Transcript

Documenting Hate: Charlottesville

View film

WHITE SUPREMACISTS:

You will not replace us! You will not replace us! You will not replace us! You will not replace us!

A.C. THOMPSON, ProPublica/FRONTLINE:

[voice-over] Charlottesville, Virginia, August 12, 2017

I’d been tracking hate crimes since the presidential campaign, and I could see that something was happening in this country. The Charlottesville rally was supposed to be about a Confederate monument, but anyone who was paying attention could see that it was about more than a single statue. It felt like a national reckoning around race was coming. And being here would help me understand it.

I came here to ask questions, but as the day unraveled into chaos around me, one thing became clear. This was not a place to listen or understand. Charlottesville was a crime scene.

COUNTER-PROTESTERS:

Medics! Medics!

A.C. THOMPSON:

[voice-over] I arrived in Charlottesville for what would become the largest gathering of white supremacists in a generation. They called it Unite the Right, and it was drawing individuals from at least 35 states.

August 11, 2017

CHIEF ALFRED THOMAS, Charlottesville Police Department:

Good afternoon. I’m Chief Thomas, Charlottesville Police Department. We will have a significant police presence throughout the weekend. Well over 100 officers from my agency, several hundred officers from the Virginia State Police. We were informed that the National Guard is monitoring this situation.

A.C. THOMPSON:

[voice-over] The day before the rally, a few reporters gathered for the police press conference. But I’d begun to hear from other sources in Charlottesville.

PRESS CONFERENCE MODERATOR:

We have time for one more question.

A.C. THOMPSON, ProPublica/FRONTLINE:

[on camera] Chief, we’re hearing rumors of there being another torchlight march tonight, an unpermitted march. Do you have any information about that?

CHIEF ALFRED THOMAS:

I’ve heard the same rumors but I don’t have a lot of details. What have you heard? Where is that going to be taking place?

A.C. THOMPSON:

[on camera] We’ve been hearing five or six o’clock.

CHIEF ALFRED THOMAS:

Where at?

A.C. THOMPSON:

[on camera] Not far from here is what, is what we’ve been hearing.

A.C. THOMPSON:

[voice-over] The police had heard the same rumors I had, but the university grounds were quiet and it seemed like the march might not be happening after all. Until suddenly, the torches appeared.

WHITE SUPREMACISTS:

You will not replace us! You will not replace us! You will not replace us! You will not replace us! You will not replace us! You will not replace us!

A.C. THOMPSON:

[voice-over] In a matter of moments, hundreds of neo-Nazis and white supremacists assembled and marched on the university. The police arrived on the scene, but watched from the sidelines as a small group of anti-racist activists were quickly surrounded.

WHITE SUPREMACISTS:

White lives matter! White lives matter! White lives matter! White lives matter!

A.C. THOMPSON:

[voice-over] One of them, Emily Gorcenski, was streaming it from her phone.

EMILY GORCENSKI’S LIVESTREAM:

We are penned in. We are surrounded on all sides by hundreds of Nazis. We have no way out.

WHITE SUPREMACISTS:

[subtitles] Where are all your friends at, bitch?

Where are your friends at, bitch?

We outnumber you. We outnumber you.

We run this s---, not you!

WHITE SUPREMACISTS:

White lives matter! White lives matter! White lives matter! White lives matter!

EMILY GORCENSKI, Anti-racist activist:

I got punched. I got kicked. I remember getting hit in the head. I thought it was with a torch. I stepped forward at one point and I got shoved back. I thought I was going to die.

The thing that I was thinking as the melee was happening was: I, I just need to keep the camera going, you know. That was the only thing that I could do. Yeah, it was like 100 people beating up like a small group of, of us, a small group of students.

A.C. THOMPSON:

[on camera] Ten or 15 people?

EMILY GORCENSKI:

Yeah.

You could feel how angry they were but also how happy they were, you know, to be doing this – to, to be intimidating people like this and this happy rage to be doing this.

A.C. THOMPSON:

[on camera] Had you ever seen that displayed before?

EMILY GORCENSKI:

No, never in my life. They were cheering. They were running through the streets, yelling at people. And they walked away and they got away with it. They're coming in here the next day ready to do more. I thought like here we go. Yeah, here we go.

August 12, 2017

A.C. THOMPSON:

[voice-over] The morning after the torchlight march I walked into town with a group of clergy. The white supremacists who’d beaten people the night before were returning. And anti-fascist counter-protesters were arriving to challenge them.

COUNTER-PROTESTERS:

No hate, no fear. White supremacists aren’t welcome here!

No hate, no fear. White supremacists aren’t welcome here!

No KKK. No fascists.

A.C. THOMPSON:

[voice-over] At 10:15 a melee erupted.

A group of white supremacists, some with their hands taped up like boxers, punched, kicked and choked people who tried to block their path, leaving them bloodied on the pavement.

A.C. THOMPSON:

[on camera] Just want to let you know there’s been all kinds of crazy violence over here. Pepper spray, people beating each other with sticks. We’re trying to figure out if the police are going to intervene to stop that or if it’s just going to keep going on.

TROOPER:

Well, we’ve all got different assignments to try to maintain some sort of order here. So that’s what we’re focusing on right now.

A.C. THOMPSON:

[voice-over] Hundreds of people had shown up to protest the white supremacists. Most were nonviolent, but some black-clad militant anti-fascists had come to fight. And while police looked on, the crowd grew more aggressive.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN:

I’ll shoot you. If you want to play that way, I’ll play.

