Documentary examining the case of Michael Sandford, who was arrested after trying to shoot Donald Trump during the US presidential campaign.
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In May 2016, 20-year-old Michael Sandford's parents reported
that he'd gone missing in America.
23 days later,
he turned up at a Donald Trump campaign rally in Las Vegas.
LOUD CHEERING AND APPLAUSE
I will build a great, great wall.
Shortly after Trump took to the stage,
Michael approached a police officer.
Seconds later, he attempted to grab the officer's gun.
Oh, we love our police.
When questioned by the Secret Service, Michael stated
he'd wanted to shoot and kill Trump,
saying he was a racist that deserved to die.
But how did a young British man from Surrey end up
trying to assassinate the most controversial
and high-profile man in the world?
Donald J Trump!
We've always just been a very, very close family unit.
He thought Donald Trump was the worst thing for the world.
This is not a hardened criminal.
This is just a young kid who found himself in an awful situation.
He tried to assassinate him.
He was a wolf in sheep's clothing.
Michael is due to be sentenced, and could face decades in prison.
Michael Sandford could have altered the course of American history.
But were these the actions of a boy
with a history of mental health problems?
He seemed a totally different personality from the boy I'd known.
He's going to spend his 21st birthday in prison.
Someone who really shouldn't be there.
Or was it a premeditated attack?
When Michael was shooting, he was doing this.
Who was he working for?
Maybe he got radicalised.
There's nothing I can tell him that will make his situation any better.
And I just want my son back.
-'This call is from an inmate facility.'
What have you been up to today so far?
What have you had to eat today?
So, was porridge not for breakfast today?
That wasn't very clever, was it?
Is that because you were shaking?
Have you had any more seizures?
Oh, dear, sorry to hear that.
It's very hard to know that he's there,
and we're so far away from him.
All the calls are recorded and monitored. It's very impersonal.
Sometimes he begs me not to go, and he rings me back again.
He says, "I just want to keep hearing your voice, Mum."
'I know we're down to our last minute, aren't we?
'I love you so much.'
'Yeah, you, too, son.
'Take care and look after yourself.'
'I hope you manage to get something else to eat today.'
Love you too, darling. Jessica does, and Len does,
and Dad does, and Mischief does...
-'Your time is up.'
Got cut off. 15 minutes, that's all you get.
I feel weary.
It's just the same every day.
A phone call, I ask him what he's done,
and the answers are always the same. What he's had to eat.
You know, it's not a life.
It's barely an existence for him out there at the moment.
Just knowing that he's where he is,
I'm powerless to do anything about it,
Michael's currently being held in a maximum security prison
in Nevada's Death Valley while he awaits sentencing.
After admitting trying to kill Trump,
he's answered a plea bargain in a bid to reduce his sentence
but still faces the possibility of a lengthy jail term.
This is one of the most high profile cases I've dealt with
and, certainly, it's a very complex case.
The government will be arguing that this was not something
that was a spur of the moment type of crime.
This was something that he had been...that had been calculated.
They're going to be arguing this was in fact a very dangerous situation
that could have resulted in somebody being murdered.
The maximum, under the law, is 20 years for Michael.
So he could be looking at many, many years in prison.
Before moving to America, Michael lived in Surrey with his mum
and half sister Jessica.
I think that one's really cute.
Probably his first-ever smile.
None of us had any idea what was ahead for us back then.
You know, I sit and look at these pictures of him,
as this angelic little boy.
I think it's so tragic this is where his life is at.
Especially someone who really shouldn't be there.
He was very bright and bubbly, and cute, and sweet, and adorable.
He was the apple of our eye.
'You're doing a bunny?
'Oh, you're doing a happy smiley face.'
But I think we first noticed that there might be problems
when he was two.
He would become quite hysterical
when we would throw quite ordinary things in the rubbish bin.
That was the first sign that he had some form of OCD.
This, oddly enough, his key collection.
