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Criminal Justice

I’m Fine, But Mad, After Right Wing Extremists Attacked Me Outside City Hall

A sign from the anti-vaccination rally in downtown LA on Aug. 14, 2021. A sign with black background and white lettering that reads in all capital letters, "study mass psychosis" is seen in the foreground, with LA city hall looming in the background against a partly cloudy sky.
A sign from Saturday's anti-vaccination rally in downtown L.A.
(Frank Stoltze
/
LAist)
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Something happened to me last Saturday that’s never happened to me in 30 years of news reporting in Los Angeles: I was attacked. I’m fine. But I’m mad as hell.

It happened on the South Lawn of City Hall, where I’ve gone hundreds of times to cover everything from immigration marches to Occupy L.A. to Chamber of Commerce events to mayoral inaugurations.

At the anti-vaccination rally in downtown LA on Aug. 14, 2021, a man in a blue suit with a purple tie, white shirt and salt-and-pepper hair is in the foreground, holding a microphone as he addresses the crowd. He's at the bottom of the steps to LA City Hall. Behind him to the right a woman holds a red sign that says in all capital letters, "No Nazi vaccine passport mandates." There are five men behind her. She has a small American flag attached to her sign; there are six other small American flags attached to signs behind her. Their messages are obscured. At the top of the steps a man in military fatigues with a camouflage cap, flak jacket and a black glove on his left hand is talking to a bearded man in dark pants, white t-shirt and tan baseball cap.
David Hernandez, chairman of the Los Angeles Hispanic Republican Club, addresses Saturday's rally.
(Frank Stoltze
/
LAist)

The South Lawn is truly one of the great civic gathering places in L.A. It’s also beautiful, expanding from a wide, sweeping set of stairs at the base of the majestic granite centerpiece of city government. There are tons of trees, lots of green grass, and a monument to former U.S. Senator Frank Putnam Flint in the middle.

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Saturday’s event was billed as a “Stop Socialism, Choose Freedom March Against Medical Tyranny.” It was mostly an anti-vaccination rally, but included lots of big blue and red Trump flags, Recall Gavin Newsom signs, and “Don’t Tread on Me” flags — the American revolutionary-era symbol adopted years ago by the Tea Party that also was flown by some of the people who stormed the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6.

At an anti-vaccination rally in downtown LA on Aug. 14, 2021, a hand in the foreground holds up a white hand-lettered sign that says, in all capital letters, "God is my vaccine." LA City Hall towers in the background, in front of a cloudy sky.
A sign from Saturday's rally.
(Frank Stoltze
/
LAist)

Several hundred people gathered around a loudspeaker at the base of the steps, listening to speakers denounce mask and vaccine mandates, and warn against what they see as looming tyranny in America.

The Man With The Bloody Bandage

Just a few steps into the park, I noticed a man with a bloody bandage on his head. I asked what had happened and he said he’d gotten into a fight with “antifa.” At that point, I identified myself as a reporter. He asked who I was with.

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At an anti-vaccination rally in downtown LA on Aug. 14, 202, a group of men is clustered tightly together, with trees in the background. Two men in the foreground have their backs to the camera; the man on the right is wearing a small tan backpack with a small American flag on it. In the middle of the picture a man with a dark cap, sunglasses and a dark face mask is attending to a bald man with a bandage on his head. Blood is visible on the back of the man's head.
The man I tried to interview being tended to for his injuries.
(Frank Stoltze
/
LAist)

I said KPCC radio and LAist. He laughed and said he was familiar with the station. He said he likes the BBC.

Perfect, I thought. He’ll give me an interview. Instead, he declined. He said he didn’t trust the media, that it twists things, even though I seemed like a nice guy.

His was the only visible face in a crowd of about a half dozen guys around him. They all had face coverings and dark glasses on. Some wore fatigues, others shorts. They looked to range in age from their late 20's to early 40's. All, as I found out an instant later, were very angry.

The Assault

I walked a few feet away, then came back and started to ask the guy I had been talking to whether he wanted to talk anonymously. The men with him immediately started cursing at me and telling me to “get the f*** out of here.”

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Initially, I was confused. What set them off? Was it just that I was a “mainstream” journalist wanting to ask questions?

When I told them that it was a public park, they exploded.

One shoved me in the chest. Another came from behind, grabbed my hat, and ripped my prescription sunglasses off my head. As I turned to leave, I told them I was going to find a cop. They called me an anti-gay slur and “little bitch.”

It's On Video

There is a video of the attack. It starts just after I’m shoved in the chest. I’m the guy in the light-colored shirt and dark pants with my back to the camera just after it passes a group of women.

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Cue the conspiracy theories: You can hear on the tape a woman warn that my presence is some sort of provocation by opponents. “It’s a false flag. Don’t give them what they want,” she yells.

Later, others would call me antifa, an atheist, and a communist. Some threatened violence.

As I walked away, some of the guys followed me. I was scared. But I was not going to run.

As I reached the sidewalk, you can see a man running up to me from behind and kicking me.

Here's the video: Note that it has offensive language

The man who kicked me later knocked my phone out of my hand as I was trying (from a distance) to record him harassing some other people.

That happens at the end of this video:

ANTI-VAX RALLY Aug 14, 2021 - Vid 1

Journalism is a tightknit profession. That’s especially true for those of us who work the streets of L.A. A Los Angeles Times reporter and an AP photographer came to my aid as I escaped the violence.

There were police nearby but none indicated they’d witnessed what took place. LAPD officers were all stationed along the sidewalk on First Street in front of LAPD headquarters. If they had been stationed along Spring and Main Streets too, they might have had a better view.

Two Stabbings

While the vast majority of those at the rally were peaceful, two people were stabbed that day as protesters and counter-protesters clashed. Both are in stable condition. Neither has been identified. Both sides blame the other. No arrests have been made.

Other people were punched, sprayed with Mace and knocked to the ground.

Political violence is on the rise in L.A.

A Black woman was attacked in almost the same place as I was during a pro-Trump rally on Jan. 6, as the U.S. Capitol was under siege. Two people were stabbed earlier this summer during an anti-transgender protest outside Wi Spa in Koreatown. There were no arrests in those attacks, either.

A leftist “activist journalist” we profiled earlier this year — Vishal Singh — was beat up in the alley behind Harlowe Restaurant in West Hollywood as he was trying to videotape another anti-vaccination protest. The next day, another videographer who documents right-wing movements was forced to seek refuge in a Trader Joe’s as anti-vaccination protesters chased him.

'We Ask...The Public To Police Themselves'

Many critics of law enforcement say officers have taken a laissez faire approach to confrontations at protests organized by the right, compared with their aggressive posture during last year’s protests over the murder of George Floyd. On Saturday I witnessed police officers stand idly by as protestors carried long poles that were among the items prohibited at protests last year because they could be used as weapons.

An LAPD spokesman vehemently denied any bias. He told me that they treat all protests equally.

He also said police are stretched thin.

“At some point, we ask the members of the public to police themselves,” said Lt. Raul Jovel. “We just can’t be on every corner” — even though the protest happened across the street from LAPD headquarters.

Bonus video: This shows a rally organizer trying to get the man who kicked me to leave.

ANTI VAX RALLY Aug 14, 2021 Vid 2

What questions do you have about criminal justice and public safety in Southern California?
Frank Stoltze covers a new movement for criminal justice reform at a time when not everybody shares the same vision.