tv 60 Minutes CBS March 26, 2017 7:00pm-8:01pm PDT
captioning funded by cbs and ford. we go further, so you can. being watched by the f.b.i. for years, but it didn't stop him from carrying out the first terrorist attack claimed by isis on u.s. soil. it happened in garland, texas. simpson and another terrorist opened fire at a conference center. incredibly, an f.b.i. undercover agent was on the scene. >> i can't tell you whether the f.b.i. knew the attack was going to occur. i don't like to think that they let it occur, but it is shocking to me that an undercover agent sees fellas jumping out of a car and he drives on. i find that shocking. >> there's a lot of people gunning for me. i'm not going to be reckless. >> pelley: who is gunning for you? >> you are.
i'm on "60 minutes," right? >> pelley: tonight "60 minutes" reports on the real consequences of fake news. lies on the left and right fed by fraudulent software that scam our social media accounts. click on a fake news site, and publishers like jestin coler make money. >> people in general are quick to believe anything that is... not anything, but, well, yeah, basically anything that's put in front of them in a format that is news-ish. >> alfonsi: until a couple summers ago, the ancient game of chess was still mostly a mystery for the folks of rural franklin county, mississippi. >> what's this called? >> alfonsi: so imagine everyone's surprise when a tall stranger arrived from memphis to bring chess to the country. >> i was like, what? why would somebody come down here? >> alfonsi: less than two years later, a chess boom is under way in the unlikeliest of places. >> people said that country kids
couldn't learn chess. >> alfonsi: and? >> we showed 'em different. >> we proved 'em wrong. >> we proved 'em wrong. >> i'm steve kroft. >> e-mail lesley stahl. >> i'm bill whitaker. >> i'm anderson cooper. >> i'm sharyn alfonsi. >> i'm scott pelley. those stories tonight on "60 minutes." doe. see me. see me. see me to know that psoriasis is just something that i have. i'm not contagious. see me to know that... ...i won't stop until i find what works. discover cosentyx, a different kind of medicine for moderate to severe plaque psoriasis. proven to help the majority of people find clear or almost clear skin. 8 out of 10 people saw 75% skin clearance at 3 months. while the majority saw 90% clearance. do not use if you are allergic to cosentyx. before starting, you should be tested for tuberculosis. an increased risk of infections
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here in the u.s. in just the past three years more than 100 people have been arrested for isis-related crimes. the f.b.i. devotes significant resources to identifying potential terrorists and sometimes spends years tracking them. the terror attack in garland texas two years ago was the first claimed by isis on us soil. it's mostly been forgotten because the two terrorists were killed by local cops before they managed to murder anyone. in looking into what happened in garland, we were surprised to discover just how close the fbi was to one of the terrorists. not only had the fbi been monitoring him for years, there was an undercover agent right behind him when the first shots were fired. the target of the attack was an event taking place in this conference center on may 3, 2015. a self-described free speech advocate named pamela geller was holding a provocative contest, offering a cash-prize for the best drawing of the prophet
muhammad, whose depiction is considered sacrilege by some muslims. security outside was heavy. there were dozens of police, a swat team, and snipers. more than 100 people were gathered inside and the event was ending when two terrorists drove up to a checkpoint manned by a garland police officer and a school security guard. this grainy image shows both law enforcement personnel standing next to an unmarked police car seconds before the attack. bruce joiner, the security guard, was unarmed. >> joiner: it's like they pull up, stop, and the doors open. >> cooper: do you remember seeing the weapon? >> joiner: oh, yeah. definitely saw their weapon. and that's when i locked onto his face cause he's got this smile. >> cooper: he was literally smiling? >> joiner: yeah, like, "i got you. i got you." ( gunshots ) >> cooper: the two terrorists opened fire with automatic rifles. joiner dove for cover, but was shot in the leg. officer greg stevens, returned fire with his handgun. police nearby ran toward the
scene. >> and right here ( bleep ) just started shooting at this convention! >> cooper: when this video was recorded by a passerby, both terrorists had been mortally wounded by officer stevens, and were laying on the ground next to their car. >> they still shooting, man! >> cooper: a swat team shot them both in the head. >> joiner: because they kept moving and they weren't sure there were explosives involved they had to shoot them. >> cooper: how quick did all of this happen? >> joiner: oh, it's a matter of seconds. i would say 20, 30 seconds. it's very quick. >> cooper: the next day as the fbi picked through the crime scene, the evidence showed garland police had prevented a massacre. the terrorists brought six guns, hundreds of rounds of ammunition, bulletproof and tactical vests, and xeroxed copies of the black flag of isis. they were identified as 31-year- old elton simpson and 34-year- old nadir soofi. just hours before the attack they had sent this tweet pledging allegiance to isis.
