How Did Beverly Hills Become A Hub For Conservative Rallies?
With its iconic Beverly Hills sign and reflecting pool, Beverly Gardens Park is popular with tourists and also the throngs of art-lovers who attend the semi-annual Beverly Hills Art Show there.
Then, 2020 happened.
While stay-at-home orders have thinned the number of visitors, crowds of conservatives and Trump supporters from across southern California have turned the park into the site of a weekly "Freedom Rally." Every Saturday since late July, the like-minded meet to condemn what they see as government overreach during the pandemic and show support for law enforcement and President Trump.
The rallies have begun to draw hundreds of attendees — its popularity boosted on Aug. 8 when members of the national conservative #WalkAway campaign also held an event at the park with appearances by actors Lorenzo Lamas and Scott Baio.
In recent weeks, counter protesters, some of them supporters of Black Lives Matter, have also started to show up, although in much smaller numbers.
Saturday's edition ended in mayhem, with rally-goers and counter protesters shoving each other and throwing punches as police officers watched from just feet away. Minutes later, police declared the event an "unlawful assembly" and ordered people to disperse. One man was arrested for battery on another attendee.
Prior to the burst of violence, there had been occasional verbal altercations that happened when camps from either side would venture into each other's spaces. (Police had set up barricades separating the two sides).
UPDATE: Yesterday's pro-Trump rally in Beverly Hills.— Josie Huang (@josie_huang) August 23, 2020
From the vid, you can see multiple fights broke out between Trump supporters & counterprotesters in span of mins as police stood by, feet away.
Police spokesperson says 1 person was arrested for battery (not on an officer) pic.twitter.com/yhw0cxAMAV
The fights broke out in the conservative section which had been much more packed, with about 200 people, compared to several dozen counter protesters.
There was no focal point at the event. Rather it was different clusters of rally-goers from all over L.A. listening to live music or speeches by conservative candidates, and cheering a float decorated with the giant words "Trump" and "Unity" that was being driven around the perimeter of the park.
No one was visibly in charge, but several people interviewed by LAist at the Saturday event identified Shiva Bagheri as the chief organizer of the weekly rallies.
So why Beverly Hills?
"Well, I live here,"Bagheri said. "It's my district."
Bagheri said she's a half-Iranian single mother who works as a dance instructor, personal trainer and dogwalker.
"Lately, I've been even cleaning people's houses to try to stay afloat," she said
The high-energy Bagheri said she was motivated to organize events for conservatives because she is outraged by the "tyranny" she sees in the pandemic orders coming from Gov. Gavin Newsom and L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti that have led schools to close their doors and restricted businesses' operations.
She also bridles against mask orders.
"The mask-wearing is against our freedom of speech," Bagheri said. "How do you have freedom of speech when you have a muzzle on your face and you're six feet apart from someone?"
This is her advice to others who are just as angry about government policies as she is: Start militias.
"We have to do this pretty soon," Bagheri said. "I mean, seriously, I know that people are already gathering and they're making their own little militias and that's in our Constitution."
Bagheri herself said she recently purchased a CZ, a firearm made by a Czech Republic-based company. She said efforts to defund the police have reinforced her need to bear arms and protect herself.
Shiva Bagheri shared she's a single parent & half-Iranian. Also a dance instructor/physical trainer/dogwalker who thinks Newsom, Garcetti and their pandemic orders are "tyrannical."— Josie Huang (@josie_huang) August 24, 2020
Aside from attending rallies, her advice is that people arm themselves and create militias. pic.twitter.com/MmkWYvpCwX
According to Bagheri, her politics have taken a sharp turn in the past few years. She left the Democratic Party after voting for Trump in 2016, but she had already grown disenchanted with their policies and feeling overlooked as a minority.
"I look at [Democrat-led] California, and it's turning into a Third World country," Bagheri said. "We got homeless encampments everywhere. These are the citizens of the United States and we're allowing them to just live on the streets, and a lot of them are veterans."
Ben Hunter, a friend of Bagheri's who lives in downtown L.A., has been attending the Freedom Rally events for about a month.
A Trump supporter who works at a law firm, Hunter said it was important to demonstrate that there are large numbers of conservatives. He also wanted to send a message to other conservatives who are "afraid to say what they think."
"They know that what they're seeing in the mainstream media is wrong, but they don't want to get blacklisted," Hunter said. "They don't want to lose their job. They don't want to be able to not be able to put their kids through school because they say that they support Trump."
The Freedom Rally events only further deepened Beverly Hills's position as a local flashpoint since the police killing of George Floyd sparked protests nationwide in late May.
Supporters of Black Lives Matters have also chosen Beverly Hills as a protest site. The Black Future Project has organized protests in the city, like in late July when several people were arrested after demonstrating about school inequities.
And things don't look to be quieting down in Beverly Hills anytime soon. The plan is to have the conservative Saturday events until the election when, Bagheri hopes, Trump is re-elected.