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Interview with Real "Hotel Rwanda" Hero and Rwandan Human Rights Activist Paul Rusesabagina; Interview with "The Exvangelicals" Author Sarah McCammon. Aired 1-2p ET

Aired April 04, 2024 - 13:00:00   ET



CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: Hello, everyone, and welcome to "Amanpour." Here's what's coming up.


ROMEO DALLAIRE, FORMER CANADIAN GENERAL: We could have actually saved hundreds of thousands. Nobody was interested.


AMANPOUR: We mark 30 years since the Rwandan genocide. The world watched, but didn't act, as close to a million people were brutally killed. From my

archive, a conversation with the Canadian U.N. commander who tried to scream bloody murder.

And --


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): In my heart, the dead are dead. They cannot come back again. So, I have to join myself with the others and

forget what has happened.


AMANPOUR: How Rwanda rebuilt through institutional reconciliation.

Then --


PAUL RUSESABAGINA, REAL "HOTEL RWANDA" HERO AND RWANDAN HUMAN RIGHTS ACTIVIST: I did not need to know whether there were Hutus or Tutsis. The

most important part of it for me was to note that there were human beings.


AMANPOUR: The real-life hero from Hotel Rwanda, Paul Rusesabagina, recounts the incredible story of saving more than a thousand lives.

Also, ahead, "The Exvangelicals: Loving, Living, and Leaving the White Evangelical Church." Author and NPR correspondent, Sarah McCammon, shares

her personal journey.

Welcome to the program, everyone. I'm Christiane Amanpour in London.

Almost one million people murdered in just 100 days. It seems unfathomable, but it did happen. In Rwanda, in 1994, militias and civilians from the

country's majority ethnic group, the Hutus, killed their Tutsi neighbors and moderate Hutus. That genocide was 30 years ago.

So today, we take a look back at the terrible atrocities committed, the absence of any international intervention, and the legacy of that massacre.

President Biden is sending a delegation to Kigali this weekend, led by former President Bill Clinton.

In Rwanda, reconciliation is the word, as President Paul Kagame makes clear on every anniversary.


PAUL KAGAME, RWANDAN PRESIDENT: In 1994, there was no hope. Only darkness. Today, light radiates from this place. Rwanda became a family once again.


AMANPOUR: That indeed is the hope. And that light was visible when I went back to talk to some of those who have managed to find forgiveness. But

first, it reminds us of the incredible darkness which prevailed in 1994 and one U.N. commander's desperate futile attempt to stop it. As you would

imagine, some of this report is really difficult.


AMANPOUR (voice-over): 1993, the African nation of Rwanda, General Romeo Dallaire was about to take up the most important command of his career,

leading U.N. troops charged with keeping the peace.

Dallaire is Canadian, the son of a soldier, and a military man who says that his first love has always been the army.

AMANPOUR: And when you were first told that you were going to head the mission in Rwanda, how did you feel about that?


AMANPOUR (voice-over): One year later, Romeo Dallaire would leave Rwanda a broken man, his mission a failure, having watched helplessly as more than

800,000 people perished in the genocide.

DALLAIRE: We could have actually saved hundreds of thousands. Nobody was interested.

AMANPOUR (voice-over): When he arrived in Rwanda, the mission was to monitor a peace agreement between the Hutus and the Tutsis, two warring

ethnic groups with a long and bloody rivalry, which was now simmering again.

The agreement, which called for Hutus and Tutsis to share power, was just a facade. Hutu extremists within the government were stockpiling weapons.


General Dallaire was determined to keep the peace. And it was personal for him. He had been raised on vivid stories of heroic Canadian soldiers who

brought hope to Europe after the Holocaust. His own father, his role model, had been one of those soldiers. General Dallaire wanted to honor this


AMANPOUR: What resources did you think you needed?

DALLAIRE: I had estimated about 4,500 troops. And I got authority, ultimately, for 2,600.

AMANPOUR (voice-over): Just 2,600 troops, and none from the United States. Its taste for foreign intervention had soured.

A few months earlier, in Somalia, two dozen Pakistani peacekeepers had been murdered. U.S. commandos on the hunt for the killers had their Black Hawk

helicopter shot down. Eighteen U.S. soldiers were killed.

Kofi Annan was then head of U.N. peacekeeping operations.

KOFI ANNAN, FORMER U.N. SECRETARY-GENERAL: The U.S. troops had been killed and dragged through the streets and humiliated.

AMANPOUR (voice-over): Americans were anxious to extricate themselves from strife in Africa.

ANNAN: And the governments were not prepared to take another risk and go into Rwanda.

AMANPOUR (voice-over): In January 1994, General Dallaire made a chilling discovery. An informant warned that Hutu government agents were planning

for bloodshed, not peace.

DALLAIRE: They were going to conduct an outright slaughter and elimination of the opposition.

AMANPOUR: Did he tell you that he was being ordered to practice, prepare, train for this?

DALLAIRE: Absolutely.

