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Podcast: France Canceled Climate Protest—But Not Weapons Expo—After Paris Attacks

In the aftermath of the attacks in Paris, numerous American Muslims or U.S. citizens, who have brown skin, live in fear of what might happen if they go out in public. There have been several reported hate crimes. One mosque was vandalized by a ripped up Quran covered in feces. Right-wing protesters armed with shotguns and rifles stalked a mosque in Irving, Texas, on November 21.

Passengers are informing gate agents, who work for airlines like Spirit or Southwest, that they are afraid to fly with brown people. Airlines and airport security are enabling this racist hysteria by removing them from flights. In one case, even though the individuals were completely harmless to other passengers, they were booked on another flight. The Islamohpobia of passengers won out.

Journalist Todd Miller is this week’s guest on the “Unauthorized Disclosure” podcast. He recently returned from France, where he attended a major weapons expo called Milipol and witnessed the French security state’s crackdown on climate activists during COP21.

Miller recalls being chased by French police, who enforced a ban against demonstrations instituted in the wake of the Paris attacks. He describes the detestable scene at the expo just days after the attacks, where companies were eager to use the Paris attacks and even exploit the fear of refugees to sell their products. He also highlights his recent reporting at the U.S.-Mexico border on how the U.S. Border Patrol has turned indigenous American land into a war zone.

During the discussion part of the show, Rania Khalek and Kevin Gosztola announce a year-end fundraiser to raise money for Season 3 of the “Unauthorized Disclosure” podcast. The hosts also talk about the San Bernardino shooting and how the media swarmed the shooters’ home and effectively tampered with the scene. Finally, the hosts share their reviews of Spike Lee’s new film, “Chi-Raq.”

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Below is an edited partial transcript of the conversation with Todd Miller.

KHALEK: You were in Paris after the state of emergency went into the effect. The climate summit is happening, and climate protesters were prevented from marching by French authorities using the state of emergency that was put into place because ISIS attacked Paris. Why don’t you start off by talking about that aspect of what you witnessed?

MILLER: I was there at the Place de la République on November 29. That was the date the massive climate march was planned by primarily the kind of grassroots international organizations, who have a very urgent voice when it comes to climate change and seeing some of the immediate potential devastation that could happen across the globe if this isn’t addressed right away during the Paris climate talks.

There was this huge march planned. Of course, the attacks happened in Paris two days before I arrived to this huge weapons convention, which I’ll discuss in a bit. But one interesting thing about the weapons convention was one of the first things I saw was then national police giving demonstrations right at the front in this demonstration area. Then I didn’t really pay attention to the national police all dressed up in their riot gear, pads everywhere and helmets and all the accessories of that robocop everyone is used to these days.

KHALEK: A friend of mine always says you know who is dressed for a riot or who is going to incite a riot by those who are dressed for a riot.

MILLER: I think that’s pretty much what happened on the 29th. Mind you, the 29th was the day before the summit began. The summit began on the 30th and it’s going til the 11th. It was the 29th and that kind of dressing up for the event happened well before any sort of violence began.

One interesting aside is NBC News had been there in the République plaza talking every day and reporting every day from this plaza. On this very day when all the kind of riot police were showing up in massive numbers—and mind you too, they said the climate march couldn’t happen because they couldn’t provide adequate security for the marchers—but yet here they are. It just seemed the place was inundated with these police. Who starts packing up? NBC News. So they’re gone.

When the real state of emergency conflict tension moment is about to happen, NBC News packs it up and goes. I meant to go and interview the people packing up but didn’t get around to it. But there was a bunch of other things happening, a big human chain. This was also in the same area where the attacks happened. All the different cafes were around this area, and the Bataclan, the music venue, was a quarter mile down the road.

For a while, nothing happened. There was a human chain. In the early afternoon, there was a number of organizers who said we’re going to defy the emergency ban on the march and they began to march. And also there were a number of organizers of the march put on house arrest with the state of emergency laws before this happened.

The tempt to disorganize this march was very active. By the time the march started, unfortunately I was not in the plaza when it started. By the time I got there, the police were already surrounding the plaza and would not let anyone in. We tried every way to get in. We tried to go underground through the subway, but right when we were coming up they were closing the doors. Finally, you get up there and it’s obvious there is something really violent happening. I could only see it from afar at first.

