Return to Transcripts main page
ANDERSON COOPER 360 DEGREES
Preaching Hate; Romney's Business Experience; School Defends Shock Treatments
Aired May 22, 2012 - 22:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening, everyone. It's 10:00 here on the East Coast.
And we begin tonight "Keeping Them Honest" with a pastor preaching about his plan to eliminate all gays and lesbians. He's laying out a plan from the pulpit, a detailed plan to watch them die.
The pastor's name is Charles Worley. That is him right there. He preaches at the Providence Road Baptist Church. Now, according to its Web site, a 1,200-seat church about a half-hour's drive outside Charlotte, North Carolina. The sign out front says "Home of Old Time Religion."
Tonight, though, the church is now the focus of a modern-day uproar. And Pastor Worley could also be facing legal troubles for mixing politics into his preaching, thereby violating rules allowing his church to have tax-exempt status. We will talk about that shortly, and get reaction live from the community, including from some church members.
The sermon in question, though, occurred on Mother's Day. Pastor Worley lashed out at President Obama's support for same-sex marriage and laid out his plan for eliminating gays and lesbians.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CHARLES WORLEY, PASTOR, PROVIDENCE ROAD BAPTIST CHURCH: Of our president getting up and saying that it was all right for two women to marry or two men to marry, I will tell you right now, I was disappointed bad.
But I tell you right there, it's as sorry as you can get. The Bible's against it. God's against it. I'm against it. And if you have got any sense, you're against it.
I had a way -- I figured a way out, a way to get rid of all the lesbians and queers, but I couldn't get it past the Congress. Build a great big large fence, 150- or 100-mile-long. Put all the lesbians in there. Fly over and drop some food. Do the same thing with the queers and the homosexuals. And have that fence electrified, so they can't get out.
Feed them. And you know what? In a few years, they will die out. You know why? They can't reproduce.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: Mr. Worley seems to believe gay people are simply the offspring of other gay people. I'm not even going to address the lack of logic of that.
But this was part of a 90-minute-long sermon posted on the church's own Web site. So, it's not like the church was in any way ashamed of it. That is, not until the story went national last night. Then the church took it down. And today, in fact, the entire site was down.
Now, we called a Web hosting company to ask whether they took it down, as some have reported, or whether the church themselves did. We were told no comment. A local advocacy group did manage to download the entire sermon, but only in two-minute chunks. And they're working to piece it back together.
Just in case, though, you think that what you just heard is either fabricated or an aberration or taken out of context, it's not really what this guy meant, well, it turns out that this not the first time that Pastor Worley has said something like this. In fact, here's part of a sermon he gave back in 1978.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP, 1978)
WORLEY: We're living in a day when, you know what, it saddens my heart to think that homosexuals can go around, blessed God, and get the applause of a lot of people, lesbians and all the rest of it. Blessed God 40 years ago, they would have hung them, blessed God, from a white oak tree, wouldn't they? Amen.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
COOPER: That was in 1978. These are obviously his long-held beliefs.
Now, as we said, though, his Mother's Day sermon came in response to current events, namely President Obama's public endorsement of same- sex marriage. And here's where the pastor may have put himself in legal trouble.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
WORLEY: I tell you right now. Somebody said, who you going to vote for? I ain't going to vote for a baby killer and a homosexual lover. You said, did you mean to say that? You better believe I did.
God have mercy. It makes me puking sick to think about -- I don't know even know whether you ought to say this in the pulpit or not. Could you imagine kissing some man?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: Well, the tape cuts off.
He goes on to say -- quote -- "My God, I love you fellows, but not that much."
He also said -- quote -- "I'm against the sin, but I'm not against them. I want them to get saved, but I will not accept that way of life here nor hereafter."
The federal government won't be concerned obviously with what -- those comments, only with the politics that Pastor Worley appears to be preaching. Churches can lose their tax-exempt status for that. Pastor Worley apparently knows that. According to local station WBTV, he says in that sermon -- quote -- "They say that you're going to get in trouble with the government. Well, I just want 'yuns to know that I like that bubblegum stuff, so bring it to me. And I like sunflower seeds, so bring me some of them, because if you have to go to jail for preaching the word of God, someone told me the other day, said you will be the first one locked up. And I said, thank God, amen, hallelujah, that's good preaching."
More on the legal angle shortly.
First, though, Gary Tuchman outside the Providence Road Baptist Church in Maiden, North Carolina, where there are late developments.
Gary, what is the latest there?
GARY TUCHMAN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Anderson, right now, as we speak, a special meeting is taking place at the Providence Road Baptist Church, a prayer meeting, scores of people inside, all supporters of Pastor Worley hoping for the best for their church and for their pastor.