He enjoyed collecting keys.
When Michael was about eight, his mood started to change.
They were quite erratic at times.
He seemed to become quite depressive and quite angry.
I wondered if, because by then I'd split up with his father,
I wondered if it was some anger at the break-up.
But his mood swings and erratic nature
were starting to concern me by then.
It says, "Michael Sandford, my autobiography, age 13."
It goes through all the usual things.
"My name is Michael Sandford. I am 13. I live in Dorking
"with my mother, budgie and hamster."
This bit is...pretty sad.
"I'm wondering what the world is coming to.
"They say the world will end when the sun blows up
"in five billion years
"but I believe humans will destroy it long before then."
That was something he was very worried about.
He was very worried about mankind.
I guess that's been mirrored by what he said about Donald Trump.
He thought Donald Trump was the worst thing for the world.
When Michael was 13, he was diagnosed with Asperger's,
a condition associated with difficulties in social interaction.
He was just falling apart.
He was losing his grip on the world,
not knowing how to fit in or cope.
At secondary school, he was bullied.
He deliberately tried to run out in front of cars sometimes,
in the hope he'd get knocked over, to avoid going to school.
I very much feel the system failed Michael.
I took him for help so many times over so many years,
and nobody did anything, until it became almost too late.
Aged 14, Michael developed severe anorexia as a result of his OCD,
and had to be sectioned to a psychiatric hospital.
He had said, "Life isn't worth living, I find it too hard."
I was really frightened that I was going to lose him. I was terrified.
'Off you go. Bye!'
What are you drawing?
-Who's that for?
Because I love him.
He's very nice and good and he wasn't very well
a long time ago and he did something wrong.
So that's why he's in there now.
Michael's parents separated
when he was five years old,
but he has always remained close to his dad, Paul.
We all know our children, we all know their personalities.
If you're honest with yourself,
you know whether somebody has the potential
to do something like that or not.
He's never shouted, he's never screamed at me.
That violent aspect of some kids' natures
just wasn't there with Michael.
Michael had never shown any interest in politics at home or abroad...
..but Paul noticed a significant change when visiting him in prison,
following his arrest.
He seemed very politicised, very radical.
Very logical, but very highly...
motivated about Mr Trump and the effect that he may have
on the American people.
Just a totally different personality from the boy I'd known.
Um, I've got a little box for all his memories here,
all the things like the newspaper cuttings from before.
Obviously, newspaper cuttings from now.
Has he not told you why he did it, or what was going through his head?
No, I mean, it's very difficult for him to say anything to us.
Everything he says and everything he does is monitored.
He will tell us about it all, I hope, when he's back home,
but at the moment he's not told us anything, really.
I mean, I think... Although it's quite a...a morbid thing to do,
but when Michael comes out I'm sure he's going to be quite interested
in the news coverage from back home.
Why do you think he did it?
The only thing I can possibly think of is...
He's been coerced. Groomed.
Whatever word you'd like to use.
I mean, whether it was a structured group
or whether it was just a few people with a political agenda
to kill Donald Trump, I don't know.
Asperger's can make you look at things very black and white.
I think they saw Michael and saw he was vulnerable.
Um, I think they saw a way
to coerce him to do what they wanted him to do.
I think whoever he was with,
um, has given him ideas, because he wasn't my Michael.
Aged 18, Michael told his parents he was planning to move to America,
to be with a girlfriend he'd met online.
He just wanted to spread his wings,
have a bit of independence and attempt to lead a normal life.
He said he had to go or he would attempt suicide again.
He's 18, he's an adult.
He's a vulnerable adult, but you can't stop him doing anything.
Michael's family used inheritance money
to pay for a year's rent on a flat in Hoboken,
overlooking New York.
He was the smallest, skinniest person I'd ever met.
The most polite person that I'd ever met.
Michael never mentioned any girl to me, or friends or anybody.
