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White Lies

White Lies


On the morning of August 21, 1991, a group of Cuban detainees took over a federal prison in Talladega, Alabama, and demanded their freedom. But how did they get here? And what became of them after? In season two of NPR's Pulitzer-finalist show, we unspool a decades-long story about immigration, indefinite detention, and a secret list. It's a story about a betrayal at the heart of our country's ideals. And in charting a course to our current moment of crisis at the border, we expose the lies that bind us together.

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Taking Cover

NPR's Pentagon Correspondent, Tom Bowman, receives a shocking tip from a trusted source: A deadly explosion during the Iraq War was an accident—friendly fire, covered up by the Marine Corps—and the son of a powerful politician may have been involved. Listen to the full story in NPR's Embedded podcast.
06/04/23·49m 57s

The Excludables

In our final episode of the season, we start researching the names on the secret list of 2,746 Cuban excludables. What we find confirms many of our suspicions about the arbitrariness of how the U.S. government created the list. Our reporting takes us — where else? — to Cuba, to finally track down the men on the roof and hear them tell their own stories. What had they hoped to find in this country and what had they found instead? Finally, our journey takes us to one last interview in a high rise in Vancouver, Canada, where we hear from the man who led the uprising at Talladega, and made the decision to take to the prison's roof to display banners made from bedsheets that read, Pray for Us and Please Media: Justice, Freedom, or Death. Want to hear the first episode of Embedded's next series a week before everyone else? Sign up for Embedded+ at
16/03/23·1h 4m

The List

Since we began reporting this story, we've been after a list. A secret list. On it are the names of 2,746 people whom the US government deemed excludable, including the men on the roof. The government has kept this list so secret that at one point it went so far as to classify it. None of the Mariel detainees knew if their name was on the list or not. In fact, nobody knew what names were on the list. Until now. In Episode 7, the story of a list that sparked uprisings, separated families, and changed the trajectory of U.S. immigration policy. And the story of what we learned when we finally got our hands on it. Want to hear the next episode of White Lies a week before everyone else? Sign up for Embedded+ at
09/03/23·48m 25s

The Trial

In Episode 6, we sneak into the graveyard of the Atlanta federal penitentiary with a radical peace activist to learn more about what happened in the prison in late 1984. A peaceful protest by detainees held in the Atlanta pen resulted in a violent crackdown, and one of the detainees, a man named Jose Hernandez-Mesa, was charged in federal court with inciting a riot. We tell the story of his trial — and the surprising verdict that began reshaping public opinion about the Mariel Cubans who were being detained. Want to hear the next episode of White Lies a week before everyone else? Sign up for Embedded+ at
02/03/23·41m 5s

The Pen

On May 18, 1980, a man named Genaro Soroa-Gonzalez arrived in Key West from the port of Mariel. With no family waiting to sponsor him, he was sent by plane to a resettlement camp at an army base. There he was interviewed by the INS and, a few days later, he boarded another plane, this one bound for the federal prison in Atlanta. But wait - he'd committed no crime, so why was the US government detaining him? And how long could they hold him? In Episode 5, the story of Genaro Soroa-Gonzalez and the beginning of the indefinite detention of Mariel Cubans. Want to hear the next episode of White Lies a week before everyone else? Sign up for Embedded+ at
23/02/23·43m 26s

The Entry Fiction

When President Carter promised to welcome the men and women arriving on the Mariel boatlift with "an open heart and open arms," he had referred to them as refugees. But technically speaking, they weren't refugees. They were classified as entrants, an immigration status with a peculiar legal standing in the United States. While entrants are physically allowed to enter the country, legally they're still at the border, asking to come in. Their presence in the country is known as a legal fiction — specifically, the "entry fiction." So even as Cubans were disembarking boats in droves through the summer of 1980, they were officially still floating off the coast of Key West. And this immigration status followed them to where they went next: an army base in rural Arkansas. In episode 4, the curious case of the militarized border in the middle of the Ozark Mountains. Want to hear the next episode of White Lies a week before everyone else? Sign up for Embedded+ at
16/02/23·54m 36s

