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Interview with Stanford University Director of Iranian Studies Abbas Milani; Interview with "The Sum of Us" Podcast Host Heather McGhee; Interview with "How Civil Wars Start" Author Barbara F. Walter. Aired 2-3p ET
Aired November 01, 2022 - 14:00:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: Hello, everyone, and welcome to "Amanpour." Here's what's coming up.
Defiant in Iran. Keeping up with the protests, despite prosecution and new threats to stay off the streets. Historian, Abbas Milani, from Stanford
University, on why the fear of the regime is dissipating.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: The only way to save democracy is if we, together, nurture it and fight for it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: The United States at a crossroads. Author and podcaster, Heather McGhee, shares stories from her cross-country road trip, finding hope in a
time of peril. And --
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARBARA F. WALTER, AUTHOR, "HOW CIVIL WARS START": We just have to have the political will and our leaders have to have the courage to do something
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: Reversing Americas descent into violent extremism. Political scientist, Barbara Walter, tells Hari Sreenivasan how civil wars start and
how to stop them.
Welcome to the program, everyone. I'm Christiane Amanpour in London.
Now, if you're looking for a word that encapsulates the last few years of war, COVID, climate catastrophes, political unrest and economic pain, here
it is, permacrisis. Collins Dictionary picks that as word of the year. And tonight, we focus on people who are trying to break out of their crises.
From Iran to the United States, they are fighting back and trying to find solutions.
Protests in the Islamic Republic flared up again today. That's despite the Revolutionary Guards' weekend deadline for getting off the streets. We've
seen other movements in Iran, notably the Islamic Revolution, back in 1979, and the attempted Green Revolution of 2009. But how is this time different?
And aside from sanctions and condemning the regime, does the International Community have any leverage?
My first guest is historian Abbas Milani. He's the director of the Iranian Studies at Stanford University and he's joining me now from California.
Professor Milani, welcome to the program. I just wanted to start by quoting you, yourself, from about seven years ago when you said, the Iranian regime
is sitting atop a seething volcano. What did you mean by that and do you think this is the eruption you were predicting?
ABBAS MILANI, DIRECTOR OF IRANIAN STUDIES, STANFORD UNIVERSITY: That is exactly the eruption. What I meant was that the Iranian society then was
clearly living a different life, fighting for different values, pursuing different goals than the regime. The regime is a bunch of old men who think
they can run Iran based on rules they claim to know from 1,400 years ago. The city of Medina.
People of Iran are modern, the Iranian women want equality, they are sick and tired of gender apartheid. They were sick and tired seven years ago.
There were sick and tired 10 years ago. It didn't take much to see that this was a volcano. And we have had eruptions before, and this time, I
think, is the most serious eruption of them all.
AMANPOUR: OK. So, you talk about eruptions before. What -- certainly in 2009, what distinguish that one from this one is that it was extinguished
quickly and people were not willing to tolerate the violence that was unleashed on them. They were successfully, by the regime, pushed back off
Now, Iranian human rights agencies and news agencies are saying, more than 250 people have been killed in the six weeks or so since this has been
going on. Thousands and thousands have been arrested. And we know also that some 1,000 or so, according to the prosecutors in Iran, have been indicted
and they say, will be publicly tried. And this is going on all over, some 133 cities and areas around the country. So, what is the difference between
them and now?
MILANI: One big difference between 2009 and now is that, at that time, people simply required, requested, demanded that their votes be counted.
That 2009 election was clearly stolen. Mr. Mousavi was, by every account, credible account that I've seen, the winner. Mr. Khamenei decided to
essentially deny that victory, has put that man and his wife in prison for the last 11 years. Gradually, people, I think, decided that reforming the
system is impossible. That was the last serious effort to reform the system.
If you look back at 1979, Mr. Khamenei many came into power promising not a clerical despotism, but clearly, unmistakably a democratic republic. That's
what he said in every one of his interviews in Paris. I would be surprised if you had some interviews with him that time or later on that confirms.
But once in Iran, he created a medieval clerical despotism. And people have tried to reform the system, and they tried to send every possible message
to the clerical establishment, that that is not what people bargained for, that's not what we went to the streets, and you better correct your ways.
And Mr. Khamenei was -- ruled Iran with an iron fist for the last 35 years.
Just doesn't understand the reality. He has become increasingly, I think, diluted in his own image. The image that Islam is winning internationally
and that he can rule by divine fiat. Now, people are no longer asking for a fair election. Now, they want a true democracy, secular democracy, where
men and women, Jews and Christians, and Baha'is and Muslims and Sunnis, and Kurds and Turks are treated with equal human dignity.
AMANPOUR: I'm going to get to that in a moment but, you know, I wish I had interviewed Khamenei. I was just a kid then and I wasn't even journalist.