As a matter of fact,
I think I recall him saying he knew nobody here.
If Michael moved to Hoboken for other reasons,
I don't know.
It does make you start to wonder.
Initially, we heard from Michael all the time.
But his behaviour became erratic.
Sometimes we'd hear from him, sometimes we wouldn't.
He turned very nasty at one point.
He said to me,
"You've no idea how much I hate, loathe and despise you."
And that was the final straw for me.
I said to him, "Who is putting these thoughts in your mind?"
Because he'd always been so loving.
On the 26th May, 2016,
having lost all contact with Michael,
Lynne reported him missing to the authorities.
I was worried out my mind.
I could only see it ending in a disaster.
During this period,
police now believe he'd been living out of a BMW
bought using the money he'd been given for rent.
Michael didn't surface again until the day of his arrest.
-Our headlines this morning,
Donald Trump is celebrating his astonishing victory...
Five weeks before Michael is due to be sentenced,
Donald Trump's remarkable rise to the White House is confirmed.
-The Republican businessman
defeated his Democratic rival,
scoring decisive victories...
..confounded the pollsters and media pundits, who predicted...
So what does the rest of the world make of these seismic events
that took place overnight in America?
We're going to get the view from London, Europe...
I was up all night watching the results,
it's obviously only been announced in the last hour or so.
There's no getting away from it now.
I mean, he is going to be president for the next four years
and, like it or lump it, you know, we've got to get on with it.
It's a result that could have an impact
on the length of Michael's jail term.
We have sentencing coming up next month,
and whether Donald Trump will choose to make an example of Michael
remains to be seen.
Thank you. Thank you very much, everybody.
You know, he was looking forward to sentencing
and hoping that there might be a favourable outcome,
but I think the result
casts a potentially very big shadow over that.
Now it's time for America to...
I'm very worried that he will either lose his mind completely
or commit suicide, if he had the opportunity.
It's just made everything so much harder
and so much more complicated for Michael.
For those who have chosen not to support me in the past,
of which there were a few people...
I feel powerless. You know, I want to be able to...
to keep him strong and to give him hope,
but a lot of that hope was dashed last night with the outcome of this,
you know, and it's made the future so much more uncertain for him.
and one who's just caused the biggest political upset
in American history.
Michael is being kept in solitary confinement
and gets most of his news from his mum.
Have you heard about the election results?
You haven't, OK, well, Donald Trump did get in, in the end.
I realise, you know, in many ways, a bad situation just got worse,
for you, but, uh...
But you do understand
that what you attempted to do wasn't right, don't you?
I know that, Michael, I know that.
-You have one minute remaining.
Michael has now reverted back to being the loving son he always has.
He sent us letters and cards
and drawings that he's done.
And every time he says, "I love you, I love you, I miss you, I need you."
When Michael did move out to America
I redecorated my bedroom.
Just get me thinking about him a bit more, I guess.
Paul is flying out to meet Lynne in Las Vegas,
ahead of Michael's sentencing.
It's been probably ten years since I've been abroad.
He needs that support. With that support it'll be all right.
Michael's mental health has deteriorated
since Trump was confirmed as the President-elect
and he's been placed on suicide watch.
He's become quite depressed,
and now I think he wants to get the sentencing over and done with
so at least he'll know what's happening to him.
We hope it's going to be OK.
We hope they're going to take into account Michael's conditions,
but we have been told that it's not something the American system
tends to really, um, look into.
He is flesh and blood, he is my boy.
And, um, he's lonely and scared.
I mean, he's got no family out there, he's got nobody to see him.
He's in a prison where there are lifers
who support Trump.
They've got nothing to lose, really.
I still lie awake a lot of the times at night, expecting that phone call
saying there's been an incident.
Something's happened in the detention centre.
To be honest, I'm really worried
somebody's going to try and kill him. I really am.