Now, is Pastor Worley inside? We don't know that for sure. He's kept a low profile all day, staying away from us. And we don't know for sure because church security and sheriff's deputies are telling us we cannot step foot on the church property.
Now, earlier, we went to Pastor Worley's house to try to talk to him. When we got there, many members of his family were outside. We parked our car. They scattered inside the house so quickly that we found a lighted cigarette still on the windowsill.
And, sure enough, sheriff's deputies came there too and told us we have to stay off their property also. This is a very small town, Maiden, North Carolina, but there are many people who are not affiliated with this church who are embarrassed and aghast by the situation. But among the people who are friends with this pastor and who belong to his church, there is strong support for him.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JANIE BEARD, NEIGHBOR OF PASTOR WORLEY: He would give you the shirt off his back. He would do anything he could for you.
TUCHMAN: I mean, he said in church that he wants to put gay people behind electric fences and have them all die out. What do you think about that? BEARD: Well, that's not really what he said. He said -- yes, he says some of that, but he was going to feed them and everything else. And you know that.
TUCHMAN: But so you're saying that it's OK if you feed them?
BEARD: Well, I'm not saying it's OK one way or the other. What I'm saying, that is his opinion.
JOE HEFFNER, CHURCH MEMBER: Probably the most compassionate man I have ever known. I don't know. He's just got a big heart for people. He takes a real firm stand on the Bible and what it says about different things, whether I like it or not or whether anybody likes it or not. He stands for the Bible.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Being gay and lesbian or whatever, homosexual, is wrong according to the Bible. It's wrong.
TUCHMAN: Well, even if you believe that, though, his words that they should be put in an electrified fence, don't you think that's a little dramatic and a little rude and a little scary?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, because his point and reasoning was to see if they reproduce, but like it is...
TUCHMAN: There's a lot of heterosexual couples who don't reproduce either.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Adam and Eve. That's what was in the very beginning, Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve.
TUCHMAN: Yes, but why put Adam and Steve in a jail, an electrified jail? Isn't that just mean? And that's not what the Bible, that's not what God wants for man to be mean to their fellow man.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He's not saying that to be mean. Like I just said...
TUCHMAN: If that's not mean, what is it, though?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We love the people, hate the sin, OK, point blank. You need to lay off my pastor.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TUCHMAN: Now, as you pointed out, Pastor Worley puts this on his Web site, so he knows it's out there. So, we expected that he would talk about this today to members of the news media. He hasn't.
And I can think of two possible reasons for that. One, he doesn't have the guts. Or, two, he doesn't really care what we think -- Anderson.
COOPER: Or a combination thereof.
It's interesting to me to have seen what the reaction would have been had Pastor Worley had advocated putting African-Americans in electrified cages or Jewish people or for some reason Christians if -- or any group, how people would have responded in that community, in that church if the response had been any different.
Do -- did you get a sense of how much support he has?
TUCHMAN: Well, I can tell you -- and this is really important -- this is the middle of the Bible Belt, but not everyone agrees with this guy. Certainly, the people we have talked to today who go to this church all agree with him.
But many people in this town just can't believe what he said. And what they tell us is that this is an intolerant man who runs an intolerant church.
COOPER: Gary, appreciate it.
Again, we offer an invitation to the pastor to come on the program any time. We'd love to talk to him about his beliefs.
I want to bring in the Reverend Barry Lynn. He's the found and executive director of Americans United For Separation of Church and State.
Reverend Lynn, thanks for being with us.
Obviously, most people don't know the intricacies of the federal tax code. But you say what this pastor in North Carolina has done is a clear violation of it. How so?
BARRY LYNN, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, AMERICANS UNITED FOR SEPARATION OF CHURCH AND STATE: Yes.
Look, unless you were asleep during the sermon, which has been known to happen, but this went on for 90 minutes, you know unequivocally that you are not supposed to be voting for Barack Obama. This means it's a clear violation of the tax code that says, again, without equivocation, you cannot oppose or endorse a candidate for public office and retain your tax exemption status, whether you're a church or any kind of charity. This aren't even close, Anderson, to the line.
We reported another pastor from Eastern Kentucky just yesterday, filed a complaint, a man who went on a tear about why he opposed President Obama's support for marriage equality. And then he said, "I'm going to go on record. I don't care who knows. We have to get him out."
He wasn't talking about taking him out to lunch. He was talking about getting him out of office. This is not why people go to church. In fact, a new poll just a few days ago suggests that about two-thirds of Americans do not want their pastor, their priest, their rabbi to tell them who to vote for. That's not why they're in a sacred space on a Saturday or Sunday.
COOPER: Do you plan to file a complaint against this pastor now, Pastor Worley?
