“Democracy is Under a Full-Blown Attack,” was presented by the Democrats of Greater Tucson in May 2022. Frank Figliuzzi discussed the fascist threats to our freedom and democracy as we enter the 2020 election season.
Frank Figliuzzi is a national security commentator and regular guest on NBC News and MSNBC. He was the Assistant Director for Counterintelligence at the FBI, where he served for 25 years.
Visit FrankFigliuzzi.com to see his book The FBI Way, Inside the Bureau’s Code of Excellence, and numerous videos, podcasts, radio, appearances, and photos on his site.
Frank Figliuzzi: The idea of having a Designated Survivor goes back to the jittery days of the cold war, the same cold war we find ourselves in today, that same Designated Survivor drill still takes place every year.
Across key agencies during the state of the union, if a hostile foreign power or a terrorist organization were to drop a nuke on Washington, the Designated Survivors would be spared the carnage theoretically, and they could carry on the nation’s vital business. From there, we were a Noah’s Ark for the nuclear age.
However remote, America’s last best, desperate hope, the threat of Armageddon, might’ve been the notion. Designated Survivor is our theme tonight because our democracy and democracies worldwide are under full-blown attack from foreign and domestic adversaries. Each one of us in this meeting tonight must become Designated Survivors, people capable of defending and preserving our democracy under withering attack and carrying it forward to the next generation tonight.
Tonight, our brothers and sisters in Ukraine are sacrificing their lives for their freedom. Meanwhile, here at home, we couldn’t agree on the inconvenience of wearing a mask during a deadly pandemic or on getting a vaccine or a booster that’s been proven to protect us and the most vulnerable around us from hospitalization and death. An astonishing percentage of Americans happen to think the world is run by an elite group of Satan-worshiping pedophile cannibals.
We certainly can’t even agree on who won the last presidential election. And at least 800 Americans decided to violently assault our nation’s capital to try and prevent the peaceful transition of power. Moreover, a recent University of Massachusetts Amherst poll found that only 21% of Republicans believe that Joe Biden’s victory was legitimate.
Despite dozens of court challenges across the country, finding no fraud. Despite Trump attorney general William Barr telling his boss that the Department of Justice could not find fraud. Despite the head of cybersecurity for Trump at the Department of Homeland security saying it was the most secure vote in our history.
The vast majority of the GOP believe a lie, and 30% of Republicans agreed with the following statement. (This is a survey from the Public Religion Research Institute.) Quote, “because things have gotten so off track. True American Patriots may have to resort to violence in order to save our country.” Unfortunately, 30% of Republicans agree with that statement that violence may be required to save our country. It may also mean violent acts against minorities, blacks, Latinos, Asians, and Muslims, because of a belief in something called the white replacement theory.
The twisted notion is that the increasing number of minorities in our country results from a deliberate strategy to replace white voters and white European American culture. That’s what happened last weekend in Buffalo, New York when an 18-year-old terrorist deliberately chose to kill blacks in an attempt, as he explained in his manifesto.
To intimidate minorities and get them to think about returning to where they came from, whatever that means. So even though it’s likely that most of those victims were from Buffalo, New York, it’s the same thing that happened at the Walmart in El Paso, Texas. The same thing that happened at the Charleston, South Carolina church, the same thing that happened at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, and the same thing that happened at a mosque in New Zealand, by a shooter that became the role model for the Buffalo shooter.
“I am a fascist.”
You may ask, “what’s all this have to do with democracy being in trouble?” It has everything to do with that. The people who believe that America must be white, that everyone who is not white poses a threat — those violent extremists aren’t American. They don’t believe in our democracy. The people arrested so far for January 6th don’t believe in our democratic processes. The Buffalo shooter his position was quite clear in his manifesto. He said, quote, “I am a fascist.” We need to believe people when they tell us who they are. And they’re telling us who they are.
It’s thought that it was Voltaire who made the following statement. He said, “those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities.” So, think about that when you’re wondering why we’re in such jeopardy while Ukrainians fight for democracy. People like Tucker Carlson on Fox News ask us, “why should we care about something 5,000 miles away? It’s someone else’s business.” Why do we want to invest billions of dollars in someone else’s problems, and what’s wrong with an authoritarian government?
That’s what the far right is asking the former and the twice-impeached president, who has praised Vladimir Putin as “a savvy genius.” And I say shame on all of them for not recognizing the threats to democracy.
Putin has invaded Ukraine for a host of reasons, but the timing of this is not random. President Trump and those around him worked hard for four years to weaken Ukraine and even questioned why it should exist. But instead, Trump gave legitimacy to our adversary and Putin — going as far as to say, at that Helsinki, Finland summit, that he sided with Putin over the evidence provided to him by his own US intelligence agencies that Putin had attempted to interfere in our election. He said, no, I don’t know why he would do that. And through relentless online propaganda, Putin and his intelligence services helped bring Americans to a point of chaos of insurrection at our Capitol of distrust in our institutions and each other.