So, no, I did not. However, you talk about Mousavi and he was the reform minded secular candidate who most Iranians believe had won the election.
And as you correctly say, Khamenei gave it to Ahmadinejad, who essentially was an international pariah for his views on Israel, for his nuclear
bombast, and for all of that.
So, again, is it then the fear factor that is being breached or is it a different makeup? Are the people are somehow different than they were back
MILANI: I think people are different and I think the political landscape is different, for two reasons. One is exactly what you said, fear has
dissipated. And regimes, like the Islamic Republic, like all authoritarian regimes, like all totalitarian regimes, survived based on fear.
The moment that fear dissipates, then Ceausescu, one minute, the all- powerful dictator of Romania, has to find the next room to hide. That fear, I think in Iran, has dissipated. And it's remarkable that it is due to
relentless battle by Iranian women not to allow this regime to dictate their lives.
I can't tell you how effective your decision was, how popular it was in the Iranian diaspora when you refused to allow Raisi to dictate how you
interview him. Iranian women have been doing this in Iran. So, fear, based on that civil disobedience of women has dissipated. But also, the reformist
idea that Mr. Mousavi embodied at that time has now, I think, lost all credibility. People no longer believe that this regime is reformable. They
want a different social contract without the clergy claiming divine right.
AMANPOUR: OK. So, why do you, and how do you assess the fact that, you know, given what we saw back in 2009, the crackdown, while it has claimed
many lives, it has put people money in prison, it has, you know, tortured, according to human rights organizations, some of those who they've arrested
on the streets, why hasn't it gone all the way? Why hasn't it fully cracked down?
MILANI: I think for two reasons. One is, I think, they know that their forces are depleted, the belief in the system amongst the believers has
weakened, and I think they know that they are sitting at the top of a volcano. A shake a little too hard might erupt this thing into something
they absolutely cannot control. I think they know that they need to exercise violence, and that's why they keep doing it. But they also know
that they need to be surgical about this violence.
If they do a little too much, people, I think, are going to come out in millions, not in thousands. And if they don't do enough, they also would
get lost. So, they are in a very difficult position. That's why they keep talking about outside forces being responsible. They keep talking about the
CIA, about the media, and about Saudi Arabia.
And the fact that they now are openly threatening Saudi Arabia for what they allege is their role in some media that have been very active in
reflecting what has been going on in Iran.
AMANPOUR: Yes. That's a report in "The Wall Street Journal." You know, you talked about they want democracy. But the question really is, what actually
would happen if the clerical regime was chased out of power? Because there isn't really, there isn't really democracy there. There has not been since
1979, there is no official leader of this for good or for bad. And many people -- and I wonder whether you share this worry, that the only people
in a position of actual strength are the Revolutionary Guard, is the military, which has its tentacles in every aspect of Iranian life, from
social to cultural, religious, to business, not to mention the military.
Do you think it could tip from religious dictatorship to open military dictatorship?
MILANI: I think it could in the short-term. I think that might be something that urgency will try to experiment with. But I don't think it
will solve the problem. Because two things. Society at large does not want this regime. And you can't fight when the whole society doesn't want you.
Two, the problems that this regime has created, economic problems, geostrategic problems, psychological problems, the number of addicts in
Iran, the number of people clinically depressed in Iran, are so monumental that only a democracy that can mobilize all the possibilities of Iran,
including the remarkable possibilities of Iran in diaspora. Unless they come together, Iran is not going to be able to get out of this. And the
IRGC option will delay the obvious.
I think the only solution that can hold the country together and solve these monumental problems that have been created by mismanagement, by
corruption, by colonialism, by dogmatism, is democracy.
AMANPOUR: Professor Milani, you've been studying this for a long, long time. And, obviously, you know, you weren't born when the original
constitutional, you know, movement started in the early 1900s. But there have been sort of fits and starts of attempts at democracy and at women's
empowerment and liberation, most notably under the Shah who was deposed by the Ayatollah.
But I want to read you what Fatemeh Haghighatjoo, a former parliamentarian and, you know, has written in foreign affairs, along with some other women.
She says, this is a moment of great hope. But also, great worry. Although the extensive frontline participation of women in protest movements often
makes them more effective, it also raises the stakes dramatically. Should the Iranian regime defeat today's protesters and even deeper patriarchal
backlash could follow, potentially setting back Iranian women's rights and political freedoms by decades.
What do you make of that? Do you agree?
MILANI: Absolutely not. I don't agree with that at all. In 1979, revolution was, to me, one of the key elements of a kind of re-assertive
patriarchy. The Iranian women, under the Shah, we're getting more rights than they had ever before. They had a woman minister of women affairs. They
had a minister of education in 1968. They were beginning to get the right to vote. Polygamy, this concubine edge, was banned.
