Monday night, I’d gone to dinner with my friend, the comedian and frequent Trump target Kathy Griffin. She was in New York promoting the documentary A Hell of a Story, about what happened after that infamous picture.
While I went to the bathroom, she looked at her phone and saw an article about a video depicting Trump going on a shooting spree in a church being shown at a conference for American Priority, a super PAC backing Trump, held at a Trump resort in Miami. She sent the article to me. It wasn’t until hours later that she saw the full video and realized she was in it.
The video, taken from the movie Kingsman: The Secret Service, shows the president murdering everyone and everything from Mitt Romney and John McCain to Harvey Weinstein, from CNN and PBS to Black Lives Matter, from Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton to Kathy Griffin.
I talked to Kathy about the video and “that photo” on her way to the airport this morning. Here’s our conversation, lightly edited for length and clarity.
KG: You know, when I sent you the article in the Times, I had no idea I was fucking in it. When you went to the bathroom last night, I just had to check my phone, like we all do, to see, like, what heinous thing has the administration done in the 10 seconds I’ve been away from my phone.
And I see this article by Maggie Haberman and Mike Schmidt and they’re describing a video and I’m reading the description of the article and when I sent it to you I’d assumed the video was embedded in there. So it wasn’t until I got back to the hotel that I read the whole article and I didn’t see the video or see my name, though I thought, “Oh this is interesting,” and I admit I wanted to see the video having been part of a campaign of manipulated photos and the meme-sphere and, you know, the Brad Parscale hit list.
So when I finally watch it, I’m just like, “Oh my God, I can’t believe that he’s doing a mass shooting in a church like Dylann Roof.” And I’m thinking, “Wow this is really, really next level.” And then sure enough at the end, I was like, “Oh, fuck,” you know to see me, Hillary Clinton, and a random bro with a circle of CNN for a head.
MJF: What did you think when saw it?
The reason I want to not be silent about it is that there’s a total false equivalency if anyone thinks that my photo is anything like this. Probably a couple of haters are going to want to go there. But first of all, my photo never incited violence. It’s now been two and a half fucking years. There was no incitement of violence. And while it’s definitely nice to get thoughts and prayers, and it’s nice to read posts from people who are saying that this is messed up, I still have never once had a public significant advocate go on the cable news shows or anything, to just say: “Look, this isn’t going to end for her. Why do you think this is going to end? She was a perfect target for them. Nobody stood up for her.”
People kind of implied I sort of deserved it. I mean, Don Junior went on Good Morning America and said “she deserved everything she had coming to her,” and George Stephanopoulos didn’t push back at all.
MJF: I was thinking about that because Junior spoke at the conference (where the murder-spree video was shown).
KG: Junior was there, Sarah Huckabee was there, and Ron DeSantis. And don’t you think I believe for one second that they were unaware of this video and at the very least didn’t get a bunch of yuks looking at it on their phones. I love the super PAC trying to distance themselves, and the administration and (White House press secretary) Stephanie Grisham can go fuck herself with her, like, “Oh we really didn’t know about this.” And I’m just wondering: What was this made for? Who made it? Who paid for it? It took a minute, you know what I mean. It wasn’t a 400-pound guy in his basement or whatever.
MJF: I think it was this guy Logan Cook, who goes by Carpe Donktum and who’s been encouraged by Trump before, or a member of his collective. He has a site called MemeWorld where he makes these kind of things. Have any of those people who were so high-handed condemning you two and a half years ago come out now and said, “We’re sorry, and that this is so much worse”?
KG: There have been people online, like Shannon Watts did a really nice tweet about it. But that doesn’t mean anyone is going to hit the airwaves and just say, “OK guys, you know, really somebody is going to get shot.”
Is this the hashtag winning? You know I’m going to be 59 on Nov. 4. You really want this to happen—you really think this can’t happen to your mom or your aunt?
This is really, truly a far cry from my photo, which was a massive touch-up but also, you know, I’m a comic. I’m not the fucking president of the United States.
