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Oath Keepers Leader: I was Answering Trump's Call; Report Reveals Details About White Supremacists in Military; Texas Doctors Fear Winter Storm Will Lead to new Spikes in COVID-19; Texas Homeowners Struggle to Repair Damage from Broken Pipes; Reopening Schools Amid Pandemic is Global Challenge; Mars Rover Captures Red Planet in High Definition. Aired 4:30-5a ET

Aired February 25, 2021 - 04:30   ET




UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They took over the Capitol. Overran the Capitol.

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The radical right wing Oath Keepers celebrated on social media the violent attack against what they falsely called a stolen election.

If that was a big day for Jessica Watkins from Ohio, so was her day in court, asking to be set free while awaiting trial. CNN has now confirmed 27 current or former members of the military are facing charges. An Army veteran, Watkins is accused of conspiracy, obstructing an official proceeding, destroying property and more.

She denies it all. Says she believed she was answering the call of President Trump and providing security for VIPs.

But the main argument from her lawyer, she fell prey to the false and inflammatory claims of the former president, his supporters and the right wing media. However misguided, her intentions were not in any way related to an intention to overthrow the government but to support what she believed to be the lawful government.

Those claims have not yet been fully argued in court. Another hearing is set for later this week.

FOREMAN: They're essentially arguing she was in an alternate reality. Is that a reasonable defense?

CARRIE CORDERO, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: In my judgment, it will not be persuasive. Not only was it insurrection, but it also was violence in pursuit of a political objective which is domestic terrorism.

FOREMAN (voice-over): Others are showing up in court, too. Among them, Douglas Jensen of Iowa, the man in the QAnon shirt seen chasing down Officer Eugene Goodman.

William Chrestman associated with the Proud Boys and implicated in alleged conspiracy. Houston cop Tam Pham who resigned from the force and says he went to the Trump rally to see history. And Pennsylvania policeman Joseph Fischer who has been suspended, accused of fighting Capitol police officer. He allegedly told his boss, no regrets.

The courts do not appear to be applying any consistent standard in terms of who goes free and who stays locked up. And some that are made are being reversed just a short while later. In short, the prosecutions so far are very messy. And as the actual trials begin, they could get even messier.

Tom Foreman, CNN, Washington.


KIM BRUNHUBER, CNN ANCHOR: A new Pentagon report shows just how active white supremacists are within the U.S. military. The report, which was obtained by CNN, gives recommendations for how to spot extremists and prevent them from serving. CNN's Oren Lieberman explains.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The cover-up was I want to say six total sessions.

OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): The ink can hide the symbols of extremism. But the damage runs far deeper.

DAVID BROWN, REDEMPTION INK: When he first came in and showed us the work that he had, I think everybody jaw kind of hit the floor.

LIEBERMANN (voice-over): At Redemption Ink in Colorado Springs, Dave Brown has covered more than 70 extremist or hate-inspired tattoos. More than 20 he estimates were military. And he has a wait list of 635 people.

BROWN: We have covered everything from portraits of the founding fathers of the KKK to swastikas. I've covered up a human trafficking branding.

LIEBERMANN (voice-over): The army veteran camouflages the tattoos of hate for reformed extremists. But these ideologies and their symbols are still spreading in the military. Tattoos can be a calling card for white supremacists and extremists in the military, a way to grow their own ranks in secret amidst a nationwide surge in white nationalist activity.

But according to a Department of Defense report on extremism obtained by CNN, some of the recruiting tactics are more brazen and more open. One example in the report, a military member and co-founder of the neo-Nazi group known as Atomwaffen Division told another member that he was open about everything with his friends at training. They love me too because I'm a funny guy, he wrote in a message.

The Defense Department determined that others find each other through obscure fascist symbols on t-shirts or simply connect on social media and messaging apps. U.S. troops are primary targets for many extremist groups who want their training, their combat experience and the legitimacy they bring to an organization.

The report found that members of one far-right extremist group shared military manuals including an army manual on IEDs, improvised explosive devices, on the encrypted messaging app known as Telegram. The Capitol riots of January 6th put a spotlight on military extremism.

A CNN analysis has shown that at least 27 people facing federal charges in connection with the riot are current or former members of the military. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin has made the fight against domestic extremism one of his top priorities.