AMANPOUR (voice-over): General Dallaire sent this cable to U.N. headquarters in New York, warning that his informant has been ordered to

register all the Tutsi in Kigali. He suspects it is for their extermination.

The informant described a major weapons cache, which General Dallaire intended to raid. It is our intention to take action within the next 36


Kofi Annan, concerned about the safety of Dallaire's limited U.N. force, responded, we cannot agree to the operation contemplated, as it clearly

goes beyond the mandate.

AMANPOUR: When you got this response back --


AMANPOUR: -- what was your reaction?

DALLAIRE: I -- it was -- if a commander has ever been taken by surprise, I certainly was taken by surprise.

AMANPOUR: Did you try to change his mind?

DALLAIRE: Five more faxes of the same nature throughout the rest of January, into February. And, ultimately, I got authority.

AMANPOUR (voice-over): But it was too late, because Hutu extremists were about to begin their brutal extermination of the Tutsis. And General

Dallaire would face a test, standing up not just to the killers, but also to world leaders who turned their backs as the rivers ran with blood.

General Romeo Dallaire, the head of U.N. forces in Rwanda, knew that trouble was coming. For months, the U.N. commander in Rwanda had warned his

bosses in New York that Hutu extremists were arming and training militias.

Then on April 6, 1994, the plane carrying the presidents of Rwanda and neighboring Burundi was shot down, a double assassination. This was the

moment the Hutu plotters had been waiting for.

AMANPOUR: The death of the president was the start point, the signal.


AMANPOUR (voice-over): Colonel Theoneste Bagosora, a Hutu extremist, immediately declared the army in charge.

Within hours, government troops and civilian death squads began slaughtering Tutsis.

DALLAIRE: People were literally screaming on the phone, telling us that the militias were at the door. We could hear the people still on the phone

as they were busting down the doors and opening fire.

EFUGINIA MUKANTBAMA (PH) (through translator): We started hearing people screaming outside.

AMANPOUR (voice-over): Efuginia Mukantbama (ph) lived a rural hilltop village when the genocide erupted.

AMANPOUR: And then what do you remember?

EFUGINIA MUKANTBAMA (PH) (through translator): What I remember is that they killed people. The women and girls were raped. And we saw it all. The

men and boys were beaten and slaughtered.


AMANPOUR (voice-over): As the mob came closer, she and her husband and her children split up and fled. Their home was destroyed.

AMANPOUR: Those are the rocks from your house?

AMANPOUR (voice-over): As Efuginia (ph) hid in the forest, her neighbors, Hutus she had lived with all of her life, killed her husband and five of

her children.

Government radio broadcasts actually incited the killers, demonizing the Tutsis, calling for their extermination.

Cockroaches. It was an echo of past genocide.

In Cambodia, the Khmer Rouge called their victims worms. In Germany, to the Nazis, Jews were vermin.

In Rwanda, radio broadcasts went even further, providing graphic instructions on how to kill.

AMANPOUR: Pulling babies out of the mother's womb?

DALLAIRE: Yes, literally, you know, how to make them suffer and mutilate them.

AMANPOUR (voice-over): Efuginia (ph) eventually fled the forest, and, like so many other Tutsis, sought refuge in a church. For her, the church

brought safety. But, for so many others, churches and schools became their death traps.

DALLAIRE: They would simply throw a couple grenades in and let the militias slaughter them row after row after row.

AMANPOUR (voice-over): Dallaire and his powerless troops could only save the few people they could reach. His troops were themselves targets. Ten

were killed in the first days of the genocide. He was desperate for help from U.N. headquarters.

AMANPOUR: And were you on the phone to New York? Were you screaming to them? What was happening?

DALLAIRE: I was with New York on -- fairly constantly, you know, several times a day in those times, doing negotiations, discussing with them the

situation. You know, are reinforcements coming?

AMANPOUR (voice-over): Six days into the killing, some U.S. officials began to fear the worst. This State Department memo warned of a bloodbath.

But, instead of providing the U.N. with reinforcements, the Clinton administration joined a chorus of world leaders calling for a total U.N.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: To make statements following the voting --

AMANPOUR (voice-over): After two weeks of debate, the Security Council voted, instead, to let General Dallaire keep just 10 percent of his already

stretched forces.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Please raise their hand.


to continue.

AMANPOUR: At the time, Professor Michael Barnett was on a fellowship at the U.N., and he studied its response to the genocide.

BARNETT: That's when we see a real spike in the violence, because, at that point, it's clear to the Rwandans that there will not be any cavalry over

the horizon.

AMANPOUR (voice-over): Like Hitler in Germany, and Saddam Hussein in Iraq, the killers acted with impunity.

BOUTROS BOUTROS-GHALI, U.N. SECRETARY-GENERAL: Let us recognize that it is a failure.

AMANPOUR (voice-over): In the fourth week of the killing, U.N. Secretary- General Boutros Boutros-Ghali ordered a total pullout of all U.N. troops

from Rwanda. General Dallaire refused.

AMANPOUR: So, you were insubordinate?

