By Doug Porter
There were rallies calling for the impeachment of President Donald Trump in cities around the United States on Sunday. Supporters of the President turned out for counter protests in Austin, Los Angeles, Philadelphia and New York. Law enforcement officers in those cities worked to keep the groups separated, allowing each to express their First Amendment rights.
The situation in San Diego at the County Administration Building was different, as Sheriff’s Deputies initially stood by idly and watched as members of the ‘Proud Boys’ disrupted, threatened and harassed attendees and speakers.
The Southern Poverty Law Center called this group an “Alt-Right Fight Club” in an article following the April street fighting in Berkeley, California. Many of the disrupters came down from Orange County. Some wore helmets and appeared as though they were ready for combat; others kept their battle gear tethered to their belts or hidden under American flag capes they wore.
(Here is an interesting article about one of the ringleaders, Johnny Benitez.)
Attendees of the impeachment protest largely refused to engage the Alt-Reich Trumpistas and there was–amazingly–no violence. About half an hour into the rally, San Diego County Sheriff’s Deputies finally moved to separate the groups, following frantic calls to public officials from rally attendees.
I was there, and it sure felt like violence was imminent, especially as a disrupter group armed with a megaphone made their way to the front of the crowd. Rally speakers tried to speak over a siren sound effect and insults.
The counter-demonstrators eventually left the front of the stage area and regrouped to the north of the building. Getting behind a large banner, they then tried to push towards the stage as martial music blared from their megaphones.
Shades of Nazi Germany.
The Deputies stopped their advance about 30 feet from the stage.
The organizers of the rally were forced to stop their program of speakers and relocate, as law enforcement declared the sidewalks in front of the entrance/stage to now be the barrier between the groups. Having lost their ability to communicate with the crowd, the Impeachment rally leadership started their march early and headed south towards Broadway.
The Proud Boys and their followers followed, breaking into smaller packs and weaving through the marchers, obviously hoping to provoke violence. The San Diego Police Department did a much better job of keeping a lid on things.
As the impeachment marchers returned to the County Administration building, the martial music from the alt-reich megaphones tried–but failed–to drown them out.
Contrast the SD Sheriff’s Department’s behavior with this report from the Los Angeles Times:
At a counterprotest before the pro-impeachment march, about three to four dozen Trump supporters gathered on the sidewalk outside Los Angeles Police Department headquarters, in an area roped off by yellow police tape.
I’ve got a couple of first person accounts via Facebook to share, followed by a brief summary of the findings of the Southern Poverty Law Center about the Proud Boys.
Here’s a snip from activist (and rally speaker) Mark Lane:
These guys came down from LA to our rally today dressed in helmets and masks looking for a fight. There was almost no police presence. The sheriffs who were there, did not separate them from our group, and in fact allowed them to come right into our group. Seeing as how Bill Gore-sheriff was not able to correctly police this protest, I made a call to Dave Myers candidate for sheriff and current sheriff’s captain. Lori Saldaña called police chief Zimmerman directly as well. Because of those calls, we were able to get a bigger police presence. Dave Myers came out and helped direct the deputies…
Here are excerpts from former Assemblywoman Lori Saldaña’s account:
As I walked towards the County Administration Building, I noticed groups of people (mostly men) carrying US flags and Pro-Trump signs heading towards the steps, passing Deputy Sheriff’s who remained about 100 yards away from where Impeachment March organizers had set up sound system and chairs.
As we gathered and prepared to speak at 11 am, several of the pro-Trump men pushed their way to the front of the audience, directly behind barriers set up to keep people back from the speaking area. They began shouting and using bullhorns to prevent us from beginning the program.
Volunteers tried to keep them quiet- they continued being disruptive, chanting, smoking and blowing smoke at attendees, shouting, etc. There was pushing, shoving and elbowing as they stood at the barrier and refused to move back.
At this point- 11:04 am- I called SDPD Chief Zimmerman. I described what was happening, and told her I was concerned of the potential for physical altercations in the crowd if law enforcement didn’t approach closer.
The Deputy Sheriffs were still 100 yards away. Private security was closer, but doing nothing to deter the men with bullhorns.
After several minutes of this the Sheriff’s told our assembled group we had to move off the paved area where we had set up. This made attendees think we were beginning to march, and before we could set up the sound system to continue the presentations- people began to march.
UPDATE: Here’s a snip from March activist Jeane Wong’s comment (full text below, but I thought this belonged up here, emphases mine):
I was up front helping to organize the speakers. The speaker space was set up where it usually is. A group showed up far to the right on the corner, who we later learned are a group called Proud boys and based in Orange County. They came into our group in the front and elbowed several of our people. I was up front trying to keep these guys from grabbing our signs and pushing and elbowing volunteers while yelling in a bullhorn directly in our ears. The man with the red bullhorn repeatedly called one of our speakers a monkey. She responded by singing we shall overcome.
