Chelsea Manning On Nazis, the Surveillance State, and Running For Senate

For the Real News, I’m Baynard Woods. In April 2010, WikiLeaks released a video
that showed the U.S. military killing over a dozen people, including two Reuters journalists. The news agency had been thwarted in its attempt
to gain the footage, but a young whistleblower shared the video with WikiLeaks after approaching
the New York Times and The Washington Post with thousands of documents. The next month the whistleblower was arrested
in Iraq and revealed as Bradley Manning. Manning spent 11 months in solitary confinement
before standing trial, which Manning described as a humiliating and degrading experience. Manning, who is trans, began transitioning
while in prison. I’m not Bradley Manning, she wrote. I never really was. I’m Chelsea Manning, a proud woman who is
transgender and who through this application is respectfully requesting a first chance
at life. That was a request for a commutation of the
35-year sentence handed down for sharing classified information. Manning has strongly rejected the idea that
she gave up sources or other intelligence that could have endangered people on the ground
and describes the documents as historical. In the final days of his presidency, Barack
Obama granted the commutation and Manning was set free. Now she’s running for the U.S. Senate in Maryland
against Ben Cardin. Manning may be the only candidate for the
Senate who’s been homeless, served in a war, spent significant time in solitary confinement,
and come out as transgender. And all of that makes her a powerful, if unlikely,
challenger to Cardin, one of the most establishment of the mainstream Democrats. Manning is here with us in our Baltimore studio
today. Welcome, Chelsea. Thanks. Thanks for having me. So I mean, after all of that, I have to start
with why would you even want to be in the U.S. Senate? Well, the Senate is where we have our debates
about national issues. And national issues, especially the issues
that we’re facing right now, whether it be ICE detention or the criminal justice system
or the militarization of police or the, our broad and expansive surveillance apparatus,
and the, the support of the of our foreign policy across the entire world. All of these things are debated and authorized
by the funding that comes from the Senate. And so the Senate is the perfect place to
challenge this power and this authority. I mean, I want to come back to a lot of those
issues. But why, why Maryland, and why Ben Cardin? Well, I’m from Maryland, first off. After I was homeless, I was 18 years old,
I was homeless living in Chicago, and my aunt came and saved me and saved my life. And I’ve lived as my, she lives in Maryland. She lives here in Maryland. And I lived with her for about you know, I
live with her since that happened. It’s been my place of residence since, as
I was in the military, as I was, when I went through trial, as I went through everything,
as I was in prison, that was still my home of record. And it was the place that I always intended
coming back to if I ever got out. And so here I am. And what is it about Cardin that made him
seem like someone that, I mean, there’s this moment where mainstream Democrats like Cardin,
because they may be a little bit better than Trump, are able to cast themselves as the
#Resistance. And so what what makes in this moment Cardin
be the right, be the person to challenge in a primary? Ben Cardin is the perfect example of the rest
of the Democratic establishment, the entrenched Democratic establishment that, when they’re
in office, they tread water. They make promises. Expect donations. They’re cozy with, you know, interest groups. Why wouldn’t, you know, the question is why
wouldn’t it be Ben Cardin, and why wouldn’t I be challenging somebody who is really coopting
this whole movement that we have? You know, there’s this notion that they’re
the #Resistance. You know, this is not what, they’re not doing
what a resistance does, like cozying up to lobbyists and, and focusing on one issue here
and there is not how we’re going to change things. Yeah. I mean, one of the, he’s one of the highest,
receives some of the most money from AIPAC. And I mean, how does that affect, do you think,
this kind of lobbying money, the foreign policy and domestic policy that people are putting
forward, and how would you try to break that if you were in his seat? Right. So, Ben Cardin will never talk about, you
know, he might talk about borders here in America but he’ll never talk about border
walls between Israel and Palestine, he’ll never talk about health, health care, like
being single payer. He’ll never talk about single payer health
care, because his primary funders are from the health insurance industry. He is bought and sold, and most of the Democratic
Party are bought and sold, which is one of the reasons why I don’t accept money from
lobbyists. I don’t talk to lobbyists, I don’t talk, I
don’t talk to interest groups except for people on the ground, activists and organizers in
the community. And I mean, you were just talking about your
experience being homeless when you were young, and you’ve dealt with transitioning in a military
facility and being trans, and here in Baltimore and in Maryland we have a lot of, a large
homeless population and a lot of the people who end up homeless are queer kids or trans
kids. Yeah. What can you do to try to help change the
lives of those people here in Maryland from the U.S. Senate? They have no, we have no advocate. And you know, I’m, we, we’re struggling so
much as a community, and we have no advocate. The only people that they, the only people
that the Democratic establishment are comfortable with are people that fit within their criteria