Special Counsel Robert Mueller indicted two dozen Russians, including 12 Russian intelligence officers for interfering in our election. On behalf of Trump, Putin thought NATO would collapse under pressure if he invaded Ukraine. He was wrong. He thinks we will collapse as a divided nation, and I pray he is wrong, but it’s up to us to ensure that doesn’t happen.
There are signs of hope tonight. Even some authoritarian world leaders have denounced Putin’s move into Ukraine. Thousands of people here and abroad, even in Russia, have hit the streets to protest. The invasion of Ukraine. NATO has activated its defense force for the first time in history. Sweden and now Finland have applied for NATO memberships. Many GOP leaders realize they would be on the wrong side of history.
Nullify voting by minorities
If they continue to support Putin and they’ve tried to reverse their stance in praise of Putin. Would it be the height of irony? If it took watching a young, vibrant democracy, Ukraine, fight for its existence to remind us of what we should stand for. Wouldn’t it be ironic if it took a republic like Ukraine, 5,000 miles away, to open our eyes to the threat we face right here at home?
But for now, the positive signs, the signs of hope, are outweighed by the signs that we’re headed in the wrong direction. For example, within hours of the Buffalo shooting, Elise Stefanik, a Congressman from New York, doubled down on her belief in white replacement theory as a strategy to change the voting population. She did that with a post on Twitter. Similarly, much closer to home, a state Senator from Arizona, Wendy Rogers, implied in a Telegram post that the Buffalo shooting was really the work of the federal government.
There is a concerted and deliberate strategy to nullify minority voting. It’s not increasing ballot security. It’s minimizing the voice of minority voters, in Atlanta in Fulton County, Houston in Harris County, and of course, in Arizona, The Supreme court has spoken on two Arizona laws by ruling that only relatives and caregivers can collect absentee ballots and that any ballot cast in the wrong precinct must be discarded.
In Spalding County, Georgia, a Republican-controlled election board decided to cancel Sunday voting. Sunday’s often the only day of the week when a black or Latino blue-collar worker may be working two jobs, or double shifts can make their way to the polls.
How did we get here? Someday there will be graduate-level courses on how America got to this point. There may already be graduate-level studies. I spend hours each week trying to come to grips with this on national television and in my regular column for MSNBC daily, surely factors like racism, immigration, socioeconomic disparities, job elimination, fear, ignorance, and unregulated social media platforms.
How do we get out of this mess?
The 24-hour for-profit cable news cycle and immoral power-hungry leaders all played a role in getting us here. So, the question may not be so much about how we got here, but how we get out of this mess. Let me try the best that I can to break this down.
I wrote a book that isn’t just about the FBI. It’s about how the FBI preserves its own values while trying to preserve the nation’s values. And while I had no idea the book would be released in early January of last year, immediately following the attack on the Capitol, I did understand that our country seemed to no longer have a common collective set of values.
I was also growing concerned that the former president was denigrating government institutions, from the CIA to the CDC. Including my old agency, the FBI. I felt that the president at the time was so eroding the American values that are wrapped up in those institutions, that I decided to write the book, not only taking you inside the FBI, but more importantly, a book that might help individuals, companies, communities, and organizations identify and preserve what they stand for.
The five C’s
The book I wrote is broken down into seven chapters that contain what I call the seven C’s of values preservation or what many managerial experts call values-based leadership and performance. The theory is pretty simple. It’s the theory that people, teams, and even nations are based on a value system.
A collectively accepted value system is more likely to succeed and endure. I’m not going to go through each of the seven C’s tonight, but I will touch on five that I believe are most pertinent to what we’re facing as a country tonight. I deliberately chose the first C to be ” code.” This means your code of conduct, what you will and won’t do.
And it’s based on your core values. Everything else flows from your code. I believe our country is losing its code, what it will and won’t do, and what we will and won’t do because it’s losing its core values. As I watched the attack on the Capitol on January 6th, that’s what went through my mind. We’ve lost it.
We’ve lost our code. Our core values are no longer in common. But our country can restore its common values: the rule of law, the constitution, three equal branches of government, and respect for a credible court system, but it will take education, strong leadership and discipline.
The second of the seven C’s is something called Conservancy. The idea that we all belong to a Conservancy, something greater than ourselves, that we’re responsible for maintaining the notion that preserving our values is a team sport. We are supposed to be in this together. Values preservation isn’t someone else’s job. Not just the police department, not just the FBI, not the courts, and certainly few of our elected representatives who seem to show no interest in preserving a Conservancy for preserving what matters most to an organization, an agency, a country belongs to each of its members.
The fact that you are here tonight as part of this organization tells me you get it. You understand that we’re supposed to be part of something greater than ourselves. Those folks who assaulted Capitol police officers, the folks who wanted to hang Mike Pence, kill Nancy Pelosi, and stopped the electoral college ratification — they aren’t part of a Conservancy. They were part of a coup — the exact opposite of a Conservancy. In the FBI, everyone who aspires to leadership must take part in continual audits and reviews of programs and personnel throughout the FBI. They also must be assigned internal affairs investigations. Why does a successful organization do that?