So, in one sense, 1979, was the reassertion of patriarchy against arising women's movement, that has failed utterly. Iranian women today are more
empowered, they are more aware of their rights, they are more in the center of this battle than ever before.
The slogan of this movement is, women, life, and freedom. Women are at the core of this movement. They were not in 1979. So, whatever the regime does,
whatever reaction the patriarchy does to suppress this movement, contrary to what Ms. Haghighatjoo has said, for whom I have a lot of respect, the
rise of women's movement and the assertive of women's movement, not just in Iran, in the rest of the world, is a reality that male patriarchy can no
longer fight or pushback.
AMANPOUR: And it is extraordinary that Khamenei actually backed Raisi, the current president, who ran on a platform of social conservatism and actual
hardline policies towards women.
So, in that regard, I want to ask you to comment on this, because again, it's interesting for people to know how broad the support for the
protesters is in Iran. And so, I'd like to know what you think of this. Essentially, a very religious women, she spoke with Reuters, she's the
daughter of a so-called war hero. I guess somebody who was killed during the 1980s Iran-Iraq war. And she had very harsh words for the regime right
now. She said, yes, our martyrs are looking over us but they are also watching over your theft of public treasury, embezzlement, discrimination,
oppression, pouring of innocent's blood. You shoot at people with war weapons. It's been years you've harassed journalists with accusations of
That is quite something from a woman who comes from, you know, the core of the conservative religious establishment.
MILANI: Absolutely. And she is not alone. Hers is a very powerful statement. The daughter of Rafsanjani (ph) is in prison, as we speak, for
having said things very similar to this. The daughter of the infamous hanging judge, Khalkhali, who is now a scholar, has said almost verbatim
the same kinds of things.
MILANI: This notion that this regime is a monolith and everyone who is a Muslim believes that you should treat women's as second-class citizen and
you should force a hijab on them is not the reality in Iran. But Khamenei is an arrogant, diluted person who thinks on every issue, his writ is the
writ of Allah and doesn't listen to anybody.
There are other people within this establishment who have said in the last few weeks that this is a serious existential crisis and unless we reform
our ways, we are doomed.
AMANPOUR: And you are talking about other members of the establishment, the former speaker of the Iranian parliament and other such people have
weighed in. So, what leverage do you -- obviously, the West, I assume, is looking to see this regime in Iran overthrown. First of all, is that what
you think is going to happen? We discuss that, but what leverage does the International Community have and should it have should it interfere in this
MILANI: I think the International Community has a great deal of leverage. I don't think the International Community, anyone in the International
Community, should decide the future of Iran. The future of Iran should be determined by the Iranian people and only by the Iranian people. But the
West should not help this regime suppress the people.
When we say the business of Iran's democracy is the business of Iranian people, we also should add that the United States, for example, at this
moment, shouldn't release funds to this regime that would be only used to consolidate their hold, to further consolidate their means of suppression.
The International Community should speak with one word, that this level of oppression, this kind of a threat, this kind of a threat against
universities, you cannot believe what they are doing to universities as we speak in these hours.
AMANPOUR: Yes. We have seen it.
MILANI: That is intolerable.
AMANPOUR: We've seen at least some of the images of the raids that have happened in the universities. Abbas Milani, thank you so much. Thank you
for that vital historical knowledge and perspective. Thanks.
And, of course, we continue to ask for the Iranian government response. We have not yet received word that they are willing to come on and discuss
Now, for some groups in the United States, the sense of permacrisis has been stoked by the Supreme Court, among others. In June, of course, it
overturned Roe v. Wade. And now, it could bar colleges and universities from considering race in admissions programs. That potential death blow to
affirmative action is inflaming an already volatile political landscape.
But in her best-selling book, "The Sum of Us," Heather McGhee seeks solutions over struggles. And it's a project she's continuing with her
podcast of the same name. And she's joining me now from New York.
Welcome back to the program, Heather McGhee.
Fascinating project and fascinating update that you are gaining, you know, as you travel since you wrote the book. So, in terms of -- we just started
with the Supreme Court. Can you tell me what you think is going to be the impact of what the Supreme Court might do next?
HEATHER MCGHEE, HOST, "THE SUM OF US" PODCAST: Well, I have to preface any conversation about the Supreme Court by noting that it is, in many ways, a
stolen court, that the majority that currently sits in is making decisions over our lives and our children's lives, you know, it's having the lowest
level of legitimacy and support on record in the United States, because of the way in which the people who are on the court got on the court most
recently. And so, I do just want to preface it by saying that.
