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'Will Be Wild' explores how we got to the many system failures of Jan. 6

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

As the House Select Committee investigating January 6 gears up for major public hearings next month, it's worth noting that they have interviewed more than a thousand witnesses already. That's just one small reminder of the sheer scope of what happened on January 6, the massive array of individuals whose lives have been altered by the attack, from the people who participated in the insurrection, to those who tried to stop it, to the family members of criminal defendants now reflecting on what went so wrong.

A new podcast delves into many of these individual lives. It's called "Will Be Wild," a phrase borrowed from then-President Trump, who beckoned his followers to show up on January 6. "Will Be Wild" is hosted by Andrea Bernstein and Ilya Marritz, two journalists who've been covering Donald Trump for years, including in their previous podcast, Trump Inc. But as Ilya Marritz explains, the two projects are really different.

ILYA MARRITZ: We had been looking at Trump as a presidency that was rife with conflicts of interest and ethical conflicts. We had a businessman president, right? And that's the lens that we took to Donald Trump for four years. And the insurrection, the riot at the Capitol, really forced us to look at this in another way, and ask, what are the systems that were supposed to protect us? And in what ways did they fail?

So this podcast is a lot less about Trump and a lot more about how law enforcement and intelligence agencies changed over the four years of the Trump presidency and also what the Trump presidency did to the body politic and sort of the spread of anti-government movements, right-wing movements, white nationalist movements that all kind of fed in to January 6.

CHANG: Yeah. I mean, this podcast, it tells the story from so many different vantage points. Like, almost every episode focuses on new characters, which I know was a choice by both of you. And I want to talk about how you chose the people you zeroed in on, starting with Natalie Jangula and Donell Harvin. I mean, Jangula is a former Mrs. Idaho, and Harvin was an intelligence official during January 6. And they had very different experiences on that day. Let's take a listen.

(SOUNDBITE OF PODCAST, "WILL BE WILD")

NATALIE JANGULA: And, you know, I always say that if I could do it again, I would have taken my kids - it truly was that safe - because it would have just been a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for them to be a part of something that was historic. And I wish I could have shared that with my kids.

DONELL HARVIN: You know, 9/11, Sandy Hook, Hurricane Sandy - I've been in some very dangerous physical environments. This was a little bit different. It was more of a tingle, this tingling in the back of my head.

CHANG: I mean, diametrically opposed perspectives of a single day. I'm curious, by placing these people side by side in the same episode, how did you want people to better understand that day?

MARRITZ: We wanted to show people the lives that were most directly impacted by January 6. And so Donell Harvin is a local D.C. intelligence official. He's a guy who is picking up chatter, from open sources on social media and elsewhere, that a lot of people are coming to the Capitol and that they seem to be very angry. And a lot of them are interested in Congress specifically, right? So that's Donell Harvin, the intel guy.

Then there's Natalie Jangula. And she's a citizen. She's a Trump supporter. She's a lifelong Republican who lives in Idaho and feels motivated to go to the Capitol, in part because the president called his supporters to the Capitol. And for her, the way she describes the event, it's almost like a rock concert.

CHANG: Yeah.

MARRITZ: It's that feeling of being around people who are hearing the same music that you're hearing and responding to it in real time. And it ended up being a really impactful event for her because she ran for city council in her town, Nampa, Idaho, and won. So for me, talking with Natalie really revealed that January 6 was not just about systems failure, it was actually a really motivating event for a lot of people who decided to get involved in government, actually get involved in our democracy.

CHANG: Right. Well, you know, it wasn't only Donell Harvin who had concerns about how ill-prepared the local and federal governments were to deal with this attack. Andrea, I mean, you did a lot of reporting in this podcast about the missed red flags, the lack of agility on the day of. And I'm just curious, what were you most surprised by, as you were learning about how then-President Trump's leadership contributed to what happened on January 6?

ANDREA BERNSTEIN: I think the thing that was surprising to both of us is we both were in New York City on 9/11. We covered 9/11. We watched the construction of the whole national security apparatus, the Department of Homeland Security. And we asked ourselves, how could it have failed so spectacularly on January 6?

And one of the things that we found is that there was a trend that predated Trump, a real reluctance to confront anti-government extremism, white supremacy, domestic terrorism, but that under Trump, this trend was amplified, that people were given direct instructions. Do not pursue these domestic terrorism avenues. Do not put these documents into effect. Do not go after this. And it became clearer and clearer that the officials who were trying to protect the homeland were really struggling with, what do they do when the threat is exacerbated from the resident of the White House?

CHANG: Yeah. Andrea, you had talked to Chris Krebs, who used to work on election security at the Department of Homeland Security. And, you know, at one point during a media appearance, he had said this particular quote about January 6 - "we didn't dodge a bullet. That was a practice run." What do you think now? Like, after doing all of this reporting, do you feel that we learned enough from January 6 to better stop another attack like it? Or are you more doubtful of that now?

BERNSTEIN: I think in some ways, both. When we started this project, I think we had no idea all of the ways that President Trump and his allies had tried to stop the peaceful transfer of power. We know a lot more about that now. We know how there were sort of institutional blocks to that happening that might not be around if there's a second test of this system in this way. But at the same time, we also have tremendous amounts of information.

And I think it's sort of a real - we're at a real fulcrum in democracy about whether, you know, sort of people want to take these things and put in institutional guardrails and defenses or not. And I think, you know, we will see how this plays out before the 2024 election.

MARRITZ: I do think the fundamental question, though, that Andrea mentioned, of what do you do when the threat is being amplified by the person in the White House, that is just a question that is so monumental that we have barely begun to deal with. And I'm not sure that anybody has an answer for that.

CHANG: So then I just have to ask you guys this - when do you think you will ever stop covering Donald Trump?

(LAUGHTER)

MARRITZ: I have no idea, Ailsa. My goodness. There are always new things to learn about Donald Trump and the world around him.

BERNSTEIN: You know, I think we both feel sort of bound by a sense of duty to the knowledge that we've built up to keep looking at this. But as Trump often says, we'll see what happens (laughter).

CHANG: Andrea Bernstein and Ilya Marritz, their new podcast, "Will Be Wild," is available now. Thank you both so much for being with us.

BERNSTEIN: Thank you, Ailsa, great talking to you.

MARRITZ: Thank you, Ailsa, really good talking to you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.