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CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR: Hello, everyone, and welcome to “Amanpour and Company.” Here’s what’s coming up.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MAYOR-ELECT STEVEN REED (D-MONTGOMERY-AL): That’s why people elect leaders, and that is to not maintain the status quo but to change it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: A young African-American leader brings change to the cradle of the confederacy and the civil rights movement. I speak with Montgomery,
Alabama’s first black mayor, Steve Reed.
And “Citizen K.,” a new documentary, tracks Mikhail Khodorkovsky’s journey from Russia’s richest man to Putin’s greatest nemesis. I speak to him and
to the Oscar-winning director, Alex Gibney.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MEGAN PHELPS-ROPER, FORMER MEMBER, WESTBORO BAPTIST CHURCH: They absolutely were out there to bring terror to people.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: A true believer breaks away from her hate-spewing church and family. Michele Martin speaks with author, Megan Phelps-Roper about
leaving the Westboro Baptist Church.
Welcome to the program, everyone. I’m Christiane Amanpour in London.
Montgomery, Alabama, is a city of great contradictions. The former capital of the Confederate States of America is also the birthplace of the civil
rights movement, home to Rosa Parks and host to some of Martin Luther King Jr.’s most stirring rhetoric and acts of civil disobedience. And come
Tuesday, Montgomery will once again bear witness as the arc of the moral universe bends towards justice. The city celebrates the inauguration of
Steven Reed, its first African-American mayor.
The majority black city is plagued by crime and economic inequality in a state ranked dead last for education. And as he prepares to take office, I
asked Mayor-Elect Reed about his daunting to-do list and the history he is making.
Mayor-Elect Steven Reed, welcome to the program.
MAYOR-ELECT STEVEN REED (D-MONTGOMERY-AL): Thank you. How are you?
AMANPOUR: I am really good. I want to know how you feel, because here you are making history in Montgomery, which as everybody knows or should know
is the cradle of the civil rights movement, but also of the Confederacy. How will you feel as a person taking the oath of office when you get
REED: I feel great about the accomplishment, what we’ve done in this community and how far we’ve come. The race was never been about me as much
as it has been about the collective hopes and dreams of the people in this city, and that is a belief in a more positive future and a future that is
filled with opportunity.
It certainly comes with a great deal of responsibility, given the history that we have here. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. leading the Montgomery Bus
Boycott and Rosa Parks kind of jump-starting that. We’ve had a very complex history here with race. But we’ve come a long way, and we’re a
city that really wants to focus on the future as opposed to our past.
AMANPOUR: You know, obviously, those are the facts, but it’s also something that is inspiring a lot of people, not just in Montgomery, which
is 60 percent black, after all, and you are the first black mayor to be elected, but people around the country who’s looking to see what’s possible
in these United States in these highly divisive times.
And I know you mentioned Dr. Martin Luther King. Of course, he paraphrased the great words about history and the moral arc bending towards justice.
In the context of the history and all of the other things you just mentioned, do you believe that your city, your state, the country is
actually moving towards justice or is this, you know, a nice anomaly
REED: I think the country and our state and city are certainly moving towards justice. I think there’s a long way to go. I think we have to be
more open and more candid about how we get there, but we’ve made, obviously, positive steps across the country, and Montgomery has been a
part of that.
We’re having honest discussions about what we can do differently and what we can do from a policy standpoint to really bring about more opportunity
and more equity throughout not just our community but throughout our state. And as long as we keep willing to have those conversations and we make sure
that we act on them, then I think we can continue to move forward.
And so, while it’s great to have mayors in Birmingham, in Selma and Montgomery and other places that are African-American, it’s also important
for us to remember that economically, we still face a lot of challenges. African-American households still face a significant wealth gap. There’s
still a gap tremendously as it relates to health care access.
And so, what I hope that this election would do is it will allow people to understand that we want a national and international partnerships with
people, with organizations and with companies who really care about not only the civil rights history but also the future of civil rights in this
country, there are still issues regarding race and reconciliation that we have to deal with, not only in Montgomery, Alabama,
but throughout this country, and we have to be very honest about that.
A lot of the language, a lot of the actions, a lot of the policies do have a disproportionate impact racially on people of color. So, we have to be
very truthful about that, but we also have to be willing to do some innovative things to change those outcomes. And what I hope the election
will represent is the ability to have a new narrative for the City of Montgomery, for us to start a new chapter.
AMANPOUR: So, I just want to read a list, and I’m going to read it because it just shows exactly what you’ve got to deal with and what’s on your plate
as mayor. You have said that you’d like to tackle failing public schools, high crime, police-community relations, inadequate public transportation,
unhealthy water supply in some areas, brown water we understand, not to mention food deserts and the poverty in many parts of your city.
I mean, that’s a very ambitious and very necessary list of policies that you want to tackle. What do you think is most important to start with?
What sort of keeps you up at night about what you need to do?
REED: I think the thing that we have to start with is education, because I see that as the root cause of a lot of other issues that we’re dealing
with. And I believe that if we’re really to be intentional or deliberate about what we have to do to transform our public education system to make
sure that everyone, regardless of their neighborhood or ZIP code, has an equal chance at opportunity, then we can achieve some of the other
accomplishments and objectives that we really have out there.
Now, listen, I certainly know that the list you just read is a long and challenging list. I’m aware of that and it’s not something I expect to
happen overnight, but it is something I expect us to make progress in. It is something that I expect for us to impact in a more positive manner.
