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A Most American Terrorist: The Making of Dylann Roof

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“What are you?” a member of the Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston asked at the trial of the white man who killed eight of her fellow black parishioners and their pastor. “What kind of subhuman miscreant could commit such evil?... What happened to you, Dylann?”
Rachel Kaadzi Ghansah spent months in South Carolina searching for an answer to those questions—speaking with Roof’s mother, father, friends, former teachers, and victims’ family members, all in an effort to unlock what went into creating one of the coldest killers of our time.
Sitting beside the church, drinking from a bottle of Smirnoff Ice, he thought he had to go in and shoot them.
They were a small prayer group—a rising-star preacher, an elderly minister, eight women, one young man, and a little girl. But to him, they were a problem. He believed that, as black Americans, they were raping “our women and are taking over our country.” So he took out his Glock handgun and calmly, while their eyes were closed in prayer, ope…

Julius and Ethel Rosenberg's sons reinvestigate their parents' case

Michael Rosenberg, right, and his brother, Robert, on June 19, 1953 -- the day their parents were executed.
Michael Rosenberg, right, and his brother, Robert, on June 19, 1953,
the day their parents were executed.
Julius and Ethel Rosenberg's sons tell Anderson Cooper how it felt to be the children of the infamous spies, in a story that sheds new light on a central event of the Cold War

It was called "The Crime of the Century," one of the most famous espionage cases of the Cold War. In 1953, Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were sent to the electric chair for conspiring to provide the secrets of the atomic bomb to the Soviet Union. They left behind two little boys, Robert and Michael, just 6 and 10 years old at the time.

The brothers Rosenberg were the orphans of Communist spies at the height of the McCarthy era. Relatives were afraid to take them in. One town blocked them from attending its schools. What ever happened to those two little boys? It's a remarkable story, a piece of American history that hasn't been fully told.

Anderson Cooper: People would ask you?

Michael Meeropol: Oh yeah, "Are you related to those two spies?" "No." But I really hated myself.

Anderson Cooper: Hated yourself because you were—

Michael Meeropol: I was denying-- I was too scared to-- admit that my parents were my parents.

Robert Meeropol: We were the children of Communist spies. Being the Rosenberg's children in 1950 was almost like being Osama bin Laden's kids here after 9/11.

Today, they're known by their adopted names, Michael and Robert Meeropol, but in 1950, they were Michael and Robby Rosenberg, ages 7 and 3, living in New York City's Lower East Side, with their parents Julius and Ethel Rosenberg. The Rosenbergs were ardent Communists but Michael doesn't recall his parents ever using that word. Ethel was a stay-at-home mom who loved to sing. Julius – an engineer who ran a small machine shop. That's Michael on his shoulders.

Michael Meeropol: My father would take me to places like Prospect Park and, you know, get some peanuts and feed squirrels.

Anderson Cooper: What was he like?

Michael Meeropol: He was very energetic. He had a smile on his face a heck of a lot of times. And I remember traveling around with him. In fact, I rode on the subway with him so often that I kind of wondered, you know, when he was working.

Anderson Cooper: And your mom? What was she like?

Michael Meeropol: She was very affectionate. A lot of hugging and kissing. And I remember that she was often cooking. The thing I remember is just a normal life.

But then, in the summer of 1950, FBI agents began rounding up a network of alleged Communist spies. On July 17th, they knocked on the Rosenbergs' door.

Michael Meeropol: I'm listening to "The Lone Ranger." And the door opens. And there is all these people in the room, who, you know, I guess-- friends of daddy's. But then my mother yells, "I had-- I want a lawyer." And I knew something was weird. And then the radio's turned off. Well, I'm a brash 7-year-old and I turned it back on. Somebody turned it off again. After about three times, I gave up, 'cause, you know, the attention was on my father. And then he disappears. He's gone.

Julius was accused of running a spy ring that tried to help the Soviet Union make an atomic bomb. After he refused to talk to the FBI, Ethel was arrested too.

Michael Meeropol: All I remember is I'm on the phone with her. And she says, "I'm under arrest." And I say, "You can't come home?" She says, "No, I can't." And I don't remember anything else about the phone call, but the story is that I screamed and that it gave her nightmares for the rest of her life.

Anderson Cooper: That scream?

Michael Meeropol: Yeah. It tore her heart.

Their grandmother put them up for a few months, but Michael and Robby say she resented their presence. When other relatives refused to care for them, they were sent to a children's shelter in the Bronx.

Anderson Cooper: Why didn't other family members take you in?

Robert Meeropol: They were terrified. Like, for instance, my father's older sister wanted to take us in. But her husband owned a small grocery store. And he said, "If people find out I've taken in the children of the Rosenbergs-- they won't buy food from my store."

Anderson Cooper: So then you're sent, essentially, to an orphanage?

Michael Meeropol: Yeah.

Anderson Cooper: What was that like?

Michael Meeropol: I remember it as horrible. Like something out of Dickens. The staff was pretty free with the slaps and the abuse. I felt like I was in prison.

Michael, left, and Robert Meeropol
Michael, left, and Robert Meeropol
More than 20 years after their parents' execution, the brothers decided to step back into the limelight and reinvestigate the Rosenberg case.

Before Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were executed for conspiring to provide atomic secrets to the Soviet Union, Ethel wrote a letter to their sons Michael and Robby saying, "always remember that we were innocent." So perhaps it's not surprising that when the boys grew up, they wanted to try to clear their parents' names. What is surprising is how much new information they and independent historians have been able to uncover over the years -- secret messages, intercepted cables, long-forgotten files from the archives of the FBI, the CIA, and the KGB. The new information has changed the way this chapter of American history is viewed and, last year, the brothers asked President Obama to exonerate their mother.

The little boys who disappeared from public view after their parents were executed in 1953, re-emerged as grown men in 1975 determined to uncover new information in their parents case. They sued the FBI and the CIA under the Freedom of Information Act, seeking full access to the government's files on Julius and Ethel Rosenberg.

Anderson Cooper: Did you think you might be able to prove your parents' innocence?

Michael Meeropol: Oh, absolutely. I was absolutely convinced that we would find virtual proof.

Anderson Cooper: You were sure they were innocent?

Robert Meeropol: As sure as one-and-one equal two.

➤ Click here to read the full article (+ video & photos)

Source: CBS News, 60 Minutes, Anderson Cooper, July 23, 2017

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