To listen to the the podcast of Rory’s interview click here.
His interview with Jeremy Scahill on The Intercept starts at the 42 minute mark
You can read the transcript of the interview below
And you are listening to Intercepted. When we come back, we’re going to talk to a former US Army Ranger who became a conscientious objector and a war resister. And while he was in that elite army unit, very few people supported him. But one of those was the late NFL star Pat Tillman.
And we’re going to look at the false mythology that is constantly used by politicians about the civil rights movement, about Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks. It’s a truly fascinating history that you won’t want to miss.
This is Intercepted. Stay with us.
JS: Hey everyone, again this is Jeremy jumping in where usually there would be an advertisement. I don’t want to take up too much of your time but I do want to remind you that you can support this show financially and become an official member of Intercepted at theintercept.com/join there’s lots of levels you can pledge at, theres lots of thank you gifts in return for your support for this program. Help us expand the reach of what we’re trying to do here at Intercepted. We want to do more reporting, we want to bring on more staff, we want to bring people news that actually matters to them. Information that you can use to make informed decisions. Log on right now to the intercept.com/join. Become a member of the Intercepted community. Back to the show.
JS: Ok, we are back here on Intercepted. A poll this week from USA Today found that more than two thirds of Americans think that President Trump’s position on the NFL players who have taken the knee to protest police killings of black and brown people is wrong. The poll reveals that a majority of people support the rights of the players, and oppose Trump’s calls for them to be fired and the NFL boycotted. By the way, a third of Republicans were among those against Trump in that poll.
This issue clearly continues to torment Trump’s head. He can’t seem to shut up about it, even in the midst of all of the other really high stakes stuff happening in the world Among Trump supporters, there are all sorts of memes floating around calling for an NFL boycott and blasting the players. And the central line of attack has been that the players are somehow disrespecting military veterans.
One of the images that Trump retweeted is an image of the now famous veteran who died in Afghanistan. It was that of former NFL star Pat Tillman. Tillman played for the Arizona Cardinals and he enlisted in the U.S. Army and became a ranger right after 9/11.
The tweet that Trump promoted to his 30 million or so followers featured a picture of Tillman in his military uniform and his Ranger beret. And the message underneath it read, “NFL player Pat Tillman joined U.S. Army in 2002. And he was killed in action in 2004. He fought for our country, freedom #standforouranthem #boycottNFL.”
Now clearly President Trump knows nothing about Pat Tillman story’s or the cover-up at the highest levels of the U.S. military or the circumstances surrounding Tillman’s death in Afghanistan. Trump seems to be totally unaware of Tillman’s correspondence with the legendary dissident Noam Chomsky, completely ignorant of Tillman’s views on the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq. Pat Tillman is not the poster boy for the hyper-militarized, fake nationalism Trump wants the NFL-merged-with-the-military to be. Tillman was, it seems, the polar opposite of that image.
Joining me now is a former U.S. Army Ranger who knew Pat Tillman and served with him in the 2nd Ranger Battalion. Rory Fanning wrote a great book about his year-long walk in 2008, 2009, across the United States when he was raising funds for the Pat Tillman Foundation. That book is called, “Worth Fighting For: An Army Ranger’s Journey Out of the Military and Across America.” Fanning served two tours in Afghanistan before becoming a conscientious objector.
Rory Fanning: I mean I had a sense that this was the case, but we were essentially drawing the Taliban back into the fight. And it was very quiet when I got there in early- and mid-2002. I didn’t know at the time that Taliban had surrendered by that time and I think our job was draw them back into the fight.
JS: And when did you first meet Pat Tillman?
RF: I met him in Ranger school.
JS: So you guys were in Ranger school together and then deployed together.
RF: We deployed at separate times. We mostly spent our time together in battalion. I got to know Pat basically after I decided to become a war resister after my second tour to Afghanistan. What went into that decision, to become a conscientious objector, a war resister?