I've started on sleeping pills and antidepressants,
because there's been a number of nights where I haven't slept
for two or three nights in a row
and, uh, obviously then you start to get really down and tired.
I've got to do it for Michael.
You just get over it and get it done with.
I'm trying to get my son home.
With Michael's sentencing just days away,
his legal team are putting the final touches to their case.
So we put together - I asked Lynne to send me a bunch of pictures,
so we need to call the court later on and make sure we can play these
while we're arguing for sentencing.
The problem is, the control we have
over what happens to him when he's in prison
is fairly minimal,
but the control we do have
is to limit the amount of time that he needs to spend there.
Michael's plea bargain means he's pleaded guilty
to impeding and disrupting government business
and being an illegal alien in possession of a firearm.
The reality is that you have Michael admitting
that he tried to assassinate what is now President-elect Trump.
He could face up to 20 years in jail,
unless his defence team are successful in proving
he was suffering from a psychotic episode.
And, frankly, I don't think that was Michael Sandford,
that's certainly not the Michael
I have come to know in the last few months.
But that's the only Michael
that the government's portraying at sentencing.
I think that Michael has suffered
from a variety of different mental health conditions
and what he said and what he did was really not him,
but a condition that needs to be treated.
The arguments are ready, everything's been filed,
so I think right now it's really just a matter of wait and see.
On his arrest, the Secret Service conducted a thorough investigation,
tracking Michael's movements leading up to his assassination attempt.
In the boot of his car, detectives found the used target
that led them to a firing range
less than a mile from where the rally took place.
It's going to be really loud.
That's why we got to wear...
All your protection.
Michael attended the shooting range the day before the rally.
He would later tell detectives that he'd considered buying a rifle
to shoot Trump from long distance
but claimed he was unable to acquire one.
This is the Glock 17, the one that Michael shot.
We're going to load it into the magazine,
and then we're just going to...
Slide goes forward. Ready to go.
Josh was the range safety officer that attended to Michael.
Honestly, there was nothing off of him
when he came in.
He shot 20 rounds.
He was shy, he was nervous, just like any other customer.
But I would have never thought
that he was practising for an assassination, ever.
Glock 17s are standard issue for law enforcement here in this country.
An experienced shooter, they don't anticipate the rounds,
you don't shoot down. You're pretty much just keeping that gun forward.
Which will look something like this.
When Michael was shooting, I'll see if I can get it right.
I'm going to miss on purpose.
He was doing this.
He was shooting the ground. He was not a good shot, of course,
just like any other shooter who has never shot
and has adrenaline kicking in and is really nervous.
They usually shoot really low because you're flinching,
you're so nervous.
He was just an ordinary customer. He seemed like a good kid, actually,
he just looking like he had innocence in him, you know,
like he couldn't hurt a fly or anything.
He seemed like a really nice guy, you know?
After a ten hour flight, Paul has arrived in Las Vegas
for Michael's sentencing.
He is meeting Lynne and the rest of Michael's family at the airport.
Quite nervous about everything now, and I can feel myself getting
more and more nervous the longer I've been here,
and I'm sure Lynne's going to be the same.
The nerves will start when she gets here and then, I think,
as the day progresses, thinking about tomorrow,
it's going to be hard for both of us.
And I think Lynne, Lynne is going to start struggling.
What's your relationship like with Lynne?
'Lynne and I get on really well,
'we always have done.'
Hello, Jessie, hello!
'Even when we split up, we got on quite well.'
'That's one of the things with the issues you get with Michael,
'it does bring you closer together. You haven't got the choice.'
-You all right?
-How are you?
'You've got to be there for Michael,
'you've got to work together for Michael.'
Car's out this way, it's level one, the car park, at the back, so...
-Come on, then.
There we go.
One big family, Jessica, eh?
So how you been, then, all right?
Yeah, yeah, it's been hard.
-You know, really, really tiring and stressful.
-You sleep any better?
No, no. Nor eating better.
