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DEMOCRACY IN PERIL: Scant Hope For Voting Rights Action In Senate Clash Tomorrow; MLK's Family Presses Senate To Pass Voting Rights Legislation: "History Will Be Watching"; Three Retired Generals Pen Op-Ed: The Military Must Prepare Now For A 2024 Insurrection. Aired 9-10p ET

Aired January 17, 2022 - 21:00   ET



ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: What a life well-lived! Thank you for your service.

If you ever miss 360, you can always listen to our podcast. Go to, on any of the major platforms, just search for "Anderson Cooper 360."

The news continues, here, on CNN. So, let's hand it over to Brianna Keilar, for "DEMOCRACY IN PERIL."

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST, DEMOCRACY IN PERIL: Anderson, thank you so much.

I'm Brianna Keilar. And this is DEMOCRACY IN PERIL.

We're doing something a little different tonight, and here, in the days to come. We are taking a closer look, at the state of our country, the threats to our political system, and possible solutions, for reversing the divisiveness that is tearing America apart.

Maybe you look around our country right now, and you don't like what you see. Maybe it seems so bad, at times, that you're even tempted to look away. No one would blame you. But there are efforts underway, right now, to undermine American democracy. And we can't just bury our heads in the sand.

You know what a failed coup is? Practice. And the masterminds, behind the effort, to overturn the 2020 presidential election, got the reps in.

And they are chipping away, at the institutions that held, to ensure former President Trump would take his rightful place, as an ex- President, and President Biden would enter the White House, and get his chance, to deliver on promises, to the voters, who elected him. What every president is entitled to. What voters are entitled to.

This series isn't alarmist. It is a frank examination, of an illness, in our country that we can't afford to ignore. What will 2022 bring, and 2024? What if Trump runs again, or other Republicans run, using his playbook? Will our institutions hold? And will social media algorithms undermine them, continuing to amplify conspiracy theories, peddling them, to the masses, eager to consume them?

According to a recent poll, 73 percent of Republicans still believe the election was stolen, from Trump, despite Trump administration officials making clear there was no widespread voter fraud that would have affected the outcome of the election, despite court after court dismissing baseless lawsuits that argued otherwise.

The Big Lie is a cancer. So, how do you cut it out, without killing the patient? Is it even possible, as it metastasizes in one Republican-led state legislature, after another?

34 new laws, in at least 19 States, according to the Brennan Center, that restrict voting access that could disproportionately affect voters of color. In particular, legislatures in competitive States, are making it harder, to cast a ballot, and key Republicans are gas- lighting America.


SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY): States are not engaging in trying to suppress voters whatsoever.


KEILAR: Saying it doesn't make it true, as much as Republican leaders, who subscribe to, or enable the Big Lie, want for it to be. And that club is likely to get bigger.

According to a "Washington Post" tally, at least 163 Big Lie Republicans are running for state or national office, positions that in many cases, would give them authority, or influence, over the administration of elections.

The list includes 69 candidates, for Governor, in 30 States, as well as 55 candidates, for the U.S. Senate, 13 candidates for State Attorney General, and 18 candidates, for Secretary of State.

The Republican officials, who aren't selling, or enabling the Big Lie, are on an island, and a lightly populated one at that. The 10 House Republicans, who voted to impeach Trump, after the attack, on the Capitol, by his supporters, are facing primary challenges, or getting out of Congress, entirely.

Meanwhile, state legislatures, dominated by Republicans, are drawing congressional maps that look like amoebas, gerrymandering their States, into congressional seats that are easy, for their party, to hold on to.

Republicans control the redistricting process in States that oversee 187 House seats. Democrats control the process in States that oversee just 75 seats.

Ohio State Supreme Court struck down the congressional map, proposed by Republicans, just this past Friday, saying the way it was drawn was like a dealer stacking the deck.

And then there's Trump himself. It is possible that his influence, over his party, is flagging. But it is far from dead. He is still the leader of his party. He could run again in 2024.

And members of his party are loath to criticize him, even when he's leaning into conspiracy theories, about the FBI, orchestrating the January 6 attacks, and bragging about his audience size that day.


DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Everybody that I knew was saying, "I'm going on January 6." Everybody.

