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One Person Dead After Mall Shooting In Nebraska; Vigil For Eight Killed In Mass Shooting At Indianapolis FedEx Site; Hospitals Nearing Capacity As Variant Surge Hits Michigan; New Information From Treasury Department Seems To Back Up Russian Interference In 2016 Election; American Cities Reeling From Deadly Gun Violence; Vaccine Resistance Among Evangelicals. Aired 7-8p ET

Aired April 17, 2021 - 19:00   ET



PAMELA BROWN, CNN HOST: I'm Pamela Brown in Washington. Welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world. You're in the CNN NEWSROOM on this Saturday. Police and city officials in Chicago and the Minneapolis area are hoping for calm.

But they are bracing for possible violent protests once again tonight but first breaking news from a shopping mall shooting this afternoon in Omaha, Nebraska, another shooting. Police now confirming that one person has died, another is wounded.

That's after gunfire erupted and signed the Westroads Mall in Omaha about noon. Police do not have any suspects in custody yet they are searching for at least two people. It is the second deadly shooting at that mall in recent years.

And then in Indianapolis this weekend, police are going over computers and other electronics they found inside the home of the man who opened fire inside a FedEx facility Thursday night. Investigators say he once worked there. He killed eight people and then himself.

CNN's Jason Carroll is in Indianapolis right now. So Jason, this is so heartbreaking. It is at least the 45th mass shooting in this country and just the past month, how is the community responding and what have police been able to find out so far?

JASON CARROLL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Even with all the shootings, Pamela that have occurred - that have occurred all over the country when it happens in your community. That's when an obviously just really hits home. And that's what the people here in Indianapolis are feeling and experiencing now.

Right now as you can see this vigil is about to get underway. We've got a number of people who started to gather here at this park. Again, eight victims, many of the people here family, friends, co-workers, we've seen some people here wearing orange FedEx T-shirts.

Again, four of the members, four people, four of the victims were members of the Sikh Community. Sikh community feels especially targeted Pamela because as you can, as what we've been learning many of the people who worked at that FedEx facility, were members of the Sikh Community.

In addition to that, there were other victims as well, for others the oldest, 74 years old, the youngest, 19 years old. There were actually two 19 year old victims. I want to bring you right over here to a family that we've been introduced to, again, in this tragedy has hit the Sikh community extremely, extremely hard.


CARROLL (on camera): Hi there, Jason Carroll, I'm told that you wanted to share some of your thoughts and your feelings in terms of how you're holding up during this moment?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's hard for us. Yes, because I just saw her like two days ago. And she was telling us that she's just going to be - she'll be working for the last year. But then he never thought that this thing is got to come?

CARROLL (on camera): Can you just hold up the picture here? And what do you want us to know about her? Tell us what you want to the world to know about the person you loved so much.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He was the most amiable in the family more, most diligent, dedicated. And today, we supposed to have a big celebration. But now we are mourning. We're in grieved.

CARROLL (on camera): This is a picture of her here.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We lost two family members in one day. It's completely devastating for us. We never expected something like this. It's really--

CARROLL (on camera): You know, when these shootings happen, and we've seen them happen all over the country. And I was just explaining that when it happens to you to someone you know, one of your loved ones. It takes on a whole new significance.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It does. It does. We never expected that. You know, they would go to work and we would never see them again. They weren't - my other - one of my aunts. She wasn't supposed to go to work. She was supposed to take the day off. But then she decided oh, well. But let me just go in. You didn't know she was--

CARROLL (on camera): I know this is very difficult. I really want to thank you so much for sharing. Is there anything else that you'd like to say about the people that you love so much?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I mean, we wish they were here with us today. We really do wish they weren't in the middle of this. We never expected that something like this would happen to us. We read about gun violence every single day. It's not acceptable anymore. Something needs to be done about it. Our government, everyone, we need to do something about this.

CARROLL (on camera): Thank you very much. I know it's very difficult. I want to just thank you for your strength in being able to speak to us during this very difficult time while you're mourning. Thank you very much.


CARROLL: So Pamela, again, this is just an example of what we've been seeing and hearing here in this community. People coming together now finally being able to mourn in some ways and do it together. But again, you heard what she said you just never expected something like this to happen.

People have been hearing about these guns, shootings all over the country on a monthly basis, it seems in some ways. And now what's happened here, Pamela?