Because they’re all taught to be conservators of the organization’s values. The third of my seven C’s is clarity. We are a population in great need of clarity, strong voices and messaging that clearly spell out what is right and what is wrong. Our voices must be louder than those calling for discord, chaos, hatred, and racism.
Voices are needed that remind us of what the rules of democracy are. Voices can be teachers who educate what the constitution is really all about, leaders who demand evidence instead of conspiracy theories, scientists who publicly defend their data, members of the clergy who tell congregations what a moral code requires, and lawmakers who are unafraid of denouncing their own when those colleagues threaten democracy.
The fourth C is Consequences. No one likes consequences, but consequences mean accountability. Consequences send the message that the greater good is more important than the path some smaller group decided to take.
And when that path poses an existential threat to the greater good of our democracy, when leaders organize a violent coup attempt at the Capitol, when they lie about the outcome of a legitimate election, when they embrace the support of our adversaries, when they permit on their platforms, lies that incite violence against minorities. I say that all calls for consequences—strong and lasting accountability.
I’ll skip now to the last of the seven C’s. I deliberately chose to end my book with a chapter called Consistency. Please don’t confuse consistency with rigidity or the inability to change.
So, for example, people who believe in the white replacement theory, they fear change. They don’t want any change. And the truth is that a good organization, like a strong nation, must be able to see when it should change, not change its mission, not change its values, but the way it carries out that mission or the way it enforces those values. In fact, our nation will have to change some ways it enforces its values, since we’ve now learned that even senior leaders have chosen to ignore them. We can no longer trust that a president, senator, or attorney general will do the right thing unless specific guardrails and laws exist. And even then, we can’t trust them to do that. So after the terror attacks of September 11th, the FBI had to engage in strategic change.
It had to go from being a great investigative agency, an agency that was very good at telling you what happened after it happened, to becoming a powerful intelligence agency that could predict and prevent bad things from happening to do that. So the FBI completely changed its approach to protecting the nation, but its mission and its values remained consistent.
There’s beauty to rigorous consistency. The day begins at FBI headquarters with briefings at the highest level on what happened overnight and what is planned for the day. Then the attorney general is briefed, then the president, and there are evening briefings as well. So it’s not just a bureaucratic routine.
It’s a proven time-worn battle rhythm that works, and sticking with what works with the values and practices that got us this far is especially essential when you’re under severe stress as a person, as a group, even as a nation, the kind of severe life and death stress, the FBI is under every day, the kind of existential stress our democracy is under.
Democracy is in peril
I was the on-scene commander of the nation’s first anthrax murder in Boca Raton, Florida. In 2001, I eventually led the largest hazardous materials crime scene in FBI history, a three-story office building filled with deadly anthrax spores.
We could have thrown up our hands and said, “this is unprecedented. This has never happened before.” We have to throw the rules out. We have to find a different way to address this. But instead, we asked ourselves some basic questions. Is this a crime scene? Yes. Are we really good at crime scenes? Yes, we are. Is this a hazardous material? Yes. Have we been trained to gather evidence in a hazmat environment?
Yes, we have. So let’s stick with what we know. And get this done. Let’s ask some of the same questions about our nation. Are we a democracy? Yes, we are. Is that freedom worth fighting for? Yes, it is. Is our democracy in peril? Yes, it is. Do we understand the basic tenets of our democracy, free and fair elections, unfettered access to secure voting, and respect for the rule of law and our institutions?
Three equal branches of government — we understand that. Okay, then let’s do this. Let’s get the job done now. And in the midterm elections and beyond, let’s all stand up for our code. Let’s be the conservators we need to be at this moment.
I’ll tell you this: the far-right extremists have a strategy. The violent group known as the Proud Boys has told its members they are “going local,” showing up at school board meetings over mask requirements, and a fabricated fear of something called critical race theory, threatening local election officials. Steve Bannon, who has purchased a home in the greater Tucson area who has been indicted for refusing to comply with a subpoena from the Select Committee has articulated what he calls a precinct by precinct strategy to penetrate and take over county and state election administration offices.
One in three local election officials surveyed last year said they feel unsafe because of their jobs. Reuters has identified almost 1000 threats against local election officials. Former President Trump said the quiet part aloud. He recently stated, “sometimes the vote counter is more important than the candidate.” By the way, that’s a quote believed to be from Joseph Stalin.
So what does that mean? It partly means that the GOP has a plan for the midterm elections, which includes not having actually to win but rather creating enough doubt and confusion about the vote tally that a large percentage of people won’t believe the outcome. We’ve seen this just in the last 24 hours.
Confusion, chaos, violence
It’s been reported concerning the Pennsylvania primary that President Trump has contacted Dr. Mehmet Oz, and the vote is essentially a dead tie that’s going to require a recount. President Trump told Dr. Oz reportedly, “just say, you won.” Just say you won; that’s the strategy. In key Senate races like those in Arizona, Georgia and Florida, we may see that kind of confusion, even chaos, even possibly violence.
