KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:
Yesterday there was supposed to be a rally of right-wing activists in Berkeley, Calif., but that mostly fizzled out. Still, thousands of peaceful left-wing demonstrators turned out singing songs and chanting. And about 150 anti-fascists, or antifa, or black bloc protesters were also there, marching in formation with covered faces. And then a couple of right-wing demonstrators did show up.
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UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Stop. Stop. Stop.
MCEVERS: That's when Al Letson, host of the investigative radio program and podcast Reveal, saw one right-wing guy fall to the ground and some left-wing antifa protestors start beating him. I talked to Al Letson earlier today, and he said he jumped on top of the guy to protect him.
AL LETSON: At some point, when I turned to my left, I saw this gentleman. And either he tripped or somebody tripped him and he landed on the ground. When he landed on the ground, about five of the people that had been chasing them surrounded them and started kicking him. And I saw somebody take a flag pole and really bring it down really hard on him.
And 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. And I just put my body down on top of his in the hopes that they would not hit me.
MCEVERS: Yeah. I mean, we have to say this, right? Like, some of the people who organized this rally that was supposed to happen that didn't happen are part of the alt-right. This is a philosophy that promotes white nationalism, white rights. And you yourself, you're African-American. Like, what - was any of that going through your mind? Or you were you just like, this guy doesn't need to be beaten up and it doesn't matter what side you're on?
LETSON: Yeah, none of it went into my mind at all. 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.
MCEVERS: You're also a reporter. You were there as a journalist. You had your recording equipment with you. You know, and we're always told that reporters aren't supposed to become part of the story. You know, what do you think about that?
LETSON: I don't want to be a part of the story at all. And I believe in all 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.
MCEVERS: How has this, if it has, changed how you think about these leftist protesters, these antifa protesters? I mean, these were the people inflicting violence on this person.
LETSON: Yeah, 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, right? Like, 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 that as a reporter and 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.
MCEVERS: Al Letson hosts Reveal. It's a podcast and a radio show from the Center for Investigative Reporting and PRX. Thank you very much.
LETSON: Thank you.
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