but simpson was already well- known to the f.b.i. he grew up in the suburbs of chicago, and moved to phoenix, arizona in middle school. he briefly played college basketball before dropping out and converting to islam when he was 20. according to leaders of the phoenix mosque he attended, simpson was well-liked and soft spoken. >> shami: he was always asking questions, attending lectures. >> cooper: usama shami is president of the islamic community center of phoenix. people here thought so much of the young muslim convert, who took the name "ibrahim," that he was included in the mosque's promotional video in 2007. >> when you come together and you pray five times a day with the brothers and you're reminded about the hereafter. >> cooper: but at the time of this interview, simpson had already become interested in radical islam, and the phoenix fbi, which was investigating one his friends, hired an informant, a sudanese refugee named dabla
deng, to check simpson out. >> cooper: there are informants inside the mosque? >> shami: yeah. i mean the whole case with elton simpson was with an informant that he was befriending elton and taping his conversations. >> cooper: dabla deng spent three years pretending to be simpson's friend, and was paid $132,000 by the fbi. he taped more than 1,500 hours of their conversations and finally recorded him talking about traveling overseas to wage jihad. simpson lied to the fbi about it and got three years probation. >> shami: when he found out that this guy was spying on him, and taping him and then finding out that the government was doing that, i think something clicked in him. and the mosque we couldn't do anything. because we don't know what he did. >> cooper: he felt that the mosque had abandoned him? >> shami: yes. and he felt that a lot of people had abandoned him. and that's why he stopped coming to the mosque.
>> cooper: he moved into this phoenix apartment complex with nadir soofi, who he knew from the mosque. soofi had just had a bitter break-up and the pizza parlor he owned was going out of business. it was here in this apartment that simpson and soofi began closely following the rise of isis, reaching out to their supporters online, and acquiring weapons for a terrorist attack. >> hughes: simpson and soofi knew what they were getting into and i think they likely knew they were going to die. >> cooper: seamus hughes tracks the online activities of isis sympathizers in the u.s. he served at the national counter terrorism center, and is currently deputy director of george washington university's" program on extremism," where he also trains fbi agents on how to identify american jihadis. why is the garland attack so significant? >> hughes: the garland attack is essentially the first opening salvo when it comes to attacks on the homeland. >> cooper: attacks in the united states? >> hughes: attacks in the united states. these low-level attacks by ones and twos of people who are drawn to the ideology and decide to act.
you got to make sense of it all. so what you do is you bring it all together and put it on a board and say who's connected to who. >> cooper: using an old- fashioned law enforcement tool, hughes maps out isis' online tentacles into the united states. >> hughes: so you have the two attackers, soofi and simpson. they're also talking to mohammed miski, who's an isis recruiter in somalia. >> cooper: this is somebody in somalia who they're talking to online... >> hughes: uh-huh. yep. through an encrypted app, surespot. they're also talking to junaid hussein. >> cooper: and he's in raqqa? >> hughes: he's in raqqa. >> cooper: raqqa is isis's stronghold in syria. hughes calls junaid hussain an" isis rock star," a british citizen, who communicated online with english-speaking recruits worldwide. he was killed in a u.s. drone strike a year and a half ago." miski," an american living in somalia, tweeted this link about the "draw muhammad contest," in garland texas, and direct- messaged elton simpson urging him to attack it. >> hughes: the most interesting part about this is we're in a hybrid time, right.
before we used to be worried about these network attacks, think of 9/11 with the hijackers training for years and then coming over here. and then, we had lone actor attacks, individuals who were kind of drawn to this and decided to act. now, we're in this weird moment in between, where you have a number of individuals in raqqa, reaching out to americans in ohio, new york, and other places and saying "so here's the knife you should use. here's the address of the local u.s. military officer and do what you can." >> cooper: do you think elton simpson would have launched this attack if it wasn't for people in isis overseas who were online whispering in his ear? >> hughes: i think the folks whispering in his ear was a big part of it. >> cooper: the f.b.i. closed the case on elton simpson in 2014, only to re-open it several weeks before the attack because of statements he made on social media. >> hughes: it speaks to a larger problem the f.b.i. has, which is you have an individual who pops into your radar in 2006, but doesn't commit an attack until 2015. so do you want the fbi to watch this individual for nine years?