And they never talk, by the way, they never talk about that crowd. They talk about the people that walked down to the Capitol. They don't talk about the size of that crowd. I believe it was the largest crowd I've ever spoken before.



KEILAR: It wasn't. And yet, that kind of lie seems almost quaint, as Steve Bannon feeds his listeners, their daily ration of coup-porn.

This is what he said, over the weekend.


STEVE BANNON, FORMER ADVISER TO PRESIDENT TRUMP: The decertification process is really kicking up, next week, in Arizona, in the Assembly. The de - November - get to the bottom, of November 3, and decertify Biden electors, in Arizona, in Wisconsin, in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, in the great State of Georgia.


KEILAR: So, I know all of this is enough, to make your head spin.

So, let's bring in an expert, who monitors these threats, and can help us make sense of the big picture here. Michael Waldman, is the President of the Brennan Center. He's also the Author of "The Fight to Vote."

Thank you, Michael, so much, for being with us, tonight.

And I'm just hoping, especially, as we are here, on the eve, of the beginning of the debate, of voting rights legislation, in the Senate, which ultimately is expected to fail, and we're watching all of these efforts, to undermine elections, and institutions, where would you say our democracy is?

MICHAEL WALDMAN, PRESIDENT, BRENNAN CENTER FOR JUSTICE AT NYU LAW, AUTHOR, "THE FIGHT TO VOTE": Well, you have said it so well. This is a very big moment in American history. Our democracy is under assault, in ways it has not been, in a long time, if ever. We see one political party being dominated, by this notion of the Big Lie, by this idea, the slander on American democracy, that it's rigged.

And you see, States moving, across the country, to restrict the vote. And not just that, as you said, to change who counts the votes. Election subversion, in a sense, on top of voter suppression.

And Congress has the power, constitutionally, and legally, to stop it. The question is, does it have the political will? We're going to see, this week, we're going to see debates. We're going to see votes. And everybody's going to have to take a stand, on where they stand, on voting rights.

KEILAR: We just talked about a lot of things, a lot of trends, we're seeing. What in particular keeps you up at night?

WALDMAN: What worries me is the future, if we don't act, today.

In the late 1800s, after the Civil War, Black men, in the South, had the right to vote. And they voted in great numbers. But they were under attack.

And in 1890, Congress, the Republicans actually, passed a bill, in the House of Representatives, to protect the right to vote. It was filibustered to death in the Senate. And when that happened, you had the Jim Crow laws pass, and seven decades of disenfranchisement and discrimination.

Right now, States are looking, and seeing that if we cannot have action, in Congress, because of that same filibuster, and the courts, especially the Supreme Court, have not enforced voting rights, or dealt with gerrymandering, then it's basically open season, for these States, to go after the rights, of their own people. And I worry very much that they will take that opportunity.

KEILAR: At the heart, of this subversion, also, the suppression, is the Big Lie, which is alive and thriving. I mean, you just have to look at, what we saw, from politicians, in Arizona, over the weekend.

Let's look at what they said.


REP. DEBBIE LESKO (R-AZ): And they're going after everyone that supports President Trump with their sham January 6 select committee.

And they're pushing legislation to rig our elections, again.

REP. PAUL GOSAR (R-AZ): Was there fraud? Absolutely. Was there enough to overturn the election? Absolutely.

KARI LAKE, (R) ARIZONA GOVERNOR CANDIDATE: That election, was rotten to the core. We all know it, right? You know that, right?

STATE REP. MARK FINCHEM, (R) ARIZONA SECRETARY OF STATE CANDIDATE: Ladies and gentlemen, we know it. And they know it. Donald Trump won.


KEILAR: These are elected officials, and candidates.

And Kari Lake, the second to last there, we should note, is leading primary polls, for governor.

Mark Finchem, the last gentleman that you saw there, is a Trump- endorsed Secretary of State candidate, who is a QAnon adherent, and a self-proclaimed member of the Oath Keepers.

I mean, these are the people that could be soon overseeing elections!

WALDMAN: I could say I'm Napoleon Bonaparte, as loud as I can. But that doesn't make it true.

Look, as we know, the more we learn - the more we learn that there really was an attempt, to overthrow our democracy, and it was chaotic, it was clown-like, it didn't succeed? But systematically, the obstacles, to rigging the next election, are being stripped away.