LYNN: We are. We are going to file against this pastor. Again, we don't even think this is close to the line. It's like the pastor in Kentucky or just a few weeks ago when the Peoria, Illinois, Catholic bishop compared Obama to both Hitler and Stalin in the same sermon.
There's nobody would -- mistaken that for an endorsement of Barack Obama. These are so far over the line. There's nothing nuanced about it. And there's no guarantee under the First Amendment that you can say anything you want and keep your lot tax exemption.
A lot of people think, well, doesn't the Constitution guarantee tax exemptions for churches? It does not.
No Supreme Court case has ever said that either. When you get the valuable privilege of a tax exemption, which means somebody is paying the taxes you're not paying, the one and only thing you can't do is turn your religious institution into what amounts to a political action committee supporting or opposing a candidate. And that's what all these fellows have done.
COOPER: So you say you are going to file on this. If the IRS goes after this pastor or checks into this pastor based on his comments, there are those who are going to say, well, look, this is the Obama administration waging a war against religion. The government is not supposed to tell churches or pastors what they can or cannot do.
How do you respond to that? Does your group only focus on pastors who are against Democratic presidents?
LYNN: No, hardly.
We are kind of an absolutely fair-minded, pro, anti, Democrats, Republicans. We're concerned about the principle here. And that's that people go to church for a lot of reasons, including spiritual solace. They go to learn about the Bible. They go if they're Christians to learn about the life of Jesus, how it applies to their life.
They do not go to church to be told who to vote for because they missed the political action meeting on Saturday night. That's not why they're in church on Sunday. This has been going on and there are groups that are actually organizing to get churches deliberately this fall in the campaign to go and have preachers preach against candidates.
Of course, in this case, it's a group called the Alliance Defense Fund. They only end up having churches preach against Democrats. But we think it's just as wrong for Michelle Obama about a week or so before the last election in 2008 to go to the North Carolina Baptist Council of Churches meeting, their convention there, and give a pep rally speech for her husband. That is not what churches are about. That's not what charities are about. That's not why they get tax exemptions. They get them. It's incredibly valuable to them and they ought to play by the one simple rule. Just don't endorse or oppose candidates for public office. These pastors, Anderson, knew exactly what they were getting into.
In both the Kentucky case and the case that you're just talking about and just showed the video of, these pastors made comments to suggest that, well, somebody told them this would be wrong or the government might come after them. They do it in defiance of not only the laws, but as is I think is apparent to me in my pastoral role, in defiance of everything that Christianity could and should mean.
COOPER: But they can say whatever they want. It's just a question of whether or not they can get a tax-exempt status?
LYNN: Sure. Some churches, very few, give up their tax-exemption. Then say anything they want.
LYNN: And they can also talk about -- if you want to talk about marriage equality and why it's right or wrong and give every sermon from now until the end of time on that one subject, you can do that. That does not violate the tax code.
What violates the tax code is getting partisan, starting to say, well, now, you should vote for the Republican, you should vote for the Democrat, you would vote for somebody else.
COOPER: Because he's saying he's just preaching the word of God, which then implies the word of God is telling you how to vote.
See, you may, remember earlier in the campaign cycle, there were four, count them, four candidates in one political party all of whom said God had told them -- in Rick Santorum's case, God had told his wife, who told him, they would be the next president of the United States.
You have to be very careful as a pastor or a layperson. When you think you're hearing from God, you better be awfully sure that is God speaking, because otherwise you do tremendous damage. You do the kind of damage that's going on in communities all over this country, with this kind of hateful rhetoric coming out of an institution that is supposed to care about people, that's supposed to be involved in the love of all, not the hatred of some.
COOPER: Reverend Lynn, appreciate your time tonight. Thank you.
LYNN: Thank you.
COOPER: We will continue to follow it.
Let us know what you think. We're on Facebook. Follow me on Twitter @AndersonCooper. I will be tweeting tonight.
"Raw Politics" now ahead: the battle over Mitt Romney's record at Bain Capital -- Democrats now using Republican voices against Mitt Romney, Republicans using Democratic voices against President Obama. Ari Fleischer, James Carville square off next.
COOPER: "Raw Politics" now: the continuing battle over Mitt Romney's record at Bain Capital and both sides trying to fight it by using members of the other side as their own unwitting political surrogates.
Democrats showing up in Republican ads, Republicans showing up in Democratic ads, cats and dogs living together -- that's actually a line from "Ghostbusters." But the rest, though, is pure "Raw Politics."
Today, a day after Republicans used Obama supporters in a pro-Romney ad, a pro-Obama super PAC put out an ad starring Mitt Romney's former GOP opponents attacking him on Bain.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GOV. RICK PERRY (R), TEXAS: They sit there and they wait until they see a distressed company and then they swoop in and pick the carcass clean and then fly away.