JS: Well I signed up to make the world a safer place, and to prevent another terrorist attack. And I realized after two tours in Afghanistan that I was only making the world more dangerous. You know, a rocket would land in our camp and we would call in a five-hundred-pound bomb attack on that general vicinity over there. We know now that, you know, up to 80 percent of everybody who’s died since 2001 has been a civilian. And I think I was there giving people reason to fight when they otherwise had no interest in fighting. The world’s a far more dangerous place as a result of what we’re doing there.
JS: Now, we’re going to talk about your walk across country in a bit. But first I was hoping you could share the impact that Pat Tillman had on you and your development, moving from enthusiastically signing up for the Rangers to ultimately becoming a resister.
RF: Well after I decided I was going to become probably the first war resister after 9/11 in the Ranger Battalion, certainly in the 2nd Ranger Battalion, the entire battalion turned their backs on me. And, you know, I was washing dishes, absorbing the general ridicule the chain of command and expecting to go to jail at any time.
There was two people that weren’t afraid to talk to me during that time and it was Pat Tillman and his brother Kevin. These guys were amazing people. You know? Critical thinkers. They, you know, for fun would write papers on anything from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to the question of God and religion and exchange them with each other. I mean these guys were really impressive and I was shocked and impressed that they stood by me when no one else would.
JS: Why do you think the Tillman brothers did that?
RF: I think they respected my decision. I think Pat saw firsthand, you know, he was in the frontyard during the Jessica Lynch operation. I think on some level he may have been disillusioned with the war on terror and Iraq certainly. I think he believed that was illegal. So yeah, I think we had that in common.
JS: You’re saying, you know, that Pat Tillman believed that the war in Iraq was illegal? RF: We had discussions along those lines.
JS: Where were you when Pat Tillman was killed?
RF: I was basically up in my bunk, they had just deployed. I was called down, expecting to be sent off to jail or the big Army to become a bullet stopper is, that’s what we called, you know, the big army in the Ranger battalion. And I was told that Pat was killed in an enemy ambush and that he died a hero. Within seven days, after six months in kind of a state of purgatory, within the Ranger regiment, because they had no idea what to do with me, I was ushered out of the military. And I was shocked that that was the case.
JS: You’ve written that you think that Pat Tillman’s killing, and, of course, the military stated that it was a friendly fire incident, but you’ve written that you believe that what happened with Pat Tillman’s death expedited and ultimately resulted in your ability to get conscientious objector status. Why?
RF: Well they were covering up Pat’s death to the highest levels of the US government at the time, and, I think, I had just called the inspector general to do an investigation on my case, and I think they wanted to avoid that extra scrutiny on the battalion at the time.
JS: Now, of course, there have been documentaries about Pat Tillman that explores these questions and there’s been a fair bit of probing of what actually happened when he was killed. What’s your best assessment particularly, because you were in the Rangers and you know how the units operate, what’s your best assessment based on what we know of what actually happened to Pat Tillman?
RF: Well, I mean, to this day I think the events surrounding that day are suspicious in the sense that Pat’s uniform and diary were burned. The fact that they didn’t communicate what really happened and they took Kevin Tillman’s weapon away at the time.
I mean it’s all suspicious, but I could also see, like I said, at this point in time, Afghanistan was a relatively quiet place, and there was a bunch of very trigger-happy Rangers at that time wanting to kind of earn their stripes overseas. And I could see how overenthusiastic soldiers may have misidentified Pat as someone who they thought was the enemy. But I can’t speak one way or another. I think the most important part of this entire case is the fact that no one has been held accountable for Pat’s death to this day, all the way to the highest levels of the Bush Administration at the time.
JS: Well, and, in fact, some of the key players in this cover up, namely General Stanley McChrystal who himself was the commander of the Joint Special Operations Command and had held other senior posts in the military, participated directly in this cover up and he now runs his own consulting firm. He has a teaching post at Yale University. Far from being held accountable, it seems people like McChrystal, and also Admiral William McRaven who is now the head of the University of Texas University system, people who were involved with CIA torture programs, they seem to be landing these cushy jobs at elite or big public universities.
RF: Yeah, they seem relatively untouchable.
JS: Well, and eminently promotable, it seems.
JS: When Tillman was killed, your reaction to that in part was to organize a walk across the United States to benefit the Pat Tillman Foundation. Why did you decide to do that?
