Nearly five years ago we interviewed Michael Moore on the day his documentary, "Bowling for Columbine," was released nationwide. At the time, the nation was fixated on a series of sniper attacks in Washington, D.C., Virginia and Maryland. We talked to Michael Moore on October 18, 2002 — one week before the snipers were caught. [includes rush transcript]
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AMY GOODMAN: We’re having some difficulty with our live broadcast, which has forced us to go back into our archives. And so, we are turning to Michael Moore. We interviewed him nearly five years ago, Michael Moore, on the day his documentary, Bowling for Columbine_, was released nationwide. At the time, the nation was fixated on a series of sniper attacks in Washington, D.C., Virginia and Maryland. We talked to Michael on October 18th, 2002the, one week before the snipers were caught.
MICHAEL MOORE: In my film, you know, instead of being afraid of the big, bad Wizard of Oz, we’re sort of pulling the curtain back a bit and revealing that it’s not a big, bad Wizard of Oz; it’s just a man, and he’s a bit frightened himself and frightened of me, in the sense that he, you know, runs away, right in the middle of the interview. You know, he just kind of gets up and leaves, leaves me there.
AMY GOODMAN: Talk about what you left.
MICHAEL MOORE: Well, you know, we were just left sitting there, basically. And I just—you know, I’ve got this picture of this six-year-old girl who was shot to death by a six-year-old boy in my hometown, and so I decided just to leave it on his doorstep just as a memorial to her and for—hopefully maybe he’ll take a look at this. This was a human being. And a few months after she died, he had come to Flint and held one of these rallies again, you know. And so, that’s what happened.
AMY GOODMAN: You also got a chance to see Dick Clark.
MICHAEL MOORE: Yeah.
AMY GOODMAN: He didn’t invite you in his van with him.
MICHAEL MOORE: No, no. Well, the reason we went to see Dick Clark—and this is where the film, as I said at the beginning, isn’t really so much about guns, per se, but it’s all these underlying causes and reasons.
And the six-year-old boy who had found this gun in Flint and took it into school, his mother didn’t see him do this, because she was in the process of being evicted. She was forced, as part of this welfare-to-work program, to ride a bus, an 80-mile round trip every day to a wealthy suburb in Detroit to work for minimum wage, which still wasn’t enough to pay the rent. So she was being evicted, and she didn’t want to take the kids out of school, so she put them at her brother’s house, where the child found the gun. But, of course, the mother isn’t there, because the mother is up at 5:00 in the morning to get on this bus and is back at, you know, 9:00 or 10:00 at night and doesn’t see her kids.
And in the movie, basically—and, oh, where she works, in this wealthy suburb, is at a restaurant owned by Dick Clark. And so, I just wanted to go and ask him how he felt about, you know, that people are paid minimum wage at his restaurant and still can’t afford to pay the rent, and that they are down there having to work in this other place. The Fudgery in the mall there was her second job. She had two jobs, this woman, and still, you know, couldn’t pay the bills on this. And, you know, would he join with me to try and correct this system or get rid of this welfare-to-work program? And, of course, he was very upset that I was on a—you know, came to see him. But, you know, to me, you see, I consider these to be acts of state-sponsored violence. This is state-sponsored terrorism against the poor.
And, you know, the difference between us and Canada, I think, is they’ve structured their society where their ethic is: "We’re all Canadians. We’re all in the same boat. We need to help each other. If one of us gets sick, that person should have a doctor, and we should pay for it. One of us loses our job, we should help that person." I mean, that’s their attitude. If you hit upon hard times in a place like Canada, you’re embraced, you’re not a pariah.
We, though, our ethic is: "Every man for himself. Pull yourself up by your bootstraps. You know, me, me, me, me, me. And if you’re poor, to hell with you!" I mean, we want to beat up on our poor. We want to punish them for being poor. I don’t know what this is about us. We just—that so many Americans believe that the way to deal with poverty is to punish those who happen to sadly be in that situation. And as a result, I think that we’re—we’re a worse country as a result of it. And we create this climate of violence by this very—this kind of mean-spiritedness that we allow those in power to exert upon those who are the less fortunate.
