From the Archives: Michael Moore on Gun Violence & "Bowling For Columbine"
In October 2002 filmmaker Michael Moore visited the Democracy Now! firehouse studios to talk about his latest film, "Bowling for Columbine" about the Columbine High School massacre and violence in the United States.
Following last week’s mass shooting in Aurora, Colorado, Moore told Democracy Now!, "I fear anthropologists and historians will look back on us and simply say we were a violent nation, at home and abroad, but in due time human decency won out and the violence ceased, but not before many, many more had died and the world had had its fill of us."
TRANSCRIPT OF 2002 INTERVIEW
AMY GOODMAN: His bestselling book, Stupid White Men: And Other Sorry Excuses for the State of the Nation, which was almost pulped by the publisher after September 11th, is in its seventh month on the New York Times bestseller list and is now in its unprecedented thirty-first printing.
Bowling for Columbine is his latest film. In France, at the Cannes Film Festival, it was the first documentary in competition in forty-six years. The jury awarded it a special 55th anniversary prize. A limited release in Los Angeles and New York resulted in sold-out theaters last weekend on both coasts, and United Artists is now planning a 700-900 theater release nationwide. The film is being more broadly released around the country today. Maybe you’ve seen it already, it just opened this week, Michael Moore’s new film, Bowling for Columbine.
MICHAEL MOORE: I’m here to open up an account.
BANK TELLER: OK, what type of account would you like?
MICHAEL MOORE: Umm, I want the account where I can get the free gun.
BANK TELLER: You do a CD, and we’ll hand you a gun. We have a whole brochure here that you can look at, and once we do the background check and everything, it’s yours to go.
MICHAEL MOORE: Right, right. OK. Alright, well, that’s the account I’d like to open.
BANK TELLER: We have a vault which at all times we keep at least 500 firearms.
MICHAEL MOORE: Five hundred of these you have in your vault?
BANK TELLER: In our vault.
MICHAEL MOORE: Wow.
BANK TELLER: We have to do a background check.
MICHAEL MOORE: At the bank here or...?
BANK TELLER: At the bank, which we are a licensed firearm dealer.
MICHAEL MOORE: Oh, you are?
BANK TELLER: Mm-hmm.
MICHAEL MOORE: You’re a bank and a licensed firearm dealer. What do I put for race? White or Caucasian?
BANK TELLER: Caucasian.
MICHAEL MOORE: Caucasian. Oh, I knew you were going to make me spell the — Cau…ca…sian. Is that right?
BANK TELLER: Yes.
MICHAEL MOORE: Thank you.
BANK TELLER: I don’t think that’s the part they’re going to be worried about.
MICHAEL MOORE: Umm, have you ever been a adjudicated mentally defective, or have you ever been committed to a mental institution? Well, I’ve never been committed to a mental institution. What does that mean, have I ever been adjudicated mentally defective?
BANK TELLER: It would be something involved with a crime.
MICHAEL MOORE: Oh, with a crime. Oh, OK. So if I’m just normally mentally defective —
BANK TELLER: Yeah.
MICHAEL MOORE: — but not criminal —
BANK TELLER: Exactly.
BANK TELLER 2: There you go, Mike.
MICHAEL MOORE: OK, thank you very much. Wow!
BANK TELLER2: I have one personally.
MICHAEL MOORE: That’s a nice action.
BANK TELLER 2: It is, and it’s a straight shooter.
MICHAEL MOORE: You got one of these?
BANK TELLER 2: It’s a straight shooter, let me tell ya.
MICHAEL MOORE: Wow! Sweet. Well, here’s my first question: Do you think it’s a little dangerous handing out guns in a bank?
AMY GOODMAN: Bowling for Columbine. Filmmaker Michael Moore joins us for the hour in the studio. Welcome to Democracy Now!, Mike.
MICHAEL MOORE: Well, thanks for having me here again, Amy.
AMY GOODMAN: It’s great to have you here. For people who don’t know Michael, documentary filmmaker, television producer, author, former editor of Mother Jones magazine, and The Voice in Flint, Michigan, in 1989 produced his first feature-length documentary, Roger & Me, which looked at the devastating effect of the loss of the GM factory on Flint, Michigan and the citizens there. According to the LA Times, it remains the highest grossing narrative documentary in the history of American film. His bestselling book, now out, Stupid White Men: And Other Sorry Excuses for the State of the Nation, which was almost pulped by the publisher after September 11th, is in its seventh month on the New York Times bestseller list and is now in an unprecedented thirty-first printing, probably at this point it’s gone beyond.
Bowling for Columbine is his latest film. In France, at the Cannes Film Festival, it was the first documentary in competition in forty-six years. The jury awarded it a special 55th Anniversary Prize.
And I’m glad you’re back here in the United States, Michael.
MICHAEL MOORE: Thank you.
AMY GOODMAN: Wow! So it is breaking box office records already. Talk a little about Bowling for Columbine in this time, in this day, in the United States.