A.C. THOMPSON:

[voice-over] A group of white supremacists formed up with shields and clubs and pushed straight into the protesters.

Some of them fought back, but no one was arrested and the violence continued to escalate.

A.C. THOMPSON:

[voice-over] At about noon, a group of white supremacists cornered protester DeAndre Harris in a parking garage next to a police station. They beat him with poles, metal pipes and wooden boards.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN:

[subtitles] Hey, y’all cops, why is somebody dying in here? Come do your f------ job. Come do your job. Will you come do your job? Come do your job.

A.C. THOMPSON:

[voice-over] Police did not intervene to break it up.

Then at 1:45, the brawling turned into something else – an act of terror.

A gray Dodge slammed into a crowd of protesters. Twenty people were rushed to the hospital. 32-year-old Heather Heyer was pronounced dead.

SUSAN BRO, Heather Heyer’s mother:

I always wondered: Was she afraid? Did she see him coming? She was deaf in one ear, so... Damn it, I wasn’t going to cry.

She had planned on not going. But when she saw videos from Friday night, she’d said, “I have to go.” And when you drive through Charlottesville now and see that peaceful little downtown, it's really, really hard to imagine. Even seeing the videos, it's surreal. I get cold chills every time I'm in the parking garage and have to walk past where Dre was beat up. That's just insane, right there by the police station, the police standing right there.

A.C. THOMPSON:

[on camera] For you, what does justice for Heather look like?

SUSAN BRO:

I don’t know. I don't know that you could ever call it justice for Heather. Nothing's gonna bring Heather back. Those of us who miss her, miss her forever.

Her best friend said, “You know, it's kinda weird. I'll get to be an old man and she'll always have been 32.”

You know, life goes on. I'm getting older. It's just weird. Life is very different.

A.C. THOMPSON:

[on camera] James Alex Fields is the person who's been prosecuted for Heather's murder. In your mind, is he the only person who should be held accountable?

SUSAN BRO:

No. For people from 35 states to come in to fight, that's absolutely absurd.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:

You had a group on one side that was bad, and you had a group on the other side that was also very violent. Nobody wants to say that, but I’ll say it right now.

We condemn in the strongest possible terms, this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides, on many sides.

FOX NEWSCASTER:

It was really something else to see. This news conference, Bill, encapsulated the president’s thinking, his reasoning and, frankly, his frustration over the events that took place over the weekend in Charlottesville.

COMMENTATOR:

He defended his initial comments and says there is plenty of blame to go around on both sides. Specifically, he mentioned what he called the “alt-left.”

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:

Excuse me. What about the “alt-left” that came charging at the, as you say, the “alt-right”? Do they have any semblance of guilt?

NEWSCASTER:

Today, David Duke, the former Grand Wizard of the KKK, tweeted this.

NEWSCASTER:

“...grateful to the president for his words today.”

NEWSCASTER:

“Thank you, President Trump, for your honesty and courage to tell the truth about Charlottesville and condemn the leftist terrorists in Black Lives Matter/Antifa.”

NEWSCASTER:

Here in Charlottesville, one white nationalist told us the president has helped them.

MATT HEIMBACH, White nationalist:

He’s opened up a door. His movement has opened up a door, but it’s up to us to take the initiative.

A.C. THOMPSON:

[voice-over] President Trump’s comments sparked national controversy. While white supremacist leaders praised the president’s words, they angered many here in Charlottesville, including the city’s mayor at the time, Democrat Mike Signer.

MICHAEL SIGNER, Mayor of Charlottesville:

Groups that previously had been stuck in the shadows and at the margins and at the extremes were brought into the mainstream and that’s why they felt welcome to try and unite the right in Charlottesville. At the end of the day it’s a, it’s a city of, you know, just under 50,000 people and we were, we were in this, we were this target for forces much, much bigger than us.

A.C. THOMPSON:

[on camera] You are the Jewish mayor of a small Southern town. I imagine you’ve gotten a lot of trolling and a lot of harassment.

MICHAEL SIGNER:

Oh, yeah. Hundreds of messages on Twitter, mail at my house. A cartoon of Robert E. Lee pressing the green button on a gas chamber where my face had been photoshopped into it with a Star of David on my lapel in reference to the Confederate statue issue here in, in Charlottesville.

A.C. THOMPSON:

[on camera] I saw you that night over at the, the county government headquarters and you looked stricken.

MICHAEL SIGNER:

Stricken is not a bad word for it. I wish that we had known more. I wish that we had been given more information by the, by the state intelligence apparatus.

A.C. THOMPSON:

[on camera] Did they say anything like, “Hey, these guys are going to come with clubs. They're going to come with pepper spray. They're going to come with, you know, implements of violence.”?

MICHAEL SIGNER:

No. We had one briefing with three members of the Virginia State Police who came and talked to us on city council. They did not present us with any evidence of a credible threat.

A.C. THOMPSON:

[on camera] As I understand it, about 10 people all together have been prosecuted from those days. Does that sound accurate to you?

MICHAEL SIGNER:

It sounds like it should be a lot higher.

A.C. THOMPSON:

[voice-over] Unite the Right was a watershed moment for the white supremacist movement. Groups that had been isolated on the margins for years suddenly converged out in the open.