Again, we have a chance to call it out. We have a chance, to do something about it. And it's quite noteworthy, of course that that was in Arizona.

Senator Sinema, along with Senator Manchin, both say they support these national election standards, and the Voting Rights Act, to fight against racial discrimination in voting. But they've said they don't want to change Senate procedures, in any way that would actually allow those bills to pass. Well, then, in her own state, we saw this kind of pageant of lies.

Again, everybody's going to have to be, on the record, on the floor of the Senate, this week.

KEILAR: What do you make, Michael, of Republicans, who actually, elected officials, they don't actually believe this stuff, but they kind of go along with it?

WALDMAN: My sense is, a lot of them, most of them, know it's nonsense. But they are lying to their voters.

And certainly, former President Trump is lying to their voters. And millions of people believe it. And they are being doubly cynical because they know it's not true. And the idea that well, someday they'll kind of - they'll kind of pull back, and be responsible, is cold comfort.

Right now, we've had this kind of fight over who can vote, in our country's history. In this book I did, I saw that, from the beginning, we've been fighting about who can vote. Some people want to have that seat, at the table of democracy, and other people try to stop them.

What's new, what's different, is this mass belief in a major lie.


WALDMAN: We've not had that before. And we don't really know how it's going to play out.

KEILAR: There's a point, a key point, in your book, "The Fight to Vote," where you talk about, it isn't really the courts that, is the impetus for change. It is people.

So, what do you see actually making change here?

WALDMAN: The Supreme Court is not going to save us. In fact, it heads in the wrong direction.

Courts, throughout the country's history, have not been what has expanded the right to vote. It's people, on the streets, people, voting for candidates, involved in actual partisan politics, where the two parties fight it out, on these issues, even passing constitutional amendments.

There are five constitutional amendments that talk about protecting, explicitly, the right to vote. This is something we now see, where one movement is pushing this Big Lie.

And, for the first time, in a long time, there's kind of a counter movement, of people, mobilizing for democracy. You see it in the push for this legislation. I've worked on these issues, for a long time. And I've never seen a movement, of this breadth, of this diversity, and of this passion, for democracy, for the right to vote, for fair elections.

KEILAR: We'll see where it takes us.

Michael, thank you for being with us tonight. Or I may call you Napoleon. It won't make it true. But I will at least do you that courtesy.

Michael Waldman, thank you.

WALDMAN: Thank you so much.

KEILAR: Coming up, the Reverend Martin Luther King's family, pushing for voting rights, while the former President, and his supporters, work to tighten their grip, on the electoral process.

They both took their case, to a Red state that turned Blue. But whose message resonates more?

DEMOCRACY IN PERIL, continues next.



(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) MARTIN LUTHER KING III, SON OF CIVIL RIGHTS LEADER, CIVIL RIGHTS ACTIVIST: History will be watching what happens tomorrow. Black and Brown Americans will be watching what happens tomorrow. In 50 years, students will read about what happens tomorrow, and know whether our leaders, had the integrity, to do the right thing.


KEILAR: On this Martin Luther King holiday, his family, worries about the future, even while looking back, at the man, who was murdered, fighting for equality, over half a century ago.

The Kings led a march, across the Frederick Douglass Memorial Bridge, here in Washington, today, demanding the Senate pass voting rights legislation. And this comes on the eve of when the Senate will begin debate on this issue.

Now, over the holiday weekend, the Kings brought their message, to Arizona. So did Donald Trump, and the return of the Big Lie.

Our Donie O'Sullivan saw firsthand, how their visions of free and fair elections could not be further apart.



CAMILLA WESTENBERG, MARCHING FOR VOTING RIGHTS IN ARIZONA: We all have a voice, in this country, in which we live. And voting is, that opportunity, that we have.

DONIE O'SULLIVAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This Martin Luther King Jr. Day weekend, in Arizona, a battle for the future, of American democracy.

LUTHER KING III: We wanted to come, on this day, because there's also a senator, Senator Sinema, who seems to be blocking democracy, instead of being on the side, of advancing democracy.

Senator Sinema?

O'SULLIVAN (voice-over): The King family here, calling on Arizona Democratic senator, Kyrsten Sinema, to stand up for voters' rights.

