We continue our interview with A.C. Thompson, correspondent for Frontline PBS and reporter for ProPublica. His new investigation is titled “Documenting Hate: Charlottesville.” He discusses how he was there in Portland, Oregon, when anti-racist, anti-fascist protesters faced off against members of the far-right-wing group “Patriot Prayer” during a protest and counterprotest Saturday. Hours into the competing protests, police officers attacked the left-wing, anti-fascist counterprotesters with pepper spray and stun grenades. Portland’s police chief has ordered a review of the use of force at the protest.
More from this Interview
- Part 1: Documenting Hate: New Doc Lays Bare the Violent White Supremacy that Exploded in Charlottesville
- Part 2: New Charlottesville Doc Exposes Neo-Nazi Leaders & Their Ties to U.S. Military & Weapons Contractors
- Part 3: Mother of Heather Heyer, Killed 1 Year Ago: Everyone Needs to Pick Up the Baton & Stand Against Hate
- Part 4: Portland Protest Shows New Far-Right Trend: Multiethnic Groups with Fascist Heroes Like Pinochet
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman. This year marks the first anniversary of the white supremacist, neo-Nazi rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, the deadly “Unite the Right” rally protesting the Charlottesville decision to remove a statue of a Confederate general from a downtown park, General Robert E. Lee, became the biggest and deadliest white supremacist rally in U.S. history in decades. We are joined by A.C. Thompson. The documentary he did, the correspondent for Frontline PBS, is called Documenting Hate: Charlottesville, premiering tonight on PBS stations across the country. In Part 1 of our discussion, we discussed the documentary.
As this documentary comes out, you were in Portland, Oregon, for yet another white supremacist rally, and one took place in Berkeley, California, as well. Describe what you saw, A.C.
A.C. THOMPSON: Right. Actually, you know, I would revise that, and I would say that it was perhaps a fascist rally in Portland, but not a white supremacist rally. And that’s sort of another new wrinkle in the far-right movement. So the groups that were in Portland, they wanted you to know, “Hey, look, we’re not racist.” And many of them had leaders who were people of color. But they also said, “Hey, we’re really into fascist characters like Pinochet.” The first guy I met had a huge shirt on that said “Pinochet did nothing wrong.” And other people had shirts on that would say things like “right-wing death squad.” And so, these are what I would call multicultural, multiethnic fascist groups, that they laud characters like Pinochet. They laud characters like—
AMY GOODMAN: The dictator of Chile that ruled with an iron hand.
A.C. THOMPSON: The Chilean dictator who killed tens of thousands of his opponents and whose folks often threw them out of helicopters. You know, they are fans of folks like the Indonesian dictator Suharto, someone that you’ve studied very much. And they would say, about somebody like Suharto, “I don’t care that he’s Asian. I’m not prejudiced against Asian people. I just like that he was involved in slaughtering tens of thousands of—in fact, hundreds of thousands of suspected communists.”
AMY GOODMAN: Over a million.
A.C. THOMPSON: Yeah. So that’s the kind of—these are the kind of groups that we’re talking about. It’s a new wrinkle on the fascist movement and on—and they’re not explicitly white supremacist. They’re a little bit different.
AMY GOODMAN: And so, talk about how police dealt with them versus the anti-fascist protesters.
A.C. THOMPSON: You know, what I saw in Portland was sort of a response to Charlottesville, that they were trying to keep these two groups separated, and, unlike we had seen in other events, they were trying to keep these groups from fighting, which police had failed at in many cities before. But I think, from what I saw, it seemed like the group that was getting the harsher police treatment seemed to be the leftist faction, the anti-racist faction. And I think the concern, I would say, in Portland is that police were using less lethal munitions and firing them in what seemed to be somewhat indiscriminate ways at the counterprotesters, the leftist protesters, in a way that really could have seriously injured people.
AMY GOODMAN: And the same happened in Berkeley.
A.C. THOMPSON: This similar thing happened in Berkeley. I wasn’t there, but that’s the reports that I’m hearing. And I didn’t document it, so I don’t know all the details there.
AMY GOODMAN: Wasn’t a guy shot in the head in Portland?
A.C. THOMPSON: That, I have seen the photos, and my colleagues were actually at that scene when it happened, and it sounded terrifying. I was in a different part of town when that incident happened. And it looked—but that looked scary, the photos, absolutely.