An independent report commissioned by the city said the many failures of state and local police had produced disastrous results that day.

A.C. THOMPSON:

[on camera] I just wanted to see if there’s anything the Charlottesville Police could say about what happened that day and, and what changes might have been made going forward.

A.C. THOMPSON:

[voice-over] Charlottesville police won’t talk. And the state police won’t either.

A.C. THOMPSON:

[on camera] I got your message saying that basically we should look at the Facebook and Twitter posts you put out, but we have questions that go beyond that.

A.C. THOMPSON:

[voice-over] They’ve charged one man for the killing of Heather Heyer and four for the beating of DeAndre Harris. But if Charlottesville was a crime scene, then most of the criminals had gotten away.

A.C. THOMPSON:

[on camera] Like I said, I’m just trying to figure out how many, how many folks have been prosecuted and how many cases might still be in the pipeline.

A.C. THOMPSON:

[voice-over] I wasn’t getting any answers in Charlottesville so I set off on my own.

Who were these white supremacists who had descended on Charlottesville? And why did the authorities seem so unprepared?

I arrive in New York to meet with a retired FBI agent, a man who infiltrated neo-Nazi groups during the 1990s.

A.C. THOMPSON:

[on camera] This is from Charlottesville.

A.C. THOMPSON:

[voice-over] Mike German tracked the violence in Charlottesville as it unfolded.

MICHAEL GERMAN, Brennan Center for Justice, NYU Law School:

This is when the police should be there and they aren’t. And not even in view. I mean you can’t even see somebody close by. I mean it's one thing to, OK, watch these guys trade some punches and then follow them as they separate and grab them.

A.C. THOMPSON:

[on camera] Right.

MIKE GERMAN:

They, they weren't even doing that. Or, or let them go home but then pick them up...

A.C. THOMPSON:

[on camera] Right.

MIKE GERMAN:

...because you can identify them pretty easily.

A.C. THOMPSON:

[on camera] Right.

MIKE GERMAN:

And what's interesting about Charlottesville is that it was, that it, it was after almost two years of increasing violence at these protests.

Anaheim, California

MIKE GERMAN:

There was Anaheim.

Sacramento, California

MIKE GERMAN:

Sacramento.

Berkeley, California

MIKE GERMAN:

The first Berkeley protest in 2017.

Huntington Beach, California

MIKE GERMAN:

The Huntington Beach protest.

The second Berkeley protest was even more violent. The fifth, sixth, seventh in, in a series.

I could see from my office here in New York City how this was building. This was not just predictable but predicted. I couldn't believe that there wasn't better intelligence being provided by the federal government, by the FBI, Department of Homeland Security. Particularly when people are coming in from out of state, they should be warning them. These are people who engaged in violence in Berkeley. These are people who engaged in violence in Huntington Beach. Where was the FBI? Unless the FBI, too, has just abandoned this ground, which I would find even more shocking.

A.C. THOMPSON:

[on camera] And your sort of sense is like if you allow folks to go out and act very violently over and over and over again in these political spaces, then they basically start to think: Hey, the cops are OK with us.

MIKE GERMAN:

Right. They’re gonna protect me coming in, let me do it, and then protect me going out. Now that these groups feel that they have some state sanction for that, they are going to be a lot more dangerous in the coming years.

A.C. THOMPSON:

[voice-over] Where was the FBI, Mike German wondered. They’d issued warnings about white supremacist violence before Charlottesville, but those warnings had failed to stop the bloodshed. No one from the bureau will sit down with me, but they send me a statement. The FBI said that while it doesn’t “police ideology,” it has long “investigated white supremacy extremists” and it “will enforce the rule of law.”

Stabbings, shooting, beatings. At rally after rally leading up to Charlottesville, I see the same faces again and again. One face stands out to me. I first notice him at a pro-Trump rally in Huntington Beach. And he surfaces again at other rallies where he’s treated like a leader. After he’s briefly detained by police, I’m finally able to identify him.

Robert Rundo is based in California now but his rap sheet begins back East. That’s where he led a small street gang in Queens, New York, called the Original Flushing Crew.

The Queens DA shares Rundo’s file with me. Rundo’s Flushing Crew wasn’t racist and included a few Latino members. They got into a bloody feud with the infamous street gang MS-13.

Within MS-13, Rundo was known as “el diablo blanco” [the white devil]. In 2009, he was filmed by surveillance cameras in front of this corner store. Rundo’s crew can be seen chasing members of MS-13. Rundo stabs one of them. His victim falls as he tries to escape, and Rundo stabs him six more times.

Rundo’s graffiti remains on sidewalks here, but he’s gone. He was sentenced to two years in prison for gang assault and sent upstate. After his release, he moved to Orange County, California.

The neat rows of sun-bleached homes here look like a vision of suburban utopia. But Orange County has always had a darker side.

LOWELL SMITH, retired probation officer:

This is actually a Klan robe. The guy was a Grand Dragon of the Imperial Klans of America – the rank structure here.

A.C. THOMPSON:

[on camera] So kind of like sergeant's stripes or something?

LOWELL SMITH:

Yeah, like that but he’s like in charge. He ran this whole chapter in the whole region.

A.C. THOMPSON:

[voice-over] Lowell Smith was an Orange County probation officer for 26 years. For much of his career, he worked exclusively with white supremacists.

A.C. THOMPSON:

[on camera] So the guy we're looking at, Rob Rundo, he has this tattooed on his back. Can you explain the significance?