LLOYD AUSTIN, U.S. DEFENSE SECRETARY: This tears at the fabric, very fabric of cohesion, and it's important for us to be able to trust the men and women on our left and right.


LIEBERMANN (voice-over): Extremism has been a problem in the military for decades. Austin says he believes the number of extremists in the military is low but there is no data to back up his assertion.

AUSTIN: I know.

LIEBERMANN (voice-over): Austin has ordered a review of policies on extremism. But extremism expert Heidi Beirich says this will take time.

HEIDI BEIRICH, GLOBAL PROJECT AGAINST HATE AND EXTREMISM: This is a massive management task and it's not going to be something that's done very easily at all.

LIEBERMANN (voice-over): The military has strict legal limits on the screening and background checks it can do of applicants and service members. Deeper, more intrusive investigations require working with the FBI, a key recommendation of the DOD report. Beirich says the military needs a better screening process to root out extremism before it enters the ranks.

BEIRICH: I would say you need to fix your screening procedures immediately. Social media accounts need to be taken a look at not just voluntarily but seriously. You need a functioning tattoo data base for your recruiters. And they need to be trained in the signs of white supremacy.

LIEBERMANN (voice-over): Even beyond the challenges of rooting out domestic extremism within active ranks there's the issue of veterans. More than 18 million of them. Who are also prime targets for domestic extremists.

LIEBERMANN: Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin's first big move when it comes to domestic extremism is ordering that military wide stand down or review of policies and procedures in place already, to deal with extremism.

Crucially that also includes discussions at all levels of the military. For example, the Navy has already put out some guidance on this, saying it has to review the Navy's core values, the oaths of office, as well as the rules that are already in place.

In terms of the discussions, Austin has said it's also an opportunity for military leaders to listen to what their troops have to say to them about either experience with domestic extremism or about ideas on how to tackle it. One of the parts of this that's also very necessary is the data which is fundamentally lacking at this point about how widespread this problem is and where specifically it exists.


BRUNHUBER: Well, still to come, schools in session but all too often still not in person, and that could be having a big impact on all students, but some could be affected more than others. We'll tell you how next. Stay with us.



BRUNHUBER: The U.S. is now one step closer to adding a third vaccine to its fight against COVID-19. The Food and Drug Administration says Johnson & Johnson's vaccine is safe and effective. Now an advisory committee will meet Friday and could green light emergency use authorization. Vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna are already in use in nearly 66.5 million doses have been administered across the U.S.

But even amid the hope comes a reminder of the great loss during this pandemic. California has just become the first state to surpass 50,000 deaths from COVID-19.

The pandemic combined with another problem is creating a crippling crisis in Texas. Texas has had one of the highest rates of COVID infections of any state -- second only to California. And last week's ice and snow only made a difficult situation much worse. CNN's Miguel Marquez reports from Houston.


MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Tania Delacruz's oxygen levels dropped, and her temperature shot up on the coldest night in South Texas.

MARQUEZ: How much more complicated or difficult was it to deal with that given that you had no electricity, no water and all that stuff?

TANIA DELACRUZ, DEVELOP COVID-19 SYMPTOMS DURING STORM: It was pretty bad because even though you would try to cover up with all the blankets that you know, you could find, and I was still feeling cold.

MARQUEZ: So you had chills.

DELACRUZ: Yes. And then the cough, I mean, the colder it is the more prone the attacks come. MARQUEZ (voice-over): Graciano Lopez was on oxygen recuperating from COVID-19 at home, then his electricity went out, then the batteries on his oxygen machine.

When I don't get oxygen, he says, to the floor I go.

Sandra Avida (ph) is on the mend. Now she is worried about three other family members who have COVID-19.

For two days my family had to rent a hotel just to stay warm, she says, and I was here and all I could do was worry about my kids.

Houston's United Memorial Center a hospital CNN has twice visited as the pandemic raged is seeing fewer patients today. One concern, the storm may produce another spike in cases.

DR. JOSEPH VARON, CHIEF MEDICAL OFFICER, UNITED MEMORIAL MEDICAL CENTER: They didn't care about COVID. We have a bunch of shelter that were open to keep people warm. And you know that a shelter is a giant petri dish. So although I do expect the next two days were going to have a small spike in the number of cases.

