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Thursday, May 9, 2019

BOMB THREATS AND ARRESTS: AFTERMATH OF TWO SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA RALLIES


Huntington Beach SWAT officers arresting an antifascist April 27th. Witnesses say the police charged the protesters unprovoked.


By ABNER HAUGE|LEFT COAST RIGHT WATCH



Friday night April 26th while I was watching my friend DJ at someone’s 16th birthday, FBI agents arrested an ex-Army Infantryman named Mark Domingo. Feds spent weeks pretending to plot an attack with him. Beats thumped, my friend took a break to check on his infant son, and I ate pizza and stared at my phone. Meanwhile, the FBI persuaded Domingo to carry his attack out. They gave him a fake bomb. He bought nails for shrapnel. He thought he was going to plant it at a far-right rally in Long Beach I’d come to report on.



I was packing up to head back to the East Bay when the news broke the Monday morning after the rally. Law enforcement didn’t see fit to tell the rally organizers nor the anti-racist coalition countering them nor the public in general about it until then.



ABOUT THE RALLIES



I previewed the rallies before I came down for them, so there won’t be as much space explaining them here.



The one in Huntington Beach on the 27th was called “March to END Sanctuary State.” Much of the signage and rhetoric of the rally were photos of people killed by “illegal aliens” and slogans like “STOP illegal immigration.” Studies show statistically undocumented immigrants commit significantly less violent crime than legal immigrants or natural-born citizens.



One of the prominent guest speakers at the rally, Arthur Schaper, harasses Drag Queen Storytime Events because of the same tired lavender scare conspiracies that have been part of the right-wing landscape for decades now. The SPLC calls Mass Resistance, the organization he works for, an “anti-LGBT hate group.” Schaper, the SPLC also says, is a “long-time anti-immigrant and nativist activist.” A member of his group, Kenny Strawn, helped try to start an American chapter of Generation Identity, the European neo-Nazi group that the Christchurch mass murderer gave money to. Strawn was present at the event.



The rally in Long Beach on Sunday the 28th had more of a sense of urgency to it. Huntington Beach, along with the rest of Orange County and northern San Diego, has long been a hotbed of white nationalist organizing. Long Beach is a pretty liberal community, though it has a history with segregation policies.



United Patriot National Front (UPNF) decided to hold a rally there. The group seems to center partially around Antonio Foreman, who bills himself as a security guard to far-right figures like Laura Loomer, alt-right e-celebrity Baked Alaska, and InfoWars’ Owen Shroyer.



Foreman’s involvement in the group drew a lot of attention. He and another UPNF member attended Patriot Movement Arizona’s harassment of a church where refugees sought aid. He bragged on camera about how he “busted through the door” of the church while armed. UPNF was also part of an alt-right/alt-lite campaign to harass Chicano Park in San Diego last year. But most people know Foreman as Baked Alaska’s bodyguard during Charlottesville. He also recited the white nationalist slogan, the 14 words, on a livestream.



In a since-deleted Facebook post on UPNF’s page, Foreman denied he was a white nationalist, said UPNF “denounces all forms of neo nazi-ism and racism” and that their event in Long Beach was about “free speech.” He also said his group wouldn’t be armed. When I met him at the HB rally, he claimed UPNF chose Long Beach for their rally precisely because it was a liberal town without much of a history of right-wing activism.



The UPNF event was taken down weeks before it was set to go off, but counter-protest organizers like the Long Beach United Anti-Racist Neighborhood Front (UARNF) and the local Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) chapter vowed to show up to send a message that far-right groups should expect resistance if they chose to rally there.



HUNTINGTON BEACH



The rally was across the street from TK Burger. I was order #88. For those of you who don’t know, 88 is a code among white nationalists that means ‘Heil Hitler.’ It didn’t bode well.



Sitting at the window, I ate fries and watched a few people across the street in lawn chairs under a black EZ-Up tent with a California flag and a white flag with a red star on it fluttering in the light breeze.



I initially thought they were with some right-leaning movement like New California. The tent was actually set up by folks at Independent California, a left-leaning group that wants California to have more autonomy over how the it’s governed–even if true independence can’t be achieved. The group was part of a coalition including Occupy I.C.E. L.A. and Indivisible O.C. At least thirty people formed a black bloc as well.



