Return to Transcripts main page

CNN This Morning

Big Retailers Offering Deals Ahead Of Black Friday; FBI: Man Threatened FBI Chief, Congressman Over Conspiracies; Alex Jones Ordered To Pay $1.5 Billion for Lies: What Happens To His Fortune? Aired 7:30-8a ET

Aired November 23, 2022 - 07:30   ET




CYNTHIA PENDLETON, HOLIDAY SHOPPER: Try not to overspend anyways. So, even before this has been going on I try not to exceed what I can do.

VANESSA YURKEVICH, CNN BUSINESS AND POLITICS CORRESPONDENT (voice- over): And according to the National Retail Federation, while online sales are expected to increase this year, a return to in-store shopping will make up a larger portion of all holiday sales.

PENDLETON: I kind of like in-person more.

YURKEVICH (on camera): You do? Why is that?

PENDLETON: I don't know. It's just more of the feel of being able to touch it, being able to see it, being able to try it on for the stores that you're allowed to. And then being amongst everybody else.

YURKEVICH (voice-over): It's that holiday nostalgia that Willowbrook Mall says will help this year's shopping season return to pre-pandemic expectations.

YURKEVICH (on camera): Do you anticipate that inflation will play a role in how people shop -- people coming to the mall?

RYAN HILDAGO, SENIOR GENERAL MANAGER, WILLOWBROOK MALL: I think people are planning better in terms of what they're spend is going to be. I think they've budgeted.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I don't cut back at Christmas.

YURKEVICH (on camera): How many more stores are you going to?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh, maybe five more.

YURKEVICH (on camera): Five more?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Maybe -- I don't know.

(END VIDEOTAPE) YURKEVICH: And shoppers clearly out looking for deals. The National Retail Federation saying that sales have started early this year just like they have in the past, but they are going to go longer this year so that retailers can try to move out all their inventory.

And one big change we're hearing about this year, Don, is that retailers are getting rid of free return shipping. That's been a big draw for folks looking to order multiple gifts.

So, Don, I'm going to be around here on Fifth Avenue for a couple of hours. If there's anything on your gift list you want me to check out in-store, I can get that for you -- but you will have to return in- store. But then again, you'll save on that return shipping, Don.

DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: Remember, you offered -- as I am texting --

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: He's texting you.

LEMON: -- you right now.

Thank you, Vanessa.

HARLOW: Can I --

YURKEVICH: Short list. I see those texts popping up.

HARLOW: Wait -- Debbie Downer -- I need a moment. Credit card interest rates are at a record high.

LEMON: Oh, gosh.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN ANCHOR: That's a Debbie Downer.

HARLOW: Be careful what you buy.

COLLINS: It's good.

HARLOW: I'm serious.


HARLOW: That and books on tape for you this morning.

LEMON: Yes. Thanks.

HARLOW: That's what I've got for you.

LEMON: A chilling real-life example of the danger of conspiracies. The FBI says a man believed Congress is running a child slave ring and made death threats against public officials. We're going to discuss that next.


[07:36:55] COLLINS: This morning, a Michigan man has been arrested accused of threatening to kill FBI Dir. Christopher Wray and California Congressman John Garamendi. The suspect apparently believing a child slave ring is being run out of Congress -- it's not. This is just the latest in a rash of violent threats against lawmakers.

So let's bring in CNN's Brynn Gingras to talk about all of this with us. I mean, it just seems they get more outlandish by the day, but what can you tell us about what we know about this threat?

BRYNN GINGRAS, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I mean, it's overwhelming for law enforcement at this point -- how much is happening -- and it's just becoming a greater concern to the FBI and to Homeland Security because in many cases, this can be more than just words -- right, guys?

This -- these threats against elected officials and law enforcement -- they have been increasing just within recent months. Several members of Congress and their families have been on the receiving end of dangerous rhetoric. And in some cases, we know that it's led to physical violence -- of course, look no further than the assault of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's husband.


GINGRAS (voice-over): Prosecutors are accusing a Michigan man of threatening to kill a California congressman and FBI Dir. Christopher Wray. According to an indictment on November 5, Capitol Police were made aware of threatening voicemails left for Democratic Congressman John Garamendi.

The accused, Neil Matthew Walter, allegedly said in the message, "John -- hey, John. You're gonna die, John. You're gonna die."

REP. JOHN GARAMENDI (D-CA): It's just all of the hate talk that's readily available on all of the social media platforms. It incites people to these kinds of violent threats and violent action.

