Former Obama DHS Secretary: 'Confederate monuments are a threat to public safety'

Former Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson said Confederate monuments are "becoming symbols and rallying points for white nationalism, for neo-Nazis, for the KKK."
6:20 | 08/20/17

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Transcript for Former Obama DHS Secretary: 'Confederate monuments are a threat to public safety'
Joining me now is Jeh Johnson. He served as president Obama's secretary of homeland security for the final three years of his administration. Mr. Johnson, thank you for joining us. Thank you for inviting me, Martha. I would like your reaction to what Mr. Falwell just said. He talked about it being political correctness. It's interesting. Sometimes people have more many common than one might realize. Like Mr. Falwell, I'm an attorney. Like his father, my great grandfather was a southern Baptist preacher. My great grandfather was born a slave? 1860. He was freed by Abraham linking when he was a child. He taught himself to read and write. He founded the Lee street Baptist church in 1890. Which is still there. It's in that vein that I would like to respond here as former secretary of homeland security and as an African-American. Um -- president trump said this week that Jefferson and Washington were slave owners. Where does it stop? Where does it end? I think most Americans understand, most African-Americans understand that many of the founders of our nation were slave owners. But most of us are not advocating that we take them off the currency or drop Washington's name from the nation's capital. I have first cousins. Cousins whose names are Washington. They're not changing their names. They're proud of their name. What alarms so many of us from a security perspective is that so many of the statues, the confederate monuments are now modern-day becoming symbols and rallying points for white nationalism. For neo Nazis. For the kkk. This is most alarming. We fought a World War against naziism. The kkk rained terror on people for generations. People are alarmd. I salute those in cities and states taking down monuments for reasons of public safety and security. That's not a matter of political correctness. It's matter of public safety and homeland security and doing what's right. I think president trump, the administration, would talk about that as a slippery slope. And, we're here in Washington, D.C. I'm in Washington, D.C., Virginia, there's Jefferson taifs highway. Washington Lee high school. Where should that stop? Well, you know, that's a good question. I think that is a judgment that has to be made more at the local level. And, Mitch Landrieu, mayor of New Orleans two months ago, gave a very thoughtful speech on this. So, communities have to make judgments about this. A lot of these monuments are being moved to places of history. But, my concern as a former secretary of homeland security is we see white nationalists now, neonazis using these symbols as rallying points modern day. We saw what happened this charlottesville. We have to avoid repeat occurrences of that. I want to to back to president trump's comments and what Mr. Falwell said. Is the media overreacting? Did the president speak his mind? Did he make it leer in your mind? I don't think the media is overreacting. The media rightly covers everything the president says. What the president doesn't seem to grasp here is that he is -- our history is no doubt delicate. It's complicated. You have to understand history to be president. I tell public audiences, those who know history learn from it. Those who don't know the mistakes of history are bound to repeat it. I'm very concern pd that this president is -- frankly dividing us when he should be bringing us together. That's one of the jobs of the president of the the united States. It's part of the job description to bring people together in times like this. Of high anxiety. High stress. I would encourage him through his words to try to do that. Not just speak to his base. Speak to all of America. He's the president for all of us in this country. Do you think the election of the first African-American president brought out some of these groups and kkk groups, brought them back? How much of a role did that play, do you think? Throughout his entire public career, Barack Obama has talked about bringing people together. I know he dedicated much of his presidency to doing that. He talked to all American people, particularly in times like this. So I think that is a very unfair suggestion. His entire career was devoted to bringing people together. I want to turn to what is going on in the white house and the turmoil. Steve Bannon leaving the white house this week. What do you think that says with Bannon leaving? And put on your pent dpon hat from years ago? What do you think it says that he surrounded himself with generals, they repain. What do you expect going forward? It's interesting. I don't think anyone would have thought so many retired general officers would be serving in civilian positions today. There's ban lot of talk about people resigning from the white house. Should they be resigning from the white house. If John Kelly, my friend, John Kelly, or my friend, Jim Mattis came to me and said, I'm thinking about resigning from this white house I would say, absolutely not. You have to stay. As John reportedly said, it's country first. We need people like John Kelly, Jim Mattis, H.R. Mcmaster to right the ship. Thank you so much for joining us this morning, secretary Johnson. Thank you.

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

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