At least we'll have some sort of closure for tomorrow, won't we?
That's it, it's been a long time coming, hasn't it?
You know, and I know it's been weighing hard on Michael,
just the waiting and not knowing.
Do you remember where I said that we're going to go tomorrow?
That's right, yeah.
-Who's going to be at the court, and why are we there?
Because we have to find out how long he has to stay there again.
That's right, yeah.
So there's going to be a special person...
-The judge, that's right.
And he's going to listen to lots of things about Michael
and decide how much longer Michael has to stay here, isn't he?
I'm a bit...a bit nervous of the judge, because I...
I've never seen him before.
-Do you think you can be on your best behaviour?
And of course Michael would like to see
how well you can behave, as well, wouldn't he?
What would you like to say to Michael if you get the chance?
I love you.
-You all right?
-Hi, son. How are you?
OK, did you?
And what did she have to say?
Well at least you get to have your say, anyway.
Are you going to read it to me?
Yeah, that would be nice.
Right, now, when we get in, it's bed for you, Jessica.
I don't think you should say, though,
that you deserve to be in prison for the rest of your life.
Because that's not true. I mean...
I know, but you didn't mean to and you didn't intend to, did you?
Just before midnight, nine hours before the rally was due to start,
Michael made his way to the Treasure Island casino
and took fourth place in the queue.
Greg Donovan, a staunch Trump supporter, was next in line.
I asked this young man,
I said, "Would you mind holding my space while I go change?"
He said, "Oh, yeah."
I heard the British accent, I remember it.
I was in my full red thing and black top hat.
But when he saw it, he seemed kind of repulsed.
I found that odd, because I thought he would like it, you know?
It just didn't seem like a regular Trump supporter.
It didn't seem like that.
That was my feeling.
I was in the fifth row, I got very close to Mr Trump.
I was so close to him. Look at that.
There's something about the rallies.
It's just euphoria.
Ladies and gentlemen, the next president of the United States,
Donald J Trump.
As the auditorium began to fill up,
Cole Bartiromo, another Trump fan,
took his place in the crowd.
The crowds are just so high energy, feeding off his energy.
So passionate, start chanting things over and over again.
Thank you very much. Oh, I love you people.
I love Las Vegas.
I love this state.
30 seconds into Trump's speech, with all eyes on the stage,
Michael approached a metropolitan patrol officer.
..and borders, generally, that are strong and powerful.
We are going to get rid of Common Core
and we are going to bring our education locally.
When we get 37 states...
Uh... We love our police.
Thank you. Thank you, officers.
I started filming when I saw guards tackling somebody.
And they were just dragging him out like he's a rag doll.
Thank you. Thank you, officers.
I was like, "Whoa, like, what did he do?"
'There is this anger.'
'Because Michael Sandford'
could have altered the course of American history.
He didn't look like murderer.
He was a wolf in sheep's clothing.
Maybe he got radicalised.
Somebody can come in here and they have the opportunity
to kill our future president of the United States.
That's very nice, thank you.
I think you have to send a strong message, Donald Trump-style,
the judge has to give him the maximum.
On his arrest, Michael told detectives that the greater good
would be to lose his own life rather than have Trump as president.
He stated that it wasn't a cry for help,
only the right thing to do.
It's the morning of Michael's sentencing.
The family are on their way to meet the legal team for a final briefing.
How are you? It is good to see you.
-Remind me his name again.
-Timmy. And the other one is?
-How are you, Brenda?
-I'm good. Hi, Lynne. Good to see you.
Hi. Good to see you.
Good to see you.
When you see Michael come into the courtroom,
I just don't want you to be surprised.
He is going to be shackled, right?
So he is going to have handcuffs
and he is going to have some leg cuffs as well.
The leg cuffs are going to remain on him.
He'll be wearing, you know, a detainee garb, jumpsuit of sorts.
So, I just don't want you to be shocked by that.
That's how you're going to see Michael.
