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Iraq War Veteran on Protesting Trump: We Do Not Want to Be Used as Props for Hate

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Presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump is facing scrutiny this week after questions emerged over what happened to millions of dollars he allegedly raised for veterans at a fundraiser in January. Trump held the fundraiser on January 28 after he refused to take part in a debate organized by Fox News. At the time, Trump claimed he had raised over $6 million, but a recent Washington Post investigation revealed that only about half of the money was actually paid out to veterans groups. Soon after the Post article was published, Trump began cutting more checks. More than a dozen veterans’ groups reported receiving money from Trump over the past week. On Tuesday, Trump held a press conference to defend his actions, and lambasted the press. Outside the press conference, members of the group Vets Vs. Hate protested. We speak to one of them, Iraq War veteran Julio Torres.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump is facing scrutiny this week after questions emerged over what happened to millions of dollars he allegedly raised for veterans at a fundraiser in January. Trump held the fundraiser after he refused to take part in a debate organized by Fox News. At the time, Trump claimed he had raised over $6 million, but a recent Washington Post investigation revealed that only about half of the money was actually paid out to veterans’ groups. Soon after the Post article was published, Trump began cutting more checks. More than a dozen veterans’ groups reported receiving money from Trump over the past week. On Tuesday, Trump held a press conference to defend his actions.

DONALD TRUMP: I have raised a tremendous amount of money for the vets, almost $6 million, and more money is going to come in, I believe, over the next little while, too. But I’ve raised almost $6 million. All of the money has been paid out. … I have been thanked by so many veterans’ groups throughout the United States. One gentleman called me up recently crying, that out of the blue he got a check for $100,000. But I have been thanked by so many groups, great veterans’ groups. And, by the way, outside you have a few people, they’re picketing. They’re sent there by Hillary Clinton, and they’re picketing that the money wasn’t sent. The money has all been sent.

AMY GOODMAN: Donald Trump went on to attack the news media for raising questions about the money. At the news conference, Trump called CNN’s Jim Acosta, quote, “a real beauty” and ABC News reporter Tom Llamas a “sleaze.”

DONALD TRUMP: I’m not looking for credit, but what I don’t want is when I raise millions of dollars, have people say, like this sleazy guy right over here from ABC—he’s a sleaze, in my book—you’re a sleaze, because you know the facts, and you know the facts well.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: When a reporter asked Trump if this is how he plans to conduct a White House news conference if elected president, Trump replied, quote, “Yes, it is.” Meanwhile, in New York City, veterans rallied outside Trump Tower to denounce Trump for using them as campaign props. Perry O’Brien, who served as a medic in Afghanistan, criticized Trump’s rhetoric.

PERRY O’BRIEN: I’m here because when I served in Afghanistan, I served with women, I served with Muslims, and I served with Latinos—all groups that Donald Trump has maligned and even threatened. All of those folks actually donned the uniform, they actually served their country. As far as we can see, as veterans and in the military community, Donald Trump only seems interested in serving himself.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, for more, we’re joined by another member of Vets Vs. Hate who was outside Trump Tower and the news conference that Trump held, Julio Torres. He’s an Iraq War veteran currently serving in the military as a chaplain’s assistant. He is also a graduate student at the Union Theological Seminary here in New York.

Julio Torres, welcome to Democracy Now! Your thoughts on what happened inside the building as you were protesting outside? Why were you there?

JULIO TORRES: Well, I was there because my fellow veteran brothers and sisters decided to take a stand against Trump’s hate messages. You know, inside, he was talking about the $6 million he raised and making arguments for that, but it’s not about the money. It’s about the integrity he has shown—or lack of integrity. And so, myself and others stood up against that. We don’t want to have our Muslim brothers and sisters or Latino brothers and sisters used as scapegoats, nor do we want to be used as props for hate.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: So could you talk about that, because you’ve suggested it’s not just Trump who uses veterans as props or pawns, but also Clinton?