But ultimately, we know that even though the university's right to use all factors, including race, to select its enrollees has been affirmed multiple
times by bipartisan majorities of the Supreme Court, that this court is likely going to end that practice and say that somehow, and equal
protection clause that was made to ensure the rights of newly-freed enslaved people means that you can no longer pay attention to the
disparities that those people's descendants are still facing, and that in this multi-racial democracy, where corporations, frankly, are spending
billions of dollars in diversity training for their colleagues and employees, it is no longer a compelling interest of a university to ensure
a diverse student body.
I think it's irrational, I think it's hyper partisan, and unprecedented, but I also think it's probably the way this case is going to go, barring a
AMANPOUR: So, let me, in that case, play this soundbite on this issue from Justice Samuel Alito, who also was instrumental in the Roe decision
earlier. This is what he said about this issue now.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SAMUEL ALITO, U.S. SUPREME COURT JUSTICE: What is your response to the simple argument that college admissions are a zero-sum game? And if you
give a plus to a person who is an under -- falls within the category of underrepresented minority but not to somebody else, you are disadvantaging
the latter student.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: I mean, you've basically said that's an indefensible and irrational position. Any more to say on that?
MCGHEE: Yes. Well, I think there are two pieces of this that are, I think, very misleading. The first is that it's pretending as though there is some
sort of right that white students and white male students have to these seats within colleges. And ultimately, there are thousands of well
qualified students for every single seat that you see at a place like Harvard, right? And what the admissions offices are doing there is trying
to create the best educational environment.
The second piece that's really important here is that the people who are most likely to have more than just a check next to their name, but rather
have about five times more, you know, sort of at mid-rate, are not black students and brown students, but they are, in fact, usually white male
students who fall under a category of legacy student, meaning their parents went there, that they are athletes, and we are not talking about, you know,
black football players, we're talking about white polo and tennis players here, that's typically what the athletes are, or they are people who have
been flagged by the dean or their children of faculty. Those students, according to a study a few years ago, are the ones who are actually sort of
first at the gate to be accepted to schools like Harvard. 30 percent of the enrolled classes are those sort of set asides for those students who are
Ultimately, however, the bottom line is this. If there were to be a change so that most of the students at any school were of one or two racial and
ethnic groups, the real victims of that would be the students themselves. Because we need to have a diverse educational experience in order to have
higher critical thinking skills, the pedagogical science has proven this over and over and over again that diverse groups make for better teams and
make for a better educational experience.
So, I honestly pity those students who are going to go to a school that will be without the kind of diversity that their workplace will have and
that their society will have.
AMANPOUR: And I guess you extrapolate all of that to what the theme of your podcast and previously your book is, "The Sum of Us." Essentially, you
talk and you focus in, you zero in on the nature of racism, but the possibility of cross racial solidarity, solutions. You talk about the
hidden cost of racism, how it degrades the lives of everyone, not just people of color. But then you talk about the solidarity dividend. So, tell
us about that.
MCGHEE: That is exactly right. What we have seen is that, ultimately, experiences that put you in relationships with people who are different
from you can have enormous dividends. So, we look at that in the educational context and in the U.S. public policy context, which is where I
enter, the topic, we see that over and over again, when communities are able to roll up their sleeves and link arms across lines of race, and
recognize that they have common problems and there may be common solutions to them, everybody gains. It's not a zero sum. There can be a real win-win.
So, in the book, I really identified, as you said, the economic costs of racism. Not just to people of color, but to all of us. And the central
metaphor, at the heart of the book, "The Sum of Us," was the drained public pool. What happened to many of the countries lavishly funded public
swimming pools that were segregated. And once they were integrated, many towns decided to drain their public pools rather than integrate them.
That core metaphor is sort of a parable for what has happened in the U.S. to a lot of our ability to come together and solve big problems together.
That racism, divide and conquer politics, the us versus them message we hear so often from our political leaders is making us unwilling to come
together to tackle the things, frankly, we can only really solve on our own.
And it was from that that I decided to hit the road again to actually just focus, as you said, on hopeful stories of where, in often overlooked parts
of the country, people are coming together and winning big things in surprising multi-racial coalitions.
AMANPOUR: OK. So, I want to ask you about that. Because, of course, the pool thing is kind of cut your nose off despite your face, because then the
whites couldn't use the pool either. So, point taken. Now, in -- I'm absolutely fascinated to hear you say you found solutions in this regard,
in this particular time, which appears to be in an unprecedented, you know, divisive and, you know, sometimes violent state, and we will talk about
what happened to the Pelosi family. But what did you find? Where did you find any common ground?