That’s why people elect leaders, and that is to not maintain the status quo but to change it.
And one of the things that I ran on was I didn’t want to be the thermometer anymore and take the temperature of the city, but I wanted to be the
thermostat so I could set the temperature of the city. And that means being very ambitious, that means being very deliberate and being very
honest about what our issues are and how we go about changing some of those issues. And that only happens by acknowledging that we have a problem and
then working to solve it.
AMANPOUR: Mayor-Elect, how will you grade or rate your ability to work across party lines? Your father, obviously, for decades has chaired the
Alabama Democratic conference. You grew up in a political household. People remember you, apparently, from seeing you as a young boy in church,
and a lot of people are obviously incredibly proud of your accomplishments.
But you do have a Republican legislature, you have a Republican governor and you may eventually get another Republican senator. We’ll talk about
this in a second with Jeff Sessions wanting to recontest that seat there. But what can you as a Democratic mayor do in this environment?
REED: Well, the old saying is, you know, all politics is local. And so, we want to make sure that we’re working with all of our stakeholders and
all of our elected officials, both state and federal, as well as, obviously, our local city council to really address the issues. And I look
at them from a partisan perspective. We want to look at them from a citizen perspective of what’s going to be best for the citizens of
Montgomery, what’s going to be best for the citizens of Alabama.
And I believe if we take some of the partisanship out of some of our discussions, we could meet in the middle and we could find that common
ground. That’s what we did in the campaign. That’s how we were able to win with almost two-thirds of the vote. We were able to reach across lines
to really bring people into a shared perspective that we have for our future. And I think that if we can continue to do that, then we’ll be able
to work with our state legislative leaders, our governor, as well as our congressional delegation.
And I look forward to doing that. I’ve already had some initial discussions with them. And I believe that we’re going to be able to
accomplish some great things together.
AMANPOUR: People look at the United States right now and the federal government and see a whole lot of gridlock because of partisanship and it
spreads around the country as well, and to an extent, it’s happening in places around the world because of this highly, some would call it very
toxic, partisan nature of what’s happening.
But there is a lot of interest in mayors, not just in the United States, but also around the world. Books are being written on actually what mayors
can accomplish for their own cities, even if the wider context is more difficult to penetrate. Again, just speak to me about what you think the
power of the mayor’s office is.
REED: I think the power of the mayor’s office is only limited by the person that occupies that office. I think that we have the
opportunity as mayors across this country to really transform the landscape locally because we understand that we’re competing in a global marketplace,
but we also understand that we could impact things on a local level and we could often move things a lot faster locally than maybe you can’t at the
state or national level.
And so, that’s one of things that attracted me to the opportunity to serve as mayor, was how could I move the ball forward and how could I am prove
opportunity for everyone who lives here in a very impactful way.
And so, in the end, the election is certainly historic, but the true legacy of my term will be what do we do over these next four years? What type of
relationships and partnerships can I create to stimulate investment in this city, in this region and in our state? And I think there are a number of
mayors across this country that are already doing that, and I plan to blueprint some of their ideas where they work and then we’ll implement some
of our own new ideas where they haven’t.
AMANPOUR: And now, to your own state and to trying to sort of — we’ve talked a little bit about, you know, healing the divide or working across
party lines and across ethnic and color lines. We know that Alabama is a very red state. And that in the last election, unusually, there was the
first Democratic senator to win, Doug Jones, because of all the issues with Roy Moore.
But now, we know that the former attorney general, Jeff Sessions, is saying that he wants to contest that seat. What do you think? Some people are
saying that Doug Jones may end up only being a one-term Democratic senator there. What do you think when you see yet another Republican senator maybe
taking over that seat again?
REED: I see that as being something that the voters of Alabama will have to decide, what type of leadership that they’re looking for. Certainly,
Senator Sessions served in this capacity for a number of years and was re- elected. He has a track record here that I think appeals to a large segment of Alabamians. And, so on the Republican primary side, they have a
lot of choices to kind of filter out themselves.
I think from my standpoint as a mayor, I have to work with whoever is in Washington. And I plan to keep my agenda the same, regardless of who
occupies the U.S. Senate seat that currently exists right now, whether that’s Senator Jones or whether that be Former Senator Sessions or someone
else. Our agenda’s going to remain the same, whether that’s increasing federal funding for public transportation, whether that’s utilizing more
innovative practices in our affordable housing programs or whether or not that’s just really helping build our infrastructure.
AMANPOUR: This isn’t the first time you’ve made history. I mean, as a probate judge, I think it was that — in 2015, you issued the state’s first
same-sex marriage license. And then, the chief judge there at the time, Roy Moore, who we’ve just been talking about, refused to enforce it. He
was then, you know, censured for it. But there are a lot of hot-button issues, aren’t there? Do you expect yourself to face some of those, I
realize you’re in a different capacity now, or how those hot-button issues may still be points of friction between communities?
REED: You know, I think hot-button issues are something that comes with the territory. When you’re a leader, you’re in that position to make
decisions that you feel are in the best interests of the people that you represent. I don’t believe you can lead with an ear to the ground and a
finger to the wind.
So, I make decisions based on the positions that I have morally. I make decisions based on positions that I think are right for the people that I’m
serving. And that has been a great kind of benchmark for me in my career so far, and will continue to do that.