BROWN: Yes. 45 mass shootings just in the last month. Jason Carroll, thank you so much for bringing us the latest there in Indianapolis. And now let's bring in Republican Congressman James Comer of Kentucky. He is a member of the Congressional Second Amendment Caucus Congressman Comer, thank you for coming on.

REP. JAMES COMER (R-KY): Thanks for having me, Pam.


BROWN: I'm assuming you heard there that the families and the friends of the victims in this latest shooting at the FedEx facility, as I pointed out, there have been 45 mass shootings in the last month. And that is defined by four more people getting wounded or killed after gun violence. Given what we have seen, are these mass shootings acceptable to you?

COMER: No, they're not acceptable. It's just heartbreaking stories. Unfortunately, from where I sit, as a member of Congress, you can't legislate against evil. I think what we need to focus on our mental health, we need to focus on drug abuse, and we need to focus on reducing poverty and the breakdown of family.

BROWN: OK, I want to talk about this. And it's really important I think that we have an open honest discussion here, right? Because lawmakers, like you are in a position of power to actually do something. And when you look at the data about and you have said, people kill people, guns don't kill.

When you look at the data America has the most guns in the world, it also has 25 times more gun violence and deaths compared to other wealthy nations. So with those facts and your argument in mind, I mean, does America just have more violent and evil people than under other countries than, say, Canada and Switzerland that have high gun ownership, but don't see this kind of gun violence?

COMER: I don't think that's accurate. But I do think that in America, we have higher incidences of drug abuse. I think we have more of a breakdown of our traditional American families. I think we have more instances of a divide between the rich and the poor. These are issues that Congress can address and properly legislate.

BROWN: But why does it have to be so absolute where it's the person it's all about mental health? Guns should be excluded from any discussion, even the Supreme Court? I believe it was, Justice Scalia, the late conservative Justice Scalia has said the Second Amendment has limits.

Why does it have to be so absolute? Why can't in the wake of these mass shootings, lawmakers get together and say, look, let's look at mental health. And let's look at guns. And let's figure out what we can do to make sure these mass shootings don't get you to happen in America.

COMER: I think if there was a way that you could pass a bill to eliminate mass shootings, I think that would pass Congress 435 to zero. The problem is with these policies, they sound good. It's always in the - at the heat of the discussion, right after numbers of mass shootings, like we've seen over the last few weeks.

But these policies affect law abiding citizens, criminals are going to break the law, it's against the law to go in and start shooting people. So I don't think that gun control laws are the answer. I think that when you pass gun control laws, again, you're affecting the people that actually abide by the law. And that gives the criminal the advantage.

BROWN: But I mean, let's talk about these background check bills that were passed in the House, they were passed in a bipartisan fashion. Why it - why are those bills bad? You did not vote for them? How would they affect law abiding citizens who already have their gods who would like to have a gun?

COMER: Well, a lot of these bills that the Democrats have proposed not just gun bills, or immigration bills, whatever, they always have poison pills in there. And anytime there background check bills, if you really dive into the bill, there are also limits to law abiding citizens rights to own guns.

Now, Republicans support the banning guns from criminals banning guns from people that have mental health issues. We don't support red flag laws, because that eliminates due process for people just because someone says, oh, Pam Brown threatened me that shouldn't give the government the right to take away your gun ownership right.

So this is a complex issue. And when you have mass shootings, like we've seen, and I've had, you know, a school shooting in my district, it's always a discussion. But I think that the - we have to look at the root of the problem. And again, I think that's the poverty, mental health breakdown in the family.

These are the things that Congress needs to focus on. And also from, from a congressional standpoint, we need to be less divisive in Washington.

BROWN: And I agree on that and that's why I keep asking you why - how can Republicans and the Democrats come together and say, hey, look, we agree that these mass shootings are unacceptable? Let's figure this out. Let's get together and figure out the mental health and the gun aspect. And I want to ask you very quickly, you brought up the gun owners rights and they do have rights under the U.S. Constitution. At what point are you valuing the philosophical concept of liberty for gun owners over actual lives, prioritizing the right by a deadly weapon over life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness that we were all guaranteed?


BROWN: What about the right to not be?

COMER: Well, we've got laws on the books to make it illegal to shoot someone. I think it was very clear that the framers of our constitution made gun ownership a priority. It was the second amendment. And if you look at the states that have banned guns, and the cities that have banned guns in Chicago, Washington D.C., they have some of the highest rates of gun violence.