MICHAEL MOORE: Well, the film, probably I should say right from the beginning, is — really isn’t about guns or Columbine or school shootings. I mean, it is the jumping-off point in the film, but what I wanted to say in this movie goes far beyond that. I wanted to take a look at why — you know, when the NRA says, "Guns kill” — “Guns don’t kill people, people kill people," I sort of — I came to believe that they were partially right when they say that, except I would alter it to "Guns don’t kill people, Americans kill people,” because we’re the only ones who do this. And we do it not just personally and locally, we do it globally.
And I wanted to take a look at the connections between the kind of local and personal violence to our global violence and why we always want to just run in and, you know, bomb another country because we don’t like what they’re doing. So that is sort of the journey through the film.
And I wanted to know, too, why Canada, who turns out to have — they’ve got like seven million guns and ten million homes — why they have all these guns laying around, and they don’t shoot each other, and what is it about their society that’s different from ours. And so, that became, you know, the sort of mission of the movie, but through my particular eye and lens in the way that I, you know, am wont to look at things.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, we have to break, and we’re going to come back after this musical interlude. Michael Moore is our guest. We’re going to hear some clips from the movie through this hour.
And also, you were on Crossfire, and that was quite a moment. Usually on Crossfire, they say “from the left” and “from the right,” and the guest has a protector, either the guy on the right or the guy...righter. But in your case, they were both punching. But you certainly were punching back, and we’re going to go to a clip of that, as well.
We’re talking with Michael Moore, filmmaker. His new film Bowling for Columbine is just out. Stay with us.
AMY GOODMAN: “Cows with Guns,” Dana Lyons, here on Democracy Now!
MICHAEL MOORE: I’ve always felt — I’ve advocated for many years that during deer season, hunting season, that the deer should be armed, so that it would be a fair fight. You know, what is the sport of going after an unarmed deer? You know? I mean, if you want to really make it, you know, a fair and a fun thing, give the deer guns. But nobody could — you know, I never got anywhere with that idea, so...
AMY GOODMAN: Well, we’re going to go back to your movie. We don’t usually play trailers, but we are going to do this one. It sort of puts it all together, has different clips throughout the movies, as — throughout your movie, as trailers do. Michael Moore is our guest for this hour, and his new film out is Bowling for Columbine.
NARRATOR: Michael Moore, America’s favorite whistleblower, the man in everyone’s face, the guy asking the question, “Are we a nation of gun nuts, or just plain nuts?”
STUDENT: My name was second highest on the bomb threat list, which kind of made me mad.
MICHAEL MOORE: Why? Because you didn’t make it to number one?
STUDENT: Could have been kind of like an ego thing there, you know, knowing that I was number one at something.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: I loves my gun, loves my gun!
MICHAEL MOORE: I’m here to open up an account.
BANK TELLER: OK, what type of account would you like?
MICHAEL MOORE: I want the account where I can get the free gun.
BANK TELLER: You do a CD, and we’ll hand you a gun.
MICHAEL MOORE: Well, here’s my first question: Do you think it’s a little dangerous handing out guns in a bank?
NARRATOR: Now, he’s taking aim at America’s most controversial subject.
MICHAEL MOORE: Why do you think we have so many gun murders in America?
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Because everybody’s first reaction is pull the gun out.
NEWS REPORT: The town of Virgin, Utah has passed a law requiring all residents to own guns.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: This is a great place to raise your children.
PRESIDENT BILL CLINTON: There has been a terrible shooting.
MICHAEL MOORE: After Columbine, no one could figure out why the boys had resorted to violence.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Why would kids do this?
MICHAEL MOORE: You don’t think kids say, Dad goes off to the factory every day, he built missiles. What’s the difference between that and the mass destruction at Columbine High School?
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Because I don’t see that connection.
NARRATOR: United Artists presents the sensation of the 2002 Cannes Film Festival and the only film to win a unanimous jury prize,
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: And then Moses himself showed up.
CHARLTON HESTON: From my cold, dead hands!
MICHAEL MOORE: Ten days after the Columbine killing, Charlton Heston came to Denver and held a large pro-gun rally.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: How could the NRA come here? To me, it’s like they’re rubbing our nose in it.
MICHAEL MOORE: Mr. Heston? I’m a member of the NRA. I was wondering if maybe I could talk to you about the whole gun issue.
NARRATOR: Critics are calling it “scathing,” “incendiary,” “hilarious” and “provocative.”
MICHAEL MOORE: Our children get turned into little monsters. But who was to blame?
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: What were the suspects doing the morning of attack? I had heard that they were bowling.
NARRATOR: Bowling for Columbine.
MICHAEL MOORE: Why wasn’t anyone blaming bowling for warping their minds?
NARRATOR: A movie that will have you up in arms.
MICHAEL MOORE: Thank you for not shooting me.
AMY GOODMAN: And that is the trailer for Bowling for Columbine. You are listening to Democracy Now! Filmmaker Michael Moore is our guest.
Charlton Heston, a little part in there, where you go to make an appointment to see Charlton Heston. Amazingly, you get to see him.