But where there are controversy issues, what I try to look for, again, is the common ground in that, and that doesn’t mean we always have to agree,
that doesn’t mean we always have to be 100 percent on everything that we’re saying. It just means as long as you understand my position and my
perspective, then maybe you’ll respect that little bit, maybe you can appreciate it even if you do not agree.
And to the degree some of those things may be controversial, so be it. If it’s for the betterment of Montgomery, if it’s going to increase our
ability to compete, to recruit and retain great talent, to build a community of opportunity for everyone here, I’m willing to take that task
on. That’s what it comes down to at the end of the day, is really leading to make a difference.
If I may say something. Just the other day, we commemorated the 30th anniversary of the civil rights memorial here in Montgomery, Alabama. And
one of the things that I talked about there was ordinary people who made the ultimate sacrifice to do extraordinary things.
They didn’t do that because they were trying to be on the side of what was politically expedient. They did that because they were doing things that
they felt was a just cause, and that’s what we have to get back to, I believe, in our politics, and not really worry about the poll numbers
and not really worry about the cynics or the critics, but understanding what it is that we are put in position to do and why we need to get those
AMANPOUR: Well, that’s obviously very rousing and it would be very inspiring for many people. Mayor-Elect Steven Reed, thank you so much and
REED: Thank you for having me.
AMANPOUR: Now, Montgomery, Alabama, is also home of the national memorial to peace and justice, a commemoration of America’s history of racial
violence. And as that city struggles to move beyond its strained past, we turn to Russia, which is also reckoning with the legacy of the Cold War.
November 9th, this Saturday, marks the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. And today, the notion that that event marked the end of
history is clearly just a pipe dream. Few people personify that tangled evolution like Mikhail Khodorkovsky, once a leading practitioner of
Russia’s brand of gangster capitalism, Khodorkovsky now lives in exile here in Britain, trying to support the opposition in Russia against President
He spent nearly a decade in Putin’s jails on a series of politically motivated charges. And his story is the focus of a probing, new
documentary by the Oscar award-winning filmmaker Alex Gibney. I spoke with them, and — both of them, and with Khodorkovsky via translator, and asked
about his wild, quintessentially Russian story.
Gentlemen, welcome to the program.
Mikhail Khodorkovsky, you’re sitting here with me, so I want to ask you first. There was a big ovation when this was first shown and people really
seemed to like it. Why do you think people are sympathetic to the story of someone who was an oligarch, who you could call the epitome of gangster
capitalism in the post-Soviet Union Russia, and yet, your story now is resonating with people? Why do you think that is?
MIKHAIL KHODORKOVSKY, EXILED RUSSIAN BUSINESSMAN (through translator): Well, first of people presumably understand that capitalism in Russia can
only be wild because we didn’t have the experience that you had in the West. If we were to have had, all of a sudden, good capitalism, that would
imply that people would behave differently. But in fact, as Alex manages to show, Russia changed in the process, and we changed in the process too.
And I think these kinds of changes resonated with the public in general.
AMANPOUR: Alex, you’ve heard Mikhail describe what he thinks his story is. What do you think his story is? What about him attracted you to wanting to
make him the central figure of “Citizen K”?
ALEX GIBNEY, DIRECTOR, “CITIZEN K”: Well, I’ve done a lot of films about power and abuses of power. And after the 2016 election, it seemed to me
important for Americans and the rest of the world to understand a bit more about Russia and particularly how power worked in Russia.
And it seemed to me that Mikhail’s story was emblematic or a great way of looking at power, because he had been at the very top of this kind of wild
west or gangster capitalism. And then by challenging Putin and trying to suggest that there was a better way, he was sent to prison and then he was
at the absolute bottom where his only power was to be able to kill himself. He went on a number of hunger strikes in order to be able to enforce some
minor changes having to do with how some of his people were being treated.
And then ultimately, he’s let out by Putin after 10 years in prison, and now he works in exile from London to try to bring further changes to
Russia. So, that journey seemed to be very dynamic and powerful to me in terms of trying to understand how Russia works.
AMANPOUR: So, you’ve set up the trajectory really well. So, I want to go back now to how this all sort of unfolded, Mikhail. Because here you were
doing really well. You first had a bank. And then through, you know, the ability to grab a massive amount of the state oil, you had Yukos, one of
the biggest oil companies in the world.
And then, you started to confront, even in public, on television, President Putin on issues of corruption, and that essentially quickly led to your
being arrested. I want to play a clip from 2003, which is the news footage of them coming to get you and what your lawyer said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What I’ve seen allows me to claim that obviously with 100 percent certainty, this is an absolutely political case.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Khodorkovsky is accused of fraud and tax evasion. Because he didn’t hand himself in the morning, he has been
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And for the richest man in Russia, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, seized at gunpoint by Russian special forces —
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Khodorkovsky is locked up in an overcrowded Russian prison.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So, to stay out of prison, why didn’t you leave the country?
KHODORKOVSKY (through translator): I don’t value my life that much to exchange it for losing respect.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: So, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, that is a brave and profound statement, that you refused to exchange your dignity and your self-respect
just to save your life. I mean, as Alex said, you could have, but you didn’t. You stayed to face the music. But begin by telling us how you
survived prison, because it was brutal.
KHODORKOVSKY (through translator): Well, in fact, prison, for anyone used to Soviet youth pioneer camps or the Soviet Army, for that matter, doesn’t
actually differ that much. You understand, more or less, how things are structured.