MARQUEZ (voice-over): Like many hospitals, UMMC lost power and water, pipes burst, but staff worked right through the worst of it. Anita Pandey's home is still unlivable, her family now with relatives.

ANITA PANDEY, CHIEF NURSING OFFICER, UNITED MEMORIAL MEDICAL CENTER: Looking at those patients we are actually looking towards us to make sure we take good care of them even though they knew we had an emergency, make sure we use support 100 percent and provide both medical and emotional care was above my own personal concern.

MARQUEZ (voice-over): Alethea Juarez's husband just got over COVID-19.

ALETHEA JUAREZ, HOME DAMAGE BY BURST PIPES: This was our master bedroom. Our master bathroom. And our two walk-in closets.

MARQUEZ (voice-over): And like so many Texans, now this.

JUAREZ: When we came home, we discovered a water fall right here and it also had collapsed in my closet, the light ballast was hanging down, sheetrock was down, everything in my closet was destroyed.

MARQUEZ (voice-over): Home after home across nearly the entire state damaged by frozen and burst pipes. We met Mike Philips four years ago on a boat in flooded Houston neighborhoods after hurricane Harvey. He says this is worse.

MIKE PHILIPS, KHI RESTORATION: It's widespread across Texas and no one was spared with busted pipes whether you lived in Lubbock, Texas or you live here in Houston, Texas we all experienced the same problems.

MARQUEZ (voice-over): Miguel Marquez, CNN, Houston, Texas.

(END VIDEOTAPE) BRUNHUBER: Middle schools in New York are opening their doors for the

first time in a long time today as the city hits milestones for COVID testing for teachers and vaccinations for students and educators.

And kids in New York aren't alone. School children in Germany is headed back this week too. And the U.K. Prime Minister has made it clear that schools are the priority for England's reopening. He's promising in person learning on March 8th.

Boris Johnson may be worried about stats like these. Data shows a drop in student attainment or how well they learn across virtually all subjects and ages. Disadvantaged students fell even further behind. Now about 7 months behind their peers. But there's this positive key finding. Scores suggest students caught up considerably from September to December when most schools were open between lockdowns.


All right, let's find out what these numbers mean and how they reflect a problem facing students not just in the U.K. but around the world.

Simon Burgess is a professor at the University of Bristol's School of Economics. Thank you very much for joining us. I want to ask you about this, you know, learning loss. It isn't unexpected and it isn't just applicable to the U.K., right. I mean one study here found that American students will probably lose 5 to 9 months' worth of learning by June and the problem is particularly bad in schools that serve mostly students of color. So tell us what's -- what are the main reasons behind this learning loss?

SIMON BURGESS, PROFESSOR, SCHOOL OF ECONOMICS, UNIVERSITY OF BRISTOL: Yes, thank you. I mean it's a very difficult situation. I mean, I think being locked out of school essentially, we're relying on the parents and online facilities to try and learn, and that's been only very actually effective. As you say, it's typically the neighborhoods with more disadvantaged families that have struggled the most to engaging any learning. And while a lot of people talk about -- sorry.

BRUNHUBER: Yes, I want to ask you about that. Why is it so bad in poor areas or schools that predominantly have students of color? What is it that they aren't able to sort of overcome that that other, you know, parents and students have been able to?

BURGESS: So I think one thing that the people always talk about is sort of access to technology, to laptops, to connectivity and to faster internet speeds, and that's definitely an issue. But I think there are other things that matter at least as much. I mean, one simple but obvious thing is just space. You know, if you're a family with two parents, both struggling to work at home, maybe they've got to do zoom meetings the whole time, and two or three kids trying to learn, you need a lot of room. You need a lot of space. With something like a table or a desk and a quiet space to study and poorer families just don't have that many rooms.

BRUNHUBER: Yes. So, you know, obviously getting kids back into school is key here, but failing that, what else can be done? Obviously, you can't do much about the space issue.

BURGESS: No, you can't, so I think getting children back into school is absolutely key. And I think governments around the world have kind of recognized that. That's the main priority that we have to -- that we have to engage in. And just by the way, I mean, it's really important for learning loss, but it's also really important for mental health and we're seeing some really worrying statistics from different countries suggesting serious deterioration in children's mental health.