MICHAEL MOORE: Yeah, I was — I had already given up on — we tried for two years to get an interview with him, and they just — all his people kept me away. So I decided not to do it. And we were out in Los Angeles shooting some of the other things for the film, and —
AMY GOODMAN: So that gives new meaning to the term "shooting."
MICHAEL MOORE: Yeah, to “shooting,” right. And we were — we checked out of the hotel, a crew and myself, and we were heading down Sunset to the 405 to go to our next location, and one of the people in the crew van said — saw the star map sign on the street, where you can buy maps to find, you know, where the stars live. And she goes, “Oh, let’s get a star map and see if we can find Heston’s place.” I said, “No, those things are tourist traps. They’re not real.” And suddenly everybody in the van’s going, "We want a star map! We want a star map!" And I’m going, “Oh, alright, alright. Pull over.”
So we pulled over, we got the star map. And I really didn’t think this would be his place. You know, just go up there, and we rang the buzzer. And out of this little box comes the voice of Moses. You know, so I jump back. I was like, “Oh, no. What do I do now? I’m supposed to be at the airport.”
It was like — so many times when I’m making a film, it’s the happy accidents where the best stuff, you know, occurs, as opposed to the things that you plan out, you know, far in advance. And I guess that’s true throughout most of life, isn’t it, Amy? The stuff that you’ve worked so hard to plan never turns out to happen, but occasionally you get a few surprises.
AMY GOODMAN: So you make the appointment, and you go the next day, and you see Charlton Heston. I think what’s amazing in the movie is we know about these gun rallies of Charlton Heston as the head of the NRA, but we forget what happened after Columbine —
MICHAEL MOORE: Mm-hmm.
AMY GOODMAN: — forget what happened, one shooting after another.
MICHAEL MOORE: Right.
AMY GOODMAN: Talk about him and what he’s been doing, what these rallies have been.
MICHAEL MOORE: Well, he — they — this is why the NRA is so effective, because they are just — you know, they are so in your face with what they believe in, and their resolve is so strong. Whenever there is a horrible tragedy, a shooting in a place like, say, Columbine, Heston or people of the NRA will actually hold a big pro-gun rally as soon as they can after the shooting to just rub people’s face right in it, to say, “We don’t care that x number of people have died here. We’re going to keep motoring on with our Second Amendment rights. And you’re not going to do anything to stop us from owning the largest assault weapon we want to own.”
And it just — it frightens people. I mean, it makes the politicians cower to them. They don’t represent a majority opinion in the country. The majority of the country, you know, wants gun control. But they’re able to, you know, to play this kind of bully role.
And 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 eighty-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. 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, DC 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 UN 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 nineteen 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 nineteen 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 11th. 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 nineteen 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 at 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, bestseller on their list for how many —
MICHAEL MOORE: Yeah, it’s been on, I think, thirty-two 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: 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 ten missile silos around the area here, 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.
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 seventeen 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 ninety 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 twenty-four hours. And sure enough, within ninety 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 seventeen-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 LA, 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. Two years ago, he agreed not to take donations from the gun lobby.
MICHAEL MOORE: Unbelievable. Well, you know, but you see — and that’s — it’s a story like that, this is our fight, constantly, right? Because the average American reads that, and they give up. They go, OK, they’re all liars. You know, look at that. He said he wouldn’t take contributions, now he’s taking their money, and he’s the guy representing the victims here in that area. And so, people stop voting, and they stop getting involved. We have to take stories like that and say, OK, this guy — what’s his name? You know, Credo?
AMY GOODMAN: Tancredo.
MICHAEL MOORE: OK, he’s gone, OK? He’s history. This guy — you know, if the Democrats — I’m sure they did — failed to put up a real challenger, this is such —- this is the lamest political party ever invented, folks. By the way, I don’t know if we’ve -—
AMY GOODMAN: We have ten seconds.
MICHAEL MOORE: Ten seconds to say this?
AMY GOODMAN: Then we’re out of here.
MICHAEL MOORE: It doesn’t need to be said. We already know it, you know. November 5th, the Republicans should have been given a shellacking. I hope they still get it, but I don’t know if it’s going to come from the lame Democrats.
AMY GOODMAN: The Democrats voted for war, the war resolution.
MICHAEL MOORE: Exactly, that’s what I mean. So people, they feel like they’ve got nowhere to go, and then you have a low turnout, and then more people give up. So we’ve got to find reasons for people not to give up.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, Michael Moore, Bowling for Columbine is his new movie. It is opening all over the country. Thank you very much for being with us.
MICHAEL MOORE: Thank you, Amy, for being here, and thanks for this show.
AMY GOODMAN: And if folks want to get a copy of today’s program, you can call 1-800-881-2359. That’s 1-800-881-2359. Our website is democracynow.org. Michael’s is michaelmoore.com.
Recent Shows More
Democracy Now! host Amy Goodman was a guest Saturday on MSNBC’s "Melissa Harris-Perry," where she joined a panel discussion on voter rights, civil rights and immigrant rights under President Obama.
By Amy Goodman with Denis Moynihan
U.S. shooting spree has left bullet-riddled bodies in its wake, and refocused attention on violent, right-wing extremists.