>> cooper: after the attack, phoenix fbi agents became convinced the two men hadn't acted alone, and began investigating elton simpson's friends. they arrested this man abdul malik abdul kareem, a 43-year- old convert to islam who grew up in philadelphia, and accused him of funding the attack, as well as training and encouraging simpson and soofi. witnesses at abdul-kareem's trial testified the three men watched isis execution videos together and discussed attacking a military base or the 2015 super bowl in glendale, arizona. abdul-kareem denied taking part in any discussions about a terror attack and says he rejected his friend's growing radicalization. he was found guilty on multiple counts and sentenced to thirty years in prison. but his attorney dan maynard continued to investigate, and uncovered new evidence the fbi was much closer to the garland attack than anyone realized. after the trial, you discovered that the government knew a lot more about the garland attack than they had let on?
>> maynard: that's right. yeah. after the trial we found out that they had had an undercover agent who had been texting with simpson less than three weeks before the attack to him "tear up texas." which to me was an encouragement to simpson. >> cooper: the man he's talking about was a special agent of the fbi, working undercover posing as an islamic radical. the government sent attorney dan maynard 60 pages of declassified encrypted messages between the agent and elton simpson and argued "tear up texas" was not an incitement. but simpson's response was incriminating, referring to the attack against cartoonists at the french magazine charlie hebdo: "bro, you don't have to say that..." he wrote "you know what happened in paris... so that goes without saying. no need to be direct." but it turns out the undercover agent did more than just communicate online with elton simpson. in an affidavit filed in another case the government disclosed
that the fbi undercover agent had actually "traveled to garland texas and was present at the event." >> maynard: i was shocked. i mean i was shocked that the government hadn't turned this over. i wanted to know when did he get there, why was he there? >> cooper: and this past november, maynard was given another batch of documents by the government, revealing the biggest surprise of all. the undercover agent was in a car directly behind elton simpson and nadir soofi when they started shooting. this cell-phone photo of school security guard bruce joiner and police officer greg stevens was taken by the undercover agent seconds before the attack. the idea that he's taking photograph of the two people who happen to be attacked ( laughs ) moments before they're attacked. >> maynard: it's stunning. >> cooper: i mean, talk about being in the right or the wrong place at the right or the wrong time. >> maynard: the idea that he's right there 30 seconds before the attack happens is just
incredible to me. >> cooper: what would you want to ask the undercover agent? >> maynard: i would love to ask the undercover agent-- are these the only communications that you had with simpson? did you have more communications with simpson? how is it that you ended up coming to garland, texas? why are you even there? >> cooper: we wanted to ask the f.b.i. those same questions. but the bureau would not agree to an interview. all the f.b.i. would give us was this email statement. it reads: "there was no advance knowledge of a plot to attack the cartoon drawing contest in garland, texas." if you're wondering what happened to the f.b.i.'s undercover agent, he fled the scene but was stopped at gunpoint by garland police. this is video of him in handcuffs, recorded by a local news crew. we've blurred his face to protect his identity. >> maynard: i can't tell you whether the f.b.i. knew the attack was going to occur. i don't like to think that they let it occur. but it is shocking to me that an
undercover agent sees fellas jumping out of a car. and he drives on. i find that shocking. >> cooper: that he didn't try to stop... >> maynard: he didn't try to stop them. or he didn't do something. i mean, he's an agent, for gosh sakes. >> cooper: if this attack had gone a different way, and lots of people had been killed, would the fact that an undercover fbi agent was on the scene have become essentially a scandal? >> hughes: it would have been a bigger story. i think you would have seen congressional investigations and things like that. lucky for the fbi and for the participants in the event you know, here in texas, you know, everyone's a good shot there. >> cooper: the f.b.i.'s actions around this foiled attack offer a rare glimpse into the complexities faced by those fighting homegrown extremism. today the battle often begins online, where identifying terrorists can be the difference between a massacre, and the one that never occurred in garland, texas. people brag about stuff. people talk big. one of the difficulties for the f.b.i. is trying to figure out
who's just talking and who actually may execute an attack. >> hughes: that's the hardest part when you talk about this, right. there's a lot of guys who talk about how great isis is. it's very hard to tell when someone crosses that line. and in most of the cases, you see the f.b.i. has some touch point with those individuals beforehand. there had been an assessment, a preliminary investigation or a full investigation. it's just very hard to know when somebody decides to jump. (man vo) it was may, when dad forgot how to brush his teeth. (woman vo) in march, my husband didn't recognize our grandson. (woman 2 vo) that's when moderate alzheimer's made me a caregiver. (avo) if their alzheimer's is getting worse, ask about once-a-day namzaric. namzaric is approved for moderate to severe alzheimer's disease in patients who are taking donepezil. it may improve cognition and overall function, and may slow the worsening of symptoms for a while. namzaric does not change the underlying disease progression. don't take if allergic to memantine, donepezil, piperidine, or any of the ingredients in namzaric.