DALLAIRE: No. Well, insubordinate is nice way of -- I mean, I refused a legal order. And -- but it was immoral.

AMANPOUR (voice-over): With so few men, Dallaire was helpless to stop the killing. In the first few weeks alone, the International Red Cross

estimated the body count was in the hundreds of thousands, including people who were slaughtered right here.

But the United States and the United Nations refused to publicly call this carnage what it was, genocide.

AMANPOUR (voice-over): The State Department worried that acknowledging genocide would commit the U.S. to actually do something because of the 1948

U.N. Genocide Convention, Lemkin's law. So, officials played word games.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We have every reason that acts of genocide have occurred.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How many acts of genocide does it take to make genocide?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Allan, that is just not a question that I'm in a position to answer.


AMANPOUR (voice-over): Anthony Lake had a front-row seat to the debate. He was President Clinton's national security adviser.


AMANPOUR (on camera): What was wrong?

LAKE: Not to call it genocide. It was genocide.

AMANPOUR (voice-over): Lake now admits that the administration's response to Rwanda was a failure. He told me that President Clinton's closest

advisers did discuss humanitarian aid, but not whether or how to stop the killing.

LAKE: It was a sin of omission of not having that senior meeting, of senior officials never saying, including myself, including the president,

what is going on? What can we do about it?

AMANPOUR (voice-over): While the U.S. and the U.N. stood by, the rebel Tutsi army fought back against the Hutu government.

In mid-July, 100 days of hell came to an end, when Tutsi forces, led by General Paul Kagame, declared victory. But, by then, more than 800,000

people were dead.

Today, 14 years later, Kagame is Rwanda's president.

AMANPOUR: Did you expect the international community to intervene?

PAUL KAGAME, RWANDAN PRESIDENT: Absolutely. All along, we thought that's why they were here.

AMANPOUR: And why do you think they couldn't and didn't?

KAGAME: They didn't care. They were totally indifferent. It was just another bloody African situation, where just people kill each other, and

that's it.

AMANPOUR (voice-over): A month after the Tutsis declared victory, General Romeo Dallaire asked to be relieved of his command.

DALLAIRE: Well done. Very well done. And thank you very much.

AMANPOUR (voice-over): He left Rwanda a bitter and broken man.

AMANPOUR: What has life been like for you since?

DALLAIRE: A lot of pills, a lot of therapy, a lot of times not wanting to live.

AMANPOUR: You did pretty much all that was humanly possible to scream bloody murder and to raise the alarm.

DALLAIRE: Not enough, I don't think so.

AMANPOUR (voice-over): Rwanda, where more than 800,000 people were slaughtered in just 100 days. I was there during the genocide and, again,

in November 1996.

AMANPOUR: The number of people crossing now is about 15,000 people hour.

AMANPOUR (voice-over): I witnessed an incredible mass migration of returning refugees. But what were they coming home to?

Today, this simple enterprise represents Rwanda's remarkable act of healing. Hutus and Tutsis sit side by side, weaving peace baskets sold at

Macy's department stores. Once deadly enemies, are now business partners. And friends.

Efuginia Mukantbama (ph) is a Tutsi. A master weaver, she trained her Hutu neighbor.

AMANPOUR: How have you managed to reconcile? Has there been a process that helped you with reconciliation?

MUKANTBAMA (PH) (through translator): I am a Christian, and I like to pray.

AMANPOUR (voice-over): Rwanda has made reconciliation a centerpiece of its recovery, with clubs and re-education camps.

I met Efuginia (ph) on a beautiful Sunday morning in church. After mass, she invited me home. There, in her unadorned hilltop house, no electricity

and no running water, I saw something extraordinary. Efuginia (ph) was preparing a plate of food and serving it to Jean-Bosco Bizimana (ph), one

of the men who murdered five of her children.

AMANPOUR: It's amazing for us to sit here and share food with families who have been through so much.


AMANPOUR (voice-over): Jean-Bosco (ph) is married to Efuginia's (ph) basket-weaving partner and, after seven years in prison, he returned to

face the woman he had all but destroyed.

AMANPOUR: And what did you say to her? You looked her in the eye and what did you say to her?

JEAN-BOSCO BIZIMANA (PH) (through translator): The first time we spoke, we discussed the horrible things we did to them, without holding anything


AMANPOUR: And did you expect Efuginia (ph) to forgive you and give you mercy?

BIZIMANA (PH) (through translator): I felt that they would forgive me.

AMANPOUR (voice-over): Justice is a vital part of Rwanda's reconciliation process. In villages around the country, traditional community trials

called gacacas help the victims confront the killers in front of all of their neighbors.

AMANPOUR: Jean-Bosco (ph), did you go to the gacaca (ph) court?

BIZIMANA (PH) (through translator): Yes. In front of everyone, I openly said what I did. I told my brothers and asked for forgiveness.

AMANPOUR: How did you find it in your heart to forgive?

MUKANTBAMA (PH) (through translator): In my heart, the dead are dead. They cannot come back again. So I have to join myself with the others and forget

what has happened.


