On a Saturday evening in April of 2017, Josh Damigo was home in Oxnard, California, about 50 miles up the coast from Los Angeles, when he received a text message from a friend. “Are you OK?” she asked.
“Kinda,” he texted back. “Why do you ask?”
“Um, your brother is all over Twitter right now.”
Josh went online.
“Oh shit,” he wrote back.
That morning, a motley collection of people—from mainstream Donald Trump supporters to helmeted militia members and outright neo-Nazis—had gathered at a park in downtown Berkeley for a “Patriots Day” rally. They were met by black-clad counter-protesters, anti-fascists known as antifa. At first, the police secured the perimeter of the park, named in honor of Martin Luther King Jr., and searched everyone as they entered. Officers collected bear spray, a stun gun, knives, a can filled with concrete. But the order was short-lived. By noon, brawls broke out and quickly spilled into the surrounding streets.
Josh’s younger brother, Nathan, a former Marine who served two tours in Iraq, darted into the melee and punched a slight 20-year-old woman in the face. A few seconds later, he returned and landed a second punch squarely on the bridge of her nose. She dropped to the ground as Nathan retreated into the crowd. The second exchange was caught on video and went viral, fanning out to smartphones and laptops across the country in a matter of minutes. It became the most-watched clip of what was soon billed “The Battle for Berkeley.”
Hours later, Josh watched the video in his living room. There was Nathan, clearly identifiable in a blue dress shirt with the sleeves rolled up, square chin jutting out, blond hair kept in a Hitler Youth style. He cocked back his right fist and let fly; the woman’s head rocked violently. Josh replayed the clip. Was there something he had missed, an angle that could somehow justify the punch? The scene was chaotic: Dozens of people swarmed around and shoved each other as smoke swirled. The woman, with dreadlocks and a red bandana around her neck, came into focus just as Nathan stepped to center frame and decked her. It was just as ugly on second viewing.
Josh is 34, two years older than Nathan. The brothers shared a bedroom for 16 years, and have always been extremely close—or always were, until Nathan’s recent transformation. In 2016, Nathan had founded a white nationalist organization called Identity Evropa and quickly become one of the most prominent racists in the country. He was profiled by the Los Angeles Times and interviewed by CNN. He would be one of the key organizers of the “Unite the Right” rally that turned deadly in Charlottesville last August.
Josh had last seen Nathan in February of 2017. His brother lives with their parents and maternal grandparents in Oakdale, a small city in California’s San Joaquin Valley. On the five-hour drive home, Josh had listened to the audiobook of White Like Me, by anti-racist author Tim Wise. “Race was never something I thought about,” Josh told me later. He and Nathan grew up in San Jose and attended a school where whites were in the minority; Josh’s best friends were Filipino, black, Vietnamese, and Korean. Race, he said, had simply never interested him. “I’ve always treated everybody the same,” he said. He paused. “Maybe that’s not a good answer. I’m trying to figure this all out.”
During Josh’s last visit home, Nathan had mostly holed up in his small room, which is dominated by a large printer Josh says was used to make posters with messages like Serve Your People and Let’s Become Great Again. Occasionally, Josh heard his brother on the phone, screening potential members of Identity Evropa, who must be of “European, non-Semitic heritage.” They hadn’t spoken much during the past year, but Josh wasn’t ready to give up yet. One morning, he took Nathan out to breakfast, hoping to reconnect. Nathan talked excitedly the entire meal about populism and race and identity, using jargon that Josh couldn’t follow. Josh sounded exasperated just recalling his breakfast intervention. “It didn’t go anywhere,” he said, “because Nathan won’t listen to anyone.”
After that, Josh didn’t expect to talk to his brother again and refused to return home until Nathan was kicked out. But he knew that wasn’t enough. He told me that he wanted to counterbalance Nathan. But what did that mean? How do you solve the problem of a racist brother? (Neither Nathan nor his mother, Charilyn Damigo, agreed to interview requests for this article.) “I don’t know what to do,” Josh told me. “You don’t go to a class in college that says, ‘Hey, this is how you deal with your brother becoming a huge star in the white supremacy movement.'” [Continue reading…]
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