MCGHEE: I found it in some of the most surprising places. In Memphis, Tennessee, where historically segregated, we have neighborhoods in Memphis
that are almost 100 percent white and almost 100 percent black. But town embers are who are able to come together in Memphis to protect something
very precious to all of them, which was their water. And they had to, you know, overcome old divides and mistrust, but they were able to do that and
stop an oil pipeline that was threatening the community's water.
From Memphis I traveled, for example, to Kansas City, where most workers there were living, you know, at or around a very low minimum wage, working
in poverty, and it was a cross racial coalition of poverty wage workers, in this case, fast-food workers, that were able to organize, put aside their
differences, a white woman there said, you know what, I used to think it was about us versus them. But now, I realize that for us to come up,
they've got to come up to. As long as we are divided, we're conquered, right?
And so, you see this beautiful multiracial coalition of workers being willing to take on a powerful interest that was profiting off of their
poverty, and they were able to win. And Kansas City is poetic because it's the city that created the blueprint for redlining and the kind of
residential segregation that we see the effects of all over the country today.
AMANPOUR: OK. So, that's really interesting. You talk about, and you quoted actually something that we were pulling out of your podcast that we
were going to quote. You obviously quoted it verbatim from Karen -- or rather Bridgette, the union organizer in Kansas City who said, you know,
it's all of us to come together.
You also speak about a sort of a formula whereby if one or two people start to take the risk for change and for solidarity, it may have, in a good way,
a metastasizing effect.
MCGHEE: Yes, it's amazing, because, you know, a lot of the times you see these movements, right? Like the movement right now in Iran, right? You see
these movements and you think, well, how did that happen, right? And ultimately, what I learned from talking, over the course of the book and
the podcast, to hundreds of people who have taken action in their community, is that it is one step. It's one step that is a courageous step,
it's one risk, you take that risk, you get another person to take it with you. And then, it begins to snowball. And you realize that, in fact,
usually by doing it with other people, that you are stronger than you are on your own.
And in fact, we've released a really wonderful action guy to accompany the podcast, because each and every hero in the stories that we tell into some
of us was an ordinary person, right? Was a fast-food workers, was a stay- at-home parent, was a retired educator, and yet, they are now leading movements that have resulted in real change in their communities.
AMANPOUR: So, I want to highlight a little soundbite that we picked from the podcast. And this is an ordinary person, Becca, in Dallas, and she is
an abortion care giver. And she said, there is no lack of mixing between religion and abortion, but not how we would expect. Here's what you got
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BECCA: In the last couple weeks, what has moved me is patients saying that they felt like God provided them this space and that that was something
that felt like we had been here for them and that was evidence of God.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: So, that's pretty profound because we are used to associating religion with opposing abortion, and you found that there is much more
nuanced. You found religious people who could see the nuance.
MCGHEE: Yes, not only you could see the nuance, but like Becca, people who were people of faith, I traveled to Dallas and went at 4:30 in the morning
in Dallas, Texas, to a church, where there was a gathering of church ladies, minister, volunteers, baking scones and pouring hot coffee for a
group of about a dozen women who were pregnant, a majority of them were mothers already, and they didn't want to be. They felt like they couldn't
be. They couldn't afford it. They had the needs that they needed to take care of their own family. And they needed abortion care.
But because of the restrictions on abortion in Texas, they were joining that morning a part of a sort of underground railroad of sorts led by
clergy members, ministers, rabbis who were willing to risk so much to bring them across state lines to New Mexico. That opening scene is the beginning
of a story that takes us back in history and tells us something that many people, I certainly, did not know, which was that, if it were not for
clergy members, religious people, churches, we would not have had Roe v. Wade. That along with a feminist movement, it really was the compassionate
clergy movement that brought us the abortion rights that we have had in America for over 50 years.
And today, that underground network is back at it again. And what they see is that when families need care, who do they turn to, right? They turn to
their priest, their rabbi, their minister, their mom. And in fact, it has really been a distortion of the religious movement that has captured so
many religious conservative people to the conservative cause, and that we need to tell a full story of the ways in which so many religions absolutely
condone abortion and how many people of religious faith have been there for women, and people who seek abortions when nobody else has. And it's
happening again all over this country today because of the Dobbs decision.
AMANPOUR: You know -- so, you know, you've given us a few good examples of issues that actually also contained within them possibility and hope and
solutions. But let's just broaden to an active political violence that has really shocked the world. The attack on Nancy Pelosi's husband, Paul, that
was clearly meant for her. And no matter what the attacker said to the investigators about just wanting to scare her, hold her hostage, you know,
kneecap her, it could have been a death blow. It just could have been.
Did you find those --
MCGHEE: I mean --
AMANPOUR: What does that say to you about -- even about the work that you are doing?