So what’s our strategy? I’m not talking about just a Democratic Party strategy. I’ve never been a political person. This threat we face is so much bigger than politics. I see it as a national security threat. It’s an existential threat to our democracy. So, what’s the strategy for any American who gives a damn about whether we’ll have a democracy two years from now, four years from now, 40 years from now?
Engage, donate, volunteer, sacrifice time, energy, and money, speak out, run for local office, and write letters until they’re sick of you. Write letters to your representatives and op-ed pieces to newspapers. They count those calls and letters at your elected representatives. They read the op-eds in the paper, the columns and letters tell them it’s long past time, for example, that we regulate social media, and ask them if they are for or against gun violence.
It’s a simple question, right? Ask them what they’re doing about it. Tell them that the ATF, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, has not had a leader for seven years, and it’s time to vote and confirm President Biden’s nominee to head ATF. Steve Dettelbach shows up at rallies and protests to speak the truth in the face of conspiracy theories and lies, even when it’s not pleasant.
Even when it’s in your own family, your own neighborhood, your own organization, teach your grandchildren what democracy means, what threats to democracy look like, a model for the kind of actions you want them to take someday, the kind of actions you may want them to take. Right now, our democracy is a fragile experiment.
You’ve heard this before. When scientists conduct an experiment that begins to go poorly for them, perhaps going in directions they never anticipated, they don’t abandon the experiment. In fact, they doubled down on sound scientific methods so they could at least defend the outcome and preserve what matters most to their experiments.
I get asked all the time if we’re going to get through this unprecedented time of polarization, division and even disdain for what we believe to be a democracy. I remind those who ask me that our nation has survived a civil war, presidential assassinations, impeachments, the violent Vietnam protest era, and an explosive civil rights movement.
I don’t have all the answers, but I do know this. If we consistently champion our democratic values and stick with what we’re supposed to stand for, we will make it to the other side. Maybe we’ll look a little different, and maybe that’s okay. Maybe we’ll even be a bit stronger, but we can make it preserve our values.
Preserving democracy is a team effort, and it’s time for all of us to get in the game.
“Left of boom” on domestic terrorism
Christina Early: Our Vice President, Michael Bryan of DGT asks, how do we get to the “left of boom” on threats against democracy like the FBI did with terrorism. So many of the threats are considered by many to be legitimate political discourse and free speech. Do we need new laws or institutions?
Frank Figliuzzi: Wow, we could go on all night about that. So I’ll give you the Reader’s Digest condensed version. We’ve got a problem here.
I have a column out today at MSNBC daily. You can find it at that site on this very topic. Look, we have no domestic terrorism law in this country. Most people don’t understand that if you ask most people, is it against the law to commit domestic terrorism? They’ll say “yes, of course it is.”
And the reality is no, it’s not. We have a definition of domestic terrorism, but we don’t have a law against it. We have laws against international terrorism, and you say what does it have to do with anything? What’s the importance of that? So, you get to this “left of boom.”
I don’t know how many people understand this concept of “left of boom.” It’s a law enforcement intelligence term, which means getting to a bad act before it blows up. Getting to the bomb and diffusing it before the bomb goes off “left of boom.” If you’re “right of boom,” cleaning up the wreckage, it’s too late. And that’s what we’ve been doing on the domestic terrorism side.
That’s what we did at the Capitol. On January 6th, we were cleaning up the wreckage. So what’s the problem? And what’s the difference? Why have we been so successful in stopping acts of international terrorism post-9/11, but we’re not able to do it for the domestic problem and violent extremism.
Look, a couple of things. One is the laws passed after 9/11, the laws that have been in place actually for decades regarding international terrorism allow law enforcement, particularly the FBI, to get out in front, to use your association with groups and organizations like Al Qaeda, ISIS, Boko Haram, Hezbollah, Hamas — your association with those folks, particularly the more violent identify leaders of terrorist acts will get you automatically into an FBI investigation, right?
And here come the undercover agents, the informants, the FISA court-ordered wiretaps, all of that “left of boom” before something bad happens. But now, start talking about us citizens, and we have something we value and cherish, and that’s called free speech and civil liberties.
So this tension exists understandably in our country between security and freedom. And so we don’t want big brother spying on and having informants in this meeting. So, for example, we don’t want the national security agency taking this live feed and figuring out whether I said bad or good things.
We don’t want that, but there’s a gap in there, right? There’s a gray area where we need people to come out and say this person’s planning violence, but I don’t think anyone’s quite comfortable saying, “wait a minute. You have to wait for the bad guys in a militia group to rat each other out to the FBI.”
Is that what we have to wait for? How do we get in there left of boom? That is the challenge. And I say, let’s start at least with passing a domestic terrorism law that reads identically to international terrorism. In contrast, it just says, if you do it here to us, amongst us, you’re committing domestic terrorism. Let’s get the investigative tool kit that the FBI needs to allow proactive work in people contemplating violence.