of what a trans person, an ideal trans person, should be. And you know, if you’re, if you don’t fit
within this criteria then you’re you’re somehow unworthy or ignored. And this is, you know, we saw this with marriage
equality in particular, where they, the establishment coopted the queer rights movement for a single
issue. And then as soon as that issue was, you know,
through lobby, you know, through awareness and lobbying and through, you know, the court
system we finally made ground, we finally gained ground on one issue. But it left so many people in the queer community
behind. Marriage equality doesn’t address how a homeless
queer kid from the Midwest, you know, is going to survive on the East Coast, or from that
community getting kicked out of their home, or things that, you know, we have an enormous
amount of very vulnerable people in the queer and trans community. And we have no advocate there, we have no
voice. One of the ways in which the trans community
and so many others are vulnerable are to various forms of the surveillance state or the security
state. Here the Baltimore Police Department has had,
just got finished with a big corruption trial. But then we have ICE, and you’ve talked a
lot about abolishing both BPD and ICE. And I wonder how you connect that to your
experiences with the sort of larger apparatus says it as it operates outside of the U.S. Right. So you know, these are all the same system. They’re different components of the same system. And vulnerable groups like queer and trans
people, people of color, immigrants, you know, we’re all dealing with the same institutions
and the same power structures in different ways, whether it’s, you know, the, the massive
amount of surveillance that we see at both the local, state, and federal level, or policing
gone, I mean, policing’s gone crazy. It’s in many, and I’ve been all over the country
now, and in many places like here in Baltimore you’ve got a militarized police force that’s
basically a domestic occupation. And I’ve been an occupier before. We have a military occupation force. You know, we don’t have a serve and protect
force or anything like that. We have just a, this is, this is counterinsurgency
work happening in our own communities. I mean, unlike so many Democrats you’re not
for reforming the police or having a better police department. What do you propose instead? We don’t need more or better police. We need to push back against the police state. It’s always, they always want more. You know, we have the largest, you know, we
have the largest prison population in the world. We have the largest military in the world. We have the largest surveillance apparatus
in the world. We have the largest, you know, we have the
largest number of police officers in the world, and yet we still always are asking for more. And the Democratic approach is not to to push
back and say no, enough is enough. It’s the, the approach that the party has
repeatedly taken is to make it somehow more inclusive, to add a sort of administrative
gloss to the process. And this focus on law and process whenever
it’s these systemic problems and this abuse of power that is is permeating our society. That needs to be addressed. Right. The body cams were the answer to police killing
unarmed black men, when that just creates a constant surveillance that the only people
who have control over are police being able to turn off the microphones or turn them off. Seems Like a strange solution. I mean, as someone who dealt with that kind
of material on a different level, do you support body cams? Or is that something that’s just an insane
thing for citizens to be calling for? I mean we know we should be to, I call for
people to be taking their own camera footage of cops. Any, any encounter with the police should
be recorded, but it should be recorded by you. Not necessarily them. Because those those body cams are not there
to protect you, they’re there to protect them. And you know, so I am skeptical of that. Especially because I look at, you know, Axon,
which is a, you know, now the body cam industry it has a very significant, went from Tasers
to, to body cams. So you know, this, this industry obviously
has an enormous amount of power, and I’m wondering what their intention actually is with this,
you know, with this equipment and with this technology. If someone who’s looking through that, given
your other lessons you’ve learned from your experience, what, is there something that
whistleblowers who are dealing with Axon material could be doing with that right now? I mean, it depends. You know, I’m not in a position to say. It’s only the people who are in the position
to be able to do this can say. What I can do now as a public figure is address
these issues publicly, and let people know that you know these problems exist, and also
be a voice and an advocate for people who are aware of the problems within the system. One of the advantages that I would have in
the Senate is that I would be able to, is that people in government would be able to
come to me and, you know, I’ve been, you know, through the system. They will have an advocate. I will do everything to protect somebody who
comes to me. And I mean, you, you brought the material
that you had to WikiLeaks because the Post and the Times didn’t have a safe way to deal
with it, in part. And a tremendous amount has changed in that
regard since then. But also the press has become much more mistrusted
on lot of different levels. And WikiLeaks has really changed from sort
of a public perception from something of a sort of left-wing, hero to the left, to seeming
to be in contact or purportedly in contact with people like Roger Stone. What are your feelings about WikiLeaks today? Is this something that, you would you still
go to Wikileaks? Or if you were doing something now, would