The police didn’t like this march and confronted the marchers. A confrontation started and tear gas was launched. This was when I start seeing the cops not only dressed in the same gear as at Milipol—That’s when I see them pulling out their crow control devices, the tear gas launchers and what not, that were also very present at the Milipol at the weapons conference. So, tear gas was wafting through the air and you could see it covering this monument where people are paying homage to victims of the attacks.

Police then trampled all the flowers and candles put around the same monument. They started closing in. I was on the outskirts, but they started coming after all of us on the outskirts. I had to run several times. All I was doing was taking pictures, you know. Just taking pictures.

KHALEK: Well, yeah, MSNBC left. Or NBC left.

MILLER: Yeah, NBC left. All that is left is the alternative reporters. They would run and march and start beating on their shields. There’s a couple times they came in full sprint. When you see these guys coming up in full sprint—

KHALEK: The police?

MILLER: Yeah. I didn’t know what to do, in between should I run or should I photograph this. So I did both. I ran and photographed at the same time. But it turned out they would select people and run after them and grab them.

KHALEK: That was what I saw in Baltimore, which is weird. That’s insane. Well, look, they’re really giving it to ISIS. [joking]

MILLER: Yeah, it’s really obvious. [still joking]

KHALEK: It’s not like the state of emergency in the immediate days after the attacks?

MILLER: No, they’re still targeting communities out of the public eye. There are Muslim communities on the outskirts of Paris. There’s all kinds of reports of raids into different places throughout the whole country.

KHALEK: I think over 2,200 raids into businesses, schools, people’s homes, mosques, have been raided. It’s actually really frightening to read reports out of France right now.

So, moving on to the weapons convention, this convention is massive. I saw you tweeting photos from the convention that were really funny in a really bad way. One was an advertisement for a drone but said something like you can guard your castle or your yacht. But for the less funny parts, if I was a weapons industry titan, I would be thrilled an attack happened two days ago and now I’m going to go sell my wares to international buyers.

Tell us what the weapons expo was like and also the issue of refugees came up as maybe a selling point. I’m sure the Paris attacks came up as a selling point, and you also said climate did.

MILLER: First of all, I’ve been planning to go to this for a long time. The fact that the attacks happened—I thought, well is this going to be canceled? And no. Again, the climate march is canceled but not the weapons convention. And they said don’t worry you’ll have extended security. You get in there and they had layers of security and you had to open up your jackets to make sure you didn’t have explosive belts.

KHALEK: They were showing ISIS they’re not going to let them scare them out of doing a weapons convention.

MILLER: Yeah. And I’ve been to a lot of these, and this is basically one of the biggest homeland security conventions because it is all about what they call internal security—homeland security, border control. I’ve been to a lot of these over the last five years or six years. It is three days after the attacks so it is still completely fresh, completely shocking. And there is this convention that’s just buzzing with people.

At first, it seems like did the attacks even happen? It’s like there is all this synergy happening and all these people going from booth to booth. There’s this taser with this fake dinosaur walking around the entire convention. It was symbolic because they said law enforcement was outdated. And it was almost I couldn’t deal with it.

What I tried to do is go to all the sessions. The private industry was given lots of platforms. It didn’t take time to see companies pitch their products and mainly internal surveillance products for homeland security or the border.

One company, Verint—I didn’t even know what they were selling because the company gets up and has this slide show. The first slide she shows is a picture of the refugees and then a picture of the Paris attackers right in the same slide. [Note: It’s an Israeli company that helps the NSA spy on U.S. citizens.]

KHALEK: That means that woman went back to her slide show and edited it and modified it because of the attacks.

MILLER: She actually said I made it three weeks ago but now I have to show you—And she showed clips from this movie with Scarlet Johansson, like this little part where she has the ability to look into the crowd and gets profiles of every single person in the crowd. So she looks into the crowds and all these profiles of every in the crowd show up on the screen.

KHALEK: Isn’t that from the movie Her?

MILLER: Yeah, and then they determine which ones are the threats. They’re pretty much this is what we want to do with Verint. Then she explains what the company does and goes back to this whole refugee, people are crossing the borders and there is no border control. We need to have every time they cross the border they have to leave a digital footprint.

For the full 38-minute interview with Todd Miller on an array of border security issues, go here.

Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola is managing editor of Shadowproof. He also produces and co-hosts the weekly podcast, "Unauthorized Disclosure."