Updated: 8:37 p.m. EDT
As a reader of The Intercept, you are probably not a regular viewer of Fox News. That’s understandable. Even as a writer for The Intercept, keenly aware that the current occupant of the Oval Office gets most of his “alternative facts” and opinions from the channel, I find it hard to sit through a full minute of its programming.
Still, a segment broadcast on Fox Wednesday night deserves some of our attention. That’s because it was an interview with a far-right video blogger from California, Keith Campbell, whose work, which consists mainly of stalking left-wing activists, had attracted almost no attention until Sunday, when he was beaten by anti-fascist activists in Berkeley.
Clips of Campbell being kicked, punched, and hit with a stick by four black-clad, masked activists — and rescued after 10 seconds by a progressive journalist, Al Letson, who shielded him from further harm — have gone viral since then and played on a loop as he described the assault to Tucker Carlson.
As a result, a 54-year-old fringe activist who spends his days crashing far-left events for the benefit of his 878 YouTube subscribers has become a hero to millions of Fox News viewers. Images of Campbell being thrashed are now also Exhibit A for supporters of Donald Trump who argue that the president was right to condemn “hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides,” after the killing of an antiracist protester by a white supremacist in Charlottesville, Virginia, this month.
Even before the events in Berkeley, Trump himself clearly took great delight in shouting “Antifa!” as he described the group at a rally last week in Phoenix.
Precisely this fear, that attacks on right-wing protesters would be nothing more than “a welcome gift to the far right and those elements in the state yearning for a pretext for repression,” are what led Noam Chomsky to warn against anti-fascist violence. Such violence, Chomsky wrote in June, was “wrong in principle, and tactically self-destructive.”
Coverage from Berkeley was dominated by videos and photos of anti-fascist activists, known as antifa, beating Campbell and a handful of right-wing activists who showed up to a cancelled far-right rally.
Shane Bauer, who shot the most widely shared video of Campbell’s beating, observed in Mother Jones that images of violence carried out by a small number of anti-fascists drew press attention almost entirely away from the fact that the vast majority of the thousands of antiracist demonstrators were peaceful.
If all the things I tweeted, the thing getting shared the most is a video of five people beating someone up.— Shane Bauer (@shane_bauer) August 28, 2017
The images of violence also prompted condemnation of antifa from current and former Democratic officials.
Nancy Pelosi, the House minority leader, called for the arrest and prosecution of the “people calling themselves antifa,” who were responsible for the beatings caught on camera. “I think we should classify them as a gang,” Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguin told the Bay Area CBS News affiliate. Andy Slavitt, who administered health care programs in the Obama administration and has been instrumental in the grassroots effort to defend the Affordable Care Act, went even further, calling antifa “idiots” and “animals.”
For their part, the anti-fascists defended their tactics. As The Intercept reported last year, the anti-fascists argue that their use of force to deny white supremacists a platform is entirely justified by the threat of physical violence posed by neo-Nazi and white supremacist ideologies.
As the historian and former Occupy Wall Street organizer Mark Bray writes in “Antifa: The Anti-Fascist Handbook,” the activists draw their inspiration from postwar anti-fascist groups in Europe, whose experience with the death camps convinced them that hate speech did not deserve protection. “After Auschwitz and Treblinka, anti-fascists committed themselves to fighting to the death the ability of organized Nazis to say anything,” Bray explains. Anti-fascism, he adds, is “an illiberal politics of social revolutionism applied to fighting the Far-Right, not only literal fascists.”
Anti-fascist activists also contested Campbell’s claim that he did nothing to provoke the attack and was merely present as an “independent journalist.” An anonymous contributor to an anarchist news site, It’s Going Down, argued that Campbell was far from an innocent bystander. “Campbell already has a lengthy history of attacks against antifascists by attempting to bring down violence and repression on them through exposing people’s identities,” the contributor wrote.
While there is no evidence that Campbell initiated any physical contact with the masked activists who assaulted him, a review of his Twitter feed, before he started to edit it late Wednesday, makes it clear why they might have recognized him.
Campbell’s tweets show that he planned to attend the far-right rally as a participant, and has been working to confront and undermine anti-fascists and other left-wing groups for months.
Whether or not one accepts the anonymous anti-fascist contributor’s claim that “intervening to prevent him from trying to record and compromise the identities of antifascists was a defensive act,” a look at Campbell’s YouTube channel makes it obvious that he is a right-wing activist and provocateur whose aim seems to be baiting left-wing activists into violent or compromising behavior and capturing it on video.
To that end, he has spent much of the last six months following left-wing activists around with his video camera, as part of an effort to surveil or disrupt their activities. Last week, for instance, Campbell joined College Republicans at Berkeley to disrupt a meeting of By Any Means Necessary, or BAMN, a left-wing group associated with antifa and dedicated to taking “militant, direct action” to defend affirmative action, integration, and immigrant rights.