GINGRAS (voice-over): In comments posted on the live stream of Wray's testimony before Congress last week, Walter allegedly wrote, "I will kill you, Director Wray. You will die. I will kill you in self- defense."

Court documents allege Walter's Facebook posts had numerous comments stating beliefs about a conspiracy theory that elected politicians and government officials, Tom Cruise, and Elon Musk are involved in a child slave rape ring. One location for where this ring purportedly took place, the U.S. Capitol.

On November 8, federal authorities reached out to Michigan police to perform a welfare check. According to court documents, during the encounter, Walter refused to put down his handgun and said "...he would defend himself against the U.S. government."

Last week, the Democratic-led Senate Homeland Security Committee released a report finding that the department and FBI are not adequately addressing domestic terrorism. Wray testified to the threat before the committee last year.

CHRISTOPHER WAY, DIRECTOR, FBI: But we're also countering lone domestic violent extremists radicalized by personalized grievances, ranging from racial and ethnic bias to anti-government, anti-authority sentiment, to conspiracy theories.

GINGRAS (voice-over): In fiscal year 2021, the FBI received over 8,000 referrals of possible domestic terrorism incidents. By late 2021, the FBI was conducting approximately 2,700 investigations of which a significant portion were related to the Capitol attack on January 6.

ALEJANDRO MAYORKAS, SECRETARY, DEPARTMENT OF HOMELAND SECURITY: Domestic violent extremism is a terrorism-related threat to the homeland that we have been tracking now for a considerable amount of time. It's one of the greatest terrorism-related threats we face in the homeland.



GINGRAS: And something important to note here. According to the paperwork, Walter's parents told law enforcement, guys, that their son has struggled with his mental health. He has been in and out of mental health institutions. So this brings a whole nother facet of this.

But, Don, you even reacted to those numbers that we showed. I mean, the amount -- the volume of cases that law enforcement is dealing with, it's overwhelming.


LEMON: It certainly is.

COLLINS: All right -- thanks, Brynn.


LEMON: Thank you.

I want to bring in now -- joining us now is Chenjerai Kumanyika. He's a journalism professor at NYU. And his research focuses on the intersections of social justice and emerging media. It's so good to see you again. Thank you for joining us this morning.


LEMON: Professor, why are we obsessed with foreign terrorism and we're not obsessed with domestic terrorism when it is the number one threat?

KUMANYIKA: Well, I think part of this does have to do with the fact that with -- what we call foreign terrorism -- it's like they're not like us.

But here -- you know, it's interesting. There was a study by the Brookings Institution that said we tend to individualize these domestic terrorist acts, especially when the assailants tend to be -- or the people threatening tend to be white men. We just think of them as individual incidents and not part of a larger problem. Unfortunately, as we're seeing, there really is a larger problem.

LEMON: Why do we think of them as individual and not part of a larger problem?

KUMANYIKA: Yes, I just -- it's an interesting question. I think -- who are we used to seeing as threats, right? We think of threats from the outside. Maybe we think of threats when there -- if it's people who are trying to think critically about law enforcement -- Black people, to be honest. But I don't think we tend to think about these kinds of folks -- even the people in the Capitol riots.

I mean, one thing that's interesting is the military is increasingly concerned because a lot of their veterans are becoming vulnerable to these conspiracy theories and we're disproportionately involved in these kinds of events.

HARLOW: When you look at this report released by the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee -- just last week says that the Homeland Security Department, the FBI, social media company have basically all failed to adequately address this, right? So it's not just one institution or one prong -- across the board. And it's not for a lack of funding, right?


HARLOW: So what is it?

KUMANYIKA: Well, I'm glad you brought up the funding, Poppy, because there was sort of like $10 million released for funding but it's not actually getting to the researchers.

HARLOW: To research the why?

KUMANYIKA: To research the why. What makes people more likely to turn to violence in these situations? And I think that's important because there is a way forward here. We see that in the research that has come out.

For example, there was a research by the National Institutes of Justice in 2015 where people become disconnected from their communities. When they -- when people who seek adventure. All these different things predict who is going to do this stuff.

So there's a way forward. I think we just have to start looking for the threat in the right places.

COLLINS: And so much of it is legitimized, though, by not just political leaders but also business leaders. I mean, look what happened after the Paul Pelosi attack. You saw very prominent people maybe not outright saying the conspiracies that were surrounding that initially, but eluding to them -- and not including the former president, Elon Musk, and all of these other figures.

