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We Are Not the Terrorists: Black Lives Matter Co-Founder Speaks Out About Attacks on Movement

Web ExclusiveJanuary 16, 2018
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Extended web-only interview with Black Lives Matter co-founder Patrisse Khan-Cullors and journalist asha bandele about their new book, When They Call You a Terrorist: A Black Lives Matter Memoir.

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

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!,, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González, with Part 2 of our discussion with the authors of a new book that is out today, When They Call You a Terrorist: A Black Lives Matter Memoir. The book is written by Patrisse Khan-Cullors, who, together with her sisters in activism, Opal Tometi and Alicia Garza, coined the term “Black Lives Matter.” And we’re joined by asha bandele, co-author of this book, senior director at the Drug Policy Alliance, author herself of a number of books, including the award-winning The Prisoner’s Wife.

In Part 2 of this discussion, well, let’s start where some might have thought we should have started Part 1. Why did you call the book When They Call You a Terrorist?

PATRISSE KHAN-CULLORS: It was asha’s idea.

AMY GOODMAN: asha, actually, I was sitting behind you at Erica Garner’s funeral—


AMY GOODMAN: —up in Harlem. And it was then that you told me about the book and about this brainstorm you had in the middle of the night.


ASHA BANDELE: Right. It was—we had thought to call the book All the Bones We Could Find, which is taken from an Octavia Butler novel, Parable of the Sower. And I think I just kept getting offended that this beautiful young woman, who I knew—and I certainly remembered, too, what it meant to be a young activist—that you would be called a terrorist. It was offensive to me. It was offensive to me as an organizer. It was offensive to me as a mother, as a big sister, when I knew what terrorism really looks like. And I had experienced it myself. And Patrisse certainly has—the number of death threats, the kind of attacks that Patrisse and Alicia live under today, is unconscionable. And I can’t imagine how she sits here today with such grace and elegance and beauty and that smile, because it’s really—it’s unrelenting.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Could you talk about those threats and the attacks on you and the movement?

PATRISSE KHAN-CULLORS: Yeah. I think what we’ve seen over the last four-and-a-half years, as this movement has grown, is a continued, you know, backlash from the right and “alt-right.” And the first time, you know, we were called terrorists, I remember seeing our names on Bill O’Reilly’s show, and our faces. And I thought that that was frightening, because I know who watches Bill O’Reilly, and I know what kind—

AMY GOODMAN: Or watched him.

PATRISSE KHAN-CULLORS: Who watched, exactly. We got him off air.

AMY GOODMAN: And it was women who took him down.

PATRISSE KHAN-CULLORS: Exactly. And so, I knew that—who Bill O’Reilly would empower: people like a Dylann Roof. And then I would, you know, see our names on Breitbart. And it was the first time I’m learning about Breitbart and who’s behind this. And then governors start calling us and elected officials start calling us terrorists and start calling Black Lives Matter a terrorist organization. And, you know, some don’t know this, but we’ve also been sued, several times, because of the Dallas shooting, saying that we incited the riots there, or because of the Baltimore uprisings.

AMY GOODMAN: That was the killing of the police officers—

PATRISSE KHAN-CULLORS: Exactly, the killings.

AMY GOODMAN: —by a man who, as you point out in the book, the one organization he belonged to.

PATRISSE KHAN-CULLORS: Was the military, the U.S. military. That’s who trained him.

AMY GOODMAN: He had come back from Afghanistan.


AMY GOODMAN: Let me play some of the comments that have been made about Black Lives Matter. These clips were featured on the CBC’s Fifth Estate.

BILL O’REILLY: Hi. I’m Bill O’Reilly. Thanks for watching us tonight. How Black Lives Matter is killing Americans, that is the subject of this evening’s talking points memo.

RUDY GIULIANI: I think the—the reason that there’s a—there’s a target on police officers’ backs is because of groups like Black Lives Matter, that make it seem like all police are against blacks. They’re not.