you do something different? Right. So I mean, obviously I had to act in the time
that I had with the resources that I had, which were very limited. We have a broader set of tools that are available
to us. And there’s a broader number of people that
we can go to. If you’re in, if you’re in a situation like
where I was today you’re in a better position now than you were in 2010 to be able to do
something. I can’t change what happened because I was
given the circumstances that I was given. I literally was the, tick tock, the clock
is going. Like, I’m running out of time, and like, I
need, you know, I need to get this out there, and make sure that it actually does get out
there. We have SecureDrop now. We have Signal. We have, you know, reporters are regularly
using encryption. The tools have gotten better, and the resources
are much more robust and powerful. It’s much easier than it was in 2010. I mean, do you have any feelings about how,
what Wikileaks is doing now, or about Assange? What’s your stance on where that organization
is at this point? I mean, I read a lot of press reports and
I am aware of, you know, the chaos that surrounds these things. But I’m more focused on the issues. I’m more focused on the on policing and on
immigration and on issues that are really in front of us. I feel like it’s become this highly politically
charged debate, and I can’t tell what’s what anymore. You know, so I’m focused more on what’s happening
here in the communities right now in 2018. I’m not focused on what happened in 2010. I’m not focused on what happened in 2013. I’m not focused on what happened in 2016. I’m focused on what’s right here in front
of us right now. And we’re facing a crisis right in front of
us. And I mean, one of the things, and I want
to come back to some of the other crisis points that we’re facing. But one of the things that you’ve been targeted
a little bit from the left was going to this Mike Cernovich, alt-right, Gorilla Mindset,
sort of internet troll guy’s party. And you know, with Cassandra Fairbanks, another
person who had gone from the left to the right. What’s up with that? What would you say to the people in the left
to who are really questioning that, the decision to go there? Yeah. Well, I mean, it was a questionable decision. I was doing, I was doing work with a number
of activists. You know, I’m not going to specify a lot of
details about it. But we we identified Cassandra as, you know,
somebody who was receptive to some form of communication. We did, this was around the time of the Milo,
I protested against Milo and Cernovich in September 2017, and we identified her, and
I just started to approach and start talking. And I just learned an enormous amount of information. We shared that with, with active, with other
activists. And it just became this sort of effort that
built up over several months. And, and you know, and in January after the
book Fire and Fury came out, a lot of what we were learning, because we need to learn
and understand how to fight the alt-right, in particular this virulent form of the alt-right. But we kind of, like, lost, you know, our
way. And we, and I in particular have, have a responsibility
in messing, you know, not understanding and not fully understanding the optics of what
we were, of what I was doing in particular. And so, yeah. We started, we lost our vision, we lost our
intent, we lost our objective. And I decided to crash a, to crash this party
and protest, and they flipped it upside down. And I know, it was poorly, it was poorly considered. It was a poorly considered decision and I
regret it a lot. And I think about that a lot. And I’m not perfect. I’m going to, I’m going to screw up. And that was a major screw up. And I, I let a lot of people, people that
were close to me down. You know, a lot of people, you know, some
people knew, but some people also didn’t know. And you know, it was just a bad decision. I mean, on the other side of that you’ve been
a supporter of the antifascist movement, and of the J20, the people who were arrested on
Trump’s inauguration day. And that seems particularly interesting because
it’s one of the most recorded events possible. I mean, they’ve had a police detective who
spent a year just going over all of this footage trying to identify the faces of anyone who
was there. And one of the charges against them is covering
their faces, trying not only to protect themselves from tear gas and other types of weapons but
also from the kind of surveillance state. From becoming part of this big database. What can you say about your interest and involvement
in the antifascist movement, and in that case in particular? There’s nothing nefarious about showing up
to a protest. There’s nothing nefarious about protecting
your identity. There’s nothing nefarious about putting on
a mask. There’s nothing nefarious about wearing black. You know, these, this notion that all of these
things can now be criminalized is just both disruptive, destructive, and, I mean, for
me it’s disturbing. You know, this is not, the fact that we have
to go to these lengths now in order, in order to protect ourselves at a protest should,
should be more worrying than the fact that, you know, that these protest tactics are being
used. That’s what I find really disturbing, is the
fact that, you know, it’s not just, you know, it’s not just police surveillance. The alt-right and, you know, neo-nazis and
you know, some really, really bad people. The video us, they take pictures of us, and
they dox us. And you know, it can be very disruptive to
our lives. And you know, people are getting targeted. And they’re getting, you know, they’re going
to jail. And now you have, you have 59 people facing
felony charges for showing up to a protest. Or, or even just, you know, being around people