MCGHEE: You know, one of the insights that I had when I was to journeying across the country for the book, "The Sum of Us," was everything we believe
comes from a story we have been told. And so, when the attack happened on Paul Pelosi, the first thing that came to me was all the stories in the
media. You travel across the country, you're in a motel room, you turn on the television, there is a political ad for some local politician. And yet,
Nancy Pelosi's name is invoked as if she is taking your children from you, right? As if she's standing between you and the life you want.
And ultimately, the way in which the right-wing in the U.S. has been willing to ratchet up the misinformation, the disinformation, the personal
invective, when you can get people to believe absurdities, they will commit atrocities, right? And so, there is a non-zero part of this country that
believes what the former president, Donald Trump, says and his son says, and what right-wing media says, which is that Nancy Pelosi is the leader of
a cabal that is doing unspeakable things to children, right?
And so, if you believe that story and if the mainstream Republicans do a wink and a nod, and are willing to invoke Nancy Pelosi's face in ads in
order to gin up their base, then you can see how that kind person, who is obviously mentally, you know, unwell, but he has been unwell at what he is
doing with that illness is acting, frankly, on a set of stories that have been fed to him by the fringes, and then through the mainstream of the
AMANPOUR: Yes. And it is a huge issue going into actual elections that are meant to shore up democracy. Heather McGhee with "The Sum of Us," thank you
so much indeed for being with us.
Now, my next guest admits that the United States is, as we've been discussing, on a knife's edge but says it's not too late to rescue
democracy. Political scientists, Barbara Walter, is the author of "How Civil Wars Start." And here, she explains to Hari Sreenivasan how America
can prevent another one from happening.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
HARI SREENIVASAN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Christiane, thanks. Professor Barbara Walter, thanks so much for joining us.\
You have studied sovereign (ph) types of societies who have been on the brink of, who've been in the middle of, a civil war, who've been after,
who've survived after one. How is America on that timeline? How far along a timeline toward a civil war is the United States?
BARBARA F. WALTER, AUTHOR, "HOW CIVIL WARS START": So, we have so much good research from really almost the last hundred years of countries around
the world. I actually served on a U.S. government task force that was run through the CIA, that was designed to help our government predict where
around the world civil wars and political instability, and political unrest was likely to break out. The CIA is not allowed to look at the United
States. It is absolutely not a politicized organization.
And we knew -- we know very clearly that the two big risk factors or whether a country has a weak and partial democracy, and whether in those
countries it's political parties had divided along racial, religious, and/or ethnic lines. So, it really didn't take a lot to know those facts,
and then look to see what was happening here in the United States.
We also know who tends to start civil wars. Most people think it's going to be the poorest members of society, and they have the motive, they have the
grievances, they have a reason to rebel, or they think it's the most heavily discriminated or it's the immigrants, all these groups who are, in
some ways, down trotted. But, again, they don't start civil wars. The groups that tend to start civil wars, especially ethnically based civil
wars, are the groups that had once been dominant and are in decline.
So, they used to dominate politically, economically, and oftentimes, socially and they're losing that position oftentimes because demographics
are changing. Again, you know, this is not -- these are not studies that were done in the United States. These were studies that were done on over
200 different civil wars that we've seen around the world. And if you apply that to the United States, you also see similarities.
The -- we've seen a significant rise in violent extremism since 2008. Some of it has been on the left, but the vast majority of it has been on the
far-right. And it's been perpetrated almost exclusively by white men. And again, if you look at the history of the United States, the group that had
been dominant since the very inception of our country were white men. They also tended to be Christian, and they are losing that position. It's no
longer guaranteed that you are going to get into the best schools, you'll best jobs, or have, you know, economic security your whole life. Suddenly,
there's a lot of competition out there and you see a subset of this population becoming increasingly resentful, angry, and they truly feel that
this is their country, and that they are being patriots by saying what they believe is the true identity of this country and they're willing to use
violence to do it.
SREENIVASAN: Just last week, the FBI, the Capitol Police, the Department of Homeland Security, and the National Counterterrorism Center, sent out
the statement that said, following the 2022 midterm election, perceptions of election related fraud and dissatisfaction with electoral outcomes
likely will result in heightened threats of violence against a broad range of targets, such as ideological opponents and election workers.
Our elections trigger events?
WALTER: Yes. The two big triggers are when a group, especially this group, that's in decline, loses a series of elections. That's especially true in a
democracy and especially true in a democracy based on majoritarian rule.
So, here in this country, you know just how much political power you have based on the results of an election. If you gain a majority of the votes,
you get to be in power. And if you don't, you're out of power. And what the Republican Party has been seeing over the last few decades is that their
numbers are declining and they are increasingly unable to win the presidency with the popular vote.