So just passing laws banning guns doesn't solve the problem. But we have a problem in America. And I think Republicans realize that we want to address the issue.

BROWN: OK. I'm sorry, I don't mean to interrupt, but I just - it's sometimes different points are made, I just want to make sure that we look at the numbers and backs when you make say something. But I did look at the numbers for crimes in cities and states with strict gun laws.

And I saw what you had said repeatedly, but nearly two thirds of crime guns were covered in states with strong gun laws was originally sold in states with weak gun laws. So if gun laws don't matter, why are criminals going to states with weaker gun laws, bringing that gun back to a state with a stronger gun laws and committing crimes?

COMER: Well, I can't answer that. But I can - I can tell you that in the states that have - that where you see like Kentucky, where you have a strong belief in the Second Amendment overwhelming support for the Second Amendment, it seems like you have less instances of gun violence.

I think if a criminal really sits and thinks about it, and they want to go in and create havoc, they know that in areas where there's more gun ownership, there's less - they're less likely to achieve their goals. And that's a terrible example to use. But I think that's really what the data would show. And I'm really looking to trying to solve these problems.

BROWN: But I'm looking at the data right here. I'm looking at the data right here showing nearly two thirds of crime guns recovered in states with strong gun lines were originally sold in states with weak gun laws. But let me just ask you before we let you go, Congressman Comer, and again, I appreciate your time on this issue, and it is complex.

COMER: Absolutely.

BROWN: You talked about how your concern is these laws infringing on gun owners rights. That is a big concern for Republicans like you. But if you look at polls, and you look at the polls, as they relate to the House bill on background checks, the latest poll found 89 percent among all Americans 84 percent support among Republicans 85 percent among gun owners and 84 percent among rural residents.

So if with all of this support, how can you say that this would be a bad thing? Isn't it Congress's job to represent the will of the people?

COMER: I don't know about those polls. I see a lot of polls that show lots of different things. I know in Kentucky--

BROWN: There are several polls.

COMER: --right up to that I'm not. I don't dispute your polls. But at the end of the day, I don't think you can legislate against evil. You know, we have laws on the books in states that say you can't smoke marijuana. But we have people going to other states to buy marijuana. We have instances of the Mexican drug curtail--

BROWN: But then why are we seeing so much here in the U.S. with gun violence? Is it just American people have a - were more evil and violent here than in other states with high gun ownership like Canada or Switzerland? I mean, just help me understand that.

COMER: I can't explain it. But I know that in countries throughout history that have banned guns like Germany, and many countries in the Asian region, you have situations where the government infringes on the rights of the people. It's the first step in communism. It's the first step in excessive totalitarianism and socialism.

So I think it's important that we abide by the Constitution. And certainly, you know, background checks are important and when it comes up, that you have someone that has committed a crime, someone that's on a watch list.

I'm Republican, Co-Sponsor of the Child Abuse Prevention Treatment Act, one of the things that that bill does is it helps federal agencies coordinate better, whenever there's a person of interest that they suspect maybe someone that is moving into a community that has a checkered past, that may be someone that could commit a crime against a child.

This is the same type of communication that we have to have between law enforcement, but we need to support our law enforcement. And that's one of the big differences between Democrats and Republicans in Washington right now.

BROWN: And hopefully, I was going to say I hope we see that communication between Republicans like yourself and Democrats. I interviewed one earlier in the show. I hope you guys are coming together. I hope you were talking. American people want you to. Congressman James Comer I know you know that. Thank you again for coming on the show to talk about this really important topic.

COMER: Thanks for having me, Pam. [19:15:00]

BROWN: Coming up tonight, a retired army captain who lost both his legs fighting in Afghanistan tells me why he supports the plan to pull out troops?

Also, tonight the clearest evidence yet that Russian intelligence infiltrated the Trump campaign's inner circle. And the troubling misinformation and distrust that are making many evangelicals refuse the COVID vaccine.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Are you going to get the vaccine?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, it's detrimental to your health. It starts going into conspiracy theory type stuff, but I do I believe its Bill Gates in them trying to kill us.


BROWN: But first, the CEO of Michigan's largest health care provider says hospitals have hit critical capacity levels. John Fox joins me next to explain the situation on the front line of the pandemic.


BROWN: Well, Michigan is being hit with so many new COVID cases right now that hospitals are running out of space to treat them.