that are going to a protest. We need to really, really support and be in
solidarity with every single one of these protesters. And I’m, I’m there with them, especially as
a former defendant myself. I know how, you know, I know how these prosecutors
work. I know how this system works, and I’m there. I’m going to be there in solidarity and support
because we need, we need to support, we need to support the J20 defendants. Need to support the defendants in the MSU
trial from a few weeks ago. We need to be supporting each other and being
solidaire with each other. What can you do from the Senate to support
those people and also to deal with this sort of alt-right neo-nazi movement while still,
you know, not relying on police? One of the criticisms at Charlottesville was
why weren’t the police doing more. But, but that seems like a odd solution to
that. How would you address the problem of, strange
to have to ask the question, the problem of Nazis? Right. I mean, the saying is cops and Klan go hand
in hand. That’s a chant. But yeah, it’s, we can’t expect the police
state, which has been infiltrated by the alt-right and has been infiltrated by these groups,
we can’t expect them to fix the, you know we can’t expect the, institutions can and
do fail. And sometimes we can’t ask them to fix themselves
anymore. And also, the Senate , Democratic senators
aren’t paying attention to this. They’re so focused on other things they’re
not worried, they’re not really paying attention to these issues. They don’t understand it, and they would rather
just ignore these problems. I want, and you know, that was one of the,
you know, that was one of the things that made me make the mistake that I made, you
know, in January, was I want, I really want to understand and take down. I want to know how to take these people down,
because they need to be taken off of Twitter. They need to be, they need to be deplatformed. They shouldn’t be debating, you know, we shouldn’t
be debating the horrible things that they say in our public space. They need to be removed from that public space. And you know, the police are not going to
do that. We’re going to have to do that ourselves. I mean, I guess one more question on how,
if you were to be in the Senate, how would you expect to be treated by other senators? And I mean, part of it would be getting a
security clearance. Do you, is that something that you would expect
that, that your fellow senators would would stand , would try, I mean, people have called
you a traitor and all sorts of horrible things. How would you respond when you, you know,
you walked into that hall on the first day? How would you respond to all of those other
people sitting there? I mean, the Senate, the Senate rules deal
with security. You know, it depends on what committee you’re
on. So that’s really an issue that’s addressed. That’s an issue that’s addressed with the
Senate. It’s not a security clearance issue, it’s
a Senate rules issue. That said, you know, we need somebody who’s,
like, on the other side. We need somebody pushing back against the
establishment because they’re constantly, you know, 70 to 80 percent of bills that go
before Congress are not debated on. They’re reauthorization bills. They get passed without much discussion and
they keep reauthorizing these programs and these massive, you know, these massive surveillance
programs, these programs to expand ICE, these programs to expand prisons. And they just, you know, they just, it just
keeps getting bigger. And it’s not debated at all. In the Senate you’re placed in a position
where you can say, hey, I want to debate this. And you have the ability to argue, you have
the ability to debate. You have the ability to filibuster. And I’ve been paying attention for many years
to the Senate rules, and they’re just not being used. They’re not using the rules to debate in the
way that, you know, that I would be able to bring to the table. I would make sure that those, that those bills
are debated upon and stopped. And as you’re stopping them how would you,
to people in Maryland where there are so many, so many jobs come from this state apparatus
here. And a lot of money flows from the federal
government into Maryland and that way, is there a way you could divert that money so
that it would still come into the state and actually be to the good of the majority of
people rather than a small minority of people? Right. I support, I’m not in favor of the federal
jobs guarantee. I support universal basic income. I mean, we shouldn’t be making up jobs to
just have jobs. And you know, that leaves a lot of people,
stable people, people that don’t have, you know, that don’t live in an area where jobs
might, might be provided for them by the federal government. This notion that jobs should be, that we should
always have jobs in an automated society is, I think, you know, going to be obsolete at
some point, you know, in the near future. And I think that we, we’re in a transitional
period. But I fully support universal basic income
and not having that be a replacement for health benefits or any of the other things that should
be provided for. It should be in support, it should be part
of a bigger program to to help people live, you know, to help people live our lives. And live better lives. You know, lives that aren’t burdened by obsolete
jobs. Well, we look really forward to following
your campaign, following the, hopefully there will be some debates with Cardin and the other
candidates, and seeing if, if you’re able to shake up the sort of entrenched system
we have in the Senate. Chelsea Manning, thanks so much for joining
us today. No, thank you. For the Real News, I’m Baynard Woods in Baltimore.

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