AMY GOODMAN: And do you think there’s any relation to this crackdown on the counterprotesters, more harshly than the protesters, and Donald Trump being president?
A.C. THOMPSON: You know, it’s hard to say. A city like Portland is not a place where Donald Trump has a lot of sway, I would say. A city like Berkeley is not a place where there are a lot of Donald Trump fans. I think, really, part of what we’re seeing here is just a longtime problem with sort of police adjusting to the dynamics of this current political moment and still trying to actually effectively police these situations that we have, that we’re going to continue to have, where you have very intense standoffs between people on the left and people on the right who are concerned about this particular moment.
AMY GOODMAN: Are you saying these fascists are the Proud Boys?
A.C. THOMPSON: Here’s what I’m saying: Patriot Prayer and the Proud Boys are extreme-right groups that I don’t think they’re—they’re not white supremacist groups. They’re just not. But they have a lot more in common with certain fascist movements that we’ve seen over time than, say, other groups.
AMY GOODMAN: Before we go, you’ve been doing a lot of reporting on Blaze Bernstein, the murder of this young man. Explain who he is and how it fits into this whole movement.
A.C. THOMPSON: So, Blaze Bernstein is—was a gay Jewish college student who was from Orange County, California. And when he disappeared and was murdered earlier this year, my colleagues and I thought, “Hmmm, that looks like a case we should probably be following. You know, we don’t know yet, but it looks suspicious.” When we started getting more details about it, we kept investigating. And eventually, we found out that, hey, the guy that has been charged by the police, Sam Woodward, with the murder is a member of the most extreme neo-Nazi group in the country, Atomwaffen Division. And he spent all of his time in the Atomwaffen chats—
AMY GOODMAN: Now, Atomwaffen, A-T-O-M-W-A-F-F-E-N,
A.C. THOMPSON: A-T-O-M-W-A—
AMY GOODMAN: German for?
A.C. THOMPSON: German for “nuclear weapons” division. I believe, if you were German, you would say something like “Atomwaffen,” something like that. But yeah, so he was a member of this incredibly rabid, incredibly extreme group that’s dedicated to domestic terrorism and the overthrow of the United States government—
AMY GOODMAN: The man who’s charged with his murder.
A.C. THOMPSON: The man who’s charged with this murder—virulently anti-gay, virulently anti-trans, virulently anti-Semitic, anti-people of color—I mean, really, really intense group.
AMY GOODMAN: And Vasillios Pistolis, the leader of this.
A.C. THOMPSON: No, he was—
AMY GOODMAN: One of the people in it.
A.C. THOMPSON: Vasillios Pistolis was a chapter leader for the group in North and South Carolina, but he was another character who was a key figure in the group. The group’s lovely leader goes by the handle “Rape.” And his name is John Cameron Denton, but he uses the handle “Rape.”
AMY GOODMAN: And who is he?
A.C. THOMPSON: He’s a Texas neo-Nazi based outside of Houston.
AMY GOODMAN: And you’re also investigating him.
A.C. THOMPSON: Yes, he will be in our second film, our follow-up film, that will air on PBS in the fall.
AMY GOODMAN: Finally, one of the issues we didn’t deal as much with is the whole misogynist part—
A.C. THOMPSON: Right.
AMY GOODMAN: —of these movements. And if you could talk more about it? You touch on it in the documentary.
A.C. THOMPSON: Right. It’s really interesting, because the earlier waves of white supremacist groups were highly patriarchal, but they weren’t openly and violently misogynist. And I think this wave of white supremacist groups have even worse sort of gender politics. And a lot of them are just absolutely aggressively anti-female. And that’s the kind of thing that you get with a guy who goes by the handle “Rape.”
AMY GOODMAN: Well, we’ll do Part 2 of this soon, as you’re doing Part 2 of your documentary. It’s coming out soon?
A.C. THOMPSON: In the fall, October/November.
AMY GOODMAN: I want to thank you, A.C. Thompson, correspondent for Frontline PBS, reporter for ProPublica, his documentary, Documenting Hate: Charlottesville, premiering tonight 10 p.m. Eastern on PBS stations around the country and at PBS.org/Frontline. To see Part 1 of our discussion, go to democracynow.org. I’m Amy Goodman. Thanks for joining us.