As far as I see, no one has said anything that truly condemned it. I know they distanced themselves but this is an easy thing to do even if they were lying, you know: “This is appalling. We’re going to make sure we talk to you personally and this is taken down.” You know, any of the stuff that a real administration would have done. And it makes me suspicious, I think it’s got their fingerprints all over it.
It’s one of the things that I struggle with: the number of electeds, obviously on the Republican side, that are so afraid of the Trump tweet. I mean, it’s not fun, but I survived it.
MJF: What was it like with the government coming after you?
KG: Typically if they feel there’s a credible threat against the president, the Secret Service calls that person and they have a discussion or they may go visit or something like that. But in my case, first of all the idea that anyone seriously thought I was going to actually assassinate the president is funny—until you learn the Secret Service really had me under investigation and were considering charging me with the crime of conspiracy to assassinate the president of the United States, which they loved telling me holds a lifetime sentence. And then the U.S. Attorney’s Office was on deck, and they were the second federal agency ready to prosecute if they could find enough of a case.
I was on the no-fly list like a terrorist. And then they kept wanting me to go downtown and literally do a perp walk in a jumpsuit in cuffs. And my lawyer said, “They’re just messing with you, but they want the video.”
I can understand how someone would think, “Oh that can’t be possible.” And then I looked at the video today and I think you know this is a crowd that would think nothing of trying to put me in a jumpsuit and have me do a perp walk like Whitey Bulger.
And these things come with real cost. I really had to pay expensive lawyers to handle the investigation and keep me out of jail. And I was interrogated under oath; I wasn’t just questioned. My lawyer said to me, prior to me being interrogated under oath by the feds, “you mess this up and you leave in cuffs.”
I wouldn’t wish this on my worst enemy—but especially if they didn’t do anything.
When I was on the Interpol list, I got detained at LAX going to New Zealand, and they scanned my passport, called a supervisor, pulled me aside and wouldn’t let me be with anybody that I was traveling with. They took my phone. They took my SIM card. They took my passport and they went away for an undetermined amount of time. So you don’t know if you’re going to make your flight. Once I was abroad, I was always terrified of missing a show. And then every single time, they did return everything to me and never ever once gave me an explanation.
It happened again when I landed in Sydney. It happened when I went to New Zealand. Once I was in a country, it didn’t happen but when I went to a different country and I think I end up playing like 20 countries altogether.
Every single time, it’s terrifying. Like in Singapore, I was detained for six hours and I just didn’t know what was going to happen. And I assume they cloned my phone.
I want people to know that. I want people who think that “Oh that’s against the law. They can’t do that” to know: They sure can.
And, by the way, two FOIAs have been filed because I still to this day don’t know what was on my passport. I’m actually headed to the airport right now, and to tell you the truth, I’m a little fearful that there’s something on my passport again. I’m here to tell you: They really can do anything.
MJF: Do you have anything else you want to say about the video?
KG: It isn’t just me. I’m not trying to say I got the worst of it or whatever. I mean every single depiction in that thing is just completely—it literally has one goal. The goal is to get people so gleeful that they’re either going to cheer more at a rally or they’re going to pick up a firearm.
I think one of the reasons that I’m in this clip is that they feel they were somewhat successful keeping me down. I’m like a well that they keep coming back to; clearly I’m still one of their go-to people.
When you think about the atrocities that Trump in this administration are carrying on, it’s just unbelievable that on top of all that, this is like how they get their jollies.
My biggest fear is people will say, “Well, Kathy, you took a photo and this is no different.”
And I’m telling you as somebody who lived it that this is night and day. I’m not the fucking president, I’m a comedian. I’m a 58-year-old woman. You know I have never in my life made like a wacky Funny or Die video about a mass shooting in a church.
And so, once again, my main goal is to, you know, fight back. They tried to cancel me and I’m just not going to shut up about it. I’ll try to make it funny and on my next tour, I won’t exclusively talk about Trump but, you know, it may come out now and again.
This would be the sort of thing that a normal president would take to the airwaves and say, “OK, I need to talk about this and condemn it,” and have a way to talk about it that’s gracious and all that. And, you know, that’s all over. So once again, my message is a little bit similar to what it was two years ago, which is:
“Trust me. If it can happen to me, it can happen to you.”