'Documenting Hate' in the time of Trump: Charlottesville one year later

Ken Tucker
Critic-at-Large, Yahoo Entertainment
A confrontation in Charlottesville, Va., between alt-right demonstrators and counterprotesters. (Photo: Frontline/Edu Bayer)

Remember the deadly riot in Charlottesville, Va., the one that left one woman dead and scores injured in the wake of neo-Nazi violence? We’re coming up on the first anniversary of that nightmare — the Charlottesville tragedy occurred on Aug. 12, 2017 — and so the new PBS Frontline documentary “Documenting Hate: Charlottesville” is both timely and freshly informative. Its anti-star is a racist, anti-Semitic hate-group member who’s also a U.S. Marine, and he’s mighty glad Donald Trump is in the White House saying things like “both sides” are to blame.

That Marine, Vasillios Pistolis, a private first class, is also an enthusiastic member of the Rise Above Movement, or RAM, in which Pistolis’s first-class military training is deployed to beat young women and men who are counterprotesting against racist groups. We see him doing some righteous pummeling, and then bragging online about kicking demonstrator Emily Gorcenski in the head. Gorcenski is interviewed by A.C. Thompson during this co-production by Frontline and ProPublica, which airs Tuesday night.

Gorcenski is shocked that Pistolis, as a member of the military, is so relaxed about admitting his crime. (Pistolis, I’ve read, was recently kicked out of the military for his behavior.) But as another interviewee, white-supremacist expert Lowell Smith, says here, there’s been a huge increase in extreme right-wing violence. Smith says the past two years have seen the biggest, most frightening increase in neo-Nazi violence that he’s witnessed in 30 years of chronicling the subject. It’s another indication of the tacit approval of previously-disapproved-of beliefs that President Trump has let loose upon this great country.

While “Documenting Hate” suffers a bit from Thompson’s oh-my-goodness, faux-naive narration, it has a lot of valuable information about the culture of these disgusting groups, and it interviews the hearty souls who are devoting a lot of time to studying and documenting their current prevalence. Thompson also tries to give camera time to the thugs themselves, but folks like Pistolis tend to button up when a camera and microphone are placed in their faces. There’s some understandable worry that more violence will occur on the anniversary of the Charlottesville event, Aug. 12. Let’s hope the president isn’t planning to hold one of his rallies there.

“Documenting Hate: Charlottesville” airs Tuesday on PBS. Check your local listings.

Watch: Spike Lee on how his new film, BlacKkKlansman, is connected to Charlottesville:

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