BROWN: The state is leading the U.S. in new infections with nearly 9000 reported yesterday alone that is the second highest single day number in Michigan since the pandemic begin. John Fox is the CEO of the state's largest health care provider Beaumont Health. And he joins me now. John, you are sounding the alarm. Why?

JOHN FOX, CEO, BEAUMONT HEALTH: Oh, Pam, it's a very serious situation up here in Michigan. We are now in our third surge across the state, which is obviously a tragedy for patients and families fighting the disease and dealing with the mortality.

It's also our 13 months of fighting the pandemic for our frontline healthcare heroes. They're exhausted, they're tired. We are asking them to dig deep and now for three surges. And it's a very difficult situation for them. So we are trying to manage our way through this. I think we're doing pretty well. But it is a struggle, and it has changed rapidly.

BROWN: Why you think? Why is this happening to Michigan right now?

FOX: We think that there are multiple factors one, we believe that the overall infection rate in Michigan was lower during the pandemic today. Secondly, Michigan opened up recently, about 8, 10 weeks ago with various orders being relieved. And everyone's tired of being these shelter-in-place orders or these restrictions.

So we appreciate that. But unfortunately, I think people have dropped their infection control issues, they're not wearing their masks as much as they should, social distancing hand hygiene. And very importantly, we really have a new COVID virus variant, the B-117 from the UK that was really not present in our first or second surge in 2020.

But it is dominating the infections now, it is much more infectious. And the way we can see that is our positivity rate on the patients we test every day. And we do about 2000 patients a week for COVID testing; we were running 5 percent of those tests being positive 30 days ago it has now jumped to 20 percent. And so that really--

BROWN: We're probably seeing younger people in the hospital too, right? You're seeing younger people end up in the ER than what you saw on the past surges, right?

FOX: It definitely. The actually the vaccine penetration rate amongst the elderly, those 65 and older has gone pretty well. So that means that it's really younger people who are being infected with the B-117 variant. And it really is presenting in all of our ERs and frankly, in our inpatient units. We're treating younger patients than we ever saw before.

BROWN: That is frightening. We're going to talk to a young patient actually, later in the show that had COVID. You mentioned, you know, people are tired of wearing the mask and being on lockdown and so forth. But guess what, who else is tired?

These healthcare workers who have been doing this for years, you pointed out 13 months? How are they holding up?

FOX: They're doing well. But it's tough. I mean, we're doing everything we can to help them. And we are bending any of our rules that they think might be in the way for being flexible. We now have your reinstituted food trucks coming back to all of our hospitals.

We are bringing in extra staff, and frankly, doing everything that we can. And I have a big ask, I would ask anyone listening to this, to please reach out and thank your local health care workers who are dealing with the pandemic. Again, 13 months is a long time to be dominated by this one disease.

BROWN: It certainly is. John Fox, thank you for putting it all into perspective for where things stand there in the State of Michigan and something we all need to pay attention to because it could happen elsewhere as well. Thank you.

FOX: Thank you.

BROWN: And tonight the strongest evidence yet that the Trump campaign was infiltrated by Russian Intelligence. Mark Mazzetti Washington Investigative Correspondent at "The New York Times" discusses his reporting when we come back.



BROWN: Well, Russia is already retaliating against the U.S. for the sanctions. President Biden announced this weekend over election meddling cyber hacking and severe human rights abuses in Crimea. 10 U.S. diplomats are being thrown out of Russia and the Kremlin is threatening, "Painful measures against American businesses".

But now the U.S. is officially drawing the clearest connection yet between Russia and the Trump campaign that the Trump Campaign Chairman gave a Russian operative internal campaign documents that then made its way to Russian intelligence services.

CNN National Security Analyst Mark Mazzetti is a Washington Investigative Correspondent for "The New York Times". He joins me now. Mark, seven people went to prison as a result of the Muller probe. The Trump's Attorney General Bill Barr tried to downplay the findings when the redacted report first came out. Yet now we have the clearest signal yet that this wasn't a hoax as President Trump often claimed.

MARK MAZZETTI, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It was kind of a fascinating and unexpected development this week, Pam. With - as you said, the new information that came out about the relationship between Paul Manafort, the Trump Campaign Chairman and this mysterious figure named Konstantin Kilimnik.


Now, we've known in past government reports that Manafort and Kilimnik had a relationship and he has been identified in the past as having been a Russian Intelligence officer or connected with Russian Intelligence.