LUTHER KING III: She says she wants voting rights. But how do you want voting rights without creating a path for that to happen? That is inconsistent. And that is unacceptable.

O'SULLIVAN (voice-over): Sinema and fellow Democratic senator, Joe Manchin, of West Virginia, are blocking the passage of a pair of voting rights bills, aimed at countering some of the restrictive voting measures, enacted by Republicans, at the state level.

Sinema says she is supportive of the bills, but not in favor of changing Senate rules, to get them passed. SEN. KYRSTEN SINEMA (D-AZ): And while I continue to support these bills, I will not support separate actions that worsen the underlying disease of division infecting our country.

O'SULLIVAN (voice-over): That stand's music to the years, of some Trump supporters, this weekend, on hand, at a rally for Trump, in Sinema's home state.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: God bless Kyrsten Sinema, and what she's doing, you know?


ROBBIE KIMSEY, TRUMP SUPPORTER: Kyrsten Sinema? Good for her, you know? She's our representatives. She represents the state. She's not along party lines. She's what's good for the country.

O'SULLIVAN (on camera): Do you like Kyrsten Sinema?



LEWIS: Absolutely. And Manchin.


LEWIS: In fact, I have sent emails to them, encouraging them, to stand up, and do what's right, for the people of Arizona.

O'SULLIVAN (voice-over): Those supporters, in line for Trump's rally, Saturday, also, in attendance, a hodgepodge of election-deniers, like "My Pillow" CEO, Mike Lindell, Congressman Paul Gosar, and even Ali Alexander, one of the main organizers of "Stop the Steal," who went into hiding, after the Insurrection, and was recently called, in front of the January 6 House Select Committee.

O'SULLIVAN (on camera): Hey Ali, are you worried that you might get indicted?


TRUMP: Thank you, Arizona! Thank you! Thank you!


O'SULLIVAN (voice-over): Trump here, giving his support, to two election-deniers, who are running to control elections, in the state.

Kari Lake is running for governor.

LAKE: There's a few other people I'd like to send right down to the prison, down here in Florence.

(CROWD CHEERS) LAKE: Anybody, who was involved in that corrupt, shady, shoddy election of 2020.


LAKE: Lock them up!

O'SULLIVAN (voice-over): And Mark Finchem, who previously said he was an Oath Keeper, and is now running for Secretary of State.

FINCHEM: Donald Trump won.

O'SULLIVAN (voice-over): Finchem has echoed QAnon-type conspiracy theories, about elected officials.

FINCHEM: There's a lot of people, involved, in a pedophile network, in the distribution of children.

And unfortunately, there's a whole lot of elected officials that are involved in that.

O'SULLIVAN (voice-over): And he continues to falsely attack the legitimacy of the 2020 election, here in Arizona.

FINCHEM: I look forward to the day that we set aside an irredeemably flawed election. That's the election of 2020. With all the evidence we have, the Arizona election should be decertified by the - with cause, by the legislature.

O'SULLIVAN (voice-over): That's part of a national trend. A "Washington Post" tally finding 163 Republicans, who have embraced Trump's false claims, are running for statewide positions that would give them authority, over the administration of elections.

Arizona's current Secretary of State, Katie Hobbs, now running for governor.

SECRETARY OF STATE KATIE HOBBS (D-AZ), RUNNING FOR GOVENOR: I think we are really at a defining moment. I mean, in 2020, democracy prevailed. And 2020, and after 2020, democracy prevailed, because people on both sides of the aisle did their jobs.

And what we're seeing now, is this just multi-pronged attack. And one of those prongs is Trump trying to instill, his loyalists, into key positions that have some level of determination, over how elections are certified and conducted. And that's pretty scary.


O'SULLIVAN (voice-over): And on this Martin Luther King, Jr. Day weekend, his 13-year-old granddaughter, following in her grandfather's footsteps, with a warning for today.

YOLANDA RENEE KING, MARTIN LUTHER KING JR.'S GRANDDAUGHTER: I think it's so important to vote in the - it's so important to have the right to vote. Because, right now, our country is at stake. (END VIDEOTAPE)

KEILAR: And Donie is joining us now.

Donie, as always, great report, taking us, right into the middle of things there.