AMANPOUR (on camera): It is remarkable fortitude, and as well as those local courts that we just saw, there were, of course, the ringleaders

arrested, tried, and convicted at some of the global international war crimes tribunals.

Now, amidst the worst of humanity in Rwanda, there were also, of course, stories of hope, heroism, and resistance. Like that of Paul Rusesabagina,

who managed to save more than a thousand lives by sheltering refugees who were trying to flee the violence. His story was, of course, immortalized in

the film "Hotel Rwanda." He was running a hotel that he used as a shelter. Since then, his life has taken some turns.

He was found guilty on terrorism-related charges in 2021. A verdict, the Clooney Foundation for Justice, called a "show trial." But he was released

from prison last year after his sentence was commuted by the Rwandan president, Paul Kagame, who, Rusesabagina, has heavily criticized.

I asked him to reflect on such dark times when he joined me for this conversation from Texas, where he now lives.


AMANPOUR: Paul Rusesabagina, welcome to the program. You became a hero, obviously, with the film "Hotel Rwanda." But to those who you saved in the

Hotel Mille Collines, can you remind us what you did 30 years ago during the genocide?

PAUL RUSESABAGINA, REAL "HOTEL RWANDA" HERO AND RWANDAN HUMAN RIGHTS ACTIVIST: In 1994, I was the general manager of the Mille Collines Hotel.

And since April 6, 1994, we started having refugees, about 1,268 people happened to be saved in the Mille Collines Hotel, where I was the general

manager. None of them was taken out, none of them was killed, none of them was beaten. From the beginning to the end, everybody was safe.

AMANPOUR: How did you do it? How did you know whether there were Hutus, Tutsis, who was there?

RUSESABAGINA: I did not need to know whether there were Hutus or Tutsis. The most important part of it for me was to know that there were human

beings. I helped human beings, I did not help Hutus or Tutsis.

AMANPOUR: You know, I remember coming to cover it in 1994, and I also stayed at the Hotel Mille Collines slightly after the incident that you're

talking about. But you remember the radio Mille Collines as well, who were agitating and really turning the genocidaire against people?

RUSESABAGINA: Well, I was also hearing the radio, but I also kept negotiating with those who were the militias trying to save lives. That was

my mission. The radio, I did not care that much. Of course, the radios, everything, everybody went mad.

AMANPOUR: When you heard the radio calling Tutsis cockroaches and urging them to be killed, your wife was a Tutsi. What went through your mind?

RUSESABAGINA: Well, that was very clear. It was dehumanizing people before killing them. That was a kind of way of dehumanizing them, so that killing

them will not be killing human beings, but just insects, cockroaches.


AMANPOUR: So, I want to ask you a question about America. When you hear political language today, 30 years after the Rwanda genocide, Donald Trump

calls migrants' animals, less than human. He even calls his political opponents' vermin, insects, animals. How do you think about that?

RUSESABAGINA: Well, in Rwanda, killing at that time, in 1994, trying to kill people as people, it was not easy. Nobody would have followed them,

but dehumanizing human beings, calling them animals, that was a way of humiliating them, putting them on the ground so that killing them will be

not killing human beings, but killing insects.

So, therefore, whoever wants to play a game, first of all, of doing something wrong, something bad, like killing, dehumanizes, first of all,

the victims before killing them. That is what happens. And this is what happened in Rwanda in 1994.

AMANPOUR: After "Hotel Rwanda," the film, and after, you know, your heroism during that time, you joined politics. And for that, you were

arrested, you were tried, you were imprisoned, et cetera. Eventually, your sentence was commuted.

You did not get a pardon. And the government said, it is important to note that there is consensus that crimes were committed by Rusesabagina, that's

you, and the militia, for which they were convicted. And under Rwandan law, commutation does not extinguish the underlying conviction.

You expressed regret for your actions with a political group that apparently led to nine killings. Tell me about that. And are you still


RUSESABAGINA: I do not regret anything. I was -- of course, I joined politics because I tried to find a way of being the voice for the

voicelesses through politics, through humanitarian actions, talking for those who could not talk for themselves.

AMANPOUR: Paul, in a letter after your sentence was commuted, you wrote to the Rwandan president, Paul Kagame, expressing regret for any connection to

violent actions by the FLN. You said, I extend my heartfelt sorrow for any pain FLN's actions have caused to victims and their families.

And they said that they accept this and that you have agreed to stay out of politics.

RUSESABAGINA: The time I was in hell. I was in hell. I was being tortured. I was being beaten. I was in solitary confinement for almost 10 months.

Between August 27, 2020 until June 12, 2021. I was in hell. Once you are in hell, what can't you say? You can't say anything.

AMANPOUR: So, will you stay out of politics? In the letter, you said you will spend the remainder of your days in the United States in quiet

reflection. And then you said, they expected me to be silent, to be the good guy and behave. No one can silence me that easily. So, what are you


RUSESABAGINA: No one still, my word did not change as such. My message is very simple. No one can silence me that much, humiliate me. Rwanda is

supposed to be a democratic country. How can a democratic country silence citizens?

