Spike Lee: 'Not Far-fetched' to Say New Orleans Levees Deliberately Destroyed

Declaring “it's not far-fetched,” movie director Spike Lee affirmed on Friday night’s Real Time with Bill Maher on HBO, that he believes Louis Farakhan’s allegation that a levee was destroyed in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina in order to flood the nearly all-black ninth ward. Lee contended that “a choice had to be made, one neighborhood got to save another neighborhood and flood another 'hood, flood another neighborhood.” ABC News reporter Michel Martin chimed in with how “anybody with any knowledge of history can understand why a lot of people can feel this way, that that's a reasonable theory.” But she went on to dismiss the theory, prompting Lee to demand: "Presidents have been assassinated. So why is that so far-fetched?" To hearty applause from the Los Angeles audience, Lee asked: "Do you think that election in 2000 was fair? You don't think that was rigged?" Lee argued: “If they can rig an election, they can do anything!" Lee soon got into a heated exchange with MSNBC’s Tucker Carlson as he raised the “Tuskegee experiment” as proof the U.S. government is capable of any abuse of blacks. Lee made similar allegations on CNN back on October 11, as recounted in the Washington Times. What he said on HBO and CNN follows.

Video excerpt: Real or Windows Media

From about 45 minutes into Maher’s live 11pm EDT show on October 21 produced at CBS Television City in Los Angeles, with panelists Tucker Carlson, Michel Martin and Spike Lee:
Bill Maher: “You did make a movie called Get on the Bus, which was about the Million Man March which was, I can't believe it, ten years ago, and this past Saturday Lewis Farakhan did a kind of reunion of the Million Man March. I don’t think we got a million people this time. But he was saying, last Saturday in Washington, that he thinks that the federal government, there was a conspiracy to actually blow up those levees so that they would flood the poor black districts in New Orleans. I have to tell you, I'm not a conspiracy theorist. I don't believe it. But when you see some of the things that have gone on in this country.”

Spike Lee: “Exactly. It's not far-fetched. And also I would like to say it's not necessarily blow it up. But, the residents of that ward, they believe it, there was a Hurricane Betsy in '65, the same that happened where a choice had to be made, one neighborhood got to save another neighborhood and flood another 'hood, flood another neighborhood. Look, we're in LA-”

Maher: “That's been done before.”

Lee: “We're in LA, and there’s an emergency situation, we called from Beverly Hills, we call from Compton. Which one the cops coming to first?”

Maher: “Right. But that's different than pro-actively blowing up a levee to flood one neighborhood. I’m not saying it’s not possible.”

Michel Martin: “That would require a conspiracy. I mean, look, we can all understand, anybody with any knowledge of history can understand why a lot of people can feel this way, that that's a reasonable theory. But it would also require a conspiracy at three levels of government -- the local, the state, and the federal. It would require no white residents-”

Lee: “Presidents have been assassinated. So why is that so far-fetched?”

Martin: “Because it would require, because it would require no white person in the government to have a moral compass. It would require no black person to have a spine and I think that's a very hard case to make.”

Lee: “Let me ask you a question: Do you think that election in 2000 was fair? You don't think that was rigged?” [audience applause]

Martin: “It’s not a question of not being fair, it’s a question of-”

Lee: “If they can rig an election, they can do anything!”

Carlson: “I was in New Orleans right after the hurricane in the ninth ward. And while I didn't hear anybody say the levee was blown up by the federal government, I did interview a bunch of people who were stuck there who said they believed this was part of the conspiracy to rid New Orleans of black people. They honestly believed that. I didn’t argue with them, I just listened to what they said and I felt bad for them. So as you sit here -- who is someone who is rich and has option -- and are watched by people who are poor and have no options, it seems to me it's your responsibility, your obligation to tell them the truth and you know the truth, which is the federal government did not blow up the levees so don’t feed the paranoia and the crazies.”

Lee: “First of all, how’s that feeding the paranoia?”

Carlson: “Because you’re saying it’s entirely possible when you know perfectly well it’s not possible.”

Lee: “How’s it not possible?”

Carlson: “The federal government blew up the levees? A, there's zero evidence, b, it's difficult to blow up a levee, c, there were news cameras all around and nobody saw it. I mean, let’s be real here.”

Lee: “Because nobody saw, because nobody saw means, can it happen? Let me ask you a question: With the history of this country, you ever heard of 'Tuskegee experiment’? Answer! Answer!”

Carlson: “I’m not going to sit here for your history lesson. I want to know what-”

Lee: “Explain to the audience what the Tuskegee experiment was.”

Carlson: “I'm not even going to get into that.”

Lee: “Why not?”

Carlson: “I’ll tell you why: Because you're making a serious allegation-”
The conversation deteriorated further with the panelists talking over one another, thus making a transcript difficult.

Back on October 13, Washington TimesInside Politics” columnist Greg Pierce picked up on comments Spike made during an 11am EDT hour appearnce on CNN two days earlier following a story about the wild beliefs of some of those in New Orleans, from how the federal government blew up the levees to how al-Qaeda was behind it. Pierce reported:
Filmmaker Spike Lee thinks the federal government might have destroyed a levee to drive black people out of New Orleans while saving the white sections of the city after Hurricane Katrina. But it's not clear he will push that notion in a documentary he will make for HBO.

Mr. Lee, in an interview Tuesday on CNN, said the documentary will be called "When the Levee Broke."

When asked about the levee conspiracy theory, which apparently has gained credence among some New Orleans blacks, Mr. Lee said that "it's not too far-fetched to think that, look, we got a bunch of poor black people here. We got to save these other neighborhoods. What we got to do, dump this in this ward, boom. I believe it."

And when interviewer Daryn Kagan asked whether Mr. Lee really believed that theory, the director replied: "I don't put anything past the United States government."

But when asked whether he intended to prove that in his documentary, Mr. Lee said: "Well, no, no, no, no, no."

However, later in the interview, Mr. Lee said: "And I think that it's a shame what happened, and I don't care how many times Mr. Bush goes to the Gulf or spends a night in a hotel, there's still a lot of grief. And, you know, I don't find it too far-fetched that they try to displace all the black people out of New Orleans."

Brent Baker
Brent Baker
Brent Baker is the Steven P.J. Wood Senior Fellow and VP for Research and Publications at the Media Research Center