NEWT GINGRICH (R), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Loot companies, leave behind broken families, broken towns, people on unemployment.
JON HUNTSMAN JR. (R), FORMER UTAH GOVERNOR: Governor Romney enjoying firing people. I enjoy creating jobs.
PERRY: It's the ultimate insult for Mitt Romney to come to South Carolina and tell you he feels your pain, because he caused it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: Well, for the record, a top Romney adviser calls the ad -- quote -- "performance art gibberish."
And now not long ago, ABC News is reporting that a top Obama donor, a guy named Jonathan Levine, is a longtime Bain executive. President Obama has hired a number of people who have worked in private equity and solicits campaign contributions from private equity firm employees, as he was doing last week here in New York.
Last night, I asked Obama campaign spokesman Ben LaBolt about that contradiction.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: Why it's OK for the president's private equity supporters to bankrupt companies and put people out of work, but it's not OK for Mitt Romney's equity firm to do that. BEN LABOLT, OBAMA CAMPAIGN PRESS SECRETARY: The president has support from business leaders across industries who agree with his vision of building an economy that's built to last, where hard work and responsibility are rewarded, where everybody from Main Street to Wall Street plays...
COOPER: But you yourself said that's not what private equity is about, and yet the president is accepting money from private equity firms. Isn't that hypocritical?
LABOLT: ... who believe that the right thing to do was put in place those protections to ensure that we never have a financial crisis like we did in 2008 and that middle-class families across the country are not held hostage by risky financial deals.
Governor Romney would take a very different approach. He would repeal those protections.
COOPER: But you're not answering any of the questions. I'm trying to figure out what is different between Bain and Governor Romney's experience in private equity and the experience of private equity firms that the president is taking money from.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: That actually went on for quite a while. We never really got an answer to that question.
Hopefully, we will get some answers from Democratic strategist James Carville and Republican strategist Ari Fleischer, who join me now.
James, President Obama has said this is not a distraction; it's in fact going to be the centerpiece of the campaign, these attacks on Mitt Romney's record at Bain and what that means, that -- how he would rule -- or how he would govern as president. Is that smart, is that smart for him to double down on this, James?
JAMES CARVILLE, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, yes. They were going to do it.
But, understand, what happened here is Romney made his experience at Bain central to his candidacy. He said he created a net 100,000 jobs. He talked about that. He never talked about being governor of Massachusetts or anything else. So of course it's not an attack on private equity. It's an attack on what Romney says that he did.
And he said, wait a minute, these are other things that happened there. I don't even understand the whining about this. Romney's a man that has resources. Go find people whose job you saved and put them on television. This is unbelievable.
In my opinion, it's a very legitimate thing to talk about. It's not an attack on the free enterprise system or anything. It's one guy saying I just want the credit for all the good things that happened. But if you say any bad things happened, then you're some kind of terrible person. Just answer the ads and go on about your business.
COOPER: Ari, what about that? Isn't Romney's record fair game?
ARI FLEISCHER, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, I hope they continue to go after Bain. I hope they do it all the way through November, because I have a feeling it's just going to continue to backfire. I think that's one of the reasons so many Democrats are uneasy with these attacks.
And certainly when you look at what Mitt Romney said, he actually has said a very balanced statement. He said some of these investments made -- were successful and made money and created jobs. Others didn't.
COOPER: He has said 100,000 jobs created.
FLEISCHER: Mitt Romney has made that balanced statement about it.
And what's really wrong about the ads, while it's certainly fair game to talk about what people did in their living, he was gone from Bain. He was gone from both the companies that they have attacked him for years before the companies went bankrupt. So even if you think bankruptcy in and of itself is disqualifying in the private sector, Mitt Romney was no longer part of the company.
COOPER: But, Ari, he has said that he created 100,000 or helped create 100,000 jobs. That math is kind of fuzzy. And he has claimed credit for things the happened at Bain after he left, but does walk away from things that happened at Bain after -- when he wasn't there. Can he have it both ways?
FLEISCHER: Well, I don't think you are ever going to find a politician who doesn't use some number, the number of jobs they claim to have created. And I think they're always going to be arguable numbers.
The bottom line is, when you look at the role of the private sector, including private equity plays, they always create jobs, they always lose some jobs. What you look for is, is it a net positive? And certainly with a successful company like Bain, the net has been very positive. They have an excellent reputation, which is something that has been talked about by the Democrats.
One of the reasons people believe in Mitt Romney, because they think he can turn around a broken economy. And that's what we need in this country.
(CROSSTALK) COOPER: James, isn't the Obama administration in their ads, though, isn't the campaign cherry-picking what companies they're focusing on about Bain?
CARVILLE: Mitt Romney started this.