JULIO TORRES: Well, my understanding with Clinton is that she has used—has made scapegoats out of people in the past, and I have yet to hear her apologize for it. And so, that upsets me greatly, when she calls black people “superpredators,” when she’s against immigrants looking for work, and she mentions undocumented—you know, and the troubles they have. And some veterans support her, but myself, I do not. But we’re against any of the hate speech made by any of the candidates.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about what you did in Iraq, Julio?

JULIO TORRES: Well, so, at the time, I was in military intelligence as an analyst, mostly on a computer, with trends analysis and trying to figure out when—when we may get attacked by any of the groups out there. The times I interacted with Iraqis or when they were helping as janitors, very nice people. They just want to live in peace.

AMY GOODMAN: And when Donald Trump said he would allow no Muslims into the United States now?

JULIO TORRES: That was—that is upsetting to me. This is a country based on immigrants, and he’s scapegoating a whole religion and several—many nations for the problems of some. And that is upsetting.

AMY GOODMAN: Let’s go back to July, when Donald Trump came under intense criticism from within his own party after he spoke disparagingly about the war record of Republican Senator John McCain, who was held as a prisoner of war in Vietnam for over five years. During an event in Iowa, Trump said he did not view McCain as a war hero.

DONALD TRUMP: He’s not a war hero.

FRANK LUNTZ: He’s a war hero.

DONALD TRUMP: He is a war hero—

FRANK LUNTZ: Five-and-a-half years in a POW camp.

DONALD TRUMP: He’s a war hero because he was captured. I like people that weren’t captured, OK? I hate to tell you.

FRANK LUNTZ: Do you agree with that?

DONALD TRUMP: To you, he’s a war hero. He’s a war hero because he was captured. OK?

AMY GOODMAN: Unlike McCain, Trump did not serve in Vietnam. He received four student deferments between ’64 and ’68. Julio Torres, your response to what he was saying?

JULIO TORRES: Well, I think that’s shameful to say that he’s not a veteran because he was captured.

AMY GOODMAN: Not a hero.

JULIO TORRES: Or not a hero, excuse me. And I think it’s—you know, who could be a hero in a war, to begin with? But at the same time, to say that he was captured and is not a hero—everyone is a hero, you know, that has done service for their country.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Well, speaking about your own military service in Iraq, initially you supported the war in Iraq, but then came to change your mind. Could you explain why?

JULIO TORRES: Well, so, at the time, I believed everything that the government was saying. I was—turned out to be foolish, in retrospect. When I found out that the weapons of mass destruction was a lie, I had a heartbreaking moment, what they call moral injury, because I—especially as a military intelligence, I saw the reports, I thought they were legitimate, and so I thought, “Oh, the government was telling the truth.” But no, then I found out the government was telling lies. And I had to look deep into everything else that was going on and the possible repercussions of these lies. And so, then I started getting more involved with social justice work, you know, going into the religious ministry hopefully in the future. And it just made me reflect on all of that, and I couldn’t be supportive of the war effort.

AMY GOODMAN: As we wrap up, your feelings about this election season, and what you’re encouraging people to do?

JULIO TORRES: Well, as a member of Vets Vs. Hate, I’m encouraging anyone and everyone to stand up against any of the hate messages. I personally support one candidate in particular, but I’d rather not mention it to tarnish the reputation. We’re a partisan group. But veterans should not be used as a prop for hatred. We stand with our Muslim brothers and sisters no matter what.

AMY GOODMAN: Julio Torres, we want to thank you for being with us, Iraq War vet, member of Vets Vs. Hate, currently serving in the military as a chaplain’s assistant. He’s a graduate student at the Union Theological Seminary here in New York.

When we come back, we go to Minneapolis to find out about the killing of a 24-year-old African-American man, Jamar Clark. Stay with us.

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“The System Is Set Up to Protect Officers”: Activists React to Lack of Charges in Jamar Clark Case

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