AMY GOODMAN: We are talking to Michael Moore, and his new film is Bowling for Columbine. You can just tell by the title it’s a controversial film, and it’s coming out at an incredible time in this country. Right now, the people of Greater Washington, D.C. area, Maryland, Virginia, are being terrorized by a sniper on the loose. The headlines are: "He Kills for Fun." One is "Who Next?" Another is "I am God." When I saw these—"Who Next?" "I Am God"—at first I thought—it was soon after the U.N. speech of Bush. I thought the media had all turned around. "Who Next?" I thought about people in the rest of the world—
MICHAEL MOORE: Right.
AMY GOODMAN: —which, really, it’s a kind of global sniper politics.
MICHAEL MOORE: Right.
AMY GOODMAN: It’s the randomness of the shooting. Who is he, meaning Bush—
MICHAEL MOORE: Right.
AMY GOODMAN: —going to target next? Yet, you have this crisis—
MICHAEL MOORE: Right.
AMY GOODMAN: —in Washington with a sniper who’s taken out one person after another. And you have gun politics in this country.
MICHAEL MOORE: Right.
AMY GOODMAN: At the same time this is all happening, Bush, behind the scenes, is working against ballistic fingerprinting.
MICHAEL MOORE: That’s right.
AMY GOODMAN: Can you explain that?
MICHAEL MOORE: Yeah. Well, yeah, I have many thoughts about this. Well, first of all, the ballistics fingerprinting. We have the technology so we can determine what exact gun a specific bullet comes from. And they use this in other countries. Bush and the NRA have stopped any sort of ballistics fingerprinting so that they can help, you know, to find whoever this person is or where the gun came from.
AMY GOODMAN: Because the bullet would—you know on the bullet which gun it came from it.
MICHAEL MOORE: Right. And, of course, anything that gets near to where they believe is going to violate somebody’s Second Amendment right, it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter, even if it is a criminal or a murderer or whatever.
I mean, you know, I honestly believe, if you explain these two things to the average American, they would turn against Bush and Cheney so fast. If you tell them—tell just, you know, the person you’re working with today who doesn’t listen to, you know, Pacifica or whatever, just the average Joe who might, you know, not be aware, they don’t read the paper, but if you just tell them—tell them this one fact, that George W. Bush does not believe the police should have the right to discover what gun the bullet—the bullets that are killing these people come from, and that he is trying to protect the Second Amendment rights of the sniper.
AMY GOODMAN: It’s not only—right, not only the Second Amendment rights. Ari Fleischer said the other day—
MICHAEL MOORE: The so-called Second Amendment rights.
AMY GOODMAN: —you protect, because this would invade the privacy of the shooter. The privacy of the shooter.
MICHAEL MOORE: The privacy. Yeah, just repeat Ari Fleischer’s words over and over again to everybody you know, that they are concerned about the privacy of the murderer. And if you explain that to people, they will like, "What?" You know, and then back it up. Show them the article. Show them—print it off the website, whatever. Just tell people this.
Here’s the other thing you can tell people. John Ashcroft, to this day, is still prohibiting the FBI from taking a look at the background check files for the gun purchases, because the FBI wanted to do, mm, just a simple thing: to find out if any of the 19 hijackers or their associates had purchased any weapons in the two years leading up to September 11th. It seems like a normal kind of police investigation thing you’d want to do. You know, what were they up to? You know, did they buy any weapons? Is there still anything else going on? Ashcroft says to the FBI, "No, no. The Brady Bill prohibits this. You are not allowed to violate the privacy rights of the 19 hijackers to find out whether or not they had purchased any weapons." If you explain this to the average person, again, just that they will not even allow to look at the background—and because the Brady Bill, they had to make a compromise with the NRA, that doesn’t allow the sort of looking into these background check files.
They have violated the rights of so many people in this country in the last year or so, people they have rounded up—Arab Americans, Arab-looking people, people that are in jails right now with no charges, no trials. We don’t even know who they are. We don’t know their names. We don’t know how many. We don’t know the exact prisons they’re in. I mean, they—there has been a random and massive shredding of the civil liberties and civil rights of so many people since September 11. And the PATRIOT Act and all the things that that evil bill does in terms of upending our Constitution, that’s OK. All that stuff’s OK. But God forbid that we look in the background check files to find out if the 19 hijackers had purchased any weapons, that—oh, that would be a horrific violation of the rights of these wonderfully deceased hijacking terrorists.
