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New Day

Amy Spitalnick is Interviewed About Racist Attacks; Russia Suffers Major Defeat; New Report on the Collapse of Afghanistan; NBA Working to Free Griner. Aired 6:30-7a ET

Aired May 18, 2022 - 06:30   ET




KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN ANCHOR: New this morning, we're learning that the suspect in the racist attack in Buffalo told an online chat room his plan 30 minutes before the shooting. One of his motivations, according to his own words, was this baseless quote white -- so-called replacement theory, the same one that has inspired several other deadly incidents in recent years, including at the Unite the Right Rally in Charlottesville in 2017 where, of course, white nationalists chanted "Jews will not replace us."

Joining us now is Amy Spitalnick, executive director of Integrity First for America, who successfully sued the organizers of the Charlottesville Unite the Right Rally, win ago $25 million judgment, we should note.

Amy, thank you so much for joining us this morning.

And I just want to first get your reaction to this breaking news, that this suspect had been talking about his plan 30 minutes beforehand in an online chat room.


And, look, the fact that the Buffalo shooter was out there planning his violence online, promoting it online, is not a surprise because that's exactly how these extremists have operated. In fact, the very same site that the Buffalo shooter used to log his plans and then invite the public to view them is discord, which is the same site that the Charlottesville organizers used to plan their violence for months in advance down to every last detail.

And so what we're seeing nearly five years after Unite the Right is that what happened there in Charlottesville was not an accident or not an isolated incident but really a preview of the extremism that followed down to the very tools and tactics that they use.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Amy, you know, people look at this and they say this shooter acted alone. But you say it's wrong to look at this as an isolated matter. Why? SPITALNICK: Look, there's a cycle of violence in which each attack is

used to inspire the next. And so we oftentimes call these shooters lone wolves but, in fact, they're part of an extremist network that meets and connects and inspires each other to action online. And you see that through, of course, the planning of the violence through social media, the ways in which the -- this shooter's diatribe reflected so many prior diatribes of the extremists, the connections between attacks in which Charlottesville seemingly inspired Pittsburgh which seemingly inspired Christchurch, Poway, El Paso, now Buffalo. And I think that's even more concerning when the very same tropes and conspiracies that fuel these shooters are now seeping into the mainstream of our politics and our society in a way that normalizes this extremism that felt fringe just five years ago.

COLLINS: And so what do you think should happen going forward? Because I feel like people get so exhausted seeing this time and time again where, in situations like this one there were warning signs, there were concerns, there was this mental health evaluation that happened last year. He had written so many things online laying out what he planned to do and yet he still was able to carry it out. He was still able to be successful in his goals of gunning down ten people, targeting them because of their race.

SPITALNICK: There's so much that we can be doing. And the fact that we're still having this conversation years after Charlottesville, years after El Paso and Pittsburgh and after yet another white supremacist attack is a sign that we have not done nearly enough.

We, first of all, need a clear, unequivocal acknowledgment that what we're talking about is a broader, far right extremist effort to undercut our democracy and keep -- and make our communities less safe. None of us are safe here. This was an attack that targeted black people. The shooter, of course, also talked about his anti-Semitism. So many forms of hate are bound up in this white supremacy and no community is safe until we take this on clearly.

We can -- you know, we can't keep using the same failed solutions over the last few decades that clearly got us to this moment. Instead, we need to be thinking about how we build resiliency into our society. And that includes measures like education, includes digital and media literacy, includes giving people like educators, caregivers, parents, the tools to spot and identify and confront extremism. It includes dealing with the crisis of law enforcement's -- rather white supremacists infiltration of law enforcement, the ways in which they exploit the veteran community. There is so much that can be done, not just on the federal level, but on the state and local level that will keep communities safer and actually get at the root cause of this crisis as opposed to continuing to try to put band-aids on it each time there's an attack without dealing with the systemic problems.

COLLINS: Major questions about what this will look like going forward.

Amy Spitalnick, thank you for joining us.

SPITALNICK: Thanks so much for having me. COLLINS: Meanwhile, CNN is touring what remains of a battleground in

eastern Ukraine where Ukrainian forces say that Russian forces have suffered a devastating loss.

BERMAN: Plus, high drama in Pennsylvania. More votes coming in from this razor thin margin in the Republican Senate race there. Mehmet Oz ahead by 2,600 votes, but that margin has actually shrunk over the last 90 minutes.


Stay with us. Our special live coverage continues.


BERMAN: It is the scene of one of Russia's worst defeats in Ukraine. It was a failed river crossing right about here in the Donbas region that turned into a graveyard for Russian tanks.

CNN's Sam Kiley got to see the aftermath and joins us live from nearby Kramatorsk this morning.