Understand, Bain was central to his case. It is what he talked about. It was the central part of his stump speech. And he says he creates a net 100,000 jobs. OK? They're talking about his experience, what he did and what he didn't do.
And the whining and the coughing and the complaining and everything else. You know, there's a saying. If you're afraid of snakes, don't go in the swamp. If you're afraid that your record is going to get examined, don't run for president. That's the simple thing here.
He put it front and center about who he is. And they're saying, hold to, wait, this is what you did. Romney's a man with considerable resources. He can answer it, he can put people on. He can do anything that he wants. But the idea that there's something wrong with discussing Mitt Romney's record at Bain is just -- I don't even understand what the charge is.
COOPER: James, does it surprise you that the Obama administration -- that the Obama campaign hasn't focused more on his record creating jobs as governor of Massachusetts? Because his whole argument is what I learned at Bain teaches me in government how to create jobs.
CARVILLE: I suspect that they will. But you wouldn't know that Romney was ever governor of Massachusetts if you go to one of his stump speeches and watched his ads during the Republican primaries.
That's just -- he would just rather kind of forget that. And, of course, they're going to do -- of course, at some point they're going to do that, but this thing is sort of engaged. And Romney wanted to create the story of, hey, I'm a guy -- I'm all successful all the time. I did all these wonderful things. And they're saying, wait a minute, there's another side to the story. And it's a totally legitimate things in politics.
COOPER: Ari, is Romney vulnerable on his record in Massachusetts creating jobs?
FLEISCHER: No, I don't think so.
I think when you look at his record in its totality and you look at the reputation he has as a fixer of economies, that's what this election is going to come down to. But let me remind James, it wasn't Mitt Romney who initially objected to this ad. It was your own. It was Cory Booker on "Meet the Press," which was then quickly followed up by Ed Rendell, the former chairman of the Democratic National Committee.
So, the whining and the complaining that you're complaining about is in your own party.
CARVILLE: Oh, man, come on, Ari.
FLEISCHER: They're the ones who blew the whistle on your own player.
CARVILLE: Don't pull that.
FLEISCHER: You haven't heard Mitt Romney say it.
I think this is a debate that actually helps Mitt Romney. The more this election is fought over economic matters, the economy, Barack Obama acts as if he hasn't been the president of the United States for the last three-and-a-half years. He just wants to blame everything on anybody who came before him.
He acts as if none of his policies have anything to do with the bad economy that we have right now.
FLEISCHER: The more the election is fought on those issues, the stronger I think it's going to be for Mitt Romney and Republicans.
CARVILLE: How does a guy from the Bush administration sit here and blame Obama?
I mean, it's just -- it's vexing. Obama takes office and losing 750,000 jobs, and then Mitt Romney wants to talk about Carter. But if you say something about Bush, you can't do that. If you say something about Bain...
CARVILLE: You know, Ari, I didn't interrupt you.
FLEISCHER: Go ahead.
CARVILLE: There are people out there that are complaining and whining about this Bain thing forever.
You get in this -- you get in the game, they're going to come after you. You don't get to tell just your side of the story. They're going to tell the side of Obama. They're going to say, you lost jobs or you did this. That's what happens when you run for reelection.
I'm just simply saying that his record at Bain, he put it front and center. It is a very valid issue to dissect. It's very valid for Romney to come back and say he did all these wonderful things. As governor of Massachusetts, it was 47th in job creation. Hey, let him run an ad saying, I was better than three other states.
Louisiana was one. And we had Hurricane Katrina, which I think was a little bit of a disadvantage for us. But let him run on his record as job creating as governor of Massachusetts. It's certainly not unfair for me to point out they were 47th.
COOPER: Ari, I have got to let you respond and then we got to go.
FLEISCHER: I'm doing no complaining about it. I think it's an appropriate thing to talk about.
And I think that's why the Democrats have said what they have said, because they recognize the role that the private economy plays. Barack Obama doesn't. You get the sense the president just has this distrust of all things private, private economy, the private sector.
You know, he attacks people for riding on the corporate planes, but never says anything about all the Hollywood people who ride on corporate jets or the sports and the stars and the athletes who ride on private planes, just corporate.
He has an anti-business approach. And that's reflected in the way he's governed, the things he's said. And it's one of the reasons we have so little job creation. Businesses are very worried with Barack Obama that there are going to be so many taxes and regulations that is suppressing job growth.
COOPER: Ari Fleischer, James Carville, guys, thanks very much.
Just ahead: a scare on board this airliner -- what a woman said was inside her and what happened next.
COOPER: A controversial Massachusetts school that is under fire for shocking students with painful electricity, electric shocks, they are not backing down. They say the so-called aversive therapy it uses is FDA approved, but it turns out it's not. We'll follow up, next.