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many did it to influence the outcome; others just to make a buck. the president uses the term "fake news" to discredit responsible reporting that he doesn't like, but we're going to show you how con artists insert truly fake news into the national conversation with fraudulent software that scams your social media account. the stories are fake, but the consequences are real. this past december, edgar welch opened fire in a washington d.c. pizzeria. he told police he was there to rescue children forced into prostitution by hillary clinton. the story of secretary clinton's child sex trafficking operation, in a pizzeria, was invented before the election by fraudulent news sites and shared by millions. james alefantis owns the restaurant.
>> alefantis: it started on november 4, 2016, where i started to get strange messages directly into instagram and to facebook. and these direct messages were saying all kinds of very strange and bizarre things. >> pelley: like what? >> alefantis: many of the threats, death threats, i think were some of the worst. people saying that they wanted to see my guts cut out and spill on the floor of my restaurant. one person said that they prayed that someone would come and kill everyone inside. and it was terrifying moments. >> pelley: edgar welch fired into the only locked door in the restaurant and found, much to his surprise, no sex slaves. no one was hurt unless you count alefantis, an innocent bystander at a character assassination. >> alefantis: it went from a few people buzzing about something online or inside of chat rooms that we never would have seen before, to suddenly being blasted to millions and millions of people. >> pelley: the police say there
is no sex trafficking conspiracy. but millions read about it on dozens of websites, including one called "danger and play," which wrote, "clinton's inner circle includes child traffickers, pedophiles and now members of a sex cult." danger and play is written by michael cernovich, a southern california lawyer who describes himself as "right of center politically" but who has become a magnet for readers with a taste for stories with no basis in fact. >> pelley: these news stories are fakes. >> cernovich: they're definitely not fake. >> pelley: they're lies. >> cernovich: they're not lies at all. 100% true. >> pelley: do you believe that, or do you say that because it's important for marketing your website? >> cernovich: oh, i believe it. i don't say anything that i don't believe. >> pelley: that doesn't seem like a very high bar. >> cernovich: it's a high bar because i'm an attorney, i know how to weigh and measure evidence. here's the story of my life. >> pelley: cernovich streams
commentary daily and publishes on social media. he reached twitter users 83 million times last month. >> cernovich: that was a slow month, too. we hit 150 million sometimes. what i'm doing is, it's punchy, it's fun, it's counterintuitive, it's counter-narrative, and it's information that you're not going to see everywhere else. >> pelley: in august he published this headline. "hillary clinton has parkinson's disease, physician confirms." you don't think that's misleading? >> cernovich: no. >> pelley: you believe it's true today? >> cernovich: oh, absolutely. >> pelley: that story was sourced to an anesthesiologist who never met clinton. it got so much traction, it had to be denied by clinton's doctor and the national parkinson foundation. >> cernovich: she had a seizure and froze up walking into her motorcade that day.
>> pelley: well, she had pneumonia. i mean... >> cernovich: how do you know? who told you that? >> pelley: well, the campaign told us that. >> cernovich: why would you trust the campaign? >> pelley: the point is you didn't talk to anybody who'd ever examined hillary clinton. >> cernovich: i don't take anything hillary clinton is going to say at all as true. i'm not going to take her on her word. the media says we're not going to take donald trump on his word. and that's why we are in these different universes. >> pelley: cernovich's website is just one of hundreds publishing nonsense on the right and on the left. we were curious how a particular fake news article breaks out from one website and becomes a popular trending item on facebook or twitter, for example. and we discovered that one of the reasons is fraud. some fake news publishers use computer software called "bots" to make their articles appear much more popular than they actually are. bots are fake social media accounts that are programmed to
automatically "like" or retweet a particular message. jim vidmar knows all about bots. he's a consultant who helps products or people get noticed on the internet. so when we're talking about these bots, these are twitter accounts masquerading as real people. >> vidmar: that's right. >> pelley: by the thousands? >> vidmar: by the millions. >> pelley: we did an experiment with vidmar's help. we bought 5,000 bots from a russian website. they cost us just a few hundred bucks. we've set up an experiment so you can show me how this works. and i'm going to tweet from my account, "what happens when 60 minutes investigates fake news?" so tweet that out. normally, i could expect real people to retweet my message a few dozen times. vidmar programmed our bots to retweet my message and then he turned them loose.