The Rumors

During our reporting, we heard one story over and over again: that Fidel Castro had emptied his prisons to fill the boatlift. It's a story that's been told so often and with such conviction that of course it must be true, right? But what if this was more theater than history? What was happening in 1980 in Miami and throughout the country that made this story so compelling? Why did it feel so true to so many people? In Episode 3, we go to Miami to find out. Want to hear the next episode of White Lies a week before everyone else? Sign up for Embedded+ at
09/02/23·51m 25s

The Boatlift

The story of the men on the roof didn't start with that prison takeover in 1991. It didn't start when they were detained in federal prisons. And it didn't start when the government made a secret list of their names in 1984. Instead, it started in the spring of 1980, with one of the largest refugee crises in American history: the Mariel Boatlift. Want to hear the next episode of White Lies a week before everyone else? Sign up for Embedded+ at
02/02/23·49m 35s

The Men on the Roof

It all started with a photograph. A photograph from 1991 of a prison takeover in rural Alabama. A photograph of a group of men on the roof of that prison holding a bedsheet scrawled with a message: "Pray for us." In the first episode of the new season of White Lies, hosts Chip Brantley and Andrew Beck Grace go searching for answers to the questions raised by this photograph. Who were these men? What on earth had made them want to take over that prison? And what became of them after? As they search, they uncover a sprawling story: a mass exodus across the sea, a secret list, and the betrayal at the heart of this country's ideals. Want to hear the next episode of White Lies a week before everyone else? Sign up for Embedded+ at
26/01/23·45m 5s

Season 2: Trailer

In 1991, a group of men took over a federal prison in rural Alabama. But these men weren't prisoners, they were immigration detainees, all of them from Cuba. And none of them were serving time for a sentence; they were being indefinitely detained. Who were these men? What in the world had brought them from Cuba to a prison in rural Alabama, and what became of them afterward? On the new season of White Lies, hosts Chip Brantley and Andrew Beck Grace set out to find the men who took over the prison and, in the process, unspool a sprawling story of a mass exodus across the sea, back-channel cold war communiques, family separation, and a secret list.
24/01/23·3m 17s

A Dangerous Kind Of Self-Delusion

In our final episode, we examine the legacy of the Rev. James Reeb's death. We speak both to his descendants and to those of one of his attackers, exploring how the trauma and the lies that followed it affected both families.
25/06/19·1h 6m

Learn Not To Hear It

In Episode 6, we reveal the identity of the fourth man who participated in the attack on the Rev. James Reeb.
18/06/19·51m 22s

The X On The Map

In Episode 5, we search for the fourth attacker while digging into the murder of Jimmie Lee Jackson, a black civil rights activist who was murdered in Alabama just weeks before the Rev. James Reeb. Jackson's killer was brought to justice in 2010. We look at his case for strategies to help solve Reeb's.
11/06/19·51m 5s

The Sphinx Of Washington Street

In Episode 4, we find a woman who says she knows who killed the Rev. James Reeb, because she was there. She's ready — for the first time in more than 50 years — to tell the truth about what she saw.
04/06/19·44m 59s

The Counternarrative

In Episode 3, we break down the conspiracy theory that emerged after the Rev. James Reeb's murder: that he was allowed to die or was killed because the civil rights movement needed a white martyr.
28/05/19·50m 27s

The Who And The What

In Episode 2, we unravel the aftermath of the Rev. James Reeb's murder: the arrest of three men and the defense brought at trial. We also track down the last living jurors.
21/05/19·57m 52s

The Murder Of The Rev. James Reeb

In 1965, the Rev. James Reeb was murdered in Selma, Ala. No one was ever held to account. We return to the town where it happened, searching for new leads in an old story.
14/05/19·51m 25s

Introducing White Lies

A new serialized podcast from NPR investigates a 1965 cold case. New episodes every Tuesday starting May 14.
06/05/19·2m 5s
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