AMANPOUR: Paul, as you know, since Paul Kagame has been in office, there are many complaints, there are also many successes. The economy, the

environment, you know, gender equality, all sorts of things. But I want to ask you this. You said the killings have never stopped. And yet, the Tutsi-

Hutu killings have stopped inside.

Do you think that's permanent? Is reconciliation real?

RUSESABAGINA: Killings have never stopped in Rwanda, inside the country. Because as we are talking right now, you've got hundreds of thousands of

Rwandans. The prison where I was. We were about 18,500 people, meaning 2,500 women and 16,000 men.


Therefore, I'm telling you that Rwanda and Rwanda, people are being frustrated. Those prisoners are eating, just being fed one meal a day,

every day at 11:00 a.m. and it is just beans and corn. Can you imagine living that kind of life for a year, two years? Some of prisoners have

lived that kind life, for the last 30 years.

Today, we have two Rwandas. We have the Kagame Rwanda, today's president Rwanda, which is the capital City of Kigali with him and his selected

people and you have the rural area which is completely another Rwanda, miserable, where people are dying of hunger.

AMANPOUR: But do you think that all the trials, all of the neighborhood trials, all the war crimes trials and Kagame's leadership, has it brought

real reconciliation between the ethnic groups or if he goes will it explode again?

RUSESABAGINA: As I always have said, and I repeat it today, Rwanda is a volcano. A volcano where people hate each other, where people are

completely separate, which that volcano can erupt any time.

AMANPOUR: What do you think, Paul, the West should do? You remember they did not intervene to stop the genocide. You -- your release was helped

along by the United States and you are in the United States. What you do think the United States and external powers should, could do?

RUSESABAGINA: When I was a child growing up, we would always meet once a year and that was the New Year's Eve. And at that time, my dad would always

give us a lesson at the end of our stay home. He would tell us that my sons, my children, if you happen to see two brothers fighting, you and you

are called upon to come and separate them.

You come, stand in the middle, and do never look to your left-hand side, because that eye on your left-hand side is trying to corrupt your decision,

your message. Do never look at your right-hand side because the eye also on the right-hand side, is also trying to corrupt your decisions. Look up and

say the truth.

So, what Rwandans need from the International Community, from the whole world, it is not to stand on a Hutu side or the Tutsi side, but to stand in

the middle and tell today's president, President Kagame, or whoever we follow him, to stand the in middle, and say the truth. And so far, that

truth has never been said. Nobody has been neutral. No country in that world has be neutral in trying to solve, to help Rwanda to solve its

problems. Each and every one is always bending on one side or the other.

AMANPOUR: And one other thing, I mean, I don't know how much you want to talk about Kagame, but you said Rwanda is a volcano. Kagame claims and his

western backers claim that he keeps the volcano calm. What do you say, is he keeping it calm or is she stirring the volcano?

RUSESABAGINA: You know in 1994, the April 6th, I never expected what happened to happen. I've never thought -- nobody thought that Habyarimana

would be -- would die the way he died. We were surprised.

I think that if we happen to be surprised and see what happened to Habyarimana happening to Kagame, then we will see worse than what we went

through in 1994.

AMANPOUR: Well, there you are, and that's what he says. And for you, did "Hotel Rwanda" and the fame that came with it and what you did at the --

well, obviously, what he did will always be worth it because you saved those many lives. But the fame, has it been beneficial for you or a



RUSESABAGINA: Well, it has been maybe 150 percent beneficial for me, because would I have been not known by the world, then today I wouldn't be

here. You will maybe know -- you will notice if you even do some research into world, does some researches, you will know that all the people who

happened to be kidnapped the way I was kidnapped, tortured, all of them except me, I am an exception, who was kidnapped, taken to Rwanda and

happened, surprisingly, to get out of Rwanda in -- after two years and seven months, which is almost nothing, and who was not killed in prison.

AMANPOUR: Paul Rusesabagina --

RUSESABAGINA: And this is because of "Hotel Rwanda."

AMANPOUR: Paul Rusesabagina, thank you so much for joining us.

RUSESABAGINA: Oh, you are the most welcome. Thank you.


AMANPOUR: And as we mentioned, 30 years later, President Biden has sent a delegation for this weekend headed by former President Clinton, who was

president at that time.

Now, next to the United States for an intimate look at the religious group that helped put Donald Trump in the White House back in 2016. White

evangelicals. As a political correspondent for NPR, reporter Sarah McCammon has dug into this transformative group and its growing impact on right-wing

U.S. politics.

In her new book, "The Exvangelicals," she reveals why a generation of evangelicals are growing up and fleeing the fold, just like she did. And

she tells her story to Michel Martin.


MICHEL MARTIN, CONTRIBUTOR: Thanks, Christiane. Sarah McCammon, thank you so much for joining us.