hit it with everything you've got. >> vidmar: let's hit it with everything we got. there you go. now you've got 3,200 retweets right there. >> pelley: wait a minute. i went from 300 to 3,000? >> vidmar: now, it's 4,400. now real people start seeing it. they start retweeting it, and, you know, responding to it. >> pelley: and it takes off. >> vidmar: and it takes off. >> pelley: that matters because facebook and twitter select articles to present prominently based mostly on how popular they are. they can be fooled by bots. our imposters expanded the reach of our message 9,000%. but our tweet didn't catch fire the way so much fake news does because our message was not salacious. >> jestin coler: you need to talk in their language about very specific words that kind of get that emotional response. that's really the key to it all, the key to all of the fake news. >> pelley: jestin coler says a
fake news headline has to make blood boil. he's not afraid to admit that he made real money on fake news. he's know for two fake news sites-- one called "national report," the other "denver guardian," where he pushed people's buttons on issues such as abortion and obamacare. >> coler: we did a piece on r.f.i.d. chips being mandated through the obamacare exchange. >> pelley: and what are those? >> coler: essentially a tracking device. so as part of signing up for obamacare you had to be implanted, essentially, with this tracking device. >> pelley: that story was read one point six million times. coler wrote another fake story about an f.b.i. agent investigating clinton emails who was killed in a murder-suicide. and then there was the fake army quarantine of a texas town infected with ebola got eight million page views.
>> coler: it's kind of almost an addiction, right? you kind of see something really take off, and then as it's coming down you're kind of looking for that next high, i guess. >> pelley: his highs were profitable. with each click, he made money on ads-- over $10,000 a month he told us, writing fiction posing as fact. >> coler: facebook really was key to what we did. >> pelley: how? >> coler: well, we would basically join whatever group it is that you're trying to target on facebook. and once they kind of took the bait, so to speak, then they would spread this stuff around, they would be the ones that would essentially be our bots. >> pelley: what did you discover about the audience? >> coler: you know, people in general are quick to believe anything that is... not anything, but... well, yeah, basically anything that's put in front of them in a format that is news-ish. >> pelley: did the environment in this world change during the presidential election? >> coler: it did. sure. a lot more players joined the game.
>> pelley: fake news flooded social media during the presidential campaign. this story said "donald trump was caught snorting cocaine in a hotel." another said: "after colonoscopy reveals brain tumor, donald trump drops from race." >> phil howard: part of political campaigning these days involves a very widespread strategy that involved manipulating public opinion over social media. twitter and facebook are part of the advertising strategy. >> pelley: phil howard leads the internet institute at the university of oxford, which examines misinformation on social media. they've analyzed web traffic in the days before the election in the swing state of michigan. >> pelley: how much of this news on twitter in michigan was, as you call it, junk news and how much of it legitimate? >> howard: well, in the case of michigan, we found that the proportions were about equal. the junk news with stories that had not been fact-checked and that came from organizations that were not professional
journalism organizations was about as much as the amount of content coming from the professional news organizations. >> pelley: there was as much fake news as there was actual news? >> howard: there was. >> pelley: to get an idea of who reads fake news we turned to the trade desk, the internet advertising firm that helps companies steer clear of fraudulent sites. jeff green is the c.e.o. >> green: so the first thing that we found out is that it is definitely a phenomenon that affects both sides. >> pelley: liberals and conservatives. >> green: yes. there is no question they're both affected. >> pelley: one fake story green examined claimed that the congress was plotting to overthrow president trump. he was surprised to learn that right-leaning fake news overwhelmingly attracted readers in their 40s and 50s. and he found that fake news readers on the left were more likely to be affluent and college educated. >> green: that shocked me. >> pelley: why? >> green: i think i thought the same way that many americans perhaps think is that fake news
was a phenomenon that only tricked the uneducated. not true. just not. the data shows it's just not true. >> pelley: green's analysis showed fake news consumers tend to stay in what he calls internet echo chambers, reading similar articles rather than reaching for legitimate news. >> green: what is most concerning is the amount of influence that they seem to have because the people that spend time in those echo chambers are the ones that vote. >> pelley: after the election, facebook and twitter recognized the threat to their credibility and changed their programs to make it harder for fakes to proliferate. both companies declined to be interviewed. >> cernovich: and we're back. >> pelley: michael cernovich, whose articles included the fake hillary clinton pedophile ring and her bogus diagnosis of parkinson's, is watching his audience grow. >> cernovich: i'm a skeptical person. and i know that there's a lot of people gunning for me. so i'm not going to be reckless. >> pelley: who's gunning for you?
