United States, it's just a fact. On the other hand, some of the kinds of violence that is so destabilizing to a community - like
shooting up a movie theater, or shooting up a basketball court for example.
I mean, I just wonder how this model - how does this model address something like that? Or even this subway - this person, the subway shooter
here who was an adult, who was isolated. I just wonder, how does that - how does it work? I mean, does this involve like constant monitoring of social
media? Like, how does it work that these tools could be brought to bear?
FOLLMAN: Yes, you're going to another great and essential question here about how you can potentially scale this more broadly in communities. And
there's some big challenges there as well. It's not a matter of surveillance, I think that's another important thing to clarify here. That
this isn't about dragnet surveillance, that's not the way that these cases begin.
Social media activity that threat assessment teams will look at in that specific case, it's almost impossible not to do that in the age we're
living in now in terms of developing a picture - a more holistic picture of what's going on with a person and looking for warning behaviors and warning
But when you get more broadly into the question of community, I think the answer lies more with the way that this relates to other forms of community
based violence prevention that have been shown to be effective. Evidence based approaches to intervening with people who are concerning, who may be
involved in gang violence, or who are in situations where there is an escalated -
- risk of gunfire whether it's by community, or by behavior. And these programs that seek to go in and help people to address the problems that
are driving it (ph), right? Whether it's socioeconomic, whether it's employment related - this is - I came to see this really as an additive
solution, an additional tool that can be used to address the gun violence problem.
I think you're pointing to a number of other issues that are very important, that exacerbate it. But I feel that we really need to come at
this every way we can to solve it, because the debate that we're perpetually stuck in about gun regulations, we've seen where that goes over
years and even decades.
The fact remains we have an enormous gun violence problem and a vast quantity of guns in this country. That isn't going to change broadly
anytime soon. So therefore, for me the question became what more can we do? And I think these forms of violence prevention work have promise.
MARTIN: It just seems to me that we are living in two different worlds. I mean, there's the world that says that the more guns the more safe, and on
the other side of it people who feel that there (ph) are just too many guns in circulation in this society and that something has to be sort of done
Is there any - does your reporting indicate that there's any point of agreement between these groups?
FOLLMAN: Well, I think - you know, all the familiar arguments we have about those issues, we will see those continue to be repeated. However,
there are more specific policies that have developed that I think there is more roof for agreement on. And one of them intersects very directly with
the method of threat assessment, what's known now as so-called red flag laws.
It is a policy to remove firearms through a court process from people are thought to be a danger to themselves or to others. And this is a policy
that's grown rapidly in recent years. It's now in 19 states, I believe, and it has strong bipartisan support in most cases.
And so this is, I think, a promising example of where we can find more consensus on gun regulation that also intersects with prevention work in a
potentially very effective way. Because when you talk about threat assessment cases you're talking about needing tools for intervention when
someone is turning dangerous. And if they have a firearm, or access to a firearm what can you do about it?
Historically there were not a whole lot of legal tools, and this is a relatively new one that in fact has spread in the wake of a mass shooting.
California put this in place shortly after the 2014 mass shooting in Santa Barbara because there were behavioral warning signs in that case, and
questions about why wasn't there intervention with this individual? And it's now spread to other states, I think with similar intent.
So that, I think, is a good example of how we can move forward and can find progress on the fierce debate we have over guns and gun politics. And I try
to really advocate against the idea that we should be resigned to nothing ever changing. I think that's another myth that we have about this problem.
There has been lots of change, and there's potential for more.
MARTIN: Mark Follman, thank you so much for talking with us.
FOLLMAN: Thanks so much, it's great to talk with you, Michel.
AMANPOUR: And finally tonight some joy, because the Alps are alive with the sound of music. Legendary Chinese pianist Lang Lang has taken his
talents to new heights, performing on Switzerland's Jungfraujoch, 3,500 meters above sea level. Known for being able to play Bach's Goldberg
variations, which are considered the musical Mount Everest, the thin mountain air didn't stop Lang Lang from playing three pieces. Here's some
of his incredible performance.
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And the memory of this soaring performance will remain here in the mountain's Ice Palace for just as long as it doesn't melt.
And that's it for now. Remember, you can always catch us online and on our podcast. Thanks for watching. And we want to leave you with more of Lang
Lang's performance. Goodbye from London.
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