Just this month, the Maricopa County Recorder, who is a Republican, who defeated a Democrat, in 2020, debunked 76 out of 77 claims, by the so-called Cyber Ninjas. That is the group, of course, that carried out that so-called "Fraudit," and is now shutting down.

And he said, quote, "The truth is the Maricopa County 2020 election was not stolen from Donald Trump."

I wonder, if any of that, penetrates, into the consciousness of Trump supporters, that you spoke with?

O'SULLIVAN: Yes, I mean, that Republican election official is an example of somebody that many Trump supporters, and Trump himself, of course, wants to get rid of.

I did think what was quite notable, about this trip, to Arizona.

For so much of the past year, we have heard outlandish and really, really crazy conspiracy theories, about voting, whether it was Hugo Chavez voting machines, swaying the election, for Donald Trump, and pieces of paper from China, somebody changing votes.

A lot of that stuff seemed to die down, at least based on the people we had spoken to. And they were back talking about more generally, the election being stolen, and talking more along the lines of the restrictive voting measures that are being brought in, by Republicans, at a state level.

So, the conspiracy theories seem to have - the more fringe conspiracy theories, I guess, have eased a bit. And now, the talking points have really began to align, with these restrictive measures, from Republicans. But, of course, it is all still very much based on a Big Lie.


KEILAR: Because, as you see these restrictive measures that are being put in place, by Republicans, Trump supporters actually feel, and they're buying into this line that they are being disenfranchised, Donie.

O'SULLIVAN: Yes. And it was kind of striking.

We started off, Saturday morning, at that march, with the King family, and speaking to an elderly African American woman, a voter, in Arizona. And for her, the fear is real. What she is seeing, it is based in history. It's echoes of Jim Crow, what they're seeing with these restrictions that are being brought in now. On the other side of things, there are people, at the Trump rally, who are fearful. I think, some of them know better - some of them know that this is a lie, and it's BS, and it's a talking point.

But a lot of them really have been bought so far into this world of conspiracy, that they genuinely do believe that American democracy is a joke. And it's a very, very sad place, for an American, to be, in that mindset, particularly because of lies.

So, there is fear on both sides of this debate, but obviously with much different motivations. Brianna?

KEILAR: Yes. Donie O'Sullivan, thank you so much for that.

You remember how Trump, wanted Georgia's Secretary of State, to magically find him more than 11,000 votes, to help him steal the election? Well, he didn't get his wish. But he's now openly advocating, to put people, in power, who might be more, friendly to him, and other Republicans, when they count votes.

When DEMOCRACY IN PERIL returns, we roll the tape.



KEILAR: Former President Trump recently said the quiet part out loud, as he delivered a message, on video, to Pennsylvania Republicans.


TRUMP: There's a famous statement. "Sometimes the vote counter is more important than the candidate." And we can't let that ever, ever happen again. They have to get tougher and smarter.


KEILAR: "Sometimes, the vote counter is more important than the candidate." Trump called that a "Famous statement."

It's not. It's actually just a twisted version of a quote, widely attributed to Soviet dictator, Joseph Stalin. And historians say there is no verified record of Stalin ever saying it.

Nonetheless, the former President quoting aspirationally, a Stalinist fairy tale, telling his followers, to be sharper, tougher, smarter, when it comes to counting the vote, even though the 2020 election was fair, accurate and secure, and Joe Biden won, and Donald Trump lost.

And oh, are they ever? Passing Big Lie-fueled voting law changes that restrict voting access. But perhaps, more importantly, giving Republicans the power to count the votes, as they see fit, to overturn a fair election, decided by voters, in their state.

So, say that you're a voter, in Arkansas. The county clerk you elected could be stripped of their authority, by the Republican-led State Board of Election Commissioners.

Say you're a voter in Georgia, where you elect the Secretary of State. The Republican legislature has purged him, as a voting member, of the State Election Board.

Why? Because the current Secretary of State, Republican, Brad Raffensperger, refused to do this.


TRUMP: I just want to find 11,780 votes, which is one more than we have.


KEILAR: If you're a voter in Arizona, some of the power, usually held by the Secretary of State, has been transferred, to the Attorney General.

You elected Democrat, Katie Hobbs. Republicans just gave her job, to Mark Brnovich, but only until Katie Hobbs' term is over, in 2022, when Republicans hope that they can take over the Secretary of State's office.