“We’re the anti-racist side,” one of them told me when I walked up. I turned around and saw a few people across PCH with American flags and a “Build the Wall” sign talking to police officers.



THE ALTERCATION



When traffic stopped, I’d walk across the street between the protests. I was on the right-wing side when a fight broke out and rushed across the street. The provocateur at the center of it was C. Brandon Recor, the host of a far-right YouTube channel called “That’s the Point with Brandon.” Activists later told me Recor was “chest to chest” with counter-protesters as he went up to them.



Recor is a SAG-AFTRA stuntman. His “That’s the Point” channel started in August 2017. He recently hosted a QAnon conspiracy theorist called “AJ” on his show.



“Trump runs for office and all of a sudden, if you’re a straight white male you ain’t getting in Hollywood unless you’re gay or Jewish,” AJ said on Recor’s show.



“The rate of me getting hired versus other people getting hired has dropped so dramatically,” Recor replied. “It’s true–it’s a ridiculous thing, but it’s a fact.”



Video posted to his own channel shows Recor was belligerent from the beginning.



Recor started off trying to get a hug from a woman who clearly didn’t want to be touched. He had no respect for people’s boundaries, elbowing them, bumping them and getting in their faces. In response, people started gathering around him to keep him from the main group of counter-protesters and repeatedly tried to drown him out by shouting and chanting. When people put their arms up in front of him and blocked him, he would shout things like “Don’t touch me!” at them. When he failed to get egress towards the main group of counter-protesters, he started shouting things like “Let’s go, pussies! I’m ready!”



After his first attempt to penetrate the counter-protesters’ ranks, Recor talked to a Huntington Beach police officer. He told the officer “I’m just trying to do my business, sir. I’m just trying to work.” The officer responded “I get it. I know.”



“I’m not trying to touch people,” Recor said, though video shows he was.



“We’re going to walk away, just telling you that,” the officer replied.



“Okay, cool man, so just don’t come after me if I defend myself,” Recor said.



“We’re not after anybody, but you can’t put hands on other people whether you–” the officer said before Recor interjects. “I haven’t! And I’ve got it on camera. I’m not stupid,” Recor responds.



A woman who Recor previously bumped into showed up and told him “you were elbowing me and you were elbowing everyone.” Recor shouted over her and called her a liar.



“Let’s try not to instigate,” the officer said, continuing, “let’s let everyone have their First Amendment rights be voiced–”



“Am I not allowed to walk up and down the sidewalk?” Recor interrupts to ask.



“You are–If you’re gonna instigate, you’re gonna instigate. That’s–” the officer said before Recor cut him off again. I can’t tell what the officer said as Recor talked over him at the end.



“So walking up and down the sidewalk is instigating?” Recor asked.



“No. What you were doing there was instigating,” the officer said.



“Interviewing people? Asking them why they’re here?” Recor replied.



“You were pushing back–” the officer said. The officer’s full sentence isn’t clear to me. “I’m telling you, I was watching it,” the officer adds.



“So it’s okay for them to push me though but I can’t stand in my own spot?” Recor asked.



“It sure looked like they were standing,” the officer said. Recor gave him an annoyed look for a split second.



“You do what you gotta do, man,” the officer said.



“Let them do that again,” Recor responded. “Alright, come on let’s go,” he said to his cameraman.



Recor tried to go back into the crowd and eventually talked to someone from Independent California for about six or seven minutes.



Recor then went up to some black bloc protesters who were standing around watching his interview. The Independent California activist pat him on the chest and told him “Don’t go in there.”



“Don’t put your hand on me. You put your hand on me again there’s going to be a problem,” Recor said, taking the activist’s hand off of him.



“There shouldn’t be a problem. Why? This is America. I should be able to talk and walk wherever I want, right?” Recor then said.



Black bloc protesters gathered around him to block him from getting near the other counter-protesters. Some shouted at him. They walked towards him to push him out. Recor backed into a banner some of them were holding. A black-clad fist jabbed at Recor. Recor took a hard swing at someone then stumbled around, repeatedly saying “Let’s go! Let’s go pussies!”



