UPDATE: The man Letson protected identifies himself as Trump supporter and video blogger Keith Campbell.
While covering the “Rally Against Hate” in Berkeley on Sunday, Reveal host Al Letson witnessed a man being attacked by a group of protesters. The man was balled up on the ground, fending off blows from several people. Letson, wearing a red T-shirt, jumped in front of the batterers, protecting the man from further injury.
“I was scared they were going to kill him,” Letson said. “So the only thing I could think was I wanted to get on top of him to protect him.”
The altercation was caught on video by Mother Jones journalist Shane Bauer, who identified the aggressors as anti-fascist protesters, sometimes called antifa. He also said the man being beaten may have been a member of the alt-right.
Letson was covering the event along with other Reveal staff members. In the video, he can be seen wearing his headphones, with his recording gear in a black satchel strapped across his body.
“Our editorial policy is clear: we are unbiased observers not participants,” said Reveal Editor in Chief Amy Pyle. “However, in reviewing the video, it is clear that Al did not take sides. Instead, he responded as any of us might if we saw another human in distress.”
Thousands of people had converged in downtown Berkeley on Sunday in response to a planned right-wing rally dubbed “No to Marxism in America.” A huge police presence also flooded the streets to ward off violence between right- and left-wing groups. And barriers were erected around Martin Luther King Jr. Civic Center Park, where the rally was to have unfolded.
The right-wing organizers had announced Saturday that they were canceling their events, and very few of their supporters had shown up. However, there were reports of several arrests and scattered skirmishes throughout the morning and early afternoon.
Letson was at the Civic Center Park as the surrounding streets filled with left-wing groups, including members of the antifa. Some wore black attire and face-covering masks and bandanas.
Letson recounted what happened next, a scene he also caught on video: Right-wing organizer Joey Gibson — who had canceled a large event in San Francisco the prior day citing safety concerns — arrived at the park shortly after 1:30 p.m. He and a couple of his supporters were chased by what appeared to be antifa members, who began to throw things at him.
In Letson’s video, law enforcement officers can be seen standing on the sidelines, a protest policing strategy criticized during the violent April “Battle of Berkeley” protests and in Charlottesville, Virginia, earlier this month. Gibson continues through a line of police. Other videos from the scene show him being handcuffed.
Meanwhile, Letson said, a man who appeared to be one of Gibson’s supporters was also chased by 20 to 30 antifa protesters, who began to kick and hit him with sticks on Allston Way.
Letson dove on top of the man, suffering a few collateral blows but no injuries. Tear gas was released, quickly dispersing the crowd. (Editor’s note from Berkeleyside: Police said they used a smoke bomb to disperse the crowd at one point Sunday, and that a protester used pepper spray. Tear gas was not used, police said.)
Later, the man Letson protected reached out to him on social media. His name is Keith Campbell, 54, a President Donald Trump supporter and video blogger who was live streaming the rally on Sunday. He says antifa members know him from his conservative youtube channel Patriot Warrior Media – where he’s known as KPikklefield – and targeted him specifically.
“Someone pointed me out and called me by name and started running toward me,” he said. “Someone knocked my camera out of my hand and I was going to grab it and someone hit me over the head and I went down. I was sure they were going to kill me. I was thinking, ‘I hope it’s quick’ because it hurt.”
Campbell told Reveal he has no memory of Letson shielding him and only learned about it after seeing video of the attack.
“I wanted to reach out to Al because it was a direct, coordinated attack,” he added. “It’s incredible what he did.”
Campbell sustained bruised ribs and kidneys on Sunday, he said, but suffered no permanent damage. He said he has relocated out of state for the moment to avoid further attacks.
Jack Smith IV, a senior writer at Mic, recorded the incident from another angle. In it, Letson can be heard urging demonstrators to stop their attack. There’s a brief pause in the confrontation, then another fight breaks out between two protesters who had been watching nearby.
Someone dives on top of another guy being beaten by Antifa, begging them to stop, fleeing behind police lines. Intra-left blows exchanged. pic.twitter.com/bz2zFEB25j— Jack Smith IV (@JackSmithIV) August 27, 2017
Berkeley Police, who were in charge of the law enforcement response on Sunday, did not respond to a request for comment.
Hear what led up to the event:
This story was originally published by Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting, a nonprofit news organization based in the San Francisco Bay Area. Learn more at revealnews.org and subscribe to the Reveal podcast, produced with PRX, at revealnews.org/podcast.