LOWELL SMITH:

Well, the Totenkopf is primarily found, what we see with neo-Nazi organizations. We've seen it back in the day. It started off with Adolf Hitler, with the Gestapo and back to some of the Nazi secret police.

A.C. THOMPSON:

[on camera] So this is a thing that, that I’ve been trying to understand. Rob Rundo, he grows up in Queens, New York. He's a member of kind of a multicultural gang. He goes upstate to New York state prison. And by the time he gets out of New York state prison he is definitely on the path to being a neo-Nazi or a white supremacist.

LOWELL SMITH:

There is a lot of hate within the prison system. There’s a lot of assaults, fights, racial fights. So they go in there and they separate by race for protection. So for these guys to be protected, they gotta be allied for protection with hardcore, violent skinheads. Then they go out to the streets. They’re ideologically motivated.

A.C. THOMPSON:

[on camera] So it’s not surprising to you?

LOWELL SMITH:

It doesn’t surprise me at all. No. Over time, especially within the last year or so, couple of years, I've seen this whole white supremacy becoming more emboldened.

A.C. THOMPSON:

[on camera] Just in the last couple of years?

LOWELL SMITH:

Yeah. It's probably the most active in my history, in my career.

A.C. THOMPSON:

[on camera] So in almost 30 years.

LOWELL SMITH:

Yeah, and a little bit different, too, because you're seeing mainstream that you wouldn't suspect. You’re seeing college kids becoming emboldened in this movement.

A.C. THOMPSON:

[on camera] So moving out of the subculture and moving into the mainstream of American life.

LOWELL SMITH:

Right. It worries me a lot. Yeah, I am, I am really concerned. I am afraid Charlottesville could happen again and be a lot worse.

A.C. THOMPSON:

[voice-over] Smith says a new generation of white supremacists are pushing their politics into the mainstream. Rob Rundo seems to be part of that trend. His group’s first public appearance wasn’t at a torch march. It was in Huntington Beach at a pro-Trump rally behind a banner that read “Defend America.” When anti-fascists showed up, Rundo and his crew attacked them. He pinned one of them on the ground and pummeled him. One member of his crew also attacked Frank Tristan, a journalist with Orange County’s alternative weekly paper.

A.C. THOMPSON:

[on camera] At the time did you know that this was a group or who did this or, or what was going on?

FRANK TRISTAN, Journalist:

No. I definitely saw they were organized. They stuck as a group. You know, there also, the banner. When I, we got back to the office and I started talking to Gustavo about everything, he started having me go and look for everyone there who, who was attacking people.

I started going through hashtags, so like #magamarch, looking for...

A.C. THOMPSON:

[on camera] That’s you!

FRANK TRISTAN:

Yeah, right there. So I started finding pictures like this.

A.C. THOMPSON:

[on camera] Oh! So is this him hitting you? Is that, or is that later?

FRANK TRISTAN:

So this is right after he had just hit me. When I clicked on his name, it took me to his profile.

A.C. THOMPSON:

[on camera] And you look at his pictures there and you say, “Oh, that’s the dude who attacked me.”

FRANK TRISTAN:

There you go.

GUSTAVO ARELLANO, Editor, OC Weekly, 2011-2017:

I said, “OK, if we’re going to tell this story that actually there was white supremacists there, we need to get everything right. So start digging.”

Then I start seeing pictures that photographers took of that MAGA march and I see a guy with a shaved head and a jacket and immediately I’m like: that’s a Hammerskins logo. Walking around openly with a Hammerskins jacket. And so then he starts digging. He finds out that this guy had actually been just recently released from jail, from prison, for a hate crime. And that’s when you know that they’re, OK, this is more than just a couple of random people. There’s something much more organized.

A.C. THOMPSON:

[voice-over] Frank and Gustavo followed a trail of social media posts and court records. Their research put a name to Rob Rundo’s group: the Rise Above Movement or RAM. They portray themselves as patriotic nationalists. But the members’ Facebook posts are full of anti-Semitic and racist imagery. They also appear in photos and videos training with the largest Nazi skinhead gang in America – The Hammerskins.

A.C. THOMPSON:

[on camera] So you got a, you got a Hammerskin here, hanging out. They’re doing their fight training with, with the Rise Above Movement.

FRANK TRISTAN:

So, so they’re, they’re training and they’re, they’re not identifying separately. It’s all under the same moniker.

A.C. THOMPSON:

[on camera] So basic, basically, you have, you have like a new white supremacist group kind of absorbing the old guard.

FRANK TRISTAN:

Yes.

A.C. THOMPSON:

[on camera] And the old guard being known as being hyper-violent.

FRANK TRISTAN:

[nods] mm hmm.

GUSTAVO ARELLANO:

Oh, yeah.

A.C. THOMPSON:

[on camera] So what happened with these guys in the weeks and months after the march and the attack at Huntington Beach? Where did they go?

FRANK TRISTAN:

They started getting more prominent. They started getting more well-known and more celebrated.

GUSTAVO ARELLANO:

And they started becoming friends with other “alt-righters.” They, they were becoming heroes.

ROB RUNDO:

Oh, check it out. If anyone wants to know, this is what we’re about. It’s Rise Above Movement. We were at Berkeley, at Huntington. Now we’re here.

RUNDO’S ASSOCIATE:

That’s right.