Someone knocked a flagpole against Recor’s head. He punched them square in the face. He appeared to hit another person off-camera near his cameraman as he stumbled back. Audio is cut in the last few seconds because the microphone was knocked off.



Video I took before I ran across the street showed Recor didn’t retreat. He kept trying to push himself back into the crowd. Counter-protest organizers then waved at police to intervene as Recor continued to behave belligerently. Two policemen on horseback blocked him off from the crowd.



Recor wasn’t arrested. He eventually made his way over to the anti-Sanctuary State side. He had a cut on his forehead.



THE ARRESTS



Things calmed down for a while. The cops on horseback didn’t go away. I think there were around 200 people counter-protesting at the peak and maybe 100-150 at the anti-Sanctuary State event.

Photo by an unnamed videographer. They claim it was taken "less than a minute before they drew the wooden batons (they really shouldn't be called that they were like over 2 ft long) and charged into the group to make the arrests."


Police started blocking traffic. Some of the anti-Sanctuary State protesters crossed into the middle island of the road and started shouting at counter-protesters for a while, eventually returning to their side. Some counter-protesters ripped a “Trump 2020” flag in half. I don’t know where they got it.



Police continued to bottleneck the road. I remember the mounted police and SWAT cops in their green jumpsuits started lining up and blocked the road completely. The next thing I remember was the horse cops charging the crowd. My back was towards the counter-protesters. I didn't hear or feel a scuffle or any other commotion that would prompt it. Just without warning the cops were pushing us back.



HBPD SWAT officer grabbing an antifascist protester.
“Several at the front of the group were knocked over but the charge continued past them, nearly stepping on many but no one was seriously injured past cuts and bruises,” an anonymous videographer who captured part of the arrests told me. “There were even 2 elderly (over 50) who were at the front and due to the charge fell to the cement.”

Officers violently detaining protesters.

An officer shouted at me to move back, which I did. His baton was against my stomach. By the time I came out of shock enough to take pictures, I’d moved to the north side of the tent. An HBPD SWAT officer was grabbing someone by their neck and backpack while another one stepped in with a baton to subdue them.
Officer Garcia pinning a counter-protester down while Officer Esparza shouts at me to move.
I could feel how hard the police were pushing this person down into the dirt. Officer Garcia sat with his knees pressed down into a protester’s back and Officer Esparza pushed his baton into my gut and shouted for me to get back.


Esparza kept his baton in both hands like he was a living velvet rope in front of Mann’s Chinese Theatre. 
Officer Esparza shoving me with his baton.
I moved towards the railing and saw the arrestee pictured in my photos had sand and dirt all over his face. Once they’d made their arrests (five in total,) the whole lot of the police withdrew. I saw officers with badges from Anaheim, Orange, Huntington Beach and HB SWAT. Might have been other departments.

Officers clearing the counter-protest area while arresting a counter-protester.

“All day police and park rangers with bulletproof vests and firearms threatened and harassed the counter protest,” the anonymous videographer told me.



“I don't think anyone expected that level of police repression. Everyone politically on the left was targeted from the get-go, and that includes other folks I knew there who were not part of the black bloc,” Rose, an antifascist present in the crowd, said.

Officers clearing the counter-protest area and arresting people after they rushed it without apparent provocation.

One antifascist who was arrested told me his account. He was on the southern side of the tent, so I didn’t see him past the policemen on horses.



“They rushed in and started grabbing people,” the antifascist arrestee told me.



“I didn’t get grabbed right away. They grabbed one guy right by me and the cops started freaking out and telling me to back off. But I had my back to the fence and was surrounded by officers so I couldn’t get out,” he recounted.



“I ended up behind a mounted cop,” he continued. “He turned to me and shouted “That guy is trying to sneak up on an officer!”



The antifascist said his hands were raised “from the moment the cops rushed in.”



“None of them had any excuse for seeing me as a threat,” he said. He was pulled onto the ground and arrested.



The anonymous videographer’s footage shows an officer’s knee pressed on the arrestee’s back as his face in the dirt. People chant “Cops and Klan go hand in hand!”