But look, there’s no easy solution to this. The Buffalo shooter was online, posting his manifesto. I’ve read it or most of it. And most of it was perfectly legal rhetoric, vile, disgusting and wrong — but legal. So where, where do we go with this? I do want to see a lot more regulation of social media.
You’ll you know that not only did he post his manifesto, but he also live-streamed his attack at the supermarket on a platform called Twitch. So why can’t the social media platforms step up and own some of this? Why can’t Congress call them what they are a public utility? They are not media. They are a public utility that cries out for regulation.
The more responsible CEOs in Silicon Valley say, please regulate us. We can’t do this anymore. They actually said this. We need help. We need regulation. We need, I’ll tell you, we need even more advanced algorithms at those places that tell their security people that someone in Buffalo, New York is talking about violence, or somebody over here is using these magic words that are triggering our algorithm.
Those algorithms exist, but not across the industry. And certainly, it’s way too late when they pick up the phone and call law enforcement. So we’ve got to get our hand around social media. We’ve got to pass a domestic terrorism law. And we got to hold people accountable, even civilly, where it hurts.
There already has been talk that the victim families of that Buffalo supermarket tragedy are already thinking about lawsuits for those who incited this, the people on cable TV, and the platforms that allow this stuff to go on unfettered. Good. Sometimes that’s the way you wake people up.
Christina Early: What do you think of the Pennsylvania governor candidate Doug Mastriano, who wants to completely erase voter files and make folks register all over again?
Frank Figliuzzi: We’ve got someone in that race that you’ve just mentioned. More importantly, he’s butchering democracy because we have someone now who is the standard-bearer in Pennsylvania for the Republican party who actually participated in the January 6th riot. I’m not talking about just showing up at the rally. He’s a participant. That’s where our nation is. Remember, it’s all about the vote counter, not the vote outcome. That’s what you’re talking about in Pennsylvania — and this is not just Pennsylvania — this is everywhere. Texas, Arizona, Georgia, and Florida say, “let’s control the vote counters, so we don’t necessarily have to worry as much about the vote outcome.” Even in Florida. Governor DeSantis has created a police organization — the voting police that will “ensure voter security.” That’s absolute nonsense. There’s no additional need for additional law enforcement. To do that in any state, he’s creating a secret police force to control the vote. That’s how desperate this situation has become. That’s the strategy we just talked about is not necessarily to win but rather to control how votes are counted so that you can cast doubt.
800 arrested after January 6
Christina Early: Betsy asks, the law seems to find the Black Lives Matter protestors and eco-protestors just fine. And they arrest them, adding charges, making it seem worse than it is. But they are reluctant to do the same thing to the Proud Boys. What’s your comment about that?
Frank Figliuzzi: So, I think that is a statement that states the obvious we’ve had a problem in this country, viewing people who don’t look like us as a threat. And I’ll be the first to say that law enforcement has had that problem, perhaps more than any other institution in our country.
The other is always the threat. It’s easier to view them as a threat when someone has a different skin color or worships differently or speaks different languages than you do. So now I am somewhat hopeful here. Why? We’ve had 800 people arrested, and the vast majority of them are white males, by the way.
So, the last time I looked, 13% or 14% had prior military or law enforcement experience, and 800 were arrested for their participation in the January 6 violence. Can we correct our course? Yes, we are correcting course as the FBI director said on the hill that the most lethal threat, they face within domestic terrorism is race-based hatred.
And did he say in public that this is white supremacist ideology? Yes, he did. So are they reversing course? Yes. Does it take a tragedy to do it sometimes? Yes, apparently. But that’s where we are right now. So the good news is that accountability is happening there. I know people keep saying when this is a steady mantra on social media, what are they going to arrest people beyond the 800 participants on January 6th? Listen, there are clues and signs out there.
We have a grand jury sitting for those of you who may not know. And I know this is a savvy group, but there’s a grand jury sitting in the District of Columbia on the planning and preparations for January 6. A very experienced United States Attorney out of Maryland was selected to oversee that case.
We’ve heard Merrick Garland say he’ll follow the facts anywhere. Just last week. The deputy attorney general of the United States, the number two person at DOJ, Lisa Monica, gave a talk at the University of Chicago. And I paid special attention. She was asked about the strategy and tackling the January six investigation.
And she said we’ve arrested 800 people. And then the moderator said, okay, what’s next? And she said, quote, “we work our way up.” DOJ has asked the Select Committee for its transcripts, all of them all of its work there.
DOJ is ready for that to receive what will eventually happen there. So there, things are happening. Do we wish it happened yesterday? Yeah, we do. But I think accountability is coming.
Accountability and consequences
Christina Early: Another question here from the audience from Maria Hidalgo, what else? What more can the Biden administration do to clarify what it’s going to take to preserve our democracy?
Frank Figliuzzi: Again, you’ve heard me say I’m very careful surviving on TV by not pretending to know things I don’t know about. So I’m not a politician. Despite what many people think about the FBI, President Trump has made them think of the FBI as a political organization. People don’t gather around the water cooler at FBI headquarters and talk about politics. But they talk about their kids and the football game and all that stuff.