>> cernovich: you are! i'm on "60 minutes"! right? >> pelley: what do you mean we're gunning for you? >> cernovich: do i really think that you guys are going to tell the story that i would like to have told? no. your story's going to be, "here's a guy, spreads fake news, uses social media and these social media people better..." i know the story you guys are doing before you do it. >> pelley: what's wrong with that story? >> cernovich: because it is an agenda. another story is, "here is a person who is able to bypass traditional media outlets, reach people directly, to tell a story. maybe he's a good guy, maybe he's not." i'm not going to serve as a mouthpiece for anybody. >> pelley: never in human history has more information been available to more people. but it's also true that never in history has more bad information been available. and once it's online, it is "news" forever.
>> this cbs sports update is brought to you by the lincoln motor company. i'm greg gumbel in new york. in the south regional final, north carolina is going to the final four for the 20th time. in the east regional final, south carolina beat florida and moves on to the final four for the first time in the school's history. saturday it will be south carolina and gonzaga in game one, organizacion editorial mexicana and north carolina in game two. for more sports news, go to cbs cbssports.com. ♪ ♪ ♪ lease a 2017 lincoln mkx for $369 a month. only at your lincoln dealer.
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>> sharyn alfonsi: chess has been around for 1,500 years but until a couple of summers ago the ancient game was still mostly a mystery to the folks of rural franklin county, mississippi. few had ever played chess before, many confused it with checkers. a chess board was as out of place in the county as a skyscraper. but that all changed when a tall stranger arrived from memphis to bring chess to the country, with a belief that the game could transform a community. he was initially met with bewilderment. who was this six-foot six outsider and why would anyone
come to franklin county to teach chess? less than two years later, a chess boom is underway in the unlikeliest of places. tucked deep in the southwest corner of mississippi lies remote franklin county, where the trains don't stop any more. half the county is covered by a national forest. the other half it seems by churches. >> ♪ hallelujah. >> alfonsi: this is the buckle of the bible belt. 7,000 people live here and no one's in a hurry. there are only two stop lights in the entire county, and one elementary school. >> jeff bulington: what's this called? >> alfonsi: so imagine everyone's surprise when dr. jeff bulington showed up at school to teach the kids of franklin county a new subject: chess. >> bulington: so everybody say,i checkmate.' >> checkmate. >> alfonsi: before dr. b came to town, had you played chess before? >> braden: i didn't have a clue
how to move the pieces or nothing. >> donovan: only time i saw it was on tv. >> alfonsi: donovan moore, braden ferrell, parker wilkinson, and benson schexnaydre didn't know what to make of dr. b, as he is known, when he first appeared in 2015. >> what did you think of dr. b when you first met him? >> benson: this 12 foot man. >> alfonsi: the 12 foot man >> parker: whenever he came into the room saying he was planning on teaching us chess, i was like, "what? why would somebody come down here?" >> alfonsi: in the middle of nowhere. you're a logical guy, and it doesn't seem to make a lot of sense. >> bulington: if there are people there, it's not nowhere. this is somewhere. it's just a somewhere that doesn't get a lot of attention. >> alfonsi: jeff bulington was lured to franklin county by a wealthy benefactor, who wishes to remain anonymous. the benefactor had seen how bulington had molded chess champions in memphis, in one of
the most distressed zip codes in america, and wondered if chess could take hold in the country. >> bulington: where can you put the king? >> alfonsi: he convinced bulington to give a few demonstration lessons in franklin county. >> bulington: does that stop him from coming here? afterwards i was asked, so hey, what do you think? do you think this, these kids have it? could you have a chess program here? and i was, yeah, of course. they're as smart as any other kids i've ever met. >> alfonsi: motivated by the challenge, bulington signed a 10-year contract with the benefactor and left the city for the country. >> bulington: what is he doing? he's x-raying the king. >> alfonsi: bulington has taught chess for the better part of 25 years. >> bulington: what's so wonderful about the bishop and why might we think of it as an archer? >> alfonsi: he may not be a grand master, but he's a master of using chess to tell a narrative, especially with beginners. >> bulington: this is a story about a little girl, and the stranger and tittle rl's daddy. elizabeth and the stranger is just my adaptation of little red riding hood to the chess board.