SAM KILEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, this remains an active front line area. Essentially the front line now is, again, the Donetsk River. But it was this Russian attempt to punch through which was such a disaster. A battlefield disaster for the Russians.


They have been trying to punch through at various locations along this very long front line that extends all the way to Kharkiv in order to capture the city where I am here in Kramatorsk.

But this was the aftermath of the latest battle and the Russian disaster.


KILEY (voice over): The first signs of a Russian disaster, a "z" marked Russian tank being salvaged by Ukrainian troops. A few days ago this was the scene on the edge of these woods, Russian Pontoon Bridges under ferocious Ukrainian artillery attack.

The Ukrainian commander with us casts an eye to the sky looking for Russian drones. This is no place for complacency.

Ukraine and NATO have claimed that Russia suffered badly here. They estimate 70 to 80 vehicles destroyed and a whole Russian battle group of 1,000 men mauled.

KILEY (on camera): So, we're at the edge now of the area where the Russian armor was caught after it had crossed the Pontoon River. You can see down here there's a destroyed tank. Next to it, an armored personnel carrier. And if we look down the road here, we've got another armored personnel carrier and another and another.

The Ukrainians were able, they say, due to their superior reconnaissance and intelligence, to work out where the Russians were going to cross and then bring in devastating levels of artillery. And this is the result. This is only the edge of it.

KILEY (voice over): Russia has now shifted its attacks elsewhere, at least for now.

KILEY (on camera): When you see this, how do you feel?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): Great. I understand that our artillery is working and our troops are working, too, because there was both artillery and ground fighting. The units, in cooperation with other troops, were pushing the enemy across the river on foot.

KILEY (voice over): Shattered Russian armor is scattered along this path through the woodland. On the ground, we can't move forward. The track is mined.

KILEY (on camera): A real disaster for the Russians, but something that the Ukrainians now are saying here that means that the pressure is off this particular front for now and that they believe that the Russians are focusing more of their efforts elsewhere.

KILEY (voice over): Ukrainian soldiers pick over the debris of this victory, but the chilling truth is that many of their comrades have ended up like this. And while this is a success in the grinding war for Ukraine, Russia remains an immediate threat.

KILEY (on camera): And they've asked us to get out of here with their military commander because the -- they're worried that our cars are going to attract attention and therefore attract incoming. This is still clearly an extremely active area.

KILEY (voice over): And one, as it was for the Russians, that's a considerable relief to leave.


KILEY: Now, Kaitlan, John, they mentioned there that the pressure would be brought to bear by Russia elsewhere. And sure enough, on that day, yesterday morning, (INAUDIBLE), the important local regional marketing hub and administrative hub, it came under attack with a factory that was hit. Several people were killed in a missile strike. There was a ferocious tank battle on the edge of the town because the Russians are now trying to thrust in from the east. And overnight here in Kramatorsk, a little bit to the southeast, there were also attacks by long range Russian missiles, the Smerch missile. Again, indicating that they are not necessarily given up on that northern thrust, but they are trying again to try and find a weakness in the Ukrainian lines and punch through to here to Kramatorsk.

Kaitlan. John. BERMAN: Sam Kiley with incredible access to a scene that I don't think many people could have imagined a few months ago.

Sam, thank you very much.

So, a deadlock this morning in Pennsylvania. The key Republican primary for the Senate seat there that could decide control of the U.S. Senate. Votes are still coming in. This morning the lead keeps changing.

Stay with us.



BERMAN: All right. Welcome back. This is CNN's special live election coverage.

Still counting votes this morning in Pennsylvania in this very close Senate primary there for the Republican nomination for Senate. Just 2,600 votes, not even, separate TV Dr. Mehmet Oz with hedge fund manager Dave McCormick. Ninety-four percent reporting. There are still thousands of votes left to count in this state.

And let me give you a sense of what that means.

I want to show you some of the counties that have 10 percent or more about still to count here. Hang on. Yes, there's (INAUDIBLE). There's 76 percent. But you can see, some of these counties still have a lot of votes to go.

You can look in there at Dauphin County, a relatively small county there. McCormick, though, with a slight edge, just 76 percent reporting. A lot more votes there. So McCormick could edge even closer.

You look at this county right here. Again, not a giant county, Blair County, but that's a county where Oz has a slight lead, just around 75 percent reporting there. So as more votes are counted, Oz could pick up some votes.

Let me show you a few other counties we're watching very closely.

You talk about Philadelphia. This is a heavily Democratic area, but Republicans still vote there. You can see Oz has a fairly large lead in this county and there are 93 percent reporting in that county right now. So, Oz could pad his lead there.

This election has been changing all night long in this state. The results going back and forth. McCormick had a lead until about midnight. Oz jumped ahead in the wee hours of the morning. But now it is getting ever closer. We are watching it throughout the morning.