How much does that factor into kind of giving people the ability say yes, maybe this is true?

KUMANYIKA: I'm so glad you brought this up because social media clearly plays a factor here. I mean, we saw, for example, what this person, recently with this threat on the FBI director -- that he was posting these wild, absurd theories on Facebook.

But I think that these things are being authorized by politicians who are sitting right now in Congress. I mean, I -- there's no other way to say it. I mean, they're playing a game trying to appeal to some of their constituents who they think might like this and the consequences are real. I mean, someone ran into Nancy Pelosi's home.

I mean -- so I think that it's a combination of these factors. But again, when people become disconnected from their communities, when they start to sort of buy into this stuff, there are real warning signs. And more research can help us really get to the bottom of this and find a way forward.

LEMON: I think we need to realize that look, this is all connected. I mean, from election conspiracies, right, to QAnon, to some of the things that you hear -- a lot of the things that you hear at these sort of MAGA rallies. You see the hate that's happening in Colorado Springs. All -- it's all connected and yet, it seems like we don't really want to face or we don't know how to deal with it.

What is your assessment? What do you think of that?

KUMANYIKA: Yes. I mean, you're so right, right? It's sort of -- it's kind of weird and it almost seems incoherent except that there is a real coherence. I mean, we see certain kinds of politicians promoting it.

I mean, the one thing I would say is that first of all, nothing ever justifies turning to violence to solve problems, and that's what I think in the larger situation of America we have to realize. Like, that's not the way to go.

But people are trying to think critically about government, and I think we should. We should be able to have different viewpoints. But these things aren't even coming from real principled critiques of government. It's like absurd fantasies about what's happening.

So, again, I do think it's important to connect the dots, Don. You're right on.


HARLOW: We appreciate you and people like you studying it and helping us try to get our heads around it. Professor Chenjerai Kumanyika, thank you.


KUMANYIKA: Thank you.

LEMON: Great conversation. Thank you so much.

KUMANYIKA: Appreciate it.


COLLINS: Happy Thanksgiving.

HARLOW: Thanks for being with us.

KUMANYIKA: All right, all right -- you, too.

HARLOW: All right. As companies like Disney face a reckoning over the cost of movies and streaming, wait until you hear how much James Cameron says the Avatar sequel will need to make just to break even.

LEMON: Plus, speaking of conspiracy theories -- or conspiracy theorists, Alex Jones ordered to pay even more millions for lying about Sandy Hook families. Will he be forced to?




Clip from "Titanic."


COLLINS: If you can believe it or not, next month marks the 25th anniversary of the release of "Titanic." The director, James Cameron, is sharing some surprising new details, though, about the film -- specifically, the two romantic leads that you see there. Cameron told GQ he almost did not cast Leonardo DiCaprio or Kate Winslet in the film.


JAMES CAMERON, DIRECTOR, "TITANIC": I actually didn't see Kate at first. She had done a couple of other historical dramas as well and she was getting a reputation as "Corset Kate" doing historical stuff. And so, I thought oh, man -- this is going to look like the laziest casting in the world. All right, I'll meet her -- sure. But I was thinking maybe Gwyneth Paltrow or somebody else.



COLLINS: As for Leo, there were also some initial hiccups. Cameron said that the actor who had by then already had an Oscar nomination under his belt -- he was surprised to learn he actually had to run his own lines and do a screen test with Kate.


CAMERON: He said wait, wait, wait. You mean if I don't read I don't get the part -- just like that? And I said oh, yes -- come on. This is like a giant movie. I'm not going to (bleep) it up by making the wrong decision in casting, so you're going to read or you're not going to get the part. He was like oh, OK.


COLLINS: "Titanic," of course, went on to win 11 Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Director for Cameron. So clearly, it was worth it -- worth it to rehearse those lines and do those screen tests.

HARLOW: I love that movie so much.

All right, listen to this. Cameron also revealing his upcoming movie "Avatar 2: The Way of Water" will need to make profit of more than $2 billion at the global box office just to break even. He told GQ the movie is very -- this is a quote. "Very f-ing expense" and possibly represented quote "...the worst business case in movie history." I'm sure the studios loved that.

To put that in perspective, only five films have ever crossed the $2 billion mark. And, of course, Cameron's first installment of the "Avatar" series currently holds the record for highest grossing film of all time. It made $2.9 billion.

Let's bring in our friend, CNN senior media reporter Oliver Darcy. Hi.


HARLOW: Is he going to do it?

