Last night, PBS/Frontline aired a documentary titled “Documenting Hate,” the first of a multi-part series by investigative reporter A.C. Thompson of Propublica/Frontline which examines the rise of white-nationalist and Neo-Nazi hate groups in U.S. since Donald J. Trump’s 2016 election.
The program begins with last summer’s so-called “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, in which hundreds of white nationalists carrying Tiki torches and wearing polo shirts shouted such slogans as “You will not replace us! The Jews will not replace us!” and attacked anti-racist protesters in a two-day melee that resulted in the death of one peaceful protester run over by a white nationalist who rammed his car into a crowd. The police stood by and watched as the alt-right contingent, many of whom came armed with guns, clubs, pipes and shields, attacked counter-protesters. In the end, only a handful of arrests were ever made.
Thompson, a veteran reporter from California’s Bay Area, was at the rally and witnessed the bloody aftermath. Over the past year, using video footage and access to secret communications between some of the white nationalist attendees, he began to piece together exactly who these angry young white men were and where they came from. The answer: many of the men had backgrounds in hate groups and many of them had a connection to–wait for it–Orange County.
This will come as no surprise to Weekly readers who remember when we ran Thompson’s recent report for ProPublica on the Atomwaffen Division, a mysterious group of neo-Nazis who have infiltrated the U.S. military and defense complex and whose members include Samuel Woodward, the South OC resident who allegedly murdered his former high school classmate Blaze Bernstein, a gay Jewish man from Lake Forest, in January 2018. As Thompson and Ali Winston, his former investigative partner at ProPublica (Winston just got snatched up by the New York Times metro desk this week) reported, Woodward happens to be a veteran of Atomwaffen; the pair received photos of Woodward and other recruits wearing skull masks and undergoing paramilitary training somewhere in the Texas desert.
But OC’s connection to Charlottesville goes deeper than that. As Thompson follows the story, he realizes that many of the folks who were critical to that melee belong to an OC-based alt-right group calling itself the “Rise Above Movement,” (RAM) which looks like a fight-club for wannabe white cholos who preach a mixture of racial pride, straight-edge moral living, and #MAGA. Of course, the Weekly was on the front lines of reporting on this group thanks to the fact that one of our freelance photographers, Brian Feinzimer, and an intern, Frank John Tristan, were present at a June 2017 MAGA rally in Surf City, where they were assaulted by several members of RAM. No charges were ever filed.
Watch Thompson’s excellent coverage of the rising hate movement in the U.S. Disturbingly, a lot of the action takes place here in OC, which is why you will also have a chance to see both Tristan and former OC Weekly editor Gustavo Arellano talk about our newspaper’s ongoing efforts to shine a light on this disturbing trend.
Award-winning investigative journalist Nick Schou is Editor of OC Weekly. He is the author of Kill the Messenger: How the CIA’s Crack Cocaine Controversy Destroyed Journalist Gary Webb (Nation Books 2006), which provided the basis for the 2014 Focus Features release starring Jeremy Renner and the L.A. Times-bestseller Orange Sunshine: The Brotherhood of Eternal Love’s Quest to bring Peace, Love and Acid to the World, (Thomas Dunne 2009). He is also the author of The Weed Runners (2013) and Spooked: How the CIA Manipulates the Media and Hoodwinks Hollywood (2016).