The interesting development in this, what happened this week was that a Treasury report came out associated with the sanctions you just mentioned, that said that Kilimnik, when he got this internal campaign information, he passed it on to Russian Intelligence Services.

Now, the significance of that, of course, is that we never knew what happened to this information, once Manafort gave it to Kilimnik, it was a mystery.

And now, according to this new government document, it went directly to Russian Intelligence Services. And so they kind of complete the connection of the information going effectively to the Kremlin.

BROWN: So the obvious question is, in the Mueller report, they just talked about how Kilimnik gave it to Russian and Ukrainian oligarchs that he worked for. Did Mueller not know this detail? Was it redacted? Do you know?

MAZZETTI: You know, we still need to figure that out. We know that the picture about Kilimnik, and frankly, this whole story has evolved over time. You know, Mueller, the Mueller report is now two years old, and there is a subsequent report by the Senate Intelligence Committee that had more information about Kilimnik and his ties to Russian Intelligence and that came out last summer.

Now here we are about -- months later, and it is possible that this picture has just evolved, that you know, they've gathered information, perhaps they just had access, they now had access to more information and sources that even Mueller had.

We need to find out more about exactly the nature of this information and how it came out and why it came out, because it wasn't that surprising to us.

BROWN: But we should point out in 2017, we reported on this, right? I was part of the CNN team. Me, Jim Sciutto and Evan Perez, you were part of "The New York Times" team reporting on contact between the Trump campaign and Russian operatives. We both, I remember vividly received a lot of pushback from the campaign and others, a lot of Republicans, but this latest information from the Treasury Department seems to only back it up, right?

MAZZETTI: Yes, Pam, I remember it well, and --

BROWN: Valentine's Day, I remember.

MAZZETTI: It went over time, you know, famously, Jim Comey, the F.B.I. Director, pushed back as well on these reports.

But as you said, what we've only learned over time, over four years, is that it's actually even more of a solid picture of connections or at least contacts between Trump advisers, campaign officials and people associated with Russian Intelligence.

That doesn't mean of course, that there was, quote, "direct collusion" between the two. That, of course, is still obviously up for debate and interpretation.

But the fact that these contacts, some of these mysterious contacts that happened in 2016 were with people associated with Russian Intelligence, I think now has been firmly established by these reports.

BROWN: All right, Mark Mazzetti, thank you so much. Appreciate it.

MAZZETTI: Thanks, Pam.

BROWN: The National Guard is in Minneapolis tonight prepared for a sixth night of protest as closing arguments in the Derek Chauvin trial start next week.

And attorney for the family of George Floyd joins me live, up next.


[19:37:34] BROWN: Happening right now, protesters are gathering in Stillwater, Minnesota outside the home of Washington County attorney, Pete Orput. They are demanding murder charges against former Brooklyn Center police officer, Kim Potter. She has been charged with second degree manslaughter in the death of Daunte Wright.

Potter claims, she thought she was using her Taser and shot Wright with her gun by mistake.

Joining me now is the attorney for the family of Daunte Wright, Jeff Storms. He also represents the family of George Floyd. Mr. Storms, this has been a tough week for the country, but I'm sure it has been especially agonizing for both the Floyd and the Wright families. Can you give us an update on how they're doing?

JEFF STORMS, ATTORNEY FOR DAUNTE WRIGHT'S FAMILY: Pamela, it was an incredibly tough week for both of those families. You know, to have the Floyd family go through this agonizing trial where there is character assassination after character assassination of George, and then for focus to be directed away from that critical landmark Civil Rights trial for the death of yet another unarmed black man was so incredibly tragic for that family.

And meanwhile, the Wright family was living life as normal, just on Sunday, and within seconds, you know, they lost their son, their father, their loved one and the entire world is focused on them. It's been just incredibly tragic and disruptive for those families.

BROWN: The former police officer who shot Daunte Wright is being charged with second degree manslaughter presumably because she claims that she shot him by accident when she meant to Tase him. Protesters right now are demanding Potter be charged with murder and the Wright family wants stiffer charges, too. Take a listen.


KATIE WRIGHT, MOTHER OF DAUNTE WRIGHT: Second degree manslaughter is not okay. I'm not okay with that. That's not right. She murdered my son. My son is never going to come home.

She gets to sit on a police pension right now while my son is going to be buried in a few days and that's not okay.