As they led the arrestees away towards police cars parked next to the anti-Sanctuary State protest, the right wingers cheered. “Bye Bye, Antifa! You don’t do good at the beach!” one of them shouted.



“The cops and the fash go hand in hand. The cops were 100% there to be bodyguards for them and snag us to put us in our place,” the antifascist arrestee said.



“The bloc got out of there pretty quickly after the arrests happened. It was obvious that the police were intent on snatching up and picking us off,” Rose told me.



“I didn’t even find out what they charged me with until my way out of jail,” he recounted. “No Miranda rights or anything.”



The antifascist arrestee said police started driving towards the jail, but doubled back “I think to try and get another arrestee.” Police, he recounted, “just kinda made me cook in the car a little bit for nothing.” He recalled they didn’t speak to him at all, just talked to each other in code a bit. He was in a cell for four hours.



“The whole time there was no communication about why I was in there,” the antifascist said.



His citation said “148 (A)(1): resisting arrest/obstructing a peace officer.”



Because multiple agencies made arrests, his friends didn’t know where he was being held.



“By sheer coincidence, a few were at the jail trying to help out two of the others arrested the moment that I got out,” he recounted.



“I was a mess when I got out. Everyone was just relieved that they found me and I was okay,” he said.



As of this writing, arrestees are still facing court dates.



THE MARCH



Officers being cheered and greeted with chants of "Blue lives matter!" at the anti-Sanctuary State protest.
After the arrests, I went back to the other side of the street. Kim Sorgente, who the O.C. Weekly called “a Huntington Beach resident and Proud Boys reject,” was chanting “No commies, no pedophiles, no child sacrifice!” Look up the Pizzagate conspiracy theory if you want to know what that's about.Joining him was Kenny Strawn, the aforementioned white nationalist. I didn’t see anyone object to their presence. Other young men were holding up signs that said “This land is OUR land” and “America for Americans!”

Protesters with signs that say "America for Americans," "End Immigration" and "This land is our land."

Antonio Foreman showed up. He told me that UPNF was “pretty much done.” He said they weren’t coming to the next day’s rally. After what happened to the Rise Above Movement and the group of Proud Boys in New York, he told me, he said it was better to work as individuals.
Antonio Foreman, who marched as Baked Alaska's bodyguard in Charlottesville, at the rally.


The group started marching. Police escorted them the whole time.



It's good to have the cops on our side," one anti-Sanctuary activist told me. "Most of them probably voted for Trump!"

Man with an ecumenical Christian flag and and another with a sign that says "Build that fucking wall" with the 'u' in 'fucking' replaced by Nancy Pelosi's face.


They crossed at Huntington St. and started coming up the same side as the counter-protest.



“We’re coming your way!” one of them said.

The man in the black shirt shouted "We took this land before, we'll take it again!"

The counter-protest was nowhere to be found. Only one person who said he was an anarchist started shouting at them and arguing with them. I asked him later where the other counter-protesters went and he didn’t know–he’d just showed up around when I encountered him. As I quoted from Rose earlier, they cleared out once it was clear to them the police were after them. Most went to figure out where the arrestees were and how to help them.



The anarchist followed the march back across at Main in front of the pier. At one point, he mentioned the theft of native land the United States is founded on as he argued with the marchers.



"We took this land before, we'll take it again!" a man in a black shirt that said “save America” on it responded.



Some kids at the pier shouted “Fuck Trump!” at the marchers.



“Go back to Mexico!” a marcher responded.

Right-wing e-Celeb 'The Adorable Deplorable' at the rally.

They eventually reached their original rally spot with only the self-identified anarchist still counter-protesting them. Organizers had planned to begin the speeches. The rally attendees and journalists were mostly more interested in the anarchist. Cameras surrounded him. Recor, the YouTuber who incited a brawl with counter-protesters earlier, argued with him. An older man from the Bikers for Trump organization tried to moderate and keep people from shouting over both of them. Organizers begged for people to ignore him and pay attention to them.  



“Don’t give him (the counter-protester) any more attention,” an organizer said over a megaphone. “He’s probably illegal anyways.”



Police told people to start dispersing. The anarchist started dancing with the older Bikers for Trump guy. It seemed he’d managed to distract everyone and then de-escalate the situation.

