FARGO – Peter Tefft’s voice was hoarse, the result, he said, of tear gas he breathed over the weekend in Charlottesville, Va., where white supremacists and counterprotesters clashed during demonstrations that turned deadly.
“This is the beginning of the new civil rights era,” said Tefft, a 30-year-old from Fargo who describes himself as a pro-white civil rights activist and whose family members announced on Monday, Aug. 14, they were disowning him.
Asked how he felt about the estrangement, Tefft said he doesn’t hold anything against his family and that he was angry that relatives were receiving threats, including a 13-year-old niece.
In the letter, Pearce Tefft described his son as an avowed white nationalist and he said the rest of the Tefft family wants the world to know they reject the “vile, hateful, and racist rhetoric” his son has embraced.
In a phone interview, Pearce Tefft said his son did not grow up learning such things but began expressing extreme views on race about two years ago.
Pearce Tefft said he’s not sure of the source of his son’s involvement in the white nationalist movement, but he believes it is bolstered praise from like-minded individuals whenever his son speaks out on the subject.
“He got lost in getting kudos. I don’t know for sure, I’m speculating,” Pearce Tefft said, adding that when his son returned from Charlottesville he handed his son a copy of the letter he wrote and he let his son know he wasn’t welcome at family functions until he distanced himself from groups that foment racial hatred.
“I look at Peter as a prodigal son,” Pearce Tefft said. “I do pray that he will renounce all this stuff and come back.
“He didn’t grow up with it, and I do think he will change,” Pearce Tefft said, adding: “Maybe I’m screaming at the wind, I don’t know. I just hope he will.”
During the weekend events in Charlottesville, Peter Tefft spoke to a number of media outlets and images of him were circulated on the internet.
Peter Tefft grew up in Fargo and works in construction as a drywaller and framer, according to his father, who said the attention his son has been getting has been hard on siblings and other relatives, some of whom, he said, have received hateful attention on social media sites because people think incorrectly that family members share his son’s views.
“It’s just wrong, they said some terrible things,” Pearce Tefft said, referring to comments directed toward his family.
In his letter to the public, Pearce Tefft said he is breaking his silence on his son’s views because one reason Nazism took root in the world was because people hesitated to stand up against what they knew to be wrong.
“It was the silence of good people that allowed the Nazis to flourish the first time around, and it is the silence of good people that is allowing them to flourish now,” Pearce Tefft said.
“Our grandfather, Pearce, who is Peter’s father, taught us all to believe in the fundamental equality of all human beings, and we all believe in social justice and equality,” Wieber said.
“His (Peter Tefft’s) mind has been poisoned by stuff he’s found on this crazy rabbit hole he’s gone into,” added Wieber, who cautioned people not to judge the rest of the family on the actions and beliefs of one member.
“It’s just been a great, big headache,” Wieber said. “I would say these people are motivated by the right motivations – Nazis should not have a welcome place in this country – but they’re targeting the wrong people. It’s friendly fire, in a way.”
Wieber said that if he could say one thing to his uncle, “I would say if he has any love left in his little hateful heart for us, he should change his name.”
Peter Tefft said he went to Charlottesville to hear speakers give talks, listen to music and to exercise the right to free speech.
“We’re not politically incorrect, we’re factually correct,” he said, adding, “I’m certainly not a hateful person.”
Labeled a Nazi by some, Peter Tefft said he feels the word is a racial slur against white people. “I don’t appreciate being called it,” he said.
Peter Tefft added that he doesn’t hold anything against non-whites, and he said “there’s no objective way to weigh my race against another.”
Peter Tefft also said he is looking to organize a pro-white civil rights event in Fargo to be held sometime in October. He said he expects 200 to 300 local residents would attend.