And so, this can be triggering because it's a loss of hope for those people who believe in the system and who otherwise would work within the system if
it actually guaranteed or it gave them a good shot of power. But what the Republican Party is increasingly seeing and how it's being interpreted by
extremists within their party, is that they can't -- democracy no longer works for them. They can't work within this system and still emerge
And so, the radicals are beginning to create this narrative that, you know, this is our country, we need to take it back. We will not be replaced. And
we are justified. We are justified to take it back in any way that we can. And so, elections can be very, very triggering.
SREENIVASAN: So, what is that tipping point where enough of those people feel like, I'm losing a grasp, my numbers might not be reflected in my
power, and I need to take control by any means necessary?
WALTER: The midterm elections don't worry me, but the big election in 2024, that worries me. And it worries me no matter who wins. If the
Republicans win that election, which they may well do, their incentive to hold on to power is to use legal means, and legal means can be to increase
gerrymandering, legal means can mean to stack the courts, they can use a whole series of measures that are allowed to, in some way, cement in
minority rule, to ensure that when elections are held in the future, that the opposition never comes to power. This is sort of classic Viktor Orban
in Hungary moves.
And we know that that is what Trump intended to do after he lost the election when he was trying to overturn it. He came out and said, you know,
once I'm back in power, we are going to ensure that I never lose it again. The strategy that makes sense for Republicans, given that they're heavily
based on white Christians, and white Christians are declining as a demographic here in the United States, is to do everything possible to make
it hard for the opposition to win.
And I also worry, of course, if the Democrats get elected. If the Democrats get elected, the Republican Party and its leadership is going to double
down on this narrative that the election was once again stolen. And if they become convinced that they can go to vote, they can do everything that
they're told, it's correct in the democratic system and they can never win, this gives sort of fuel to the fire of extremists who are saying, see, we
told you so. We are going to have to think of another method to take back control.
SREENIVASAN: So, as you've studied all of these different countries and you've seen these preconditions exist, and you've seen events that have
been triggered civil wars, what are the things -- going back over the last few years where you are more concerned that this is possible here?
WALTER: If you go on the internet and you Google 2012 guide to insurgency, guide to the analysis of insurgency, that is a CIA declassified report. And
it's their report on, what should we be looking for in countries around the world? And it's just shocking to read. Because, of course, none of it was
written with the United States in mind. But as an American citizen, when you read it, you see so many parallels.
There are three stages, according to the manual. There is the pre- insurgency stage, the incipient insurgency stage, and the open insurgency stage. The pre-insurgency stage is when you have these groups, they're
coming together, they're figuring out that they have -- like, they're angry at the same thing, they're starting to craft a narrative about what they
stand for and what they're angry about. Oftentimes, this includes myths and lies.
In the incipient insurgency stage, the CIA says, this is kind of the most dangerous phase. This is when those groups are beginning to get an armed
wing, they're starting to train. You start to see isolated acts of violence. The violence is actually pretty specific. It tends to be a
terrorist violence directed at civilians. You will see assassination attempts of opposition leaders. You will see bombs of federal buildings or
government buildings. You will see the targeting of minority groups or groups that the terrorist organization is angry with.
And the reason why this is the most dangerous phase is that oftentimes, the government of the country where that is experiencing this, it's not putting
-- it's connecting the dots. It sees these as isolated incidents. It often claims that the results of criminals or terrorists or people who are crazy.
They're not seeing the larger pattern.
And then, the open insurgency stage is when you start to see a sustained series of attacks. They tend to use more sophisticated equipment. The
attacks are larger in scope. They will attack infrastructure, and that's when people suddenly realize, wow, we really have a big problem. But
oftentimes that's, you know, pretty far down the road before people realize what has been happening.
SREENIVASAN: You know, this comes from kind of different ends of the political spectrum, but we had an individual who was making threats to
sitting Supreme Court justice, and recently, we had an individual in the home of the speaker of the house, and who attacked the husband of the
SREENIVASAN: And I wonder if these things, you know, how you place them on that pre -- sort of that incipient insurgency level. Are we there?
WALTER: Yes. We are absolutely there. So, this would be a perfect example. This was an -- the man who broke into the Pelosi home looking for Nancy and
eventually attacked her husband, he had clearly been radicalized online. He believed that he was a patriot. A patriot that Nancy Pelosi was trying to
steal this country.
And if you looked at his internet footprint, he was on the far-right sites, he was a believer in QAnon conspiracies, he was a believer in the big lie.
He did believe that the Democrats had stolen the last election. He is a perfect example of this movement of disaffected men, mostly, almost
exclusively men, who are really angry at the direction of the country, who are active online, and are getting information that continuously feeds them
these lies, and they're beginning to act out.