MARTIN: One of the things that, you know, fascinated me when I read your book is that -- until I read your book, I had no idea of your background. I

think, like, you know, most classically trained reporters you don't put yourself at the forefront of the story. How did it come to you that you had

a story, that your own sort of personal journey was part of a bigger picture?

MCCAMMON: I mean, you're right. And I thought hard about whether I wanted to talk about my personal story. But, you know, I kind of accidentally

found myself, in 2016, covering the evangelical movement, which is the movement that I came from, that shaped me.

And in many ways, I went into journalism because I wanted to keep myself out of the story. You know, I had grown up in an environment where a lot of

people around me, to be quite honest, had a lot of confidence about the answers. And I didn't always have that same confidence. And I think

journalism, in retrospect, was a place where I could ask questions and look for answers rather than try to start with them. So, I want to say that,

first of all.

But, you know, when I was assigned to cover the 2016 election, I was assigned to cover the Republican primary by NPR. Donald Trump, of course,

was, throughout most of that race, the front-runner, even though a lot of people didn't believe that he would really stay in that position, and so

much of the story wound up centering around the white evangelical Republican base.

You know, would they accept this, you know, thrice-married, rather brash, often crass person who seemed so antithetical to everything the movement

said it stood for? And I did those stories, you know, our colleagues, and I think you did some of those stories about how were white evangelicals

responding to Trump, and I covered them just as a journalist, as we always do.

But over time, as I thought more about that election and the white evangelical movement and sort of watched the aftermath of that election

unfold, I realized that I had a story to tell, and that I had been seeing things throughout that campaign and in the years that followed that

resonated with and reminded me of things I saw as a child.

And so that's really, you know, what this book comes from is a desire to integrate my personal story with my professional story, two things that ran

headlong into one another in 2016.

MARTIN: So, tell a little bit about how you grew up.

MCCAMMON: Evangelicals really stressed a one-on-one sort of relationship with God, a relationship with Jesus, looking at the bible, opening it up,

reading it for yourself, and we believed that we had a message that we needed to share with the world, and we had sort of a vision for how the

family should be, and in many cases, how the country should be. You know, that was a lot of the messaging that I heard growing up.

And, you know, we saw most people, frankly, as lost, as fallen. We believe that, you know, there are verses in the bible about only, you know, a

narrow path to heaven, and we really believed in that literally, and we believed that most people were not on that path, and it was our job to help

them find it.

And so, for me, you know, and I should say that evangelicalism is a very big movement. A lot of different types of churches fall into that, and it's

-- there's a spectrum of belief in practice, and so what I'm saying might not apply to everyone. But I think most of the evangelical kids at my

generation grew up with similar influences, a similar sort of concept of the world, similar views of human sexuality.


And, you know, we were taught that marriage is between a man and a woman, that the rise of gay rights was sort a sign of a falling away of the

country from being a Christian nation. Certainly, abortion rights and the changing roles of women were part of that. And that was something that many

evangelicals in my community were actively fighting against. And that message was very much tied up with the spiritual and religious message that

I was hearing in church and in my Christian school, for example.

MARTIN: You talk about being afraid a lot. Like what were you afraid of? The -- you -- sort of this sense of living well on earth was also infused

with fear. What was the fear of?

MCCAMMON: You know, again, there's this very sort of black and white, literalistic, you're in or you are out, kind of very binary view of your

world in many ways. You know, we had the absolute truth from God and we knew it for sure, and that meant that people who didn't agree with us or

see the world the same way, that was described in a lot of different ways.

It might be described as not having their heart right with God, as having not accepted Jesus, of not following the right path, not walking with the

lord is even a phrase that be applied to people who were, you know, sort of in the church but maybe not expressing it enough or not showing through

their behavior in ways that people in that church thought was adequate, that they were part of the -- you know, in-the-fold.

And so, there was a lot of fear. There was a fear of stepping out of line of angering God, of displeasing God and ultimately, of going to hell. I

mean we -- you know, that hellfire and brimstone imagery that you associate, you know, maybe with sort of old-timey creatures, that was a big

part of my life.

And, you know, something I talk about in the book is the fact that while most people I knew were evangelical Christians, I was kind of deliberately

and intentionally surrounded by evangelicals at my Christian school and my church and so forth.

One of the few people I knew who was not was my own grandfather, and we were very worried for him. I would lie in bed at night. I talk about this

in the book, just, you know, fearing for his soul, afraid that he was going to go to hell forever. And that -- you know, I think that kind of thinking,

it shaped a lot of us who grew up in this movement.

MARTIN: So, fast forward, when did you see cracks in the dam? When did it start to break for you?

MCCAMMON: You know, people often ask me this, like, what was the moment? And there wasn't one moment. And I think for many of the people I

interviewed, it was the same. There were many moments. There are many little things that just kind of felt like they didn't add up or moments of

exposure to people who were different, who didn't quite fit the mold of what we were told the world should be like or was like.

And again, my grandfather was a really big part of that for me. I always struggled with the idea that there was something wrong with him, you know,

both because he wasn't a Christian and also because, as I talk about in the book, he had come out -- after my grandmother passed away in the '80s, he'd

come out as gay, late in life. And that was a source of a lot of conflict and tension in my family.