BROWN: In a statement you and your co-counsel wrote that this was no accident. You called it intentional and deliberate use of force.

To be clear here, is it your view that the former police officer Potter intentionally shot Daunte Wright and is lying about meaning to use her Taser. I just want to make sure we understand correctly.


STORMS: Pamela, that's ultimately going to be for a jury. But what's critical to recognize right now is that beginning with the very initial intentional pre-textual stop, and continuing through a number of intentional acts that it takes to deploy a sidearm. You know, you have to remove it from the holster, you have to hold it, a gun weighs different than a Taser does. It feels different than a Taser. It looks different than a Taser.

All of us could see in the body camera that that sidearm was pointed for a long enough period of time for anyone to identify that it was a sidearm and not a Taser.

So it's going to be for a jury of Miss Potter's peers to determine whether or not she intended to pull that trigger, but we are able just at the early stage of this investigation to tell the entire world that this isn't just an accident, there were a number of intentional acts and failures.

BROWN: If it is proven without a reasonable doubt that she mistakenly grabbed her gun rather than her Taser, do you think she should still face those stiffer charges?

STORMS: Well, so at this point in time, Pamela, in terms of the charges, again, we have very minimal information. Obviously on the civil side, we have far less information on the criminal side.

But in the legal world, what we always talk about is precedent. And we have some pretty heavy precedents here in Minnesota, Pamela, which was several years ago a black police officer, Mohamed Noor shot Justine Damond, a white woman at night in an alley and he said it was an accident, and he was charged with third degree murder.

And so now, we have a white officer shooting an unarmed black man in broad daylight, and there's not a murder charge. So for the family and for the community, it's not hard to look at that precedent and say, why should there be a difference? So none of us should be surprised.

BROWN: Jeff Storms, thank you very much for your time. We appreciate it.

STORMS: Thank you for having me, Pamela.

BROWN: And body cam videos released this week brought police violence to the forefront of the national conversation, but this issue is not a new one.

According to "The Washington Post," roughly 1,000 people are killed by police each year, and African-Americans are disproportionately the targets.

"The Post" found that African-Americans more than twice as likely as white people to be killed by police. You'll remember protests demanded change again last summer following the death of George Floyd, but nothing was ever done, at least not on a Federal level. So it is no surprise, the numbers aren't improving.

There has been more than 230 fatal police shootings in the first three months of every year since "The Post" started their database. Unfortunately, despite a worldwide pandemic and the national movement against police violence, this year is no different.

And even as the U.S. continues to vaccinate Americans at a rapid pace, vaccine hesitancy among some groups, including evangelicals is high. But why?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I would rather die free than I had to live on my knees.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: How is it living in your knees to take a vaccine?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Because you're bowing against your convictions.


BROWN: A special report from CNN's Elle Reeve, up next.



BROWN: Well, evangelicals in America are among the biggest vaccine skeptics, but in one community, that hesitancy is being pushed by a Pastor whose message to his followers is, "Don't trust the vaccine or the government." But why? CNN's Elle Reeve went to Louisiana to find out.


ELLE REEVE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): As more and more Americans are getting vaccinated, resistance remains strong within one group in particular, white evangelicals.

This hesitancy is driven by a distrust in government, misinformation and political identity.

This is not a fringe group. A quarter of Americans are evangelical.

TONY SPELL, PASTOR, LIFE TABERNACLE CHURCH: I would rather die free than I have to live on my knees.

REEVE (on camera): How is it living on your knees to take a vaccine?

SPELL: Because you're bowing against your convictions.

REEVE (voice over): Pentecostal Pastor Tony Spell has made a national name for himself protesting COVID-19 rules in Baton Rouge. He livestreamed himself going under house arrest last spring for refusing to close his church during lockdown.

While a survey of evangelical leaders finds most would be open to getting the vaccine, Spell is adamantly against it.

REEVE (on camera): If you broke your arm or something, would you go to the doctor? SPELL: Sure, I would go to the doctor and get it set and wear a cast.

REEVE: So like at some level, you trust some doctors?

SPELL: Yes, we do.

REEVE: So can you just explain where the line is?

SPELL: The line is in this vaccine. Number one, the virus has been a scam from the beginning. It's always been politically motivated from mail-in ballots and voter ID. That's what has got a new administration in the White House today.

REEVE (voice over): White evangelical Christians are more likely than other religious groups to believe in certain conspiracy theories like that Trump won the 2020 election or in QAnon theories according to a study by the Conservative American Enterprise Institute.