COOPER: There's a lot more we're following tonight. Isha is here with the bulletin.
ISHA SESAY, CNNI ANCHOR: Anderson, a federal law enforcement source says a woman who caused a flight to be diverted today didn't pose any real threat and will likely get psychological testing. The woman was on board a U.S. Airways flight from Paris to North Carolina. She claimed to have a device surgically implanted in her body.
The man who was held for months in Aruba last year after the woman he was traveling with disappeared is back in the news. Gary Giordano has been charged with indecent exposure in Maryland after police found him naked, cuddling with a woman in the back of a car in a parking garage.
A man has reportedly become only the fourth person ever to survive going over Niagara Falls without any protective gear. Local reports say he climbed over a retaining wall and was swept over the falls. He suffered broken ribs and a collapsed lung.
And Anderson, the first private spacecraft bound for the International Space Station blasted off from Cape Canaveral early this morning. The unmanned rocket is delivering supplies to astronauts in the space station. I know you're a space geek, so that one's for you.
COOPER: Isha, thanks.
Disturbing video. A controversial treatment still being used at a Massachusetts school. It shows a former student, autistic young man, strapped down, being shocked with electrodes. His mom calls it torture. What does the school say? The school's director of research is going to join us to explain what they're doing and why the school fought to keep this video from being seen. Next.
COOPER: A school psychologist behind a racially offensive tweet stepping down. What he said about, quote, "young black thugs needing to be," quote, "put down" was only the beginning. Details ahead.
COOPER: Tonight a "360 Follow" on a controversial center for teens and others with severe emotional behavioral and developmental issues, including severe autism.
The school is the Judge Rotenberg Center in Canton, Massachusetts. Now, it's controversial, because its students' behavior is controlled with painful electrical shocks. The school calls it aversive therapy for hard-to-control kids who are a danger to themselves and haven't been helped by anything else.
But a recently-released video that the school fought hard to keep secret has renewed calls to close the school. We need to warn you, the video you're about to see is disturbing.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: That's a young man named Andre McCollins, a former student who was shocked 31 times over seven hours. Ultimately strapped down, continued to be shocked. Andre has autism. The video was evidence in a lawsuit his family recently settled.
Last week, the school told us that what happened to Andre isn't the norm, but they are not backing off claims that skin shocks help their students and even save lives, preventing them from very dangerous behaviors.
But some of the claims don't seem to hold up to the facts. For instance, on the Web site the school says the device they use to use is FDA approved. It isn't. We checked with the FDA, and they told us they cleared the device -- that's the word, cleared -- in 1994 for use by Judge Rotenberg Center, on the basis that it was basically the same as an aversive conditioning device that was already on the market.
But in 2010, FDA inspectors discovered that the school was using a souped-up version, a stronger version of the device, that delivered much more powerful shocks. Inspectors were concerned, among other things, about the risk of burns. As a result, the agency says it told the school back in 2010 the device was no longer, quote/unquote, "cleared" under its earlier ruling. It's not clear what's happened since then.
The FDA declined to comment when we asked. They did say in no uncertain terms the school should not be referring to its skin shock device as FDA approved.
In a statement the school provided us last week, they also said, quote, "Behavior modification techniques involving the use of aversive interventions including skin shock are heavily regulated in Massachusetts by Massachusetts DDS and the Massachusetts Department of Early Education and Care."
What the Web site doesn't mention is that skin shocks have been banned in Massachusetts since last September. The Massachusetts Health and Human Services Department told us, quote, "The administration filed regulations last year to ban the use of aversive therapies for any student who was not already receiving aversive therapies by order of the Probate and Family Court. As a result, no new behavioral plans with aversive therapies have been put into place since September."
In other words, any student who enrolled at Judge Rotenberg Center after September 2011 cannot be shocked under the new state guidelines. Students who were enrolled before then can still be shocked.
Nathan Blenkush is a research director at the Judge Rotenberg Center. He joins me now, along with Kevin Pelphrey, a neuroscientist and director of the Child Neuroscience Laboratory at Yale University.
Kevin, did I mangle your last name?
KEVIN PELPHREY, NEUROSCIENTIST: A little bit. But that's fine.
COOPER: What is it?
PELPHREY: It's Pelphrey.
COOPER: OK. Pelphrey, thank you. So Kevin, describe what happens in a body when a shock like this is administered, particularly in the case of Andre, where it's 31 times in seven hours.
PELPHREY: Sure. So from the -- from the point of the view of the experience of the person being shocked, obviously, it's painful, and that sets off a cascade of biological events. Essentially, an activation of what we call the stress response. So the type of response you feel if you narrowly escape a car accident, a fight or a flight response. And so that unleashes a set of stress hormones that we know are very bad for the body. It causes all types of illnesses over time.