PETE HEGSETH: But this isn’t raising awareness.


PETE HEGSETH: This is stoking—this is stoking fears. It’s stoking hatred. This is a movement that has devolved into fearmongering, hatemongering, in so many places, had an opportunity to raise some legitimate issues. Instead, we’re talking about, you know, killing cops.

AMY GOODMAN: A leaked memo from the FBI’s Domestic Terrorism Analysis Unit claims so-called black identity extremists pose a threat to law enforcement. The memo, from August 2017, reads, quote, “The FBI assesses it is very likely Black Identity Extremist perceptions of police brutality against African Americans spurred an increase in premeditated, retaliatory lethal violence against law enforcement and will very likely serve as justification for such violence.” That, an FBI memo. asha bandele?

ASHA BANDELE: You know, Amy, I really want to say, too, that the majority of police shootings in this country happen at the hands of white men. And in most cases where police are at the most threat is when they’re dealing with white men. And so, you know, it’s interesting. I took my daughter to see 1984 when it was on Broadway earlier this year, and it reminded me—I hadn’t read the book in a long time—about how we just turn language around and sort of the Reagan-era disinformation and the purposeful putting out of things that are just abject lies. And so, there are no “black identity extremists” who are a threat to this nation. There are white identity extremists who are—


AMY GOODMAN: I mean, we just read this—read this headline today.


AMY GOODMAN: In Tennessee, a member of the white supremacist gang the Aryan Nations was arrested for the alleged shooting and wounding of a police officer last Thursday. The alleged shooter’s name, Ronnie Lucas Wilson.

ASHA BANDELE: There’s a whole bunch of them with three names like that out there, who are—look at what happened in Las Vegas. I don’t know what that was about—

PATRISSE KHAN-CULLORS: Look at what happened in Charlottesville.

ASHA BANDELE: —or if that was white supremacy. But I just thought, “My god, my god, I mean, it’s just unbelievable.” And the fact is that we have to get the truth out, right? The truth is that the threat to police does not come from the black community. The threat from police—it certainly doesn’t come from black activists. It certainly doesn’t come from us. It comes from, typically, aggrieved, angry, crazy—whatever we want to call it—white men. And so, this rewriting of history is why it’s so important to tell these stories, and not just when they call you a terrorist. We want a thousand flowers to bloom. Otherwise, history will be told only by those who are lying. And so we have to document what really it means to live in this time and in this place.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Patrisse, I was wondering, in terms of the growth of the Black Lives Matter movement, obviously, it was a spontaneous movement that spread across the country.


JUAN GONZÁLEZ: But then, when the question of bringing organizational form to it comes about—


JUAN GONZÁLEZ: —that’s a lot tougher situation to deal with. I’m wondering how you assess the attempt of the movement to try to become more cohesive at the national level.

PATRISSE KHAN-CULLORS: I think it’s both exciting and a challenge, whenever something grows out organically, to then try to create an institution of it. It really depends on the people who are in it. And so, part of the work of Black Lives Matter, the global network, right now is to take stock of the last four-and-a-half years. What have we done? What have we liked? What have we not liked? And what does it look like to be an actual institution? I deeply believe in black institutions. I think we need to invest in them. I think we need to create them. And we need black institutions that are willing to challenge and fight back in this—specifically this current moment, against an administration that is completely undermining and decimating the communities most marginalized.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, as this is the first day of your book’s publication, you guys are in great demand, and we’ve got publicists texting us wildly: “They must leave at this moment.” I want to thank you for spending the hour with us.


AMY GOODMAN: To see Part 1 of our discussion, go to Patrisse Khan-Cullors, co-founder of Black Lives Matter, asha bandele, award-winning journalist, have just published the book When They Call You a Terrorist: A Black Lives Matter Memoir, the book that they wrote. This is Democracy Now! Go to for Part 1 of our discussion. I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González.

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