It made it very difficult for us to maintain a peaceful place to be heard it was also scary for some. After I asked a sheriff to remove them from our space and reported that they were elbowing people he told me that we should move, that way we wouldn’t get elbowed. After I told him that all of our speaker wires etc were set up and people are speaking. Moving is not an option at this point. He told me if I didn’t move our group over that I was personally responsible for any violence that would happen and these guys had a right to be in our space. Terri was standing with me and we were both taken back at his response. I asked him to please keep them out of our space that was set up much earlier in the morning. We didn’t go into their space to provoke, they came into ours. The sheriff told me that they moved but we hadn’t which could cause me to be responsible for inciting violence.
Finally, here’s a snip from William Johnson, a longtime activist who spent way too much of his day trying to prevent violence:
Let me start from the beginning – I arrived at the County Building at 10:45 with Rocky to see the roughly 60 Counter-Protesters, dressed in camo, helmets, body armor, and “Don’t tread on me” flags, starting to approach the rally, and I startled to see them, run to where we were getting set up. It seemed fine for a while, as they were just doing their own chants and keeping a distance about 30 feet away from us, so I got to go around saying “Hi” to people for a little bit, but it didn’t last long.
Right when we were about to start the rally, I saw about 20 of the counter-protesters break off from their group, walk over to Harbor, and start walking our direction, so I work my way through the crowd as fast as I could and right before they tried to infiltrate our rally I get there and loudly say “That’s far enough guys!…”
…a few of them caused a scene in the middle, but 4 of them, some of them looking ready to fight, go to the very front of the rally area, and begin to be disruptive as we start. I decide to stand just a few feet to their left, blocking the entrance to the front staging area and just being a shield to the people around us and trying to not engage with them.
The first 2 speakers were great, but performed under a tirade of noise by these guys in the front. When the 2nd speaker came up though, a West African woman, I heard the guy who was next to me (the skinny, taller guy with the yellow t-shirt, black helmet, and wearing an American Flag), yell “Take off your Woopie Goldberg wig”, and I turned to him, and said, “Hey, that’s racist, don’t say that”, and he responds “Yeah.”
It’s in this moment, that I realize I’m not dealing with just a “Proud Boy”, This guy is definitely more than that…
Make no mistake about this: the Trumpistas were frightening, reprehensible and aggressive. They were organized and used planned disruptive techniques. At times I heard military-type orders being given, like “fall-back”, “advance”, etc.
While the physically intimidating men were the focus of attention, there were several women who moved through the crowd, live streaming, passing information back to the leadership through couriers, and mocking the impeachment marchers.
So, about those Proud Boys…
Here’s an excerpt from The Southern Poverty Law Center’s Hatewatch blog:
The Proud Boys reportedly have a four-step initiation process. It starts with a prospect declaring himself a “Proud Boy,” suiting up in Fred Perry polo shirts with yellow stripes—similar to those worn by skinheads.
The second degree is a “cereal beat-in” during which the new member is punched and beaten by current members until the plebe can rattle off the names of five cereals (you know, Corn Flakes, Rice Krispies, Cheerios!)
The third degree reported involves “adhering to the masturbation regimen and getting a tattoo,” blogger Will Sommer wrote in a recent post.
Since then, a fourth-degree has been added to the initiation ritual – brawling with antifascists at public rallies.
The official military wing of the Proud Boys is called the “Fraternal Order of the Alt-Knights” (FOAK).
For the record, there were none of the black-clad antifa at San Diego’s Impeachment rally. But, then again, these guys didn’t really care. The only difference to them was that it meant not getting a gleeful mention of Sean Hannity’s Faux News show.
I don’t think the County Administration Building should be considered a safe space for exercising First Amendment rights anymore. The San Diego County Sheriff’s Department made a statement yesterday. This wasn’t just bad policing. This was a command decision. And future protests in “America’s Finest City” will have to plan on these provocateur-types showing up, coming up creative and non-violent ways to protect everybody’s rights.
Final notes: I have experience with being targeted by local right wing militants going back more than 40 years. The offices of the original San Diego Free Press were destroyed. A house where many of the original OB Rag staff (including myself) was targeted for a drive-by shooting; one woman had her elbow shattered by a bullet. In both those incidents, police claimed –and the Union-Tribune reported–we’d done it to ourselves to gain sympathy. As it turned out, law enforcement was in on these acts, with a paid FBI informant acting as leader of the group. Only after the group bombed a Hillcrest porno theater—endangering the lives of other law enforcement agents in the audience ‘investigating’– were charges brought.
So my point here is that there is a good reason to believe some of the alt-Reich types are sworn personnel or paid informants.
Here’s a rogue’s gallery, with comments: