Four journalists, targeted by extremist groups in retaliation for their reporting, are recipients of the 2020 Don Bolles Medal from Investigative Reporters and Editors for their courageous commitment to exposing the truth about this element of American society.
The Don Bolles Medal recognizes investigative journalists who have exhibited extraordinary courage in standing up against intimidation or efforts to suppress the truth about matters of public importance.
Investigative journalists Chris Ingalls, Jeremy Jojola and A.C. Thompson each became the subject of efforts to intimidate them and their families for their reporting. Syndicated columnist Leonard Pitts Jr., known for his commitment to shining the spotlight on extremism in America, also was targeted.
“These four amazing journalists epitomize the essence of this award,” IRE Board President Cheryl W. Thompson said. “The threats of violence and intimidation they and their families faced from extremist groups are things that no one should have to deal with just to do their job.”
In February 2020, federal authorities announced that they had arrested several members of a white supremacist group, known as the Atomwaffen Division, for their efforts to intimidate journalists.
Court records indicated that one Atomwaffen leader said in a recorded message, “We must simply approach them with nothing but pure aggression. We cannot let them think they are safe.”
A.C. Thompson, a reporter for ProPublica and correspondent for PBS Frontline’s “Documenting Hate” films, was the target of a swatting effort by the group, prosecutors say. New York police responded to ProPublica’s offices after receiving a call that there was a pipe bomb, a hostage and a dead body inside. Prosecutors say Atomwaffen made another false report to send police to Thompson’s home, claiming he was armed and had just killed his wife.
Chris Ingalls of King 5 in Seattle, who has reported on Atomwaffen’s “hate camps” in Washington state, was forced to leave his home with his wife and children on the recommendation of federal authorities who received information that Atomwaffen planned to pay them a visit. He later received a mailing sent to his home that warned ‘you’ve been visited by your local Nazis,” adding “death to pigs.”
Leonard Pitts Jr., who has reminded his readers that “the refusal to take a stand is a stand in itself,” was also the target of a swatting attack by Atomwaffen, prosecutors say. Police ordered Pitts out of his house, forced him to his knees and handcuffed him while they investigated a call claiming that his wife or another person was “being murdered” inside the home.
Jeremy Jojola of 9News in Denver, who reported on local neo-Nazis and a group known as the Proud Boys, was targeted by extremists who visited his home when his wife and child were there alone, court records show. One Proud Boy member threatened Jojola in a tweet that warned: “You are the enemy of the American people we will bring this to your home your work your child’s school. The way antifa does to us. … The fury of America is upon you and your communist friends.”
Former IRE Board member Phil Williams, who has spearheaded the nomination process for the Don Bolles Medal, said the selection of these four journalists sends an unmistakable message.
“We stand arm in arm with our fellow journalists in their courageous reporting on hate in America,” Williams said. “We are their insurance policy.”
The Don Bolles Medal was created in 2017 in conjunction with the 40th anniversary of the Arizona Project, an effort led by IRE to finish the work of Don Bolles. The Arizona Republic investigative reporter was killed in 1976 by a car bomb in retaliation for his reporting.
Bolles’ death came a few days before the first national IRE conference in Indianapolis, where the veteran reporter had been scheduled to speak on a panel. At the time, Bolles had been investigating allegations of land fraud involving prominent politicians and individuals with ties to organized crime.
After his murder, nearly 40 journalists from across the country descended on Arizona to complete his investigation. News organizations across the country published their findings.
Their message: Even if you kill a reporter, you can’t kill the story.