A.C. THOMPSON:

[voice-over] In the months after their emergence at the Huntington Beach Trump rally, the Rise Above Movement’s social media following swelled. By the time of the Charlottesville rally, they’d gained a national reputation as white supremacist street fighters.

RAM video

LUCAS WALDRON, ProPublica video producer:

There are a couple guys in these few shots that I, we weren’t able to identify. I wonder who he is ’cause he looks like he’s part of RAM.

A.C. THOMPSON:

[on camera] Oh, yeah, he’s definitely a RAM person.

LUCAS WALDRON:

He’s dressed in the whole thing.

A.C. THOMPSON:

[on camera] But I don’t think we know his name, no.

A.C. THOMPSON:

[voice-over] I know Rob Rundo is the leader of RAM. And by examining online videos and court documents, I’m able to identify several more RAM members.

LUCAS WALDRON:

So there’s this guy who I don’t, I don’t know if you guys know who he is now.

A.C. THOMPSON:

[on camera] OK, so leave that on him.

LUCAS WALDRON:

Yeah.

A.C. THOMPSON:

[on camera] And then come over to this video to the Charlottesville.

LUCAS WALDRON:

Oh, yeah.

A.C. THOMPSON:

[voice-over] One face looks familiar and I quickly realize where I’ve seen him before. He marched in Charlottesville on August 12th, his hands taped up for a fight.

A.C. THOMPSON:

[on camera] Oh, look. He’s got his right hand taped up.

LUCAS WALDRON:

Right hand.

A.C. THOMPSON:

[on camera] I wonder if his left hand is as well.

LUCAS WALDRON:

I’m sure we can see.

Oh, yeah. He has both here.

A.C. THOMPSON:

[on camera] They’re the same person.

LUCAS WALDRON:

Yeah.

A.C. THOMPSON:

[voice-over] The RAM member can clearly be seen attacking people at the California rallies. And in Charlottesville he participates in one of the morning's first fights, beginning the escalating spiral of violence. But whoever he is, I can’t identify him.

Using clues from RAM’s propaganda videos, I manage to locate one of their training spots. Just off the 405 outside of Irvine, we find RAM’s graffiti tags hidden inside drainage tunnels.

PETE SIMI, Sociologist, Chapman University:

Traditionally, when you looked at white supremacist graffiti, it tended to be the opposite of this. So not the flowery large letters that’s associated more with hip-hop culture. White supremacist graffiti traditionally tend-, tended to be more just like narrow letters, just like the lettering there.

A.C. THOMPSON:

[on camera] I'm guessing this is like the New York City influence – like Rob Rundo bringing this from Queens and his upbringing here, is my guess.

PETE SIMI:

I mean it looks that way.

A.C. THOMPSON:

[voice-over] Sociologist Pete Simi has studied white supremacists for decades. His field research takes him inside dozens of racist groups across the country.

PETE SIMI:

I describe them as a hybrid of sorts because they're kind of a, a collage in a way...

A.C. THOMPSON:

[on camera] Right.

PETE SIMI:

...you know, where they're pulling together these different ideas and symbols and associations and kind of making their own thing.

A.C. THOMPSON:

[on camera] This is the...

PETE SIMI:

That's the life rune.

A.C. THOMPSON:

[on camera] How does it get appropriated by the white power movement?

PETE SIMI:

It's all about white survival.

A.C. THOMPSON:

[on camera] So this is one that’s been in circulation for a long time?

PETE SIMI:

Yeah. National Alliance used it back in the seventies.

A.C. THOMPSON:

[on camera] So what do you make of this?

PETE SIMI:

You’ve got the Celtic cross. It’s one of the most widely utilized tattoos among white supremacists. And then it’s interesting because you get then this phrase here – “kill your local drug dealer” – which taps into what’s right above the, the straight edge, the three X, triple Xs, this notion of living a clean life and being very kind of puritanical almost.

A.C. THOMPSON:

[on camera] Right.

PETE SIMI:

They felt like they were doing like a vigilante-type work. They were cleaning up the streets.

A.C. THOMPSON:

[voice-over] Like the white supremacists who came before them, Simi says that RAM members present themselves as defenders of traditional white culture.

We visit Marblehead Park in San Clemente where they film training videos that celebrate personal fitness, the warrior spirit and political street fighting.

RAM video

PETE SIMI:

What they're trying to sell is this idea that we need to go back to a, a more traditional time, you know, traditional masculinity. When they blend in these fight scenes, that's also this idea of being not only just fit and living a pure life, but also being a warrior of sorts. And so you could imagine a, you know, 16-, 17-year-old white male watching these videos and being somewhat moved by them or attracted to them in some case.

A.C. THOMPSON:

[on camera] It looks like it's a small group, it's a fringe group. Why are they important? And, and what do you think?

PETE SIMI:

Well, first you, know, the first thing is we just want to strictly talk about violence. Small groups can do as much if not more destruction than large groups. You have, for instance, the Oklahoma City bombing. Relatively small group there that, you know, ultimately pulled off, at the time, the largest act of domestic terrorism prior to 9/11. So, so you know, an, an act of violence can certainly be committed by a small fringe group.

A.C. THOMPSON:

[on camera] By a small group.