So chronic exposure to this type of stress hormone is well known to cause harm to individuals, types of things we try to avoid in our daily lives.
COOPER: Nathan, you're a board-certified analyst for this center. You also have 20 students with severe disabilities who you care for and you oversee. Why is it OK to shock autistic students, others with severe developmental disabilities, when prisoners aren't shocked, murderers aren't shocked to control their behavior?
NATHAN BLENKUSH, RESEARCH DIRECTOR, JUDGE ROTENBERG CENTER: Well, you have to remember that this is not retribution. We're not trying to get back at people for engaging in problem behaviors.
What we're trying to is reduce their problem behaviors to nearby zero levels so that they can learn additional skills and so that they can be free of psychotropic medications and free of mechanical and physical restraints.
COOPER: But with that logic, why not shock prisoners who are unruly, prisoners who are difficult? People would view that as inhumane.
BLENKUSH: Well -- well, you know, what we're looking to do here is, you know, when prisoners are often removed from society because they're dangerous to others and because, you know, because that's the way that the legal system works. But this is a different process here.
What we're trying to do is to treat these individuals so that they no longer require skin shock in many cases or that they can discontinue other procedures that are -- that are dangerous or that have side effects that are worse.
COOPER: But I talked to parents whose kids are now grown adults and are still at the center. They've been there since the '80s, and they're still receiving shocks.
BLENKUSH: There are a certain type of -- there's a certain type of behavior problem where the behavior is maintained by unknown causes. And where we find that, on a long-term basis, the procedure is what we require in order for the person to maintain a good quality of life.
Now, that's not that different than a lot of procedures that many of us use that are prosthetic in nature. A lot of antipsychotic medications are prosthetic in nature. And they only work as long as people are taking them. People take all kinds of drugs that, the moment they stop taking them, the symptoms or the problems return.
Now, if we can -- if we can give someone a -- that exhibits extraordinarily dangerous behavior problems, such as hitting their heads until they blind themselves, or pulling out all their own teeth or physical aggression that's so severe that they injure everyone who cares for them, if we can eliminate those behaviors and that person can live...
COOPER: Has this been peer reviewed, though? I mean, has this been peer reviewed?
BLENKUSH: Well, there are a whole slew of studies related to the use of contingent skin shocks and the treatment of severe...
COOPER: Right. Studies that mostly come from this center. But has it been peer reviewed? That's how science works. You submit this stuff, and it's peer reviewed.
BLENKUSH: Well, actually -- well, actually, it's the case that most of the studies have not come from the Judge Rotenberg Center.
COOPER: OK. Have it been peer reviewed?
BLENKUSH: Yes, they have been -- they have been published in peer- reviewed journals, and they've been published by multiple authors, and there's numerous papers that show that this procedure is safe and that it's effective and that the side effects are mostly positive.
COOPER: OK. Kevin, you not only study kids with autism; you're the father of two children with autism. If this has been peer reviewed, why is this the only center that does this?
PELPHREY: Well, I'm -- I could have missed it, but I spent quite a bit of time today my colleague, Jamie McHartland (ph) and I, looking for peer-reviewed articles in all of the usual sources that we use to find biomedical research. And we just couldn't find anything that wasn't published online without peer review supporting the efficacy.
And the other component was what we could find coming out online. Again not peer reviewed. As far as we could tell was not comparing this therapy to other therapies that have -- that don't have the experience of pain as a component which would be critical to evaluated scientific effectiveness.
COOPER: But Kevin, while supporters of the school say, "Look, these are kids or teens or even adults who no one else will accept, who have been other places and haven't worked out. They're violent in some cases and are a danger to themselves. And this seems to control their behavior, whereas psychotropic medication, they gain weight. They're listless, not themselves."
PELPHREY: I understand the point of view, but I would argue that, given the long literature, and it goes back quite -- about a hundred years, in terms of behavioral research.
We know that punishment in the long term does relatively little to affect behavior, again in the long term. Once it's removed, behaviors come back. And it doesn't treat the underlying cause, so the psychotropic medications are designed to treat the underlying cause, the brain imbalances that lead to those behaviors. They're biologically based. They're evidence based.
And they can be combined with behavioral techniques that are absolutely wonderful that focus on reward and positive reinforcement. And the two combined, I would hypothesize, would work much better than simply using a form of punishment.
COOPER: And Nathan, supporters of this say, "Well, look, it's like a bee sting, the electric shock." But first of all, bee stings are painful, especially if you're doing it 31 times in seven hours as was done to this student, Andre. There have been other cases of students shocked multiple times that -- that have gone to court.
And you've actually developed a device which is even stronger, because for some of the people, the lower levels of shock doesn't seem to work.