Grace K flipping off HBPD SWAT officers as she interrupted the Anti-Sanctuary State protest.

Around that time, I noticed Grace K, a local artist and vocalist for L.A.’s Graveyard Junkies. She had a shirt with “Fuck Trump” written on the back. She started dancing and poking fun at the right wingers still standing around.



“I made sure they were mocked and that they knew there were people who weren’t afraid of them and don’t stand for their shit,” Grace told me.



The right-wing crowd responded with sexist vitriol.



“Antifa ho for auction!” one man shouted.



“People said things like ‘whore,’ ‘cunt’–I got that a couple times. ‘A woman should not be carrying herself this way.’ ‘She has no self-respect.’ ‘She should be ashamed,’” Grace recounted.



“I think that’s just blatant sexism, slut-shaming, all that kind of stuff,” she remarked.



“I heard, obviously, ‘Get out of this country.’ I mean I’m born here, too, but fuck borders, to be honest,” Grace recalled.



She said there was a pretty clear gender divide in the insults she got.



“From the women I got stuff like I should bring myself up, go to God,” Grace said, “but the other ones that are just pure degrading–which, both are degrading, but the just blatant insults were from the men.”



“I’m not surprised at all because that’s how they view us anyway,” she continued. “Everything that they believe on a day-to-day basis they’re spewing now because only now is when it’s justified–because I’m a counter-protester.”

A "Biker for Trump" following Grace around making lewd motions at her as she danced and trolled the anti-Sanctuary Protest.


Grace kept dancing. Organizers begged people to go home. The older man from Bikers for Trump got close to her and started putting his arms out like he was at a strip club and she was giving a lap dance.



“You know how viral you’re going to go? Cause your video isn’t going to go viral. Ours are!” Foreman said.



“It’s always effective, regardless if there were cameras, regardless if this [interview] was happening right now,” Grace said, “I put myself in terrible situations just like this to pave the way for other queer PoC in the future to live unapologetically and safely.”



“I’m not going to let them be at this rally comfortably. I’m not going to let them think ‘Wow! That was a good rally!’ We have to let them know we exist,” she concluded.



Grace wasn’t aware of rally organizer and participants’ specific white nationalism and anti-LGBTQ+ hate connections until I told her. When I explained, she gasped.



“Oh my god, I didn’t know it was to that extent at all. I thought these were just like crazy fucking Trump supporters,” she said. “That’s so scary. It’s very depressing. It’s a little perspective changing.”



“I don’t want to say if I heard this before, I wouldn’t have done what I did,” Grace said. “I think I would have been more cautious though. The legitimate ties to murderers changes things. My heart sunk hearing this. My stomach totally flipped right now.”



Grace told me it wasn’t going to stop her from future actions.



“If anyone else hears this, it’s not like I have all this bravery and courage. People were walking by saying ‘you’re so brave.’ Not really. I just feel like I’m doing the bare minimum. I feel like this should be normalized,” she said.

Grace again flipping the cops off.

“Sometimes I question if I’m being a genuine activist, am I trying to do this for any stupid shallow reason,” Grace told me. “But we can all do it. You’re not alone. I understand doing it feels isolating and scary, but if there’s more of us I won’t be the only one and you won’t be the only one.”



Others who went to the Huntington Beach rally echoed similar sentiments.



“I came out to oppose the fash because I can’t stand their shit. They push these ideologies that are about making life worse for anyone who’s not a cis white male,” the antifascist arrestee told me.



“It's all about the community moving forward. Folks are ready to stand up against fascism, against racism, so let's get ourselves organized and really tackle these issues across the board,” Rose said. “If things are going to change in Huntington Beach, it's gotta start with the community.”



When I got back to my car, I found out about the 8chan neo-Nazi murderer in Chabad of Poway Synagogue a bit south by San Diego. He managed to kill Lori Kaye, age 60. Three others were injured, including the Rabbi and an eight-year-old girl. The murderer would have killed more people, but his gun supposedly jammed. He apparently would have broadcast the murder spree on Facebook like the Christchurch shooter before him, but couldn’t get it to work. The attack was on my mind going into the next day’s rally.