You know, this was, again, a time when, you know, the moral majority was on the rise, the Christian right was rising. My parents were very influenced

by people, by, you know, right-wing leaders like James Dobson and Gary Bauer and Ralph Reed and others, and, you know, people who were fighting

against same-sex marriage and fighting the abortion rights.

And so, the idea that my own grandfather was living in this "lifestyle," I think was very difficult for my parents. It really clashed with their

beliefs. And it meant that we were -- my siblings and I didn't spend a lot of time with him because he was seen as sort of a threatening figure.

But I think over time, as I thought more about that and really just kind of felt a pull to have a relationship with my grandfather, and also through,

you know, interactions with other kids here and there who were not evangelical Christians.

MARTIN: Like for example you were a Senate page, and talk about that. Like you met a kid there when you are a Senate page. Talk about that experience.

MCCAMMON: Yes, it was a big deal. And in many ways, I -- you know, I'm kind of amazed my parents let me do it. I am grateful that they did because

I was so sheltered and yet, they let me go off to Washington, D.C. and live in a group of, you know, maybe 40 or so, other Senate pages. And I was, for

the first time, in really what was a public school, a small public school provided by the Senate, surrounded by kids from all over the country of

different faiths or no faith.

I had a Muslim friend for the first time. And that was also a pivotal conversation for me. You know, I talk in the book about this moment that

we're sitting on those Senate steps, and he and I were just sort of sharing about our family backgrounds. His parents had come as refugees from Iran,

as immigrants from Iran. And you know, he had grown up in a Muslin family. I grew up in an evangelical Christian family. And we were just kind of

trading notes.


And, you know, he just looked me in the eye and asked me if I thought that he was going to hell because he was a Muslim. And this was somebody who was

my friend, who I cared about, who was just a really lovely person. And I could see even then that he believed what he believed because how he was

raised and I believed what I believed as a product of my own culture and community. You know, I could sense that.

And it felt wrong to tell him that I thought he was. And so, I just kind of said I didn't know because I wasn't ready to answer that question. And I

think when I was put with it that directly by somebody I cared about, it really forced me to think about what is it that I really do believe?

And so, as I got older, I had many more moments like that. Some of it was around science. You know, I was taught young earth creationism, and that

became increasingly hard to believe and to hold on to, even though I was taught that systematically, you know, through textbooks and everything, and

my world reinforced it. And it really felt kind of like a betrayal to abandon that idea.

But as I learned more about the world, it just became harder and harder to hold on to so many of those ideas. And that's what I -- you know, that's

the experience that many of the ex-evangelicals I interview describe is the sense of cognitive dissonance of trying to align what they experience,

perceive, and feel about the world, you know, with this belief system that doesn't always match that.

MARTIN: But there is a significant group of people that you describe as ex-evangelical for whom Donald Trump was the crisis. Can you talk about


MCCAMMON: I think for many people in the movement or with ties to that movement, for whom evangelicalism was their community and their culture,

it's forced a lot of soul searching and it's catalyzed conversations that, you know, for one thing are possible today in a way they weren't in the


You know, something I talk about a lot is the fact that if you left a religious community 20 or 30 years ago, you know, there might be a few

books out there, you probably would run into other people who'd had a similar experience, but there was no major organized way to find other

people who'd been on that journey, which can be very disorienting and isolating.

And today, because of the internet, there are Facebook groups, there are podcasts, there are hashtags, there -- you know, ex-evangelical is a

hashtag I first came across when covering the 2016 campaign and talking to some white evangelicals who were feeling a bit disillusioned with the

alignment of evangelicalism and Trump.

But that has -- you know, that hashtag has kind of blown up online in recent years. And there are conversations going on around religious

disaffiliation across the board. This term deconstruction is kind of a similar related idea that people are talking about. It's become a language,

really, for this experience of rethinking one's faith background.

And I should say that, you know, evangelicals are -- evangelicalism has been on sort of a long-term downward trajectory as a percentage of the

population for the last 20 years or so. It used to be about one in four people were white evangelicals. Now, that's more like 14 percent. But that

is not unique to evangelicalism. White Christianity as a whole is on the decline, and the country is becoming more secular, perhaps more like


And so, there's a lot of shifting that's happening. There's also some evidence that some people are actually attracted to the evangelical label

because of Trump. And so, what seems to be happening is there are a lot of risks in churches and a deepening of some of the sort of political

polarization that goes with the evangelical label.

MARTIN: This lingering question exists for many people, which is, how is it that the white evangelical movement can broadly define, understanding

everything you said, lots of different people, churches, et cetera, as a part of that. But as a group, hew so closely to somebody who would seem on

the surface to be so antithetical to the things that they claim to profess.

MCCAMMON: I think there are two major answers to that question. The first is pragmatic and instrumental. Evangelicals in 2016 saw Trump as someone

who would deliver on their goals. And he did in many cases, right with the overturning of Roe v. Wade and so forth. And they see him as someone who

will continue to stand up for them, to stand up for their movement.