The crowded GOP field includes a Trump-endorsed QAnon adherent and "Stop the Steal" rally-goer, as well as an Arizona State Rep, who has written a bill that would allow, quote, "The Arizona legislature to regain the power it delegated to certify the electors."

In short, your legislature, which is Republican, gets to decide the outcome of the election. Not you, the voter. That lawmaker claims the bill would not let the legislature overturn the voters' decision, in presidential races, but would not explain how.

In many other States, Republicans are trying to do the same. Nevada, Missouri, Oklahoma, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and Texas, all saw similar legislation, introduced, last year. All are places, where Republicans are hell-bent, on stamping out voter fraud that is practically non-existent.

In Texas, the efforts largely led by State Senator Bryan Hughes.


KEILAR: I just ask, why is that when you only have 43 pending voter fraud charges in Texas, only one is from 2020?

You've previously misquoted that as, I think, about 400. It's really 43. Only one is from 2020. And there were 16 minor prosecutions for 2020. It was just people putting down addresses that weren't theirs.

STATE SEN. BRYAN HUGHES, (R) TEXAS: There are hundreds of open cases in Texas. As you know, the courts have been largely closed.

KEILAR: No, there's not. There's not. There's not.

HUGHES: Because of COVID-19.

KEILAR: There is not.

HUGHES: The investigation is pending, all what they are.

KEILAR: There's 43.

HUGHES: Let me say this, you know--

KEILAR: There's not hundreds.

HUGHES: --what Texas has been doing.

KEILAR: You may be talking about complaints, which anyone can file. There are not hundreds of open cases.


KEILAR: There are 43--


KEILAR: --pending voter fraud charges in Texas. This is according to your Republican Attorney General's office. There are not hundreds, sir.


KEILAR: In Texas, that Republican Attorney General, Ken Paxton, his office, dedicated 22,000 man hours, to find evidence, of voter fraud, only to find 16 incidents, where people had put a false address, on a registration form. 16 individual cases out of 17 million registered voters!


But Republicans, leading these efforts, will say just because they haven't found voter fraud, doesn't mean it doesn't exist. It's the same rationale that one might have, if they avidly search for Bigfoot. It is not a reason to disenfranchise voters!

When we come back, two of the retired U.S. generals warning that the U.S. Military needs to prepare now for another Insurrection, in 2024. Why they are so concerned? Next.


KEILAR: Stewart Rhodes was once a paratrooper, in the Army. But it was after leaving the service that he became obsessed with civil war.


From soldier, to keyboard warrior, Rhodes started a right-wing blog, and a militia group, called the Oath Keepers. He railed against political enemies, and began recruiting other Veterans, to join his extremist cause. In a signed blog post, from 2009, he writes, "Our would-be slave masters are greatly underestimating the resolve and military capability of the people."

On January 6, prosecutors say Rhodes led members of the Oath Keepers to the Capitol. And, according to Pentagon reports, at least 77 Veterans have been charged, for their involvement, in the Insurrection.

Let's talk now with retired Major General Paul D. Eaton, and retired Brigadier General Steven M. Anderson, who are sounding the alarm, on extremism, in the Military, and what it might mean, in 2024.

The both of you wrote an Op-Ed along, with another colleague of yours, and you said, "In short, we are chilled to our bones at the thought of a coup succeeding."

General Eaton, how likely, do you think, it is that we will see another coup attempt, in the immediate future?


January 6 was not a one-off. We are going to see it again. The people who perpetrated that attempt, on America's democracy, have gone to school, and they are learning from their mistakes. And they are going to implement, a somewhat, more reasoned, from their perspective, approach, to try to do it again, in 2024. And we really do need to get ready for it.

KEILAR: General Anderson, I know you share some of that urgency. And I wonder if you think the Military is doing enough, to counter this, in the ranks. We should note that it was mostly Veterans, who were involved. But there were active duty or National Guard members, who participated.

BRIGADIER GENERAL STEVEN M. ANDERSON (RET), SERVED IN U.S. ARMY FOR 31 YEARS: Yes, absolutely. I mean, over 100 Military members, or former Military members, were part - have been charged with crimes, with the Insurrection. And, of course, Stewart Rhodes, and the Oath Keepers, most of them had Military backgrounds as well.