elizabeth needs to get down here to e-1 where school is where she can be safe. it involves just simply teaching how a pawn moves and a king moves. oh no! is she going to make it? >> ricky: i told you this was a bad idea! >> bulington: i remember my partner in this project saying to me, we'd have maybe 12 kids playing chess.' he didn't know what to expect. >> alfonsi: and how many kids do you have playing chess right now? >> bulington: well, a couple hundred. >> alfonsi: students flock to bulington in part because at heart he's one of them. he grew up in rural indiana and identifies with kids who have to feed the chickens, count tarantulas as pets and have different tastes in food. what do you like to eat? >> parker: fried rattlesnake. >> alfonsi: fried rattlesnake. >> parker: if you got to my house, if we ever find a rattlesnake in a course of like a week or so, you're getting some fried rattlesnake. >> alfonsi: bulington's opened up a new world to his kids. >> bulington: check
this is a famous game by morphy against count isowarde and duke of brunswick. it's played in paris. this is paris. >> bobby poole: we teach history. we teach geography. we teach science. we teach math. we teach it all using the chess board. >> alfonsi: bobby poole is a part-time preacher and a full- time assistant chess coach for bulington. poole says there were doubts that bulington could succeed in mississippi. >> poole: all the statistics, everything you look at, mississippi is the poorest. it's the dumbest. it's the fattest. we know that the rest of the nation has that conception of us. >> parker: people said that country kids couldn't learn chess. >> alfonsi: and? >> parker: we showed 'iem different. >> benson: we proved them wrong. we proved 'iem wrong. >> alfonsi: proof came last spring in starkville, where bulington's team of mostly elementary school kids from franklin county faced off against much older high school players at the mississippi state championships. rebekah griffin was in the fifth grade. what was their reaction when
they saw you, a little fifth grader sitting across the table from them? >> rebekah: one of them started bragging to their friends about how he got easy pickings. >> alfonsi: is that a little scary, playing somebody who looked that much older than you? >> rebekah: i didn't really think about it until somebody told me, 'iyou played a guy with a beard?!' >> alfonsi: you guys roll in, and they say, 'iwho are these kids,' right? >> braden: they were basically, like, trying to say we were a joke cause we were kids. but after the game, we usually beat 'iem and they were like vey shocked. >> alfonsi: don't you guys feel bad you beat all those older kids? >> braden: never. >> parker: no. i don't want that to make me seem like a cruel person, but i'm, i really am just okay with crushing people's spirits. >> alfonsi: in the end, franklin county dominated the state championships. >> mitch ham: what happened is a bunch of hillbillies beat the snot out of a bunch of really highly educated, sophisticated people. so that's what happened. >> alfonsi: mitch ham was among the many parents in starkville. he thinks the victories served
as a milestone for franklin county's kids >> ham: that was very sobering for them, to suddenly realize,'i wow, we are good.' so them having the realization of their own potential was a beautiful moment. >> alfonsi: how did the teachers, the other teachers, react? >> bulington: over the course of my career in teaching chess people say things like, i did not know that he could do something like that, or even something as simple and as crass as i did not know he was smart or she was smart, or something like that. >> alfonsi: what does that tell you? >> bulington: it tells me some people got it wrong, that some kids have been underestimated or written off for reasons that are false. >> alfonsi: chess has helped bulington's players see there's more to themselves than they've seen before. >> parker: chess is, like, something that like i'm like really good at for once. >> alfonsi: has it changed you at all? >> donovan: it has. my grades have gone up. >> alfonsi: your grades have gone up? >> donovan: all my grades used
to be like low, medium low bs. now, they're a's and high b's. >> rebekah: i feel like chess could take us anywhere. but it's not about where it takes us, it's about how far it takes us. >> alfonsi: last year only seven of the 93 graduates from franklin county high school went on to a four-year college, but every chess player we spoke to plans to attend college some day. >> jennifer rutland: it's really shocked me how far he's came. >> alfonsi: jennifer rutland is braden's mom, she runs the first and main cafeé, one of the few places in the county that serves a hot meal. she believes her son won't be flipping burgers for a living. is it fun to see your kids dream a little bigger than the county line? >> rutland: yes. yes. so big that it's almost like,'i braden, come on, get real.' you know, it just gets so big. >> ham: you always want to see your kids go further.