BLENKUSH: Yes. So what we want to do with all treatments is we want to weigh the risk and the benefits of the treatments that we're looking at.
And so all treatments have a certain probability of success. They have certain side effects associated with them. And they have a certain efficacy.
And going back to what the other speaker was talking about, first of all, I would be more than happy to share all the peer-reviewed studies on this topic with him.
Second of all, the people that are referred to our program have been on all of these types of procedures for decades. They have received early autism intervention, and they have received positive-only reinforcement procedures. They have received special education training. And they have been on massive doses of pharmacological agents that weren't effective and that didn't prevent them from engaging in these behaviors and that caused them to have obesity, increased their risk of sudden cardiac death.
Some people have come to our program and because of the PRN medications they were given, they experienced neurologic malignancy where they had a seizure, and they had to go to the hospital. And one person nearly died because of these drugs.
So I think if you look at it from a risk benefit profile, the procedures like skin shock are extremely effective for those rare problem behaviors that can't be treated anywhere else. And they are far safer than the alternatives of long-term restraint, of high doses of antipsychotic medications.
And remember, we're using this after all the procedures such as positive reinforcement have been used and failed for a number of years.
COOPER: Nathan Blenkush, I appreciate you being on, and Kevin Pelphrey, as well. Thank you very much. It's a difficult topic, obviously, and difficult for parents on both sides of this. Coming up, disturbing racially charged statements from a school psychologist in Louisiana. He posted on Twitter that, quote, "young black thugs" -- those were his words -- should be, quote, "put down like the dogs they are." This is a school psychologist. We'll tell you what's happened to him now. Details ahead.
SESAY: Back to Anderson in a moment. But first, another bulletin.
According to the "Times-Picayune," a school psychologist in Jefferson Parish, Louisiana, has resigned after tweeting several racially offensive comments like this one. Quote, "We are faced with a young black army of thugs who have declared war on the American way of life, holding America hostage as we speak." He said his comments were not racist.
More than a year after Japan's earthquake and tsunami, debris from the disaster is washing ashore nearly 4,000 miles away in Alaska. Locals say the debris is polluting the Pacific and endangering wildlife.
The anniversary today of another disaster. A year ago today a massive tornado hit Joplin, Missouri. One hundred and sixty-four people were killed and hundreds of buildings were destroyed or damaged.
And who made millions of dollars in paintings and a silk screen by Andy Warhol disappear? They disappeared from an art collector last month. The hot artwork may have already left the country.
Coming up, one man's crusade, him against the intricacies of an all you can eat fish fry. The RidicuList is next.
COOPER: Time for "The RidicuList." And tonight, we are reeling over the tale of a fish fry gone awry. At a restaurant in Wisconsin everything was going swimmingly at the all-you-can-eat fish fry until a guy started carping, about, well, what the definition of all is.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I need more fish on my dish.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: His name is Bill. And he ate a whole bunch of fried fish on his dish, even got some more to go, something like 20 pieces of fried fish in all. Reportedly the restaurant started to run out, so finally they told Bill that he was cut off.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We asked for more fish. And they refused to give us any more fish. It's false advertising.
(END VIDEO CLIP) COOPER: So Bill did what anyone would do when faced with this type of egregious trout withholding, this deficiency, if you will. He called the police.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What do you need the Thiensville Police Department for?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, I'm eating at this restaurant. All you can eat fish. I just asked for more fish; they gave me four pieces.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: OK.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And they refused to give me any more fish. And it's right out on the sign in front of the building, all-you-can-eat fish fry.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: Yes. He called the sheriff's dispatcher. Not only did Bill call the sheriff's office, he started picketing the restaurant. If I'm not mistaken, I think he wrote his slogan on cardboard with ballpoint pen so we could hardly even make it out. I think it says poor business practices.
Listen, I don't know how many times I have to say this, people. When you picket an all-you-can-eat fish fry, you've got to use a Sharpie. Everyone knows this.
Now, some of you may be thinking all you can eat should be all you can eat, up to and including all Bill can eat. But wait. Bill's whole beef could be a red herring because our intrepid crusader for more fish on the dish, if you will, apparently has a history of being a problem customer at this restaurant.
For one thing, he was reportedly already up to his bass in a tab he never paid off. And it sounds like Bill's bill may have been rather substantial because it isn't just the all-you-can-eat fish fry that has him hooked.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They do have, like, some of the best pizza in town, if you like deep-dish pizza.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: That's quite an endorsement. But the restaurant isn't taking the bait. He's reportedly been banned.
I suppose between the unpaid tab and calling the police and the picketing, well, unlike Bill himself at the all-you-can-eat fish fry, they've simply had enough. And that's what we call the scales of justice on "The RidicuList."
OK, that's it for us. Thanks for watching. "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts now.