So for 25 years of my career, I didn’t get political advice, but I do have to say that with regard to this administration, the number one thing that can happen is accountability and consequences. And it’s, we’ve had a president in the past who picked up the phone and told the attorney general what to do.
We don’t want that anymore. We don’t want that interference. And I think Joe Biden has been extremely careful about not sometimes interfering, by the way, even to his own detriment. For example, I think that the Centers for Disease Control could have been a lot better at communicating things regarding the pandemic and vaccines.
And I think Biden stayed out of it. I think Biden said, “I’m not going to interfere like the last guy. I’m not going to tell you how to investigate.” So he’s leaving it to the professionals sometimes even when it’s not the best idea, but with regard to the number one thing this administration can do is allow DOJ to do its job and hold people accountable swiftly. Surely you don’t want to get these kinds of prosecutions wrong.
We heard today, I’m just catching up on the news after a day of travel, but I heard today that the Select Committee is asking yet another member of Congress to show up and talk about the tours he gave of the Capitol building just before January 6th. There were tours given to participants in the violence by somebody in Congress – he gave tours to these people. The Republicans said, “no, it’s not true.” Now maybe if you read the letter to the Congressman from the Committee that says,” Everybody’s saying that it “didn’t happen, but we have evidence to the contrary.” That’s a quote. We have evidence to the contrary.
And then I’m going to stay out of the political advice because you get what you pay for.
Democracies don’t always survive.
Christina Early: Do you think that we can preserve our democracy if we can’t hold Trump and his supporters in Congress responsible for their actions?
Frank Figliuzzi: I know I ended my talks on a positive note, but with the caveat, do you throw in the scenario that we hold no one accountable? I would become very concerned for the future of democracy, I know that sounds dour and dark, but if you look throughout history, democracies don’t always survive.
It’s not a given, as I said, it’s a fragile experiment. There are cycles to democracies. They, over slowly over time, ebb and flow. And it requires, we talked about a Conservancy tonight. It requires that kind of constant vigilance, that constant watering and feeding. And not saying it’s somebody else’s job.
When I was living in Tucson, just until recently, people would stop me at Whole Foods or Costco or Bashas, asking “when’s the FBI going to do this? When’s the White House going to do this?” I kept saying, “what are you doing? What are you doing? Because it’s not somebody else’s job.”
Let’s not sit back and cross our fingers. Hope is not a plan. Get some action because let me tell you, the bad guys out there, whether they’re international terrorists or violent domestic extremists, they’ve got a plan. So have one. I have one.
De-radicalizing violent extremists
Christina Early: What kind of work needs to be done to de-radicalize these folks? Do we engage them? Do we try to fight back on the misinformation?
Frank Figliuzzi: Boy, what a dilemma. There’s been some expert work that we can draw upon on the international terrorism side, right? Because you want to talk about studying radicalization and seeing young men, mostly men 18, 19, and 20 years old.
Within nine or ten weeks, we were seeing young men in the United States joining online. Think about now. Think about Buffalo. So think about the comparison here. The young man, age18, in Buffalo, New York. He was online, mainly on a platform called 4Chan.
‘I learned all about this truth. The truth of white replacement theory. We’re all being replaced. It’s all evil strategy, and within about a year less, he’s radicalized. He’s ready to go, to kill himself. He’s ready to become a martyr if necessary. We see the same thing in international terrorism: violent jihadists believing in something greater than themselves.
So what do you, how do you counter radicalization? Yes, you’ve got to speak the truth. Yes, you’ve got to hammer the truth. Yes, you have to be in painful dialogue with people you violently disagree with. Yes, you do. When you write them off, they go into the echo chamber and the rabbit hole even deeper when you cut off communications.
It’s horrible. I don’t recommend that. And I know it’s difficult. But also know the other side, and I know this is difficult, but I make myself watch all the networks, including Fox or Newsmax. Or I’ll make myself listen to a Trump rally to see what the thought process is.
It’s important to counter it. But you can’t counter it if you don’t know what they’re thinking. And so here’s the problem. We are in a society where you say, Frank, you’re talking about teaching kids in school to be more savvy consumers of social media.
Do you want to teach them more about democracy? We can’t even agree on critical race theory, which is essentially not taught in elementary or high schools in the United States. Florida has banned math books because they contained something that looks like critical race theory to them.
It’s unbelievable. So how do you get the curriculum in the school? How do you get people talking about something and agreeing on something? It’s extremely hard, but we have to take the same counter-radicalization practices. We’ve tried with international terrorism, giving people something else to belong to.
Young people are looking to join a cause. People coming out of the military are looking for a fight. They’re looking for a cause bigger than themselves. They have channeled their energy and very patriotic ways they come out. And what do we do with them? Why are so many veterans in Oath Keepers?
Why so recruitable? Why so easily radicalized? Why are we not capturing that energy, that skillset, that devotion to duty and doing something else with it, something better with it? That has to happen in that radicalization period that happens from 18 to 25 and get out in front.