I mean, again, if you just explain that to people, it reveals the fact that these people in charge of the country right now, who are there not at the will of the people, but because they stole the election and they stole the White House and are sitting there illegally—they are squatters on federal land. If you just explain this to people, they get it. They get it. And, you know, it just—it shows just how important the work is that everybody is doing right now to stop Bush and his cronies, because everywhere you turn—and like you said, Amy, it’s not just about the sniper. You know, we’re the national sniper when it comes to going after countries like Iraq, I mean, the latest enemy, the latest boogieman that we’re now going to drop bombs on, you know, this country, or whatever the hell it is they’ve got planned. Innocent people are going to die.
You know, we all live in New York, right? I mean, we all live—we’re here in New York City. And we’re all—you know, I think if you ask most New Yorkers, everyone is just kind of waiting for the other shoe to drop. We don’t think that we’re done with this yet, right? Who in New York tonight is afraid of Saddam Hussein or believes Saddam Hussein is going to harm them? I mean, this is truly one of the biggest lies being perpetrated on people, and it’s so distracting, because we should be dealing with so many other things, whether it’s from things that could be a real threat to people’s lives here or the larger threats that we don’t deal with, the fact that we’ve got 40 million people who live in poverty and nearly 50 million who don’t have healthcare and 40 million adults who can’t read and write on a fourth grade level. I mean, that’s—to me, those are the things that we should—that are going to unravel the society.
AMY GOODMAN: The kinds of issues you’re talking about, clearly, the way you talk about them very much bothers The New York Times. Your book, Stupid White Men: And Other Sorry Excuse for the State of the Nation, which is a, what, best-seller on their list for how many—
MICHAEL MOORE: Yeah, it’s been on, I think, 32 weeks now on their list and now the largest-selling nonfiction book in America this year.
AMY GOODMAN: So what was the review of your book like?
MICHAEL MOORE: They haven’t gotten around to running it yet. There’s been no review. They thought, by ignoring it, it would just go away. And the more they ignored it, the more it just kept going up the list. So, actually, I’m grateful that they never reviewed it, because, you know, if they had reviewed it, it probably just would have killed the whole thing.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, they did review Bowling for Columbine, didn’t want to make the same mistake again. And I would like to read a little bit from it. And here, this is by A.O. Scott, and they clearly don’t like when you make the international connections. "Though he seems"—this is you—
MICHAEL MOORE: Yeah.
AMY GOODMAN: "Though he seems to be hunting for a specific historical cause for events like Columbine, Mr. Moore, when it serves his purposes, is happy to generalize in the absence of empirical evidence and to make much of connections that seem spurious on close examination. Several times he notes that the Columbine shootings occurred on the same day as the heaviest United States bombing of the Kosovo war. The more you think about this coincidence, the less it seems to mean."
He then goes on to say, "He visits"—well, I don’t know if it’s a he, A.O. Scott.
MICHAEL MOORE: A.O. is Tony Scott, yeah.
AMY GOODMAN: Oh, OK.
MICHAEL MOORE: Yeah.
AMY GOODMAN: OK. "He visits a Lockheed Martin"—this is you—"He visits a Lockheed Martin plant near Columbine that manufactures missiles and pesters a company flack about the links between the factory’s products and the shootings. 'I guess I don't see that connection,’ the man says, standing in front of the company’s wares. Mr. Moore and the camera clearly take him for a fool: another stupid white man doing his job. But you don’t have to be a big fan of nuclear weapons to think that he might have a point.
“This exchange is followed by a montage, accompanied by Louis Armstrong singing 'What a Wonderful World,' of American foreign policy misdeeds from the 1950’s to the present. Their relevance is, again, arguable, but by now it should be clear that Mr. Moore is less interested in argument than in provocation. The last image is of the airplanes smashing into the World Trade Center, accompanied by this text: 'Sept. 11, 2001: Osama bin Laden uses his expert C.I.A. training to murder 3,000 people.'
"The idiocy of this statement is hardly worth engaging; it is exactly the kind of glib distortion of history that can be taken as a warrant to dismiss everything Mr. Moore has to say."