I have to admit, though, that I did enjoy one real advantage. I was roughly twice as old as the average prisoner. The average age of most
prisoners was 23 and I was 40. And that, in prison, obviously affords you some respect, education as well, of course. But in brutal Russian prisons,
you can see that the basic foundation of everything is violence, and many people under the influence of violence snap and do things that they would
never have done in ordinary life.
AMANPOUR: And you did gain not just respect but, I guess, security also, by, as Alex said, going on hunger strikes to demand conditions for yourself
but also for other members of I think Yukos who were also in prison and some other prisoners who were not, perhaps, getting some of the same
treatment you were getting.
KHODORKOVSKY (through translator): Well, you know, in prison, you can really only get things if you put your life on the line. And you have to
understand that once you’ve done that once, you will never be able to obtain anything else. And it was precisely for this reason that I had to
think very careful about putting my life on the line for other prisoners. But I did that four times. And four times I was prepared to die unless my
conditions were met, and I was successful all four times.
And here, of course, outside support played an enormous part. Many people, in fact, many Russians who went to court and made demands on the
government, and we managed to convince them. If that hadn’t happened, things would have turned out far worse for me.
AMANPOUR: Alex, how did you view the arc of his development as a character during your story-telling? And I guess I’ll just read something that you
have said about, you know, when you look at these, you know, larger-than- life characters who you tell stories about, empathy is one of the key qualities. You say, “You have to empathize with people. Otherwise, you
inhabit a view of the world that I don’t believe in, which is that there are good people and bad people, whereas I believe we are all a mixture of
How does this “Citizen K” fit into that structure that you’ve constructed?
GIBNEY: Well, the simple structure is rise, fall, rise. But in terms of the quote that you just mentioned, I mean, you know, Mikhail in the wild
and tumble ’90s in Russia inhabited the ethos of the time, which was be as ruthless as possible in order to get as much money as possible, as he
himself admitted to me. He said he thought of it as a game.
Well, soon he realized it wasn’t a game, you know, particularly when the ruble fell and oil prices fell and he was having to lay off tens of
thousands of people. But it really wasn’t a game when suddenly he landed in prison. And I think all of us face moments in our lives when we have to
make a decision about ourselves. And when we’re faced with a moment in crisis, we can either, you know, lapse into self-pity, talk to ourselves
about how sorry, you know, everybody should be for us or we find some kind of inner strength to change. And I believe in the idea of change.
And you know, one of the most powerful things that Mikhail said was that he said he found in prison that life wasn’t about having, it was about being.
Well, that’s a pretty profound statement, you know, particularly from somebody who had come from where he had come from. And I know a lot of
billionaires. And when they see the tiniest bit of adversity, they tend to retreat into self-pity. Mikhail didn’t do that. He came out the other
side to try to see life in a completely different way. And so, as a filmmaker, you know, that was a powerful story to follow.
AMANPOUR: And I want to ask you also, Alex, about the challenge of including things that he may or may not have liked. They sort
of sentenced you and convicted you and charged you in absentia with the murder of a mayor in the Siberian town. And Khodorkovsky has said in other
interviews that including that murder charge in your documentary is a sign of how well, Alex, Putin’s propaganda machine has worked. You obviously
disagree, and you say, no. What do you say? Because I think that’s one of the rare instances where you might disagree, because it’s generally a
positive look at Khodorkovsky.
GIBNEY: Well, I think the parts of the — there are bits and pieces in the ’90s where it’s not quite so flattering. Particularly, there are
(INAUDIBLE) clips of Mikhail, you know, talking about how greed — effectively, the Gordon Gekko, greed is good.
But I think in terms of the murder, the murder for me was a very interesting phenomenon and important to deal with, both because it showed
the rough-and-tumble period in which everybody was living, but also because I think it’s a narrative that changes over time, and that to me was the
interesting thing about how, you know, Putin’s regime dealt with that murder. It became a murder that was malleable. You changed the facts as
time progresses as you need to.
And so, the perps at the beginning changed in the middle and then changed again at the end, so that while they went after initially as a culprit, you
know, one of the Yukos security people, by the end, they were charging Mikhail with having masterminded the crime, which I don’t, in fact,
But something clearly happened, and nobody really knows what happened. But the key thing is the propaganda mastery of how it was handled in Russia, so
much so that when I go to Nefteyugansk, which is where the murder took place in Siberia, everybody we interviewed, to a person said, oh,
absolutely, we know who did the murder, it was Mikhail Khodorkovsky. Well, that was genius on the part of Putin. I don’t think it represented the
truth, but I think it — in the film, it shows how propaganda works.
AMANPOUR: So, you’re listening to that. He doesn’t think you did it or ordered it, but any clarity on who might have done it? Could it have been
a Yukos official who wanted to please the boss, you? I mean, any more clarity on that murder?
KHODORKOVSKY (through translator): Well, obviously not. But at the same time, I have to give credit to how well the propaganda machine worked. So,
this gave me and the opposition a very difficult task in that we have to work with this machine and realize that they were capable of this kind of
AMANPOUR: Well, talking about Putin, you’ve essentially had a 20-year battle with him. It’s interesting, though, that when he first came to
power during the Yeltsin years, right after the fall of the Soviet Union, you said the following about him. You were talking about initial
misconceptions about Putin and what you initially thought about him. This is from the movie.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KHODORKOVSKY (through translator): It seemed to me that, ideologically, he was one of our people. A man of our generation who gets it, who wants to
push Russia in the same direction that we want for it, that is towards openness, towards democracy. Boy, I was mistaken. He’s a very talented
KGB guy. Very talented.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: You’re now out and in opposition to him. You’re here in London, where many other dissidents have been, you know, threatened, killed and
otherwise come to harm. How powerful is Putin? The narrative today is that Putin is out-foxing the Americans, the West and everybody, that he is
making Russia great again.