COLLINS: Watching it incredibly closely, John. We'll check back in and see what happens.

Meanwhile, we're going to talk about a scathing new report from a federal government watchdog that is unequivocally calling out both the Biden and Trump administrations when it comes to how and why the Afghan security forces collapsed.

CNN's Barbara Starr is live at the Pentagon with details.

Barbara, they say that there's basically a red light blinking on what was going to happen in Afghanistan.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: It is a damning 70-page report, Kaitlan, from the special inspector general that says basically the Trump and the Biden administration were essentially the driving force behind the collapse of Afghan security forces and then the collapse of the Afghan government, opening the door for the Taliban to take over last summer at lightning speed, as we all watched and saw.

$90 billion of U.S. government funds spent trying to create a fighting force and a government that would work in Afghanistan over 20 years, but it never worked. The report says that the U.S. tried to create a security force essentially in the mirror image of U.S. forces, and this was never going to happen. It was never going to work. And that Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, at the end, had very little idea of what was really going on in his own country, in his own military. He did he not understand how much they relied on the U.S.

The Pentagon says they accept the findings of the report, but that a lot of this had to do with the lack of will, they say, of Afghan forces to fight.


COLLINS: And it does raise so many questions about what they learned from this going forward.

But, Barbara, I also want to ask you about something else because the president is leaving to go to South Korea tomorrow. I'm traveling with him. But this comes as U.S. officials are anticipating that there is going to be another missile test from North Korea in the coming days.

STARR: Kaitlan, as you travel to the region, all eyes in Washington indeed on the Korean peninsula. Look, the U.S. intelligence community is now seeing indicators that North Korea may be in the final stages of preparing for a test launch of an intercontinental ballistic missile, of course, a missile that could theoretically hit the United States if it ever all worked. They see these preparations underway at a test site near Pyongyang, we are told near, the capital. And they have been watching this very carefully because they believe Kim Jong- un wants to continue with his missile test program.

They have seen a number of tests in recent months. U.S. intelligence has stepped up its surveillance through satellites and other means of the peninsula to try and keep track of what North Korea may be up to, as Biden travels to the region. The question is, of course, does Kim want to use that as an opportunity to send the world a message about his weapons program, and would it stop at the test of an ICBM?

They are also watching very carefully that underground nuclear test site in North Korea. The North Koreans have been working on that site now for the last several months. They could also be ready in the coming weeks, we are told, to have another underground nuclear test, the first since 2017.

But make no mistake, the final preps, if it all comes to pass, would be for an ICBM test potentially, we are told, potentially while the president is in the region.


COLLINS: It would be extraordinary to watch. And we should note, this comes, last time I checked with White House officials, they had still not gotten any response to their outrage to North Korean officials. So, we'll be watching to see what happens when President Biden leaves tomorrow.

Barbara, thank you.

STARR: Sure.

COLLINS: Meanwhile, the NBA says it is now joining the effort to free WNBA star Brittney Griner who has been in Russian detention since she was arrested in February.

BERMAN: And just moments ago, more votes released in the closely watched Republican Senate primary. The margin there just changed. The lead margin there just changed. We'll bring you the very latest.

Plus, more results from around the country ahead.



BERMAN: The NBA says it is working behind the scenes to try to free WNBA star Brittany Griner from a Russian prison.

Andy Scholes with the latest in this morning's "Bleacher Report."



So, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said that the league didn't want to speak publicly about Griner's case early on after listening to experts in and out of the government. But in an interview with ESPN last night, Silver said they've been working side-by-side with the WNBA to try to help free Griner.


ADAM SILVER, NBA COMMISSIONER: The league, and by that, both the WNBA and its brother league, the NBA, we have a huge responsibility to Brittney Griner as one of our players. We've been in touch with the White House, the State Department, hostage negotiators, you know, at every level of government and also through the private sector as well. So, our number one priority is her health and safety and making sure that she gets out of Russia.


SCHOLES: Yes, Griner was arrested on drug charges at a Moscow airport in February and has been in a Russian jail ever since. Earlier this month, the State Department declared her wrongfully detained.

All right, the Eastern Conference finals tipping off last night with game one between the Heat and the Celtics. Boston missing two key players, Marcus Smart out with an injured foot, and Al Horford was put in health and safety protocols.

This game, a tale of two halves. Jayson Tatum's great first half to finish with the Celtics leading by eight, but the Heat coming out on a mission in the second half. Jamie Butler leading Miami on a 22-2 run to start the third quarter. Butler scoring 41 points without even making one three-pointer. Miami would win 118-107. Game two of that series tomorrow night in Miami.


The Western Conference finals starts tonight with Steph Curry and the Warriors hosting Luka Doncic and the Mavs. You can watch that at 9:00 Eastern on our sister channel TNT.