MICHAEL MOORE: Well, there you go. Right there. I mean, you know, it’s funny. This guy, this critic here, he actually—he tells—he says at the beginning, everybody in America should see this film. I mean, he really—he clearly likes the film. He’s just—but you read into it, he’s just so bummed out. It’s like, "Mike, it was really good when you were talking about the school shootings and that guns are bad and the NRA and all that. But why’d you have to go talk about, you know, people in other countries that we’re shooting? What’s that got to do with it?" I mean, it’s like, you know, kids dying in America, that’s good to take a look at that; kids dying in other countries, what’s that got to do with this movie?
I felt bad for him when I read this, you know, like because there is this great scene in the film, and it came from me—I was kind of shocked by this fact I found out when I got there, that the number one private employer in Littleton is Lockheed Martin, the world’s largest weapons maker. And it was just an honest question to the PR guy at Lockheed Martin: Do you think the kids who go to Columbine say to themselves, "Hmm, let’s see, Dad spends his day making weapons of mass destruction, you know, and they think that’s the way to solve problems; why can’t I solve my problems that way?" And it seemed like a legitimate question to ask the guy.
And the guy says, "No, we don’t see any connection between the two of these things, you know, or the fact that Rocky Flats, the largest plutonium-making place in the world, is just down the road, or NORAD is just up the road. Or, yeah, we’ve got about 10 missile silos around the area here. No, those don’t have anything to do with anything, you know." And it’s like—and then I go—and then his final line, the PR guy from Lockheed Martin, he says, you know, "because the violence these kids did at the school, it’s like, you know, they got mad at these kids, and as adults, with our missiles that we’re building here at Lockheed, we just don’t go drop bombs on people because, you know, we’re mad at them for something."
And it’s just like it just begged, you know, a response. And so, for the next three minutes in the film, I take those, the viewers of the film, through a little journey, to the tune of Louis Armstrong singing "What a Wonderful World," of everything that’s happened in my lifetime, from the overthrow of Mosaddeq in Iran to the overthrow of the democratically elected president of Guatemala, Arbenz, to, you know, all the times where we actually have used violence as a means to our ends as the United States of America.
And he’s offended by the fact, as he says here in this review, that I would dare to mention that Osama bin Laden and his buddies were originally trained by the CIA and given $3 billion to teach them not how to be soldiers, but how to be terrorists, how to commit acts of terrorism against the Soviets, when they were in Afghanistan. And you know what? I guess that’s a bitter pill for some people to swallow. But be that as it may, it’s something that, you know, I’m not going to forget, and I don’t want other people to forget it, that we sometimes, as the Dr. Frankenstein, create the Frankensteins.
And I also point out in the film what we gave Saddam Hussein in the 1980s and how we armed him and how we have allowed $4 billion in aid to go to Saddam and how—you know, these biochemical weapons, or whatever, that they claim that he has, these elements, were all shipped by American companies. There’s a whole list of them you can get. There was a 1994 Senate report, from '85 to ’89, all these chemical things that we gave to Saddam. Reagan and Bush I restored diplomatic relations in full recognition of Saddam in ’85, a year after he gassed the Kurds. They didn't give a damn about that then, because they wanted him to kill Iranians, at the same time Ollie North is setting it up so we can give arms to the Iranians so they can kill Iraqis. And we’re like the puppeteer here, you know, giving arms to both sides to get them to kill each other.
AMY GOODMAN: Michael, we have to break. Michael Moore, filmmaker. His new film, Bowling for Columbine. Stay with us.
AMY GOODMAN: I like your hat, Michael.
MICHAEL MOORE: Oh, thank you. Thank you for this new hat.
AMY GOODMAN: Democracy Now! hat. Michael Moore, filmmaker, with us. In Bowling for Columbine, you’ve got the part with the kids, the victims of Columbine. Talk about this and this whole scene that takes place, that clearly surprises you, as well, from beginning to end, but these two young men now.
MICHAEL MOORE: Are you referring to—which ones? The—
AMY GOODMAN: The kids that were both victims of the Columbine shooting, who then—
MICHAEL MOORE: Oh, right. Yes, the ones who are still alive, right.
AMY GOODMAN: Right.