And then, of course, you look at people, like Lieutenant General Mike Flynn, with whom I served in, in Iraq, who was advocating, essentially using Military, to overthrow the government.

But I mean, I'm very, very concerned, and Paul is as well, about extremism, and the impact of extremism on our Military.

DOD, Department of Defense, recently passed some policy that prohibits active membership, in extremist groups, in hate groups. The FBI has a list of gangs and extremist groups. But the policy allows them to be members. And we don't think that's good now.

They can't be members at all you, active or not. I mean, you cannot have a platoon sergeant, that's a member of the KKK. Imagine the impact on morale and cohesion, within the unit. And membership, in extremist groups, by members of the Military, tend to essentially legitimize those organizations.

And I want to remind you, Brianna that, serving in the Military is a profound privilege. I'm sure that Paul would agree with me. The greatest privilege of our life was serving in the Military.

But you do not get to join the Military, and also be a member of extremist group. And if you can't make that choice, then the Military isn't for you. So, the Military, needs to pass policy that essentially, prohibits any type of membership at all, in extremist groups.

KEILAR: OK. General Eaton, can you tell us a little bit more, about what the Military needs to do, to make that kind of membership, less appealing to its members?

D. EATON: Brianna, every squad leader knows exactly who his nine-man squad is. And he will know, in a very intimate manner, what they think, what they do, who they do it with. And it is that kind of situational awareness, on the part of the chain of command that will help solve the problem.

We need to give the chain of command tools, to do that. With the proliferation of social media, we have opportunities, to monitor what the men and women, in the Armed Forces, are doing.

It is a requirement that we assist the chain of command, so that we ferret out those, you've described, as members, who do not belong, in the Armed Forces, who do not have the privilege, to serve, in the Armed Forces of the United States.

KEILAR: OK. So, let's say General Anderson, they are ferreted out. Now, you have highly-trained individuals, who are disaffected, out of the Military. Oath Keepers and other militias would love to have people with this kind of training. What then, do you do, to prevent that?

M. ANDERSON: Well, that's a very good question. I mean, we need to essentially, imagine those kinds of eventualities.


One of the things that we need to do, in the Military, is strategic planning and war-gaming, something we're extremely good at. And we need to imagine the unimaginable, imagine what happens, if we get people, like Stewart Rhodes, out there, creating havoc.

What are the things that they're thinking about, right now, to make themselves more successful, in 2024 than they were in 2020? We need to imagine the unimaginable.

We also need to gather Intelligence on these people. Even they may get out of the Military. But there's no reason why you can't continue to track them and monitor them. And we need to identify potential mutineers, both in ranks, and out of ranks, as quickly as possible.

And, of course, we need to educate our troops. I mean, it's a great opportunity, for us, to have Military members, within our ranks, teaching them what Civics 101 is, teaching how great and beautiful our democracy is, how it's supposed to work, how it does work, how our elections are conducted, the innate integrity of our elections.

Stop listening to the "Pillow" guy, and start paying attention, to what our democracy really is.

KEILAR: I think we could all use a little brush-up, sometimes, on our civics.

Generals, Eaton and Anderson, thank you for being with us, this evening. And also, thank you for your continued service. We really appreciate it.

D. EATON: Thank you very much, Brianna, for doing this.

M. ANDERSON: Thank you, Brianna.

KEILAR: So, we've been addressing the many ways that our democracy is in peril, this hour.

Straight ahead, what is driving the danger? John Avlon lays out three of the main causes, in a reality check, for us, next.



KEILAR: How did we get here, this moment of crisis, our democracy in peril? It's teetering, as former President Jimmy Carter recently said, on the brink of a widening abyss. So, how do we move away from the edge?

John Avlon, joining us now, for tonight's "Reality Check."

And John, the first thing that you point to here is hyper-partisan polarization. So, walk us through what you've been seeing, as a trend, here, in recent years.

JOHN AVLON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST & ANCHOR, AUTHOR, "WASHINGTON'S FAREWELL" AND "WINGNUTS": Yes, Bri, this is really the structural dynamic, that leads to all the insanity we're seeing. Bottom line, the incentive structure, in our politics is all screwed up. It moves power to the extremes.