KHODORKOVSKY (through translator): He is influential, and at the same time, not influential, because he’s built around himself a myth that he is
somebody who is in complete control of Russia. That, of course, is not true. In fact, Russia cannot be governed from one point only.
So, what you have today is a kind of social contract. But whereas in the past, that was with the people, now it is with his futile elite. And he
allows them, thereby, to do what they want, and they, in return, insure him of votes.
Internationally, of course, it’s a completely different narrative. If you look at Trump, for example, the president of a country with an economy 10
times more important than that of Russia, you can’t compare them, because somebody like Trump can make use of, say, 1 percent or 2 percent of the GDP
Whereas Putin, with the approval of the duma, the Russian parliament, which is entirely under his control, could make use of 30 percent or let’s say 15
percent of the country’s GDP.
So, this is very interesting in comparative terms. For Trump, the death of ten U.S. citizens as a result of his decisions will be a problem. Whereas
for Putin, the deaths of 10,000 would be a problem. So, there you have a comparison of their respective strengths.
But here we come up against a problem, and I fear that it’s a global one in the west, which is lack of leadership. You just can’t see the kind of
leadership which is essential for any democratic system.
So against this background of insufficient leadership, Putin, of course, looks very efficient. But then put him on the same level as, say Margaret
Thatcher or De Gaulle or Reagan, and he looks very different.
AMANPOUR: Interesting. So, that’s for Putin and his relative power or not. And you have, Alex, really focused on people and situations of power.
You’ve done now this, and through this focused on Putin as well.
You’ve done also a little bit on Trump. You did a documentary that involved his business, and you’re about to do another one. Tell us, what
about power fascinates you and what we might find out with your work on Trump.
GIBNEY: Well, power fascinates me because it’s how we move the world. It’s how we get things done. But what I’m also fascinated by is how people
abuse that power.
And you know, it seems to me it’s the job of a documentarian or the job of a journalist to confront those abuses and to point them out. And in so
doing, you know, I tend to spend a lot of time, more time, on the perps than the victims because seems to me if you want to stop crime, you look at
how criminals do their work.
When it comes to Trump and, you know, and I think there are some parallels with Putin in terms of how they present the truth, how they try — or how
Trump, at least, is trying to eviscerate things like a free press and an independent judiciary, though I don’t think he’s succeeding.
But I think in terms of what I’m doing going forward is that, you know, we’re still in the United States confused about what happened in 2016. So
you know, later on next year, I’m going to release a film about what I think really happened and what that might portend for the elections in
AMANPOUR: Can you give us a little glimpse of what you think really happened?
GIBNEY: Well, I think that it was — the idea that there was a kind of simple conspiracy theory that Trump was a creature of Putin, you know,
afraid of the kompromat that he had on him was completely wrong. I do think there was a Russian attack on U.S. systems and an attempt to sew
chaos, but the attempt was partially successful because the candidate who was running was a master at sewing chaos.
That’s his genius, it’s just to grab attention onto himself, Willy Milly, without any real plan. His campaign wasn’t really a campaign. Nobody knew
how to reach him because there was only one or two people you could talk to.
So, I think that the larger message about what happened in 2016 may be that we met the enemy and it was us.
AMANPOUR: That is fascinating. Alex Gibney, always great work. Thank you very much, indeed.
Mikhail Khodorkovsky, “Citizen K,” thank you very much for being here.
GIBNEY: Thank you, Christiane.
AMANPOUR: Well, in order to better understand Russia’s actions today, we have to go back in time to the fall of the Soviet Union. As we mentioned
earlier, nearly 30 years ago, the world watched as the Berlin Wall came crashing down, and with it, the iron curtain of communism.
Tomorrow, we mark that historic anniversary with three people who witnessed it firsthand. Here’s a sneak peek.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CHRISTOPHER MALLABY, FORMER U.K. AMBASADOR TO GERMANY: Well, the very first thing I felt was surprise. I’d be at some sort of a reception.
I went home. My wife had her face right against the television screen. And she said, “The wall is opened.”
And I said, “How many cases of Whiskey have you drunk?” And then I telephoned the British general in Berlin who was sort of my representative
there, and it was true. So, my second reaction was joy, because, obviously, it was going to open a better era in Europe.
ANDREY KORTUNOV, DIRECTOR GENERAL, RUSSIAN INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS COUNCIL: When we heard that the wall was going down, we decided to take part in the
physical demolition of this structure. So, we went to the Brandenburg Gates and we made our very modest contribution to the physical destruction
of the wall.
And for us, it was a great happening. We were very young. We thought that it was almost like a miracle or a holiday and, of course, everybody was
And as a soviet citizen, I can tell you that I didn’t feel any unease or awkwardness, because Gorbachev was a magic word for many Germans around.
TIMOTHY GARTON ASH, HISTORIAN & AUTHOR, THE MAGIC LANTERN: For me, the most important thing about it was the ordinary east Germans who felt
liberated having been stuck behind the wall for nearly three decades. And I remember one of them said to me, “I just saw a poster which had said only
today is the Second World War over.”