MICHAEL MOORE: Well, the night before the killings at Columbine, Amy, the two kids who did the shooting were able to go into the local Kmart and buy hundreds of rounds of ammunition for about 17 cents a bullet. So, there are a number of kids who are paralyzed or still recovering from their injuries from these bullets. Some of the bullets are still inside them.
So I went and visited this one boy—his name is Richard Castaldo, and he’s in a wheelchair for life and still has the Kmart bullet inside of him—and another boy, Mark Taylor. And I just—I asked them. I said, you know, "I’m going back home to Detroit, and, you know, the Kmart world headquarters is just outside Detroit. How would you like to go with me and return the merchandise?" And they said, "Yeah, that’s a great idea." So we flew to Detroit and went to Kmart and said, "We’re here to return the blue light special. It’s inside their bodies. Oh, and by the way, we’re not leaving until you remove all the ammunition from your shelves that can be used in assault weapons and handguns." And so, we just essentially staged our own little stand-in, sit-in for about five hours.
They sent various people down to try and talk sense to us. You know, they first sent the PR woman. She greeted us and told the boys that she hoped that they were shoppers at Kmart, told the one boy who was still standing that she was glad that he was able to stand. And—but nothing happened.
So, that night, one of the boys wanted to go to the local Kmart in Detroit and buy up all the bullets so that nobody could, you know, use them. So we went there, and we just cleared out the shelves.
The next day, we come back with all the bullets that we’d bought at the Kmart, along with the local press, and told them again, "We’re not leaving until you, you know, remove the bullets." And an hour later, they sent down their vice president with a statement saying, "We have decided to"—
AMY GOODMAN: Did you expect this, as she came out?
MICHAEL MOORE: Oh, no way! Are you kidding? I’m so used to rejection. I mean, it’s like—you know, that goes back to high school. It’s a long story, Amy. You don’t want to hear it. It’s a sad, sad, sad state of affairs.
But no, just you could see the look on my face in the movie, because it’s like, this woman is going, "Within 90 days, all ammunition will be removed from our shelves." And I’m going, "What? Could you say that again?" I had her repeat it, because I couldn’t believe that, you know, we were this successful within 24 hours. And sure enough, within 90 days, from all 2,300 stores, they removed what—usually they have about two million rounds of ammo.
AMY GOODMAN: And you said, "Even from the assault weapons?"
MICHAEL MOORE: Yeah, yeah, from the assault—for assault weapons and handguns.
AMY GOODMAN: Mm-hmm.
MICHAEL MOORE: You can’t buy ammunition now.
AMY GOODMAN: And how did the young men, one in the wheelchair and one who’s—
MICHAEL MOORE: Oh, geez! It was—
AMY GOODMAN: —moving along with bullets in him.
MICHAEL MOORE: Oh, it was so empowering. I mean, it was like—that they made this happen, you know, because if it had been just me and the camera, it just would have been the usual "Let’s give Mike the boot," you know. But they could not.
You know, the thing I always hope for, because I believe—and this is the sort of weird optimism in me—that all human beings have a conscience and all people actually, at their core, are good, and somewhere along the line they learn to not be good or they learn to forget that they have a conscience. And I just thought, if the people running Kmart could see these boys, one of them in a wheelchair, that somehow it would trigger something inside them, that they would, you know, just be moved to the point where they would want to do the right thing, instead of taking the position of being the good German: "Well, we didn’t shoot these boys. I mean, we just sold the bullets, you know, to a couple of 17-year-olds. And it wasn’t our fault."
And remarkably, what happened was, is that they were affected by it. And the guy who was the buyer who actually buys the ammo from the ammo companies came up to me. He had tears in his eyes. He said, "I have a boy this age. I couldn’t sleep last night." I mean, they were truly affected by this. And the power of that moment was so incredible.
And I can’t wait for kids, teenagers, to see this film, because it really—it really shows how, you know, just sometimes by doing just a little bit, by going that extra distance toward something you believe in, you can actually make something happen.
AMY GOODMAN: Have you shown Bowling for Columbine in Columbine, in Littleton?
MICHAEL MOORE: Tomorrow night. Tomorrow night is the premiere there. We’re going out. It’s the closing night film of the Denver Film Festival. And they’re going to have a town hall in the afternoon, and the boys are going to be there and a couple of the parents who lost children. And I think it’s going to be a pretty interesting and powerful day there.