In the international terrorism realm, there has been a success in giving young people something else to belong to, whether it’s a summer job or whatever it is, to get them into a fight that’s not killing people. That has to happen.
The courage of Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger
Christina Early: Which leaders do you admire?
Frank Figliuzzi: Look at Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger, and the intestinal fortitude it takes for them to do what they’re doing. So you’ve got to look at that and go, that’s courageous. Now, maybe there’s a secret plan that they’re going to parlay this into, running for office. Great, good. I don’t care, but I will call out courage when I see it, and they are taking a beating in their party. I know how difficult that is, and we need more people like that.
Don’t forget, this is a bi-partisan committee. The Republicans can never say this is a one-party committee. So, no, it’s not. I do respect those two people for what they’re doing.
Attacking the right to vote
Christina Early: Do you think with all the gerrymandering that’s happening here in Arizona and other states, it’s mathematically impossible for the Democrats to win where we need to win to hold our majority and improve on it?
Frank Figliuzzi: I fear that it could become impossible. Particularly when you throw in a low voter turnout where it needs to happen and that I think the greatest concern there is when you’ve got gerrymandering plus an environment where there’s poor voter turnout. Plus, the restrictions are really around the state around the country. So this isn’t just Arizona. But my gosh, Texas and Florida, have you wanted to talk about mathematical possibilities?
That could be the case in those states? It looks like someone took a blender to voting districts and carved them up. Now, what could really be the voter turnout? You talked about what Democrats can do, and this is where again, I don’t get it. I’m not a paid political consultant by any means, but what could the environment look like that causes people just to shrug and not show up?
The economy, all the experts are saying, is going to be much worse. The stock market’s going to be worse. It’s an environment where the credibility of the election process makes people think their vote will not even count. That turns people off.
I’m not sure it’s going to get counted. And again, that’s all the GOP has to do. Yep. Do you know what? Those drop boxes, we’re going to go to court on every single drop box. We’re not going to count. Yeah, I’m not going if I have to stand in line? I have to tell you; do I want to stand in line for five hours?
No, I do not. I do not. And now throw in the rain or whatever, this is a serious problem. And if you, I told you I listened to Fox because I have to, sometimes the mantra on there in the evenings is something’s wrong with you if you don’t stand in line to vote, right? They want it to be a bad thing to do early voting, mail-in voting and drop boxes.
Bad. You’re un-American. Suppose you don’t stand in line. You know what that means. You know what the data there is, right? It’s Republicans who stand in line. I still don’t really get this, and it’s the working class, the Democrats, and minorities who don’t have the time to stand in line.
They’re going to vote early. They’re going to use a drop box. It’s smart. Why wouldn’t you? I’ll tell you it’s that mantra is increasing every night. Drop box is bad, standing line is good. You’re going to see this ratchet up right to the midterms. There’s a plan to do something with early voting and the drop box.
Christina Early: There are several questions about some of the bad candidates we have here in Arizona. We know of them across the whole country. Do you think the combination of the gerrymandering and the voter suppression, do you think that these candidates, even as crazy and as far out as they are, are going to get elected?
Frank Figliuzzi: We’re seeing a mixed bag from the primaries. We’ve just seen, but we have seen evidence that there’s good news, bad news. The guy you just mentioned in Pennsylvania, Doug Mastriano, is really potentially dangerous in terms of his extremism. And I don’t see him denouncing that violent extremism. What happened on January 6? I see him having participated in violent extremism.
You can be too crazy, even for crazies. So Madison Cawthorne in North Carolina he’s out, right? He got too crazy for his own party. Now he had the audacity to embarrass them.
Now they’re hard to embarrass, but he did it, and they called him out on it. And he’s done now today. He’s called everybody to go what he calls “Dark MAGA.” It’s time for Everybody to go “Dark MAGA,” which implies violence. So, my answer to that question, yes, absolutely — disturbing candidates who aren’t denouncing violence, aren’t denouncing conspiracy theories, can get in.
At some point, you can embarrass your own party enough that they’ll drop you like a hot rock.
The GOP cannot recover
Christina Early: Do you think the Republican party, that Grand Old Party that we all grew up with, can recover from this period?
Frank Figliuzzi: We need two healthy parties in this country.
We need civil discourse. We need to go back to the days when we disagreed on how much the Pentagon budget should be. We need to go back to those nice days of what we talked about. How far we should go in foreign policy to spread democracy, and here we are fighting each other in the streets.
I think it’s going to take a very long time. Why do I say that there are people waiting in the wings? This is no longer just about when Trump goes away. Remember when we’d say the threat will go away when Trump moves on? Guess what? Nope, there’s a line forming. Some of them, I’ll be honest with you, are far brighter than President Trump, far brighter. So we’re talking Harvard, Yale, these people are not only buying into violence and lies, but they’re really smart. And that should concern everybody.
Getting a safe abortion
Christina Early: Many of us are very concerned about what’s happening with abortion rights and women’s rights. States are putting up roadblocks so that women can’t get what they need.