The second part of that answer, and it's related to the first, is the fact that, you know, if you look at some of the messaging around America, and I

outline a lot of this in my book, the idea that evangelicals -- many evangelicals hold and have for a long time, is that America is a Christian

nation. It was founded as a Christian nation and it has moved away from God and from Christianity.

And so, you know, when recently Trump held up that bible that he was hawking on Truth Social and said, we're under siege, we're going to bring

Christianity back, that message resonates with evangelicals. They don't care too much, I don't think, about the fact that Trump is obviously not a

deeply religious person.


Now, there've been some attempts to suggest that he is, but I don't think most evangelicals believe that. And if you look at polling by groups like

Pew, most white evangelicals who support Trump don't see him as deeply devout, but that's not the point. The point is that he is a champion for

their movement. He speaks their language and he has, from the beginning, sought them out, made them a priority and said what they wanted to hear.

And in many cases, delivered on what he wanted them to do. And that seems to be enough for a majority of white evangelicals.

MARTIN: Are exvangelicals, as you've described them and as others have described them, do -- are they emerging as a political force in any


MCCAMMON: I think they could be. I think it's early to say, and I think people who have left religion in part because of disaffection with some of

the politicization of religion, both ex-evangelicals and some former Catholics, they form a pretty big group of people.

And there's a host of reasons why people leave. A lot of it -- some of it has to do with just simply not believing the things that their churches

teach. But the polling I've seen from groups like the Public Religion Research Institute suggests that particularly the treatment of LGBTQ people

by much of the Christian right is a major factor for particularly a lot of younger people disaffiliating from their churches.

And, you know, if you take this group on the whole of people who call themselves Nones, N-O-N-E-S, or nothing at all, they are a group that leans

left. They tend to vote for Democrats, but they're also less politically engaged than white evangelicals.

So, what you have is maybe a big group of people that's sort of loosely connected in the sense that they've left religion maybe partly for

political reasons, but they don't seem to be organized yet around a common goal. I think that's the challenge for political organizers, you know, that

white evangelicals, while they are a shrinking part of the population, remain a very politically engaged and unified voting bloc. And that's

really what Donald Trump saw and tapped into.

Now, where that goes long-term, I think is a fascinating question because there is so much that's in flux right now when it comes to American

Christianity and American religion in general.

MARTIN: One of the other things that can be really intense is that interior world of disengaging from what you know and what you grew up

knowing and believing. I just wanted to ask, if you don't mind, like, is that a continuing source of struggle?

MCCAMMON: Well, I think the tension is sort of sorting through the things that you love and believe and then sifting through those things and

preserving them while also opening, you know, and expanding.

I mean, I think, for me, my own religious sort of identity has changed because I wanted to be able to include people that I felt I couldn't

include in the world that I was brought up in, people like my grandfather and like my friend who came from a Muslim family. I wanted to include those

people. I wanted to love them. I wanted to see them as just as valid as me.

And that necessitated a shift in my own thinking, but that shift, and not just for me, for many people I talk to, it can be very isolating and scary

because it means -- you know, it sorts of leads to the question of, well, if I change this part of me, then what else changes? And then what do I

really know? What do I hold on to?

And, you know, I think that, yes, to answer your question, it's still -- there's still attention for me. But ultimately, you know, that question of

what do I think and how do I want to live is between either, you know, us and ourselves, or maybe ourselves in God, if you're somebody who believes

in God.

But that's, I think one of the things that I hope to accomplish with this book is just describing the fact that this journey is a challenging one for

a lot of people, and that finding other people who are on a similar journey, regardless of where they arrive at the end, can be very empowering

and very comforting.

MARTIN: Sarah McCammon, thank you so much for talking with us.

MCCAMMON: Thank you.


AMANPOUR: And finally, tonight, it is NATO's 75th birthday, so it threw itself a party.

A grand affair with marching bands and cake-cutting. The North Atlantic Treaty Organization is the largest military alliance in history. Of course,

this celebration comes at a time when the alliance is under strained like never before, as an imperialist Russia brings war to Europe's very


The organization was born in the ashes of World War II to defend democracies. Take a listen to U.S. President Harry Truman as he signed this

unique alliance into being in 1949.


HARRY TRUMAN, THEN-U.S. PRESIDENT: If there is anything certain today, if there is anything inevitable in the future, it is the will of the people of

the world for freedom and for peace.



AMANPOUR: Today, the 13th NATO secretary general echoed those comments.


JENS STOLTENBERG, NATO SECRETARY GENERAL: In the beginning, we had 12 members. Today, we are 32. So, we must be doing something right. We have

helped to spread peace, democracy, and prosperity throughout Europe.


AMANPOUR: The people's will for freedom and peace is expanding while it's also being sorely tested by their authoritarian leaders today. Let's see

who wins this existential struggle.

And that's it for now. Thank you for watching, and goodbye from London.