PETE SIMI, Sociologist, Chapman University:

And then I think, yeah, they might be kind of a small fringe group but the best, most sophisticated white supremacist is the, the one who appears the least visible. They're not out there wearing uniforms that are going to be really visible. They're not getting tattoos all over their face. You know, they're, they're blending in in a lot of different ways, including the issues they're concerned about. The issue of immigration, which has been a real hot-button issue – white supremacists can seize on that issue and say look, there's an invasion and America’s under siege. Then they have the potential to recruit among a much broader swath of the population than we often are willing to admit or recognize.

A.C. THOMPSON:

[voice-over] A couple months after Charlottesville, I had enough to publish a story and video about the group, naming Rob Rundo and several other members.

I later hear from several law enforcement agencies, including the FBI. They won’t talk on the record, but they say they’ve opened an investigation into Rundo’s group. I want to talk to Rundo. I go looking for him and learn that he’s in Europe, networking with extremists there. And I still can’t identify that RAM member in the Charlottesville photos – the one wearing the “Make America Great Again” hat and punching people in the face. Then I get a tip from a local cop. The man’s name is Michael Miselis.

Miselis doesn’t have a criminal record. He’s a Ph.D. candidate at UCLA and holds a government-issued security clearance for his job at the massive defense contractor Northrop Grumman.

A.C. THOMPSON:

[on camera] Hey, Mike, how you doing? A.C. Thompson, ProPublica and FRONTLINE. Wanted to talk to you about what you were doing in Charlottesville last year.

MICHAEL MISELIS:

Sorry, I don’t know anything about that, man.

A.C. THOMPSON:

[on camera] But you were there. You’re on camera. You’re on photos.

MICHAEL MISELIS:

No, I, I think you got the wrong man.

A.C. THOMPSON:

[on camera] Hey, do Northrop and UCLA know you’re involved with the Rise Above Movement?

MICHAEL MISELIS:

I gotta go, man.

A.C. THOMPSON:

[voice-over] We identify Michael Miselis in a follow-up story. And the next day, Northrop Grumman announces it’s taken action and Miselis is no longer an employee.

NEWSCASTER:

In New York City an Army veteran, who police say is an admitted white supremacist, has been charged with murder as a hate crime.

NEWSCASTER:

Portland police say late yesterday afternoon three men were stabbed by a man yelling ethnic and religious slurs.

A.C. THOMPSON:

[voice-over] Over the course of my reporting, I’ve seen a wave of white supremacist violence hit the country.

NEWSCASTER:

The brutal killing was motivated by prejudice after police found Urbanski belongs to Facebook group “Alt-Reich Nation.”

A.C. THOMPSON:

[voice-over] Police departments across the country have reported a steep rise in hate crimes. The FBI says that hate crimes have hit a five-year high. One case draws my attention.

NEWSCASTER:

Prosecutors say Samuel Woodward took Bernstein to a park and killed him with a knife.

NEWSCASTER:

Bernstein was found with more than 20 stab wounds.

NEWSCASTER:

Twenty-year-old Woodward was the last person to have seen the pre-med student while he was home for winter break.

NEWSCASTER:

Do you think your son could have been targeted because he was Jewish?

BLAZE BERNSTEIN’S MOTHER:

Absolutely. He was also a gay man.

A.C. THOMPSON:

[voice-over] Samuel Woodward hasn’t been charged with a hate crime, but the case seems worth investigating. And it took place back in Orange County, California.

A.C. THOMPSON, ProPublica/FRONTLINE:

[on camera] I’ve been looking at this guy Samuel Woodward, the man accused of killing Blaze Bernstein in this park. At first I thought, you have a gay, Jewish college student stabbed to death. Maybe this is a hate crime. What do you know about Woodward?

GUSTAVO ARELLANO, Editor, OC Weekly, 2011-2017:

Woodward was a teenager. Grew up in luxury, Newport Beach. So that's the old money of Orange County. His family were very devout Catholics. They went to one of the wealthiest parishes in Orange County, Our Lady Queen of Angels. Conservative, conservative Catholic parish right there.

A.C. THOMPSON:

[on camera] So you've been tracking white supremacist groups for many years now. Was Woodward a guy who was on your radar? Do you know of him to have been involved with any long-term OC groups?

GUSTAVO ARELLANO:

Nothing. You have Volksfront here, you have Hammerskins. I knew the traditional neo-Nazi groups. But I had no idea of who this, who this guy was.

A.C. THOMPSON:

[voice-over] Woodward didn’t seem to be on anybody’s radar here and he didn’t appear to be part of any local white supremacist group. His alleged crime was vicious, but it wasn’t clear to me that he was even a part of my story.

JUDGE:

Anything else the court needs to address on behalf of the people?

ATTORNEY:

No.

JUDGE:

On behalf of the defendant?

A.C. THOMPSON:

[voice-over] Sam Woodward betrays no emotion at his court hearing. He pleads not guilty.

A.C. THOMPSON:

[on camera] The defendant is Woodward.

A.C. THOMPSON:

[voice-over] I pull Woodward’s court file, but there are precious few details in it. There’s also not much to be learned from his schoolmates. They describe him as an introvert, and it seems like most of his life took place online.

Orange County is starting to feel like a dead end. Then I hear from a journalist, Jake Hanrahan, who gives me photos of an anonymous Twitter account showing Sam Woodward doing paramilitary training with a neo-Nazi group called Atomwaffen Division.

My colleague Ali Winston manages to make contact with the person who posted the photos. He’s a former Atomwaffen member and he points me to another member who uses the online handle “Ted Bundy.”

