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Film Tells Story of Warlord-Turned-Evangelist Known as General Butt Naked

December 20, 2011 at 12:00 AM EST
The film "The Redemption of General Butt Naked" follows a brutal African warlord who has renounced his violent past and reinvented himself as a Christian evangelist. This excerpt is part of The Economist Film Project series of independently produced films aired in partnership between The Economist and the NewsHour.
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TRANSCRIPT

JUDY WOODRUFF: Next, a final installment in our series from the Economist Film Project.

It’s about Joshua Milton Blahyi, also known as General Butt Naked, one of Liberia’s most feared warlords. He was responsible for killing and maiming thousands during Liberia’s 14-year civil war.

Then, suddenly, the general renounced his violent past and reinvented himself as a charismatic Christian evangelist.

His story is told in the new documentary titled, “The Redemption of General Butt Naked.”

Filmmakers Eric Strauss and Daniele Anastasion spent five years with Blahyi, tracking his often troubling path as he sought forgiveness from his victims.

Here’s an excerpt.

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JOSHUA MILTON BLAHYI, “General Butt Naked”: It’s only Christianity that can help this nation, because Christianity, it is the only belief, the only faith that tell you to love your enemies, that tell you to accept and forgive the one who hurts you.

Am I talking to somebody?

All of us you see sitting here were notorious rebels. The only thing that is able to disarm them is love, the love that disarmed me.

Only God is able to turn lives around.

MAN: When people first spotted him doing that, I personally thought it was a joke.

JOSHUA MILTON BLAHYI: Wave your hands. Come on, wave your hands, people. Wave your hands. Wave your hands. Wave your hands. Wave your hands. Wave your hands. Somebody shout hallelujah. Shout another hallelujah.

MAN: We saw him preaching.

JOSHUA MILTON BLAHYI: Shout another hallelujah.

MAN: Talking about repentance. He was so amazing. For what he did, to trust such a man is a difficult thing.

JOSHUA MILTON BLAHYI: Hallelujah. Hallelujah.

MAN: Butt Naked is a bad man, yeah, bad man. He kills, kills, kills, slaughtered women, slaughtered babies, do a lot of bad things, yeah.

MULBAH MORLU, advocate for War Crimes Court: General Butt Naked or Joshua Milton Blahyi, who in 1996 was carrying and carrying M-16 machine guns and killing people, today claims to be an evangelist.

JOSHUA MILTON BLAHYI: I’m naked. I’m killing. It is not right.

MAN: But joining a particular religion is not sufficient and will not replace justice.

MAN: Blahyi and all those that fought should be penalized for what they did. Blahyi has to face what he did.

JOSHUA MILTON BLAHYI: I didn’t mean to kill your brother. You know that’s war. I’m sorry. I’m sorry, man. I beg you, forgive me. No, don’t just go like that, I beg you. I beg you.

I killed your brother out of madness, but, please, I will be able to play the brother for you. I may not be able to do everything that your brother can do, but I will stand there whenever you need a brotherly counsel, whenever you need a brotherly protection. Try to call on me, I beg you, please.

It’s the toughest moment in my life to see somebody who I hurt in the past.

She’s still crying. I killed her brother. I shot him and chopped him dead. Now, when she reminded me, I felt so — so evil.

I’m sorry. I’m sorry.

I killed their brothers, killed their sisters, ripped them, crippled them. They are right not to forgive me.

There are thousands of people that can stand up here and say, this is what he did to me, this is what he did to my brother. I’m guilty. I’m 100 percent guilty for all the things I did in the past.

MAN: People are claiming that Blahyi has changed. I feel he’s faking.

We saw him during the war. We saw what he did. And we have seen what he is doing now. This is a man whose change came very rapidly.

JOSHUA MILTON BLAHYI: TRC is an organization or it is a body that is investigating the causes of the war. And after this investigation, TRC is supposed to recommend amnesty, one, and persecution.

So, if TRC recommends persecution for me, I am supposed to be going to the war court, war crime court. I could be arrested, placed in jail. This is the reality.

JOHN KUN KUN, bishop: The key people like the warlords and main generals are refusing to go and testify. But General Butt Naked is going to be the first.

JOSHUA MILTON BLAHYI: Job said the wicked creeps in the twilight. They go in secret. They hope that no eyes see them. So that is the strength of evil, is secrecy, denial. Once the wickedness is revealed, it is like they are walking out of that wickedness.

WOMAN: Joshua Milton Blahyi, are you the same person who they call General Butt Naked?

Mr. Blahyi?

JOSHUA MILTON BLAHYI: Yes, ma’am.

WOMAN: Can you give us maybe an estimate of civilian casualties? How many civilians do you think lost their lives as a direct result of acts committed at the time?

JOSHUA MILTON BLAHYI: If I were to calculate, if you’re talking about April 6 or throughout the war or every evil I have done, it should not be less than 20,000.

MAN: Please, let’s have it quiet, please, audience.

GERALD COLEMAN, TRC commissioner: The fact that he made that statement, I saw it as him expressing his deep responsibility for a process that may have led to the deaths of these kind of people.

PATRICK DORBOR, counselor to former combatants: I was saying that Joshua would not really go to the TRC. Let us see whether this guy will actually take the strength to really testify about what he did.

I mean, it was something amazing, you know? And this is what we need, because we have a whole lot of people around here who hurt us and they’re not even willing to say sorry.

MAN: Don’t forget, it is a recommendation. It’s not a sentence. That doesn’t mean that he will be forgiven or he is forgiven. There are still some people pressing for prosecutions, of criminal accountability, and there are some who have hard hearts and who want revenge.

JOSHUA MILTON BLAHYI: I went to the TRC because I wanted to reconcile with my country and be free of my conscience. And the fate turned out that they recommended amnesty for me.

JUDY WOODRUFF: After the TRC recommended amnesty, Blahyi says he received death threats from other warlords and he fled to Ghana. He has now returned to Liberia.

The film airs on the Documentary Channel on Jan. 22. On our website, you can watch Jeffrey Brown’s interview with the filmmakers.

GWEN IFILL: Tonight marks the end of our yearlong collaboration with The Economist magazine, highlighting the work of independent documentary filmmakers.

Together, we have showcased 19 films about everything from skateboarding in Afghanistan to the struggle of white farmers in Zimbabwe, to art made in the world’s largest landfill in Brazil.

You can find all the other segments in this series on the NewsHour website at — or at film.economist.com.