SREENIVASAN: You know, last week, we had a judge refused to bar a group of people, armed activists, from monitoring a ballot drop box in Arizona and
in Maricopa County. It said that, doing so would violate the First Amendment rights of those individuals standing on that sidewalk, heavily
armed, watching people add their votes into this ballot box. When there are these forces that can intimidate how an election is carried out, and
whether people feel comfortable coming to a polling location, or to a place that they can cast their vote, what does that do?
WALTER: Well, we know how terrorism is designed to work, and one of the strategies that terrorists pursue, and this is all around the world, is
called an intimidation strategy. And it's designed to sort of put out into the community or put out towards the group that you're targeting this sense
of threat. If you don't do what we want you to do, then your life is at risk or your family's life is at risk. And it's designed to essentially
intimidate them into submission. And so, people will stop to go, or some people will stop to go vote because voting is already harder than it should
be in this country.
And if you are now facing, you know, possible threat and you know this person can identify you, and maybe he even knows where you live, you know,
voting just, for some people, will no longer be worth it. So, it's a very, very effective strategy to control the behavior of people who you want to
suppress. You see this all over the place, and this is a classic case of that.
SREENIVASAN: What does the civil war look like in the 21st century? Because I wonder if we're limited by our historical understanding.
SREENIVASAN: And we assume that people are going to stand across a field from one another dressed in blue coats and red coats.
WALTER: Yes. That is the old school type of civil war. That doesn't really happen anymore. And it certainly does not happen in a country with -- as
powerful a military as we have. If you were a militia operating in Nevada and you want to -- you know, you're unhappy with the direction of this
country, you're not going to try to change it by directly confronting the American military. That is a recipe for disaster. You are going to do it
much more clandestinely. You're going to do it in a very decentralized way.
And so, the 21st century civil wars that we see are -- tend to be very decentralized. So, they will target here in this country, because it's
likely to be unethically based war, they are going to target African American churches, they're going to target synagogues, they are going to
target urban centers where lots of liberals live. They are going to target federal judges who are making judgments that they feel are left of center
and they don't agree with. They are going to be attempting to assassinate Democratic leaders. This is the type of 21st century civil war that we see
and can actually be quite effective, because it's hard to stop.
They -- the far-right has a term for it, it's called leaderless resistance. It's a type of cell terrorist warfare, guerrilla warfare. That is what a
21st century war is likely to look like. Not these two big armies facing each other on a battlefield.
SREENIVASAN: This is sort of a dark question, I guess. But is a civil war in America if or when?
WALTER: I would say it's an if. It's not a when. What we are lucky with is that we have this information. We know that weak democracies are at risk.
We know that when we begin to organize ourselves, not along political ideas, but along race and religion, that is when you get in trouble. We
also saw that full, healthy democracies do not experience civil war. We know what it takes to turn this around. And there is time.
But if instead we go in the opposite direction, if we continue to attempt to suppress the vote, if we continue to try to make it harder to vote, to
give certain advantages to some parts of the country over other parts of the country, then again, we're going in the wrong direction. That is making
our democracy weaker.
And if our political parties continue to sort of double down to serve their increasingly -- you know, passionate is probably a nice word -- passionate
bases, this is deeply divisive and this is what we know tends to lead countries down the path towards more violence, not less. So, we know what
to do. We just have to have the political will and our leaders have to have the courage to do something about it.
SREENIVASAN: Professor Barbara Walter from the University of California San Diego. The book is called "How Civil Wars Start." Thank you so much for
WALTER: It's my pleasure. Thank you for having me.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: Political will indeed. And finally, tonight, a Hollywood icon in a league of her own. Geena Davis has starred in some of the most
unforgettable cinema masterpieces, from baseball star Dottie in "A League of Their Own," to the abuse housewife turned outlaw in "Thelma & Louise."
Davis's appeal to millions for decades. Her latest project is a memoir that she calls, "Dying of Politeness." And she tells me how the roles she played
affected her real life.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: In the book. you say something. I'm going to paraphrase. You know, I became a badass in my roles in movies before becoming one in real-
GEENA DAVIS, ACTOR AND AUTHOR, "DYING OF POLITENESS": Well before becoming one real-life. And what actually did help me, you know, work myself away
from that was playing these parts. And I think, you know, in hindsight, perhaps that's why I wanted to be an actor, is because I could try on
personalities that were bolder than I was. And luckily, for me, I got cast in some very bold parts. And it's like fake it until you make it, you know?
DAVID: And then, I practiced being that way, and then I got to do it in real-life.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: It is an incredible journey. And you can watch the whole interview on tomorrow's program. That's it for now. Remember, you can
always catch us online, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and on our podcast. Thanks for watching and goodbye from London.