We trace him back to his parents' house in a D.C. suburb, a neighborhood favored by members of the intelligence community.

He uses Nazi imagery on his Facebook page, posts selfies with guns, and I’ve obtained photos placing him Charlottesville.

A.C. THOMPSON:

[on camera] So I’m a reporter with ProPublica and PBS FRONTLINE. And we’re working on a documentary about the new neo-Nazis.

This is a Nazi emblem, the black sun. This is a T-shirt put out by the group Atomwaffen.

A.C. THOMPSON:

[voice-over] His father will neither confirm nor deny that the pictures on his son’s Facebook page are real. But the next day I get a call from his family. They say he left the group; that it was too extreme for him and he hasn’t had anything to do with it for months.

A.C. THOMPSON:

[on camera] I think you should be aware that one of the people in the group that he, that he was involved with is currently facing charges for killing a gay, Jewish college student in southern California.

A.C. THOMPSON:

[voice-over] Their story is difficult to verify. Atomwaffen is obsessed with secrecy, communicating through encrypted text messages, and private chats using a service called “Discord.”

The former Atomwaffen member sends us logs of 250,000 messages shared amongst the group.

“Ted Bundy” is in the logs and so is Sam Woodward. But something unexpected catches my eye and I have to go back to Charlottesville.

At the torch march last August, Emily Gorcenski had been assaulted while she livestreamed the confrontation. We’d traded information, but there were new details in the Atomwaffen Discord logs.

A.C. THOMPSON:

[on camera] You were sending me messages when I was in California. And I think you and I were both wondering if it was the Rise Above Movement that came after you on the night of the 11th. Then my colleagues and I got the chat logs for Atomwaffen, this like much more extreme neo-Nazi group. And this guy, he's talking about Unite the Right and he's reporting back to his fellow Nazis and he says, “Just got in a fight. If you see a guy in a tracksuit, that's me. I drop kicked Emily Gorcenski.”

This guy describes kicking you by name with your full name. We think this guy in the track suit, it’s this guy, Vasili Pistolis. He's a private first class in the U.S. Marine Corps.

EMILY GORCENSKI, Anti-racist activist:

I mean that's, that's unbelievable.

So there is somebody with a track suit. We have a photo of him. And if we look, we can see him back here. You’re gonna see the Adidas track suit. This is...

A.C. THOMPSON:

[on camera] That's the guy.

EMILY GORCENSKI:

...this is the guy.

And then he, he comes running in from the back, does a flying drop kick. Yeah, and he doesn’t hit me because the person he hits is, is a few feet over to my right but he definitely does come in and launch himself at people. And that's kind of what kicked off the whole group.

A.C. THOMPSON:

[on camera] And that's where things got crazy.

EMILY GORCENSKI:

Yeah, the melee, yeah.

A.C. THOMPSON:

[on camera] If you look at this picture, I think it's got to be the same guy.

EMILY GORCENSKI:

Oh, that's him. Yeah. Yeah. I mean look at the haircut. That hairline is super distinctive.

A.C. THOMPSON:

[on camera] Yeah, he's got like the total widow’s peak. So at the same time he would have been attacking people, he would have been working for the U.S. government, serving in the Marines.

A.C. THOMPSON:

[voice-over] The military bans membership in racist groups and the Pentagon publicly condemned the violence in Charlottesville. But while reporting on Pistolis, I get an email from a Marine veteran.

ED BECK, Marine veteran:

Shortly after Unite the Right, a friend of mine came across a comment by Pistolis on Facebook and immediately clicked through to his profile and realized this kid's an active-duty Marine and you can't be a Nazi in the military. She sent the screen shot my way because she knew I had served and she thought maybe I would be able to get in contact with his command.

A.C. THOMPSON:

[voice-over] Ed Beck served a tour in Iraq where he’d been assigned to the 2nd Marine Logistics Group, the same command Pistolis serves in at Camp Lejeune.

ED BECK:

After I was first alerted to Pistolis, I started searching and just came across other websites that he had been posting, posting on for years – white supremacist content, racist content, anti-Semitic content.

A.C. THOMPSON:

[voice-over] Beck had seen the same footage I had of Pistolis at the torch march. And he’d collected video from Charlottesville I’d never seen.

ED BECK:

He had posted a photo of his costume that he was preparing for Unite the Right.

A.C. THOMPSON:

[on camera] So it’s the, the Punisher baseball cap

ED BECK:

The Punisher cap, the flag and the mask, which he ended up not using. I started digging into photos and videos and you can see Pistolis in the side.

A.C. THOMPSON:

[on camera] Right.

ED BECK:

He turns and starts advancing and he gets ready to swing.

A.C. THOMPSON:

[on camera] He was everywhere in these images.

ED BECK:

Right in the middle of it. And here's one shot of him attacking.

A.C. THOMPSON:

[on camera] Oh, wow! I have not seen this. This is insane.

ED BECK:

There are multiple videos showing Pistolis attacking.

A.C. THOMPSON:

[on camera] Wow! He's hitting the guy on the ground. Right?

ED BECK:

Right.

A.C. THOMPSON:

[on camera] It's vicious.

ED BECK:

But there were at least a half-dozen videos that captured his attack on Saturday.

A.C. THOMPSON:

[on camera] What made you finally decide like I have enough information here to call law enforcement?