LEMON: Why do they -- why do they -- good morning to you. Why do they keep doing these big box office movies if they're not making that much money? Because a lot of -- I'm watching a lot of --


LEMON: -- streaming. I can't remember -- this is just me --

HARLOW: Going to the movies?

LEMON: I can't remember the last time I went to a movie.

DARCY: Well, and the other thing, too, to keep in mind is I think the idea here with "Avatar" was it's the top-grossing movie of all time, right --


DARCY: -- $2.9 billion at the box office. But I think the issue here is that came out during the 3D craze when

people really wanted to see 3D movies. So a lot of people went to "Avatar" in theaters just to see the visual effects. It was supposed to be the seminal film that really ushered in this new era of moviemaking. And I think the 3D fad has really died out now and since "Avatar" is so closely associated with that it's going to be interesting to see whether it can also perform as well at the box office this time around.

LEMON: Is box office dying out, though?

DARCY: Well, for blockbusters, we're seeing the box office has come back quite a bit, Don. The box office, like you saw earlier this year with "Top Gun" and "Black Panther" -- people are going back to the box office for those big blockbuster movies. "Avatar" obviously expected to be one of those.

And so, I think the issue with that movie, again, is whether people want to go and see a 3D movie. When was the last time you saw a 3D movie?

HARLOW: Never.

LEMON: I don't remember. Remember when we used to get --


LEMON: -- the 3D glasses with --


LEMON: -- your big-screen television? They don't even do that -- that even do that anymore.

DARCY: And you had to put them over your other glasses, too.

LEMON: But you're right. I mean, I did see --

COLLINS: Not all of us. Some of us wear contacts.

LEMON: "Top Gun" was a huge hit. You're right, the big blockbusters -- they do make the dough.


LEMON: Yes. The box office is struggling, though.

COLLINS: The other thing that's happening, though, this morning that I have been watching closely is Alex Jones. He's been ordered to pay 45 million more dollars. Obviously, this is a massive case where you saw this readout (PH) for the victims he pushed lies about this school shooting -- the Sandy Hook shooting. He has now been ordered to pay -- so now it's about $1.5 billion that he already owes. Now this other $45 million.

I think a question that people have is are the families actually going to see any of this, and does this -- does this -- is Alex Jones out of commission now given he has to pay so much to these victims?

DARCY: Yes. I think what happened in Texas was really actually quite extraordinary. Because the judge threw out this punitive judgment cap in Texas and said that the lies that Alex Jones told about the Sandy Hook parents were so reprehensible, were so vile that this punitive cap in Texas was not going to apply because she saw no other recourse for this pair of families.

Whether they see the money, that's the big issue. And I think you've seen other lawyers say that they are going to chase Jones to the end of the Earth to get him to pay up this money. They've been waiting a long time. These cases have been years in the making. And so, they will battle him in court for a few more years probably because he's going to do everything he can to delay this.

By the end of the day, he's going to have to pay a good sum of this money and it's going to be difficult I think for his business's conspiracy empire to stay afloat once he has to start writing these checks.

LEMON: But he keeps selling. He keeps going -- even after court, he keeps going back and onto his platform and saying the globalists are after me and all this stuff.



LEMON: And raising money on -- I don't know, what does he do? Like, elf (PH) products or something. And raising money much like the former president. He gets the money from the people and that keeps fueling his website or whatever.

DARCY: Slots, yes. And he has, though, stopped really making these false flag conspiracy theories, so I think you're seeing at least some positive development there. He's really shied away from using these horrible shootings to make money.

But you're right. He is still going on his platform every day and lying, and there's really no way that it's going to stop. I mean, he's going -- he's showed he does not care about the truth. The only way people can hold him accountable is by going to courts when he does defame them. And you're seeing him being held accountable for these Sandy Hook lies right now.

LEMON: Thank you, Oliver -- appreciate it.

DARCY: Thank you.

COLLINS: We know you've got some cranberries to cook, so good luck with that. Thank you.

LEMON: So, listen -- we -- he's just mentioned the shooting and Sandy Hook, and what have you. And now, we have another shooting that we've been discussing. This one is happening in Chesapeake, Virginia -- or happened in Chesapeake, Virginia. You're looking at where the podium is being set up for a news conference that's going to happen. A shooting -- six people dead at a Walmart, plus the shooter. We're going to bring that to you live in just moments.


LEMON: Good morning, everyone. We are so glad that you could join us. It is Wednesday, November 23. Welcome to CNN THIS MORNING.