So women are crossing state lines. How do you think local prosecutors and jailers are going to handle this? Because women are going to cross lines. If they can get a safe abortion in the next state, how do you think the law enforcement is going to handle this? Or is it going to be just a big mess?
Frank Figliuzzi: A big mess is almost a guarantee.
So yes, for those not tuned in to exactly what these issues entail, it’s actually rather fascinating legal concepts that are troubling. But yet for a law school classroom, it would be very interesting. So, for example, there are states that want to, or have already or are contemplating making it illegal to engage in travel to a state that has allowed abortion.
Going one step further and saying, not only are we outlawing abortion here, but we’re going to outlaw your travel to another state to get an abortion that is perfectly legal in that other state. You may say, “oh, that’s ridiculous. That would never fly.” Let me tell you something on the federal side, there are analogous laws. For example, there are situations where the US government asserts authority over an American citizen, traveling abroad to commit a crime in another country. So that for instance, I’ve arrested people for international travel to engage in sex with a minor, and interstate travel to engage with sex with a minor.
We’re talking about an American citizen, and we’re saying you’re in that airspace where you’re getting on the plane and traveling, you somehow are committing a crime because you’re going somewhere else to commit a crime that may not even be a crime over there, by the way.
But we’re calling it a crime. And now if Texas says, “you can’t have an abortion here and you can’t travel.” It’s theoretically possible that the Texas Rangers or highway patrol would arrest a woman or a doctor for the travel.
It sounds silly, but there are legal concepts that could allow that to happen. Now in Texas, several weeks ago, there was a woman you may have heard of who was arrested. It didn’t hold. A district attorney dropped the charges, but she was arrested for a self-induced abortion, and she was arrested for homicide, and it was a poor minority woman.
And the D.A. dropped the charges, but the sheriff arrested her for homicide. So you mentioned the mess? Yes, we’re in for a mess.
Trump as a target for sedition
Audience member: Can we safely say that the Department of Justice is considering Trump as a target for sedition?
Frank Figliuzzi: Target has a specific meaning in the law, which is that you are the target of a grand jury and you’ve received a target letter telling you’re being targeted by a grand jury, so that there’s no evidence that’s happened. And then you use the magic word sedition, which other than treason, is the highest crime you can be charged with.
We’ve already charged numerous Oath Keepers with that. Of course, including Stewart Rhodes, the founder. Okay. So not a target yet. Sedition, I think, is on the table. I don’t think Attorney General Merrick Garland has taken that off the table, but he’ll go where the evidence is. If the evidence shows that he actually knew what was going to happen on January 6, I think that absolutely is sedition. The problem is, you’ve heard Donald Trump compared to a mob boss repeatedly. What does a good mob boss do in the Italian Cosa Nostra? He can’t get tied to anything. It’s a wink. It’s a nod. It’s don’t use the phone. Don’t use email.
He doesn’t use email. It’s “get your guy to do that. It’s I don’t know anything.” And so that is going to be the challenge here is finding that evidence trail. And I think they’re on the trail.
Thank you everybody, for having me here, Larry, for the very kind invitation. The hour is late here, and everybody’s hung in with great patience.
Larry Bodine: Frank, thank you very much for this insightful presentation. We very much appreciate your time this evening. And I think it’s a clarion call for all people who believe in democracy to get active in the Democratic Party. Start knocking on doors and start all of the things you suggested. Just start to get active, do something, and don’t yell at the TV.
And I just want to ask one final question. What is the best way to follow your comments?
How to follow Frank
Frank Figliuzzi: My website is FrankFigliuzzi.Com. You can follow me on Twitter if you’re on Twitter @FrankFigliuzzi1. And the neat thing about the website and the Twitter account is I load virtually everything I do onto the website.
So the columns you can get there, or you can sign up to MSNBC daily and get my comments. But they’re all there. The podcasts every week are there. I’ve got a podcast called the bureau with Frank Lucy that at one point had gotten to the top 25 podcasts in true crime. But we talk about everything.
I’ve had Chuck Rosenberg on, and I’ve had Rachel Vindman on, and we just had the wife of Stewart Rhodes, the founder of the Oath Keepers organization. She is divorcing him or trying to. And she was fascinating. Those are the kinds of guests that we get.
Larry Bodine is the President of Democrats of Greater Tucson, and a PC in Legislative District 9.
A journalist and attorney, Larry Bodine attends live political events and reports on them for the Blog for Arizona, which features politics from a liberal viewpoint. See http://blogforarizona.net/
He has been an elected Democratic precinct committeeman in Illinois and Arizona, starting with the 2006 Tammy Duckworth campaign (she is now a US Senator). As an elected Democratic precinct committeeman in LD9 in Tucson, he works to get Democrats elected. Since 2017 he has taught “Getting Active in Local Politics” at OLLI-UA (Osher Lifelong Learning Institute) at the University of Arizona in Tucson.
His 45-year career includes reporting for the New York Daily News, which was the largest-circulation US newspaper at the time. He has won 7 awards for investigative journalism.