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National

Charlottesville Rally Videographer On Becoming 'Fake News'

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Our next guest has also gotten a lot of attention since the events in Charlottesville. Brennan Gilmore lives there. He saw the car that sped down two empty blocks and plowed into a crowd of demonstrators, leaving one person dead and 19 others injured. He captured that video on his phone.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: (Screaming).

SHAPIRO: Gilmore immediately turned over the video to police, and people started speculating that the crash may have been an accident. So he decided to share the video on Twitter. That opened a flood of media requests. And after he spent a day doing interviews, the death threats began. Brennan Gilmore, welcome to the program.

BRENNAN GILMORE: Thank you. Thanks for having me.

SHAPIRO: Where did the death threats come from?

GILMORE: Initially, message boards. My sister drew my attention to an "alt-right," neo-Nazi message board that had posted my parents' address. It was my home of record during my career in the Foreign Service. And so I think these guys thought that it was where I lived. And so that was the first time I noticed - and this was about 36 hours after the attack - that there were a lot of people suggesting that I had a role in the attack and threatening me because of that.

SHAPIRO: You write that your parents sort of took it in stride. In a piece in Politico, you say the only thing they did was pick the rest of the ripe tomatoes so the Nazis wouldn't get them.

GILMORE: Absolutely. I mean my parents aren't bound by the intimidation of these people and their ideologies of hate. And, you know, frankly neither am I. Their threats have done nothing but emboldened people like me and, you know, the millions of Americans that are speaking out against this type of hate in our streets.

SHAPIRO: What seems especially worrisome beyond the death threats is you describe the way that these conspiracy theories worked their way from the fringes into something closer to the mainstream.

GILMORE: Absolutely. By two, three days after the attack, what began on a obscure neo-Nazi message board was picked up by Infowars, watched by a quarter million people online and then referenced in, you know, mainstream outlets. Sean Hannity's radio show, Fox Business News had an interview with a Texas congressman who suggested that what happened in Charlottesville wasn't what it was - you know, an attack by a neo-Nazi on a peaceful crowd of marchers - but some sort of setup from the left.

SHAPIRO: I know there were a lot of different conspiracy theories out there, some more coherent than others. As best you could piece together, what was the argument they were trying to make?

GILMORE: The argument started with my being there to take the video could not have been a coincidence. You know, I have a background in the Federal Service, a background in the Foreign Service that I'm incredibly proud of overseas, and they twisted that and said I was a CIA agent; I had been in Africa committing or organizing genocide in the overthrow of countries and then came back as part of a, you know - you name it - a George Soros, Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton-funded effort to destabilize the country through a race war with, you know, the eventual goal of overthrowing the president - just, you know, absolutely ridiculous allegations.

SHAPIRO: What's happening right now?

GILMORE: So the threats are still coming in. But you know, I'm here on NPR. I've done other television programs to call this what it is, and that is repugnant ideology that's completely against what we are and should aspire to be as Americans that has no place in our political discourse. And it's an ideology which is inherently violent. The natural conclusion of an ideology which would exclude certain races and certain classes of people is violence, and that's what we've seen around the world in places I've served in Africa, where this type of tribalism and racism is instrumentalized by political leaders and has the ability to spin out of control and be a very, very destructive force in our society.

SHAPIRO: You know, you say this has no place in our political discourse. I wonder if that's wishful thinking. We wish it had no place in our political discourse. But the fact of the matter is, when you look at things today, it does.

GILMORE: Absolutely it's wishful thinking. It's aspirational thinking. And I - and you know, what my point is - if it's allowed to have this space, it can only lead into one direction, and that's further trouble. That's further violence. And so we - you know, on the right and the left, we have to get together and excise this from the realm of what's, you know, permissible in our political discourse. Or you know, the consequences can be severe for our country.

SHAPIRO: Brennan Gilmore wrote about his experience in Charlottesville for Politico. The article is called "How I Became Fake News." He now works in Rural Workforce Development in Virginia. Thanks a lot.

GILMORE: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF KAKI KING'S "SO MUCH FOR SO LITTLE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.