ED BECK:

Pistolis popped up at the White Lives Matter rally in Shelbyville, Tennessee. That night a neo-Nazi group assaulted an interracial couple.

A.C. THOMPSON:

[on camera] There's Pistolis.

ED BECK:

There's Pistolis.

ED BECK:

The Nashville police were looking for witnesses. At this point, I realized I had to report him. I called the military police at Camp Lejeune. I told them that I had evidence that he’d been a Nazi for years and that he had assaulted multiple people at Unite the Right in Charlottesville.

A.C. THOMPSON:

[on camera] And you said this all on the phone call?

ED BECK:

I said this all on the phone call.

A.C. THOMPSON:

[on camera] And what happened?

ED BECK:

He said he'd send it up the chain and they might be in touch. And I never heard back.

A.C. THOMPSON:

[voice-over] I speak to the Marine Corps several times. They tell me they’d opened an investigation into Pistolis but it came to nothing.

I made contact with Pistolis over email, but he denied even being in Charlottesville. He tells me to call him.

A.C. THOMPSON:

[on camera] Hey, it's A.C. Is this Vasillios?

VASILLIOS PISTOLIS:

[subtitle] Yeah.

A.C. THOMPSON:

[on camera] I know that you told me that you weren't in Charlottesville, but I have found photos of you there and messages in different Discord chats where you're talking about assaulting people and assaulting Emily Gorcenski.

VASILLIOS PISTOLIS:

[subtitle] That ain't even me.

A.C. THOMPSON:

[on camera] Yeah, but there's photos of you there.

VASILLIOS PISTOLIS:

[subtitles] I'm trying to be, like, as sincere here as possible, dude. I'm just like [inaudible]. Like I told you, I already got in trouble with this. Because of that, I like being where I'm at right now. And because of that, I've literally left everything behind. Don't misquote me ’cause I have our phone call recorded. I've, I’ve literally left that s--- behind. Like I don't know what else to tell you. Like these, those people were f------ crazy. But I'm not saying I’m, I don't have certain beliefs, but I'm not trying to be involved with anything stupid, is what I'm getting at.

A.C. THOMPSON:

[on camera] I guess that's it. You know, you say you weren't in Charlottesville. You're starting new. You don't want to talk.

VASILLIOS PISTOLIS:

[subtitles] If anything, it’s a joke, you know. That's the thing. It's an inside... If you don't get the joke, I, I don't know how else to explain it to you.

A.C. THOMPSON:

[on camera] There's video, man, of you there. You know, there's video of you launching yourself into that crowd. It doesn't seem like a joke. It doesn't seem like s--- posting. It seems like something else entirely.

VASILLIOS PISTOLIS:

[subtitles] How about this? Let me leave you on this note. We... None of this comes out and a few years from now, I will help you with your career. I can answer other questions that you want to know, because, obviously, you probably don't want to be working for ProPublica. Your goal is probably to be working for like a bigger-name company where you're gonna make more money. I'm just gonna give you the heads up now that I still have all our conversations recorded and stuff and... Other than that, I'll let you go...

A.C. THOMPSON:

[on camera] OK. All right, man.

A.C. THOMPSON:

[voice-over] We publish stories on Pistolis that reveal his identity and his activities in Charlottesville.

In response to our reporting, Congressman Keith Ellison issues a formal letter to Secretary of Defense James Mattis. Ellison asks him to look into the case and the presence of white supremacists in the military.

A.C. THOMPSON:

[on camera] Have you heard anything from the Marine Corps or from Naval Criminal Investigative Service about this?

REP. KEITH ELLISON, D-Minn.:

No. We heard about it from ProPublica. We wrote in about it ’cause we were concerned about it.

A.C. THOMPSON:

[on camera] What are you hoping to get out of that letter?

REP. KEITH ELLISON:

Well, you know, look, we've seen people and military leaders in the past actually change policy and we've seen them make some strong statements. I think this is critical, because I think what Trump has actually done is given the opposite message. The reality is, is that any time you get a whole bunch of these young white extremists carrying tiki torches with no masks on through a public street, they're telling you: We're not worried.

A.C. THOMPSON:

[on camera] We're not afraid.

REP. KEITH ELLISON:

We’re not afraid.

A.C. THOMPSON:

[on camera] Right.

REP. KEITH ELLISON:

We're going to just do this. That is why it's critically important to be very clear about the unacceptability of any extremists, including these white supremacists extremists, acquiring the best military training in the world, because if somebody like Pistolis gets the, gets the training and uses it, who’s he going to use it on? Maybe his fellow soldiers, maybe his fellow Americans. One thing we can do is to shine a light on this ’cause when we get some light on it, then somebody somewhere is going to say, OK, well, this needs to become a priority. And so that's what we're going to do.

A.C. THOMPSON:

[voice-over] As the anniversary of Charlottesville draws near, the U.S. Attorney’s office in Virginia tells us they’re pursuing a criminal prosecution. It seems like federal prosecutors are closing in on the some of the same people I’ve been investigating. In Orange County, the secret life of Sam Woodward that we discovered has caught up with him. Prosecutors have now charged him with a hate crime.

For their part, the Marines court-martialed Vasillios Pistolis and ousted him from the Corps. But the movement that violently erupted in the streets of Charlottesville hasn’t gone away. Our source inside Atomwaffen says the group has been adding members and that Pistolis is not the only soldier in its ranks.

The story is far from over.

Support Provided By Learn more