and i think chess can be a vehicle to take them there, you know? this gives them a window at a young age, that, "hey, there's a whole world out there. i don't need to set my goals at making $8 an hour, i need to set my goals at whatever i want them to be." >> alfonsi: chess has filled a social void and given main street a pulse. in october, a new chess center opened in the middle of meadville, the county seat. do you feel like chess has made the community more hopeful? >> bulington: certainly parts of it, yeah, right. i mean, this flower hasn't bloomed yet. it's just starting to, right? there's a lot yet to come. >> alfonsi: the chess center has become like a beacon in the county. each day after school, kids who have the desire and aptitude receive more instruction from bulington. >> bulington: so, what does black do? >> alfonsi: they've become so immersed in the game, with its infinite number of possible moves, that when these students
finish playing chess, they go home, and play more chess. can the best chess player in the world come from franklin county? >> benson: maybe. >> braden: absolutely. >> parker: absolutely. >> benson: it's super possible. >> alfonsi: before they could take on the world, they would have to face the nation. >> bulington: we'll take care of them. >> alfonsi: the week before christmas, 33 of franklin county's chess wonders and their parents gathered in the school parking lot. >> ya'll are coming back right? >> alfonsi: to begin a ten-hour journey to nashville, for their biggest test yet: the national championships. >> bulington: queen g7, excellent. >> alfonsi: turned into night, bulington and his students were lost in what they call the chess dimension. >> austen johnson: where are we? >> bulington: well, i don't know where we are. we're in the middle of problem nine. that's all i know. >> alfonsi: preparing in their own language. >> bulington: knight d-4 attacking the queen and threatening the queen takes h-3 check. >> alfonsi: for what lay ahead: a weekend of intense chess.
more than 1,500 players from 644 schools gathered in a giant ballroom at opryland. >> please shake your opponent's hand. >> alfonsi: for seven rounds of chess over three days. every grade, k through 12, was vying for a national title. the best teams come from the best schools in new york city. and two hours into the tournament, it appeared as if little franklin county was overmatched. after round one, the kids from mississippi had lost 30 of their first 32 games. >> bulington: you know, it's a real struggle and they're going to learn to struggle at this level. and they're learning that they have to struggle at a different level than they ever have before. >> alfonsi: what's the feeling when you walk in here as a player, as a coach, as a parent? >> bulington: it's a deep agonistic experience, right? >> alfonsi: deep agonistic experience? >> bulington: yeah, it's real true competition based on skill alone, right? and you look around and you can see it in the parents' faces as much as the kids that there's
something significant at stake here. >> alfonsi: nervous parents from other programs tried to sneak a closer peek into the ball room, desperate for any news. after their shaky start, franklin county's players bore down. taking more time, probing for openings, watching for threats. a bulington mantra played in their heads: let your opponent show you how they'd like to lose. >> bulington: today is the last day, it's the hardest day. >> alfonsi: by sunday, with the final two rounds looming, franklin county's fifth and sixth graders were hovering near the top 10. >> bulington: everybody needs to fight for those points today, we need them very much. >> alfonsi: parker wilkinson, braden ferrell and benson schexnaydre all delivered for franklin county. that left donovan moore, who was mired in a two-and-a-half hour struggle against a higher-rated opponent from kentucky. on the verge of victory, donovan was asked for a draw. he said no.
his opponent snapped. the tension of the event bursting to the surface. donovan moore eventually won, boosting franklin county's fifth graders to number eight in the country. >> making their debut to the stage, franklin county upper elementary. >> alfonsi: the sixth graders placed tenth, two grades in the nation's top 10, only a year and a half after jeff bulington first showed up to introduce chess to a small county in mississippi. >> parker: one thing that i don't think i say enough is thank you. >> benson: i was thinking the same thing. >> parker: for teaching us all this. >> alfonsi: what are they capable of? >> bulington: somewhere in the top three at least. >> alfonsi: you think you can stick it out for eight more years in franklin county? >> bulington: i won't even think of it as sticking it out. >> alfonsi: what do you think of it as? >> bulington: i think of it as, doing what i want to do, being in a place i like to be.
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