Judges do these differently,
but they will often hear from both sides.
Sometimes they will ask questions.
Then the judge will often ask the defendant to speak, Michael.
So we would plan on having him talk to the judge.
At the conclusion of this hearing, we will know -
the judge will actually announce what Michael's sentence is,
and he will give the reasoning as to why
he decided to impose a particular sentencing.
So, we are hoping for the best, but, of course,
we don't know what's going to happen.
He can ultimately impose the sentence
that he believes is fair and just.
Unless the Republican judge is sympathetic
to Michael's mental health disorders,
he faces a lengthy jail term.
Michael Sandford is only now dressed in an orange jumpsuit.
He is tethered at the ankles.
The last big building.
His family say that he is someone
who has had a lifetime of mental health issues,
and therefore they are asking the court to show some leniency.
That is now in the hands of the judge.
We are expecting that verdict sometime in the next hour.
What's done is done. We can't change what happened.
But our worries are that we won't get him back.
-Which way we are we going?
-I think it is just around here.
Have you been able to talk with him?
He needs to get psychiatric care.
He needs to be back in the UK.
I don't, for one minute, think Michael would be in the position
he is in now if he had got the intervention he needed soon enough.
Where is all the hate coming from?
I asked for help so many times, but I didn't get it.
No, I understand that. Do you think what you are doing is right?
It's not. If you want to kill somebody, it makes you wrong.
That makes you wrong. This is America, land of the free, right?
Everybody should be entitled to do what they want to say and do, right?
No, everyone is entitled.
This is America. That's the rule.
Everyone is entitled to say what they want to say.
Freedom of speech.
OK, you know what? Then you need to change the Constitution.
I am not here to debate. I am telling you that violence is wrong.
There is life for him the other side of this, whenever that may be.
I know that, although he attempted to do a bad thing,
he is not a bad person.
I know we have to get him back.
Tell us about this sentencing, what did you think?
The judge recognised that the unique circumstances
justified a sentence below the usual sentencing guidelines.
The important thing is that he wants to go home.
He wants to go home as soon as he can and, you know,
the light is at the end of the tunnel here,
so he is happy about that.
The prosecution argued that Michael, by his own admission,
had planned to carry out the attack for over a year...
..but the judge was sympathetic to his mental health
and handed down a shorter-than-expected sentence
of 12 months and a day.
Was it good to see Michael?
He was so frightened in court. You know, he was shaking really badly.
He was choked when he spoke to the judge.
He was breaking down,
and I just feel like a weight has been lifted off my shoulders.
All the uncertainty and worry of the last few months...
Now to know that it is such a relatively short time still to go
before we get him back is just, you know...
I'm just bubbling with joy inside.
-I don't think I've ever seen you smile.
I haven't had a lot to smile about for quite a long time.
He apologised to the judge for what he had done,
he apologised to the judge for wasting people's time,
and the judge turned round and said,
"You've got nothing to be sorry for."
He said, "You've got a condition.
"If it had been a heart condition, he would take medication for it.
"Nobody would think anything about it."
"It's nothing to be ashamed of."
The judge realised what everybody else has always said about him.
In June 2016, 20-year-old Briton Michael Sandford was arrested at a Donald Trump rally after trying to take a police officer's gun in a bid to shoot the then republican presidential nominee. Michael immediately found himself at the centre of a media storm and at the mercy of America's notoriously harsh justice system. After pleading guilty, he faced years behind bars.
But how did a young middle-class boy from suburban Surrey who suffers from Asperger's end up thousands of miles from home? And what drove him to attempt to kill one of the most powerful men in the world? This programme follows Michael's family as they travel to the US for his sentencing, unsure of when they might see him again. Set against the backdrop of Trump's remarkable rise to the White House, the documentary explores Michael's complex past while using exclusive eyewitness interviews and never-before-seen archive to piece together the elaborate assassination plot and attempt to find out why he did it.