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: Thrilling times and more tomorrow.
But now, the Westboro Baptist Church is one of America’s most notorious religious hate groups. It gained worldwide condemnation for its pickets at
military funerals and celebrations of death and tragedy, even for the September 11th attacks.
Megan Phelps Roper is the granddaughter of its founder and she was one of his staunches supporters. But seven years ago, she broke with the church
and she now works to combat extremism.
Megan sat down with our Michel Martin to talk about why she left. And a warning, the interview does refer to that hate speech which might offend
(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)
MICHEL MARTIN, CONTRIBUTOR: Megan Phelps Roper, thank you so much for talking with us.
MEGAN PHELPS-ROPER, FORMER MEMBER, WESTBORO BAPTIST CHURCH : Thank you for having me.
MARTIN: I have to tell you that I have the same reaction to meeting you in person that I think a lot of people had to connecting with you online,
which is that you’re a person who, along with your family — I don’t know what else to say except that for a lot of people, you’re a terrorist.
I mean, you’re a terrorist, except that you didn’t kill people. Your whole reason for being was to terrorize people, to make them feel terrible about
themselves, to cause them great pain at their most vulnerable moments in their lives. How often do you think about that now?
PHELPS-ROPER: Frequently. I mean, it comes up in conversations. I’m constantly meeting people that I hurt, you know?
This is not — when I go and talk about these things, this is not a theoretical — it’s not a theoretical apology. It’s something that I live
MARTIN: What exactly was the church protesting?
PHELPS-ROPER: Well, they would say sin, all kinds of sin. It started out being particularly about the LGBTQ community and then expanded from there
to other Christians and Jewish people. Anybody who said anything against our message was a target.
MARTIN: How did it get to soldiers’ funerals, though?
PHELPS-ROPER: So, it was after, you know, once the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan started. And, you know, my grandfather was watching — he
watched the news constantly, and he would see these funerals. And he would say, you know, these aren’t funerals, these are patriotic pep rallies, you
People out there waving flags and talking about how God is blessing America. And so, he, you know, as our duty, he said, to go and bring this
godly message, God’s side of it, which is, as grams encapsulated it — I don’t want to say — I mean — they turned the country over to fags,
they’re coming home in body bags. That’s how he encapsulated it.
And so — but that was the idea, this country has institutionalized sin, and therefore, God is punishing them and we need to go to where they’re
saying God is blessing America and say, no, God is cursing America, and this dead soldier is evidence of that.
MARTIN: I just need a minute to kind of deal with my own feelings from having seen your own family picketing at military hospitals, the famous
signs, “Thank God for IEDs,” “Thank God for your dead soldiers.”
I mean, I saw you out there with these young people whose bodies were broken, people who had lost limbs serving their country, and you’re out
there screaming at them. And I just — it’s just hard. It’s just — it’s hard.
PHELPS-ROPER: Yes. Yes, I know. I completely understand. You know, when people — you mentioned people seeing us as terrorists. And we were.
You’re right. We absolutely were out there to bring terror to people.
We believed that the purpose of that, that fear, was biblical, right? So, there’s this passage that we would quote from the Book of Jude. It says
“Of some have compassion, others save with fear.”
So, our goal in those moments, it wasn’t just to cause pain needlessly. We thought that it was the only way, the only hope for people to experience
this pain in this life, which is minimal compared to the pain that people would be experiencing in hell for eternity.
MARTIN: One of the things that so surprised me about your book is to understand that even as you were doing this, you were living in the same
world that the rest of us are living in. I mean, I think that a lot of people have the image of Westboro Baptist Church as people living in a
MARTIN: Your kids went all to public schools.
MARTIN: You went to the same schools as everybody else.
PHELPS-ROPER: Went to college. Many went to law school.
MARTIN: Most went to law school. I also learned from the book that your grandfather insisted that all of his children and their spouses go to law
MARTIN: So, how did they maintain this immersion in this world view?
PHELPS-ROPER: You know, the vast majority of people in the church are people who grew up in it, right? So, they were indoctrinated, just like I
And the idea is that it’s like being inoculated against outside ideas. We were constantly exposed to those outside ideas.
We would talk to people on the picket line or reading books, listening to music, you know, popular music. It wasn’t like we were, you know, like you
said — we weren’t corralled in any way, like physically.
It’s just that when we were — before we were ever exposed to those ideas, before we were ever exposed to outside arguments, we were taught, here are
the arguments people are going to make. Here is why they’re wrong. Here is the Bible verse, the chapter and Verse, memorize it.
MARTIN: Were you happy?
PHELPS-ROPER: Absolutely. I loved everything that we did. I believed —
MARTIN: You loved screaming at people and seeing the distress on their faces and the horror? You liked it?
PHELPS-ROPER: You know, my mom when we first started protesting soldiers’ funerals, I asked — I said, I need to know exactly why we’re doing this.
You know, we’re going to be out there, I need to understand why.
And she started quoting these Bible verses. That was always the source of everything that we did. It was, you know, God saying I set before you this
day a blessing and a curse. A blessing if you obey me and a curse if you won’t.
And she said, can we all agree that a dead child is a curse from God and not a blessing?
MARTIN: I’m not sure that people do, but people who live in Kansas may remember that your grandfather, Fred Phelps, the founder of the church, was
a very highly respected civil rights lawyer.