He later posted 27 minutes of video showing that he and other right-wing activists blocked the door of a classroom the group planned to use for their meeting, demanding to be allowed in and recording their faces.
Video of the same event recorded by another right-wing activist shows Campbell facing off with one of Berkeley’s most prominent anti-fascists, Yvette Felarca, a teacher at the Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School in Berkeley.
Felarca currently faces felony charges for assault and inciting a riot for throwing two ineffective punches at the torso of a member of the Traditionalist Worker Party, a neo-Nazi group, during a rally in Sacramento last year that was violently disrupted by anti-fascists.
In Campbell’s own video of his confrontation with Felarca, she can be heard accusing him and other right-wing activists of “stalking and harassing women.” Campbell has indeed devoted quite a lot of energy to harassing Felarca online and in person, calling for her to be fired, tweeting obscene images at her, and livestreaming her trial.
In another one of his videos, as Northern California Anti-Racist Action reported on the anarchist news site It’s Going Down in June, Campbell could be heard boasting about his plans to bait Felarca in person. “I have her home address,” he said. “I’m going to go and provoke her and see if I can get her to do something crazy.”
Although Tucker Carlson made no effort to follow up on the point, Campbell volunteered in his Fox News interview that one of his attackers had apparently recognized him from previous confrontations and accused him of trying to “dox,” or expose the identities, of the anti-fascist activists. The anonymous antifa supporter who defended the attack on Campbell cited the same motivation. “He has a lengthy documented history of affiliation and participation with fascist politics,” the antifa supporter claimed in the post, “and, over the past several months, has worked to doxx and identify anti-fascists for targeted harassment, repression, and possible violence.”
For his part, Campbell makes no secret of his far-right politics, working with groups like Proud Boys, a fraternal organization described by its founder Gavin McInnes as a group for “Western chauvinists who refuse to apologize for creating the modern world.” In one of Campbell’s own videos, he can be briefly seen wearing a cap of the Oath Keepers, a militia organization of current and former law enforcement officers, military veterans, and first responders.
An Oath Keepers Twitter account refers to Campbell, under his social-media alia @KPikklefield, as a member of the militia group.
Like Eddy Brock, another Bay Area video blogger who achieved a measure of viral fame in February by getting punched in the face by anti-fascists at Berkeley and proudly displaying his injuries for the media, Campbell might have done more damage to the image of left-wing protesters by getting hit and kicked than he ever did with his camera. Campbell was clearly thrilled by the outcome, even titling his own YouTube copy of the Fox News segment, “From Hell on the Streets to Heaven with Tucker Carlson.” (In on-screen text added to the video, Campbell also claims that the kicks and punches he sustained were meant to kill him, writing that he was “targeted for a hit by BAMN” which was “carried out by violent Antifa terrorists.”)
Media coverage of the beatings, and the embarrassment it caused Democrats, also pleased pro-Trump social media activists like Mike Cernovich, an “alt-right” provocateur who was given a press credential by the Trump White House, Paul Joseph Watson, an editor at Infowars, the conspiratorial website that channels outlandish theories to the Oval Office, and Jack Posobiec, who promoted the false rumor that Hillary Clinton’s campaign operatives kept child sex slaves at a Washington pizzeria.
Washington Post, MSNBC, Pelosi & others all being forced to disavow Antifa is a huge narrative win for the new right.— Paul Joseph Watson (@PrisonPlanet) August 30, 2017
Cernovich in particular has been working for months to discredit protests against Trump by drawing attention to the tactics of black-clad antifa activists. In May, the blogger had used his access to the White House briefing room to scold reporters for not pressing Democrats to disavow what he called “alt-left terror.”
Another part of the backstory to the viral video of Campbell that Fox News noted but failed to follow up on was the intervention of the progressive journalist, Al Letson.
In his own account of the clash, Letson reported that Campbell was attacked shortly after the organizer of the right-wing rally, Joey Gibson, had been chased behind police lines by antifa activists wielding sticks, shields, and pepper spray.
Letson explained to Kelly McEvers of NPR why he intervened on Campbell’s behalf. “What came to me was that he was a human being, and I didn’t want to see anybody die.
“I’ve been thinking a lot about the events in Charlottesville,” Letson added, “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?'”
Among the many ironies of Letson, an African-American journalist, stepping in to defend Campbell with the savage beating of DeAndre Harris by white supremacists on his mind, is the fact that Campbell posted a tweet two weeks ago scoffing at a crowdfunding page for Harris, writing that he got what he deserved for trying to disrupt a lawfully permitted white supremacist rally.
Another is that Letson is the host of a radio show “Reveal,” produced by the Center for Investigative Journalism, which is partly financed by a grant from the Open Society Foundations. That philanthropy is funded by George Soros, the liberal financier who, in the fevered imaginations of far-right bloggers like Campbell, is behind all manner of left-wing conspiracies and plots.
In the video he recorded last week of himself and Berkeley’s College Republicans haranguing Felarca, one of them can be heard accusing her of taking “George Soros’s money.”