AMY GOODMAN: You’re taking your Kmart campaign, it’s going Wal-Mart now. Can you talk about that?
MICHAEL MOORE: Well, on our website, we’ve got—you know, we’ve got Wal-Mart up there for—there’s a petition, and we’re going to try and get them to remove the ammo from their shelves. It was amazing, this, in the—we put that up last Friday, and within six hours—we had three million hits within six hours. It just blew the server out on our website. And it’s just been incredible.
I mean, this is, again, why—I mean, what I’ve seen this year with the book and on the book tour, the response to that and to the film last weekend, when it opened in New York and L.A., it—I’m telling you, Amy, there are so many people out there, so many millions of people, that believe in all these things that we talk about, whether it’s the stuff in the film, whether it’s the stuff on your show. You know, we are not—this is not a minority of people who believe in these things. I truly believe the majority of the country, that we are with them, and they are with us, on so many, if not most, of these issues. It’s just that they’re not organized. It’s just that there’s no place for them to go. There is no leadership, especially in the so-called, you know, liberal wing or whatever even of the Democratic Party. It’s just there’s no place to turn there. And that’s just—but it doesn’t mean the people aren’t there.
I’ve just—I’ve seen this personally. I mean, I’ve just personally witnessed this. And, you know, I’ve gone out with Ralph this year, Ralph Nader, to, you know, various cities, and still thousands of people showing up. We went down to Tampa, Florida. Seven thousand people showed up there. And, you know, I mean, the crowds are not in the Berkeleys and Madisons and Ann Arbors. I mean, the crowds are always there, and that’s great. But we were getting, you know, 7,000, 6,000 people in places like Tampa; Olympia, Washington; Denton, Texas. I mean, just incredible.
And my website, from last January, is getting like 70,000 hits a month, which I thought, geez, that’s a lot of people. You know, I was like, this is really—it’s a good thing to have a website, right? And last month, the numbers came in. It was 17 million hits in one month. In one month. Now, that’s not because it’s a great website. I mean, it’s OK. You know, it’s got some color pictures on it and stuff.
But my point is, is that there are millions of Americans, desperate, hungry, they don’t like what’s going on. They get it now. They see the corporate crooks that have put Bush in that White House. They don’t support this war against Iraq. They don’t buy anything that’s being told to them by these people. And they’re just desperate for some place to go.
And I’m telling you, for anybody who’s listening, anybody—if you’re a local organizer, if you’re, you know, active in your community, there couldn’t be a better time than right now to get out there and organize people in the places where you haven’t organized, to really reach out to people who have seen, you know, their pension funds evaporate, who have seen their 401(k)s gone. I mean, middle America, the people that assume that there wasn’t—they knew there wasn’t going to be Social Security there, so they stupidly, sadly put their money in the stock market or whatever, because they’re desperate, because they just want to make sure there’s going to be something there when they’re old. And now there’s not going to be anything. And they’ve been so ripped off and lied to, and they’re so angry right now, there couldn’t be a better time to organize people. And I just want to encourage listeners to go out and do that and to think about running for office yourself, or find that one person in your area that we should be running for city council or school board or Congress or whatever.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, speaking of running for Congress, you say you’re going out to Denver and to Littleton. Rocky Mountain News is reporting the Republican Congressman who represents Columbine has been criticized for taking a $1,500 contribution from the National Rifle Association, Congressman Tancredo...
AMY GOODMAN: And you have been listening to a broadcast of Democracy Now! from five years ago. Because of technical difficulties that we have had on today’s broadcast, we had to dig deep into the archives, and we brought you this discussion we had with Michael Moore in October of 2002, when his documentary came out, Bowling for Columbine, that ultimately won the Academy Award, where he takes on the terrible massacre that took place at Columbine, where he also takes on the issue of gun control.
The beginning of today’s broadcast, we brought you live New York Congressmember Carolyn Maloney, who herself was dealt a serious blow when her husband and her son were shot in the Long Island Rail Road killings that took place in 1993, her husband killed, her son gravely wounded.
Tomorrow we will continue to deal with this issue. Again, the Virginia Tech massacre that took place on Monday, 33 people dead, 32 students and professors and the gunman then taking his own life.
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