Many people may remember, Topeka, Kansas, Brown v. Board of Ed is the home jurisdiction of one of the most famous civil rights cases in the history of
this country, but it was certainly not the only civil rights battle that had to be fought.
And your grandfather was taking these cases, defending African-Americans who in some cases couldn’t get other lawyers, white or black, to take their
cases. What happened that he then became obsessed with gay people, with LGBT people, with picketing soldiers? What happened?
PHELPS-ROPER: So, my grandfather saw no tension between those two positions that he took. He saw them both as being scripturally derived.
So he would say God never said it was an abomination to be black or female or old, but God did say that it was an abomination to be gay.
MARTIN: But why this particular obsession with — and I think it is fair to call it an obsession — with homosexuality?
PHELPS-ROPER: Yes. So, you know, any time people would ask that question, we would say, we’re obsessed with it because you’re obsessed with it.
That’s literally how we would respond.
Because remember, this was the early ’90s. This was when the battle for rights for same-sex people, people in the LGBT community, that this battle
was kind of coming to the floor, right?
You think about how quickly things have changed in the past 30 years. And my grandfather saw that, that changing tide as an abominable thing,
something that God was going to punish, not just was going to punish, but was punishing this nation for.
And so, because it was, you know, this constant — you know, Ellen came out and there was all these cultural moments, and he thought we as Bible
preachers needed to go and be out there representing God’s side of the matter.
MARTIN: And tell me about the tactics, though, the disgusting things that you would yell at people. Why is it that these tactics you saw or your
church saw as biblically appropriate and not the other messages that say, speak to people with love, love being your driving virtue, the greatest of
these is love and so forth. Tell me about that.
PHELPS-ROPER: So I mean it goes back to Westboro’s understanding of what it means to love, right? So, love thy neighbor, the first time that
appears in the Bible is Leviticus 19, Versus 17 and 18.
And it says “Thou shalt not hate thy brother in thine heart but thy shall in any wise rebuke him and not suffer his sin upon him. Thou shalt not
revenge or bear any grudge against the children of thy people but thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.”
So for us, that was a very clear indication, so it says you shouldn’t hate your neighbor, but you should rebuke him when you see him sinning, right?
The idea is, and the comparison the church would always make is, if you see somebody, like wandering out into traffic, you have a duty to say, hey,
stop that, you’re going to get hurt.
And it was a similar idea. Like, somebody is committing sinful acts, then God is going to curse them in this life and then send them to hell in the
MARTIN: One of your signs was “God hates your feelings.”
MARTIN: What about within the family? Was that the environment within the house? Don’t have feelings?
PHELPS-ROPER: God hates your feelings applies specifically to any thought or feeling you have that goes against how Westboro understands the Bible.
And so, yes, absolutely, any indication that you did not like what was being required of you was going to be met with severe punishment. And —
MARTIN: And you mean physical punishment.
PHELPS-ROPER: I do mean physical punishment.
MARTIN: You mean being —
PHELPS-ROPER: Yes, and you mentioned earlier, like, how is it that this has taken such hold of their minds? How does that become so deeply
engrained into you?
And part of it is, because as a child, it is physically beaten into you. And that is not something that, you know, it’s something that my family has
long denied. It was far worse for my mom’s generation than it was even for me, and even, you know, for my siblings and me.
I would use the word abuse, although it’s still hard to use that word to acknowledge it. But that’s, you know, eventually, fear of God replaces
fear of pain. Fear of hell replaces fear of that physical pain.
MARTIN: When did it start to change for you?
PHELPS-ROPER: I got on Twitter in 2009. And you know, the first — you know, at that point, we were very heavily focused on the Jewish community.
And so, you know, I, with my cousin — you know, she sends me this list of the 100 most influential Jews on Twitter and number two on that list was a
man named David Abitbol who ran a blog called “Jewlicious”. And so he was one of the first people that I targeted.
MARTIN: And by targeted, you mean?
PHELPS-ROPER: I mean I was just sending — it wasn’t a threat or anything. It was tweets — well,
I shouldn’t say — well, it was threatening hell, but just basically saying Jews need to really repent of their sins, you know.
And he mistook the tone of my tweet and said, thanks, Megan, that’s handy with Yom Kippur coming out. And so that I made sure — I was new to
Twitter. So my next post, I will make sure I wouldn’t be misunderstood.
I said Jewish customs are dead rote rituals that will take them all to hell. And his response was really, swift, cutting and angry is how I would
And, but almost immediately, his tone changed. He realized that I was sincere, that I really believe that what I was doing was the right thing.
And so, he started making these arguments. He started asking questions, trying to understand where I was coming from. And this was happening not –
– it was happening with David. It was also happening with quite a few other people.
David’s specific role that early on was that he found after about a year of conversation, he found the first internal inconsistency in our ideology.
And there was no answer from the Bible to explain it.
MARTIN: What was it? Do you remember?
PHELPS-ROPER: Absolutely, yes. I’ll never forget it.
He was asking about one of our protest signs that was calling for the death penalty for gays. And you know, he said — first, he quoted the New
Testament, where Jesus says let he who is without sin cast the first stone.
He was like, didn’t Jesus say? And I said, yes. We’re not casting stones. We’re preaching words.
That’s how we always answer that. And he said, yes, but you’re advocating that the government cast stones, which was, like kind of set me back for a
And then he said, and also, didn’t your mother have your oldest brother out of wedlock? And I said, yes, and she repented of that sin. And so she
doesn’t deserve that punishment.