RF: I mean Pat stood by me. I mean I would have gone to jail or the big army had not things worked out the way they did. And Pat was the only person who stood by me at the time and, you know, I just wanted to bring attention to Pat’s sacrifice. I was still pretty scared about what happened to me during that six months of limbo in the Ranger battalion, so I wasn’t talking about exactly what had happened to me during that walk, you know, I was just walking to raise awareness for the Pat Tillman Foundation. He gave up $3.6 million to leave the NFL to go to the military. I was trying to raise that for his foundation.
And that walk, you know, essentially gave me the courage to start talking about what I saw in Afghanistan and support people who are largely resisting the project of the U.S. empire right now.
JS: What’s your response to the president of the United States using Pat Tillman’s name to attack NFL players who are kneeling in protest during the national anthem?
RF: Well I think it’s disgraceful. Pat’s memory should not be politicized, particularly in this way. You know, Pat was from a different era, so to say what would Pat have done, I think it is kind of hard to do and not necessarily worth doing.
He is also taking away attention from the actual reasons and motivations for that protest, Trump is, you know this protest being about police brutality and mass incarceration that this disproportionately affects people of color.
JS: We know a fair bit about the thought process that was going on with Pat Tillman in part because of his correspondence with his family, but also he had a correspondence with Noam Chomsky.
Noam Chomsky: It’s in essence true, but that the specific facts are that shortly before he went to Afghanistan, I was contacted by — he couldn’t do it, but I was contacted by his friends and family. And we did arrange to meet when he came back. And I don’t want to say what was on his mind, of course, but it was pretty clear from the discussion that he wanted to discuss the question of the justice of the U.S. war in Afghanistan, and other regional issues.
RF: Pat stood for the exploited and the oppressed. You know, he stood up, you know for people who stood up for themselves. And I think he would have a lot more in common with someone like Colin Kaepernick and Michael Bennett, than he would those who jeer and try to repress dissent from the sidelines.
JS: When you’ve seen NFL games, and you’ve seen the kind of overt, militaristic messaging that has become a staple of NFL Sunday, the jets flying over, the national anthem, the whole thing is just sort of dripping in militarism. As someone who was in an elite special operations forces unit, the Army Rangers, what happens on an emotional level, being you, watching this. Having been in the elite forces of the United States Military and then becoming a conscientious objector and a war resister, what do you think of the NFL and the military?
RF: Well first and foremost, I see it as a recruiting tool. I think, you know, players weren’t forced to come out and put their hands over their heart and sing the national anthem until 2009 when public support for, you know, the global war on terror and Iraq were at an all-time low.
I mean so this is the military and Department of Defense, you know, targeting the sweet spot of military recruiting, those who kind of endorse and get behind this aggressive sport that prioritizes self-sacrifice, et cetera. So, I see an opportunism of sorts to keep the 800 military bases around the world filled. I also see it as a way to buy the silence of people who want to speak out, who feel disillusioned by what the U.S. has done around the world since 2001, you know, by trotting out soldiers, patting them on the back and calling them heroes.
You know, heroes don’t kill innocent people, heroes don’t fight so a small percentage of the population can become wealthy at the expense of everybody else. Heroes don’t overthrow country’s leaders. Heroes don’t occupy for no good reason. And so, none of that is really communicated during these gaudy, flag-waving parades, and sporting events, and concerts and the like.
JS: How do you want Pat Tillman to be remembered?
RF: Someone who stood for the exploited and the oppressed. Somebody who wasn’t afraid to stand by me, when, in my personal experience, when I was going through one of the roughest times of my life, you know, with no fear of what the rest of the group thought of him at the time.
JS: Alright, Rory Fanning, thank you very much for joining us on Intercepted.
RF: Alright, thanks for having me.
JS: Rory Fanning is a former U.S. Army Ranger who served with Pat Tillman. He’s also the author of the excellent book, “Worth Fighting For: An Army Ranger’s Journey Out of the Military and Across America.” Rory now spends a lot of time speaking to high school students and universities about his experience.