The host of the public radio program Reveal is sharing his story about coming to the aid of a man who was being brutally attacked by Antifa protesters in Berkeley, California, on Sunday.
A video posted on Twitter shows Al Letson using his body to cover the victim from the kicks and punches he was enduring at the hands of the protesters.
Antifa beat down apparent alt-righter. pic.twitter.com/WVdDJqLKmA
— Shane Bauer (@shane_bauer) August 27, 2017
“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 said in an interview with National Public Radio. “And I just put my body down on top of his, in the hopes that they would not hit me.”
— NPR (@NPR) August 29, 2017
NPR, which describes Antifa in its reporting as people driven by a desire for equality and justice, actually led its story on the attack this way:
“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,” NPR reported.
“About 150 members of anti-facist groups — also known as antifa or black bloc protesters — also were there, marching in formation with covered faces,” NPR reported. “Then a couple of people from the right-wing did show up.”
Letson then witnessed “one right-wing man fall to the ground, and some left-wing Antifia protesters beating him,” according to NPR.
NPR questioned Letson about his motive for protecting the man, who is not only right-wing but white and Letson is black, NPR noted.
“What came to me was that he was a human being, and I didn’t want to see anybody die,” Letson said. “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?’”
But, ironically, Letson said both his observations in Charlottesville and his experience in Berkeley has not changed his opinion on Antifa but rather has caused him to ponder “nuance” when it comes to left-wing violence.
“It hasn’t really changed the way I think about them at all,” Letson said. “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?” Letson said, adding that Nazis are exactly what we know them to be.
But, “It’s a false equivalency to say that the people fighting back against that are the exact same,” Lesson said. “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,” Letson said. “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.”
But Letson also gave an interview to Slate, in which he accused the beating victim and the man he assumed to be his friend — Patriot Prayer founder Joey Gibson — of provoking the Antifa protesters.
Slate: So walk me through how you ended up protecting this guy. Who was he?
Al Letson: No idea who he was. The longer story is that there was the rally—I think one thing that people should know is that it was mostly a peaceful rally. It wasn’t like anarchy and fighting and brawling everywhere. It was mostly a peaceful thing. Most of the protesters there were not what I would call antifa. They were a mixture of people. The antifa were definitely there, but I would say that they were maybe 20 percent of the crowd? But they were there, and they showed up in force.
So [far-right activist] Joey Gibson was doing his ‘Patriot Prayer’ thing—he came through with like two other guys, and he was antagonizing the black bloc, and it really escalated. So they started chasing Joey and this guy. They ran across the street—I’m literally right next to Joey while all this is happening, so I know this to be true—they ran into the police, and the police kind of protected them. But this other guy—I’m not sure if he was with Joey. It looked like he was, but I’m not sure. He was running in kind of a different place, and he stumbled—or someone tripped him—and then four or five people surrounded him and began to kick and hit him with like a flagpole. And I was just filming it, but at some point I looked behind him and I saw a whole mass of people coming, and I just thought that they were going to kill him. And, you know, I didn’t want anybody to die. So I just dropped my stuff and dove in and got on top of him. Originally I wasn’t planning on getting on top of him; I just wanted to shield him. I wanted to break it up, but then I realized there were too many of them, and there was no way that was going to happen.
NPR also questioned Letson about whether he was concerned about violating the journalistic taboo of becoming part of the story instead of just reporting the story.
“I don’t want to be a part of the story, at all,” Letson said. “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.”