And he said, yes, but if she had been executed, she wouldn’t have had the opportunity to repent and be forgiven, so why are you advocating the death
penalty for these people? Why are you trying to take away this opportunity to repent?
And so, those two arguments, those two things, like addressed, you know — we had these responses, these canned responses. And we really believe that
they seem to be, you know, correct answers. And then he showed the inconsistency there.
MARTIN: What was the tipping point that made you feel and believe that you had to leave?
PHELPS-ROPER: The first contradiction that David found, that was extremely destabilizing for me, right? It was, like I said, it was the first time
that I had come to realize that we could be wrong. And then also within the church, this group of men decided that they were the ones who should be
ruling the church, that they should be the ones in these leadership positions.
And so, they just literally — it was like overnight, they just took over. It was without — there was no vote. The way that Westboro has always
operated was that everything had to be done, you know, with unanimity.
So if anybody disagreed, if anybody thought that we shouldn’t take this action, we wouldn’t. So, the fact that this group of men just took over,
and then they started doing things that I believed were unscriptural.
So, for instance, photo-shopping themselves into pickets that they had not actually attended. So it was all to get attention for the message, right?
Because remember, for them, that’s the only goal is to publish this message that is the truth of God.
MARTIN: For you to contemplate leaving, I mean, that must have been devastating. I don’t know any other way to describe it. I mean how did
you finally decide that you had to leave?
PHELPS-ROPER: So, I come to this understanding that I had this list of things that I believed were wrong and unbiblical, unscriptural. And you
know, eventually, when I realized it wasn’t just these few things, I came to believe we were just people.
Like, I had always seen us as this divine institution that God himself was leading, Jesus Christ himself was leading for a Baptist Church. And when I
came to believe that that wasn’t the case anymore, you know, there was a very brief moment where I thought, could I pretend to go along with this
just so I could keep my family?
And almost immediately, no, there is no chance that I am going to keep doing these things that I understand are wrong, that are devastating to
other people. And this was one of the things that after I left, David was instrumental after I left to helping me realize that there were things I
could do to repair, to make amends.
He taught me about this concept in Judaism called tikkun olam which means to repair the world. He said you and your family have added to the
brokenness in the world and you have a duty as much as you can to find a way to repair some of it.
And that was this really hopeful moment, that I don’t have to — in fact, running away and hiding doesn’t change anything. It doesn’t do anything to
convince my family to change their ways and it doesn’t help any of the people that I spent all those years hurting.
MARTIN: Do you have any relationship with your family now?
PHELPS-ROPER: My family, they cannot have anything to do with us. They believe that, you know, their duty is to deliver me to Satan for the
destruction of the flesh.
MARTIN: So, are they praying for your death the way that they prayed for other people’s deaths?
PHELPS-ROPER: I think maybe. I don’t know about my parents initially. I will say, this is something, this praying for people to die thing, that’s
something that I came to believe was unscriptural.
And for years, I made these arguments to my family, in writing, privately in letters that didn’t get responses and in interviews. And for a while,
they just doubled down. Eventually, they came to stop doing it.
So, I mean, there are several instances like that of things that I came to believe were unscriptural and from the outside have been reaching out to
them, trying to find ways of helping them moderate, to change their minds on these issues so that they don’t do as much damage to other people.
MARTIN: How can you reach out to them, though, when they won’t talk to you?
PHELPS-ROPER: It’s very one-sided. It’s basically me writing.
But the thing about — one of the wonderful things about Twitter is that it gives me a window into what they’re thinking, what they’re preaching, how
things are changing. And so, that’s my window.
That’s how I know how things are, you know, what’s happening there. And where I can — I’m basically doing what David did for me, except they’re
not, you know, they’re not answering.
MARTIN: Do you still love them?
PHELPS-ROPER: I do, absolutely. Absolutely. And I’m sure they are frustrated with how I show that love now and that I am out here basically
trying to dismantle this thing that they have come to build.
But you know, I do, I love them, I care about them. I understand that they’re well intentioned, that they’re trying to do what they believe is
And for me, that’s a hopeful thing, right? Because that is something that I can — if we can find a way of reframing it, helping them see outside of
this doggedly, persistently closed system that they were raised in, again, that there’s hope for change.
MARTIN: Do you still have faith? And if so, in what?
PHELPS-ROPER: I’m not religious anymore. But I absolutely am a believer in humanity, in the power of human connection, in the idea of grace.
You know, people had grace for me when I seemed not to deserve it the most. And the fact that they were able to suspend their judgments long enough to
have those conversations with me completely changed my life.
And it turned me — so, now instead of me being out there with Westboro creating new victims, I’m now, again, working for healing and change to try
to repair some of that damage. That is huge, and it all came from that little bit, that willingness to suspend judgment, to become curious to
realize that I had been raised in this, that it was — you know, that grace, I really believe in it.
So, I will say I’m not religious anymore, but I absolutely still feel like a believer in so many ways.
MARTIN: Megan Phelps-Roper, thank you so much for talking with us.
PHELPS-ROPER: Thank you.
(END VIDEO TAPE)
AMANPOUR: And that’s a positive note to end on. That’s it for now.
Remember, you can follow me, Michel and the show on Twitter. Thank you for watching “Amanpour and Company” on PBS and join us again tomorrow night.