Take a look, just at this. The number of competitive congressional districts, where the general election actually mattered, where the candidates had to compete, for votes, in the middle?

Those have been cut in more than half, since 1997, by design, through the rigged system of redistricting. And it's likely to get much worse. So, that just forces the politicians, further to the extremes. And guess what? That translates to how they vote in Congress. You see a polarization, both parties, playing to their respective bases. There is almost no overlap now. Between what used to be a handful of progressive Republicans, and conservative Democrats, you can always find some kind of constructive compromise. That's gone out the window!

And if you look closely, it's important to say, this is asymmetric polarization. That is to say that the Republican Party has moved further right than the Democrats have left. And you can see that in the composition of the parties too.

We talk about being a divided nation, evenly. But it's a fact that independent voters now make up a plurality of voters. But if you look inside the parties, that's what really is telling, Democrats have gotten more liberal, but they're still split 50-50, between liberals and moderates.

Republicans, though, are 75 percent, conservative, less than 25 percent, moderate. So, the power in the party is enormously off- center. And that creates the incentive structure, where candidates want to play to the base, and they don't worry about reaching across the aisle.

KEILAR: And one of the most alarming things, I think, we see, is that they play to this nativist backlash. There's almost this thinly-veiled racism, where there is at times that we see.

You call this a "Backlash to globalization."

AVLON: That's right. And look, what we just described is sometimes called tribal politics.

Why? It's because people's tribal identities are being threatened by these major forces, including globalization, that is really putting a lot of folks in a defensive crouch, all the old certainties of their lives, seem being undermined.

Sometimes, this is economic. You see it in rising income inequality, the squeezing of the middle-class, the gaps in regional economies, as well, former steel mill cities in the Rust Belt, falling on hard times, for decades and decades.

It also creates a major irritant, in these culture war wedge issues. Because, the pace of change, is perceived as being too far. And this is a global dynamic, by the way.

We've seen the nativist forces, in Brexit, pulling out of the E.U. We've seen a lot of nativist leaders rising up, such as Viktor Orban, in Hungary. We've seen China and Russia trying to say there's an alternative, an autocratic alternative, to democracy, in part, by appealing to these same forces.

So, this backlash to globalization, has really unleashed, a lot of these challenges, to democracy, internally and externally that we're dealing with right now. KEILAR: And if you are not a discipline person, making sure that you aren't seeking out right information, just because it agrees with what you believe? You can fall prey to disinformation very easily.

AVLON: That's right. This is the new, new thing, the disinformation proliferation.

We've had partisan media before, although not on the scale and scope, we've been dealing with, in recent decades.

But what's happened in the last several years is the added alloy of social media algorithms that elevate, and exacerbate, and reward, conflict conspiracy theories extremism. And that's one of the things that's made us sort of go collectively insane, where it seems incredibly difficult, to reason together, which is, of course, what democracy is based upon.

So, all these other dynamics have been really elevated, by social media algorithms that are designed, to reward, and elevate, these extremes. And that's one of the reasons why that - that's one incentive structure that we need to get in control.

On all these dynamics, Bri, we see that they can be controlled. You change the rules? You change the game. But we need to recognize that we are reaping the whirlwind, based on the structures we've put in place.


KEILAR: OK. So, we have like 30 seconds. Fix it for us, John Avlon. Fix it for us. What do we do?

AVLON: Redistricting reform. Open primaries. Incentives that greet (ph) politicians reach the center. Reform social media algorithms, so they don't reward extremism.

And then, we got to focus, on rebuilding the middle-class, in this country. If you don't have a middle of economy, you're not going to have a middle of the political system. That provides the ballast you need.

KEILAR: Yes. We were talking about it earlier. Got to love an open primary!


KEILAR: John Avlon, thank you so much.

AVLON: Thanks, Bri. Be well.

KEILAR: And we'll be right back.


KEILAR: Tomorrow night, here, on DEMOCRACY IN PERIL, we look more closely, at the proliferation of disinformation. Thank you so much for watching. "DON LEMON TONIGHT" starts right now.


DON LEMON, CNN HOST, DON LEMON TONIGHT: Hi, Brianna Keilar. It's so good to see you.

KEILAR: It's awesome to see you.

LEMON: Hey, listen? I'm so glad you're doing this, because our democracy really is in peril.