REEVE (voice over): But conspiracies about the COVID-19 vaccine can affect everyone else because public health experts have told us around 70 percent of the population needs to get the vaccine to reach herd immunity and 28 percent of white evangelical Christians say they definitely won't get it, with another six percent saying they'll only get it forced.

SAMUEL PERRY, SOCIOLOGIST AND PROFESSOR OF RELIGIOUS STUDIES, UNIVERSITY OF OKLAHOMA: There is a tendency within white Christian nationalism to want to believe these kinds of conspiracies because I think it reinforces this idea of an us versus them.

The problem is the people who are feeding that fear have an incentive to keep stoking that fear because people keep clicking, and people keep listening.


BROWN: Fascinating reporting. Next hour, we're going to have more of Elle's great reporting and hear from the Pastor himself on why he won't be getting the vaccine.


SPELL: I don't know anybody in my church, black, brown, El Salvador, Honduran, and Mexican who had the virus.

REEVE: Your father said he had the virus.

SPELL: And out of thousands and thousands and thousands --

REEVE: Your father and mother told me they had this.

SPELL: Yes, and that's all right. Maybe we had it, and maybe we got it.

REEVE: They also said your grandfather got the vaccine.

SPELL: And I'm opposed to that. I did not promote that. I think he was foolish for taking the vaccine.


BROWN: Up next, Tucker Carlson's racist rhetoric goes mainstream after an elected Republican echoes his extremism in Congress. Why we cannot and will not help normalize hate. I'll be right back.



BROWN: Well, this month, the most popular host on FOX News appears to be promoting the racist white replacement theory. Here he is and his own words.


TUCKER CARLSON, FOX NEWS CHANNEL HOST: I know that the left and all the little gatekeepers on Twitter become literally hysterical if you use the term "replacement." If you suggest that the Democratic Party is trying to replace the current electorate, the voters now casting ballots with new people, more obedient voters from the third world.

Let's just say that that's true. I mean, everyone wants to make a racial issue out of it. Ooh, you know white replacement. No, no.


BROWN: So Carlson insists that he is only speaking about voting rights. But as the daily show pointed out recently, his remarks echoed what the mass shooters from Christchurch, New Zealand and El Paso, Texas said in their manifestos about immigration and replacement.

His comments were also lauded by white nationalist groups online. But what is even more troubling. This week, the rhetoric was echoed in Congress, here's Republican Congressman Scott Perry of Pennsylvania.


REP. SCOTT PERRY (R-PA): For many Americans, what seems to be happening or what they believe right now is happening is what appears to them is we're replacing national born American -- native born Americans to permanently transform the political landscape of this very nation.


BROWN: Well, there is a serious debate among journalists and commentators about how to handle this whether discussing extremist rhetoric like this, even to discredit or call it out backfires, simply by giving it more attention, oxygen and a bigger platform.

But one scholar says ignoring this stuff will only make it worse. Nicole Hemmer, an associate research scholar at Columbia University writes on, "History demands that we pay more attention, not less, because it suggests there's every reason to believe Carlson and his acolytes could succeed in normalizing hate for a wider audience."

For the record, when it's given a nightly platform attracting millions of eyeballs and then gains a foothold with elected leaders, it is safe to say the attempt at normalization is underway.

So we, and the media have a responsibility to report on it. Ultimately, it's up to fellow Republicans to stop this normalization.

Earlier this week, we learned some of the most far right members of the House led by Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene are planning to launch a caucus touting nativism, and uniquely Anglo Saxon political traditions.

After 24 hours of blowback and pressure from G.O.P. leaders, today, Greene abandoned the idea.

Now, this doesn't mean extremism is going to be suddenly gone from politics, but it shows that the Republican establishment can beat back when this ideology -- at this ideology rather when they want to, as Congressman Adam Kinzinger tweeted about the project, "While we can't prevent someone from calling themselves Republican, we can loudly say they don't belong to us."

Well, this week, CNN will air the finale of our new CNN original series, "The People v. the Klan," and it tells the little known story of Beulah Mae Donald, a black mother who took down the Ku Klux Klan after the brutal lynching of her son, Michael in Mobile, Alabama in 1981.

Don't miss the two-part finale tomorrow night starting at 9:00 p.m. and 10:00 p.m. Eastern and Pacific right here on CNN.