On Sunday a planned rally of right-wing activists in Berkeley, Calif., mostly fizzled out, but thousands of peaceful left-wing protesters turned out, singing songs and chanting.
About 150 members of anti-facist groups — also known as antifa or black bloc protesters — also were there, marching in formation with covered faces. Then a couple of people from the right-wing did show up.
That’s when Al Letson, host of the investigative radio program and podcast Reveal from the Center for Investigative Reporting and PRX, saw one right-wing man fall to the ground, and some left-wing antifa protesters beating him.
Letson jumped on top of the guy to protect him, because, he says, he didn’t want anyone to get hurt. Earlier this month, a woman was killed during a violent white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Va.
“When I glanced to my left I saw, you know, a mass of people just coming off the lawn towards this guy, and I don’t know — I just, I thought they were going to kill him. And I just didn’t want anybody to die,” Letson says. “And I just put my body down on top of his, in the hopes that they would not hit me.”
On why he protected this man
What came to me was that he was a human being, and I didn’t want to see anybody die. And, you know, I’ve been thinking a lot about the events in Charlottesville, and I remember seeing the pictures of a young man being brutally beaten by these guys with poles, and when I saw that I thought, “why didn’t anybody step in?”
And you know, in retrospect, it doesn’t matter if he doesn’t see my humanity, what matters to me is that I see his. What he thinks about me and all of that, like — my humanity is not dependent upon that.
On how he balances his ethics as a journalist with his own morality
I don’t want to be a part of the story, at all. And I believe in all of those journalistic ethics and all of that — but I also think that, before that, I’m a human being.
You know, I mean this sounds really high-minded and maybe a little nutty, but I am a huge NPR nerd, and many years ago I was listening to Terry Gross and father Greg Boyle was on there, and he gave this quote that has just stuck with me ever since. He said, “I want to live like the truth is true, and go where love has not been found.” And it’s how I want to govern myself in the world.
So when I get into this situation where the decision is, do you be a journalist or do you be a human, I’m going to put the journalism to the side and do the thing that feels right for me.
On if this event changed his view of antifa protesters
It hasn’t really changed the way I think about them at all. I think that the problem that happens when we have the antifa or people on the left engaging in violence is that it shifts the narrative.
Suddenly, we are equating people that are fighting Nazis with Nazis — and the two things don’t equate, right? And we’ve seen what they can do when they’re in power. So we see and know exactly what that is.
It’s a false equivalency to say that the people fighting back against that are the exact same. But I also see how the violence that is coming from the antifa movement can be spun to make it seem like the two are equivalent.
So you know, we’re living in tricky times when there’s a lot of nuance that needs to be walked through — and America is not good at nuance. So I think, for me, it didn’t change the way I thought about them, but it does mean as a reporter, as a producer, as a journalist ,that I’m thinking even more about what that nuance means, and how to communicate it to the audience.