LONG BEACH

Protesters in Long Beach on Sunday April 28th. Their signs say "We are on stolen land" and "None of that nazi shit here allowed!!"

Long Beach seemed peaceful by and large. Police in helicopters, on bicycles and on the beach on ATVs monitored. There was a separate counter-rally by the Party for Social Liberation (PSL) just north of where I was at the DSA and United Anti-Racist Neighborhood Front rally. I was told later police presence and surveillance was more prominent over there, but didn’t check their rally out.



“Folks were out there because they were really concerned about the threats presented by white nationalists and, more generally, racists,” Rose, an antifascist who was there and had been to the Huntington Beach rally the day before, said. “There were lots of different groups and a whole range of left politics (and even folks that probably wouldn't consider themselves political) represented.”



“We were born and raised here. White nationalism has no place in Long Beach,” some protesters told me. One of their signs said ‘racists belong in cages, not children.’ The other said ‘stop trying to make white nationalism happen. It’s not going to happen.’



“I think it’s good we tell them hell no, bring your racism to another city.” Hollis Stewart from DSA Long Beach told me. His sign said “L Beach is democratic No Nazis, fascistas, racists!”



“We ended up doing a victory lap of sorts and marching part of the length of the park,” Rose recounted.



At one point during the march they chanted “From Palestine to Mexico/All the walls have got to go!”

A man with a long jacket green jacket that says "Hey Melania, it's called empathy. (It's a liberal thing, I guess.) It's referencing Melania Trump wearing a similar jacket with "I don't care" written on it after news broke of immigration authorities separating children from their families.

Someone from the Revolutionary Internationalist Organization talked about the August 28th rally Patriot Prayer tried to have in Berkeley. Local unions like the Longshoremen organized a counter-protest that I remember turned out more than 3,000 people. He said organized labor is the only way to defeat fascism. I remember Joey Gibson didn’t turn many people out that day. “They turned tail,” the speaker said.

Giant banner at the head of the march that says "Trump-Pence must go!"

Things started to wind up quickly and peacefully, but it wasn’t without disturbances.



I later heard from some activists that there were suspicious people coming into the crowd a few at a time taking pictures. I saw men who might have been undercover cops walking back and forth on the bike path below. Activists told me they had been walking back and forth all morning. Another person was apparently across the street by the police at one point taking photos.



A photography student named Jose and a few other cameramen told me two kids went around the block on an electric scooter shouting at people.



One activist on Twitter said they “looked like stupid little high school wannabe neo nazis.”



“Hoping they’ll get their heads on straight before it’s too late,” they added.



Jose said they called him a homophobic slur, said “Fuck you Commies!” and Seig Heiled. He said cops on bicycles chased them down.



“Nothing like drive-by racism” Jose said.



An activist also witnessed someone in a white truck drive by that “yelled out white power slogans.”



Foreman, to my knowledge, didn’t show up in Long Beach on the 28th. UPNF later claimed they had people undercover at the rally.

Statement by UPNF after the rally. Their page was deleted shortly afterwards.

“Got all the intel we need on which groups organize in that part of town. Cops got what they needed,” the post read. “Doxxing campaigns to come folks. 2020 gonna be lit. No safe space for communists.”



UPNF’s page has since disappeared from Facebook. Their closed “vetting group” was still there when I checked yesterday, but the only member was Foreman’s girlfriend.



OVER



I thought that was it on Monday morning. My friend and his infant son laughed in their living room while I loaded some photos I took of them together on his computer. I got a notification on Twitter.



“Holy shit,” an activist I’d been talking to texted me. I told them I’d felt like something bad was going to happen.



Domingo, the would-be mass murderer, was enraged by the killing of 50 worshippers at Mosques in Christchurch a month and a half before. It was, in his mind, retaliation against white supremacist violence. But I kept thinking about how the FBI pushed him to carry out the attack this weekend. I thought about shrapnel.



“To hear about that after such a successful, empowering, and ultimately peaceful rally was a real shock,” Rose told me later. “If anything had happened, it's comforting to know that I would have been surrounded by folks standing up for something good. People turned out to the park because they care.”



“In the end,” Rose concluded, “those are the folks who give me strength and help me get through the day-to-day.”

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