BRUNHUBER: Yes. But -- so, I mean, obviously we'll want to get them into school, but that doesn't address sort of catching them up with all of that learning loss that these studies are suggesting. I mean, some studies here have shown that of all the things we can do, like summer school, after school care, extended days and so on, tutoring has the biggest impact. But obviously, what works for under privileged students in rural Pennsylvania, say, might not work for under privileged African-American students in Philadelphia. So what are the challenges here in scaling up a program that would help everybody, you know, in a country or in countries like the U.K. or here in the U.S.?

BURGESS: Now you're absolutely right. I think small group tutoring is probably the most promising route to catching up this learning loss. We know from evidence around the world that it is effective. It does work if you can get a kid down maybe groups of three, four, five children and a tutor, that will raise your learning. But as you say, the key question is, the big challenge is, how are we going to do that at the kind of huge scale that we're going to need to catch up this learning loss? And I think there's no doubt that will be a massive logistical challenge.

But as I was hearing on your news a few minutes ago, and the same in my country, our governments are vaccinating tens of millions of people twice really quickly. That's a massive logistical challenge that we've risen to, to protect all people and our sick people. I think we should really try and do the same thing for our young people to try and repair the damage to their life chances and to their well-being.

BRUNHUBER: Yes, absolutely. I mean, it's going to be expensive but the cost of not doing anything is huge. I have some figures here. The learning loss could cost the economy up to $28 trillion and lower the students' lifetime income by 3 percent. So obviously, something needs to be done here urgently. That's all the time we have. But I really thank you for coming on. Professor Simon Burgess in Bristol, England, we really appreciate it.

BURGESS: Thank you.

BRUNHUBER: You're watching CNN NEWSROOM. Coming up, the trip costs a lot, but the view, well it was worth it. NASA's newest pictures of the red planet next. Stay with us.


(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BRUNHUBER: For NASA's new Mars rover, Perseverance is paying off. A treasure trove of 3D images and videos now being streamed back to earth. NASA released this panoramic view of the 3.9 billion-year-old dry lakebed where the rover landed last week. And it shows the crater's rim and cliff face of an ancient river delta in the distance. Perseverance will search for signs of ancient life on the red planet for two years. Rovers cameras will help NASA scientists decide which rock samples to bring back to earth on a future mission. Amazing stuff there.

A group of online creators with too much money and not enough to do came up with a fun idea. Strap a paint ball gun to a robot dog and let strangers control it. And, well, you'll see the experiment didn't go exactly as planned. But safe to say robot dogs won't be on the frontlines any time soon. Here's CNN's Jeanne Moos.


JEANNE MOOS, CNN NATIONAL NEWS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It was billed as Spot's rampage. Take a paint ball gun, attach it to Spot the robo dog and let folks at home trigger it using their phones.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The way that a military person might pilot a drone.


MOOS (voice-over): The head of an art collective called Mischief wanted to show how a robo dog could be sinister, not just loveable. The way Boston dynamics portrays its $74,500 creation, so loveable it tugs at our heart strings when someone tugs on Spot's tail. To demonstrate its durability so the art collective bought one, and let viewers control him as he bumped into replicas of art objects like a drunken sailor at a Brooklyn art gallery.

Viewers took turns shooting paint balls at the walls. Spot trampled an already broken statue in his most wanton display of destruction. His creators at Boston Dynamics were not happy. This art fundamentally misrepresents Spot and how it is being used to benefit our daily lives. The art collective says Boston Dynamics suggested that they ditch the paint ball gun and in exchange made an offer.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There are ways that we could sweeten that deal and that could be like giving you two more of these robots.

MOOS (voice-over): Free! But in the end the so-called war dog was his own casualty. Spot wound up sprawled on his side. He kept collapsing. Be right back, the live stream kept saying. But after about an hour Spot no longer came back and began running instant replays of his glory moment instead of this.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You'll just be able to wreak havoc.

MOOS (voice-over): Spot wreaked havoc on himself. Viewers kept trying to trigger paintballs, but Spot had painted himself into a corner on his side twitching. Instead of Spot's rampage, it was Spot's whimper. See Spot drop. Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.


BRUNHUBER: I love it. That wraps this hour of CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Kim Brunhuber. "EARLY START" is next.