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Jan. 6 In LA: One Year Later And Memories Of An Extremist Attack Spark Nightmares

A woman dressed in black with a black cap and a backpack over her left shoulder grabs the wig of a woman in front of her, also dressed in black. They are surrounded by a crowd, some of whom are holding American flags, one of whom holds a sign reading, "This is our 1776."
A woman grabs Berlinda Nibo's wig during the Jan. 6, 2021 protest in downtown L.A.
(Raquel Natalicchio for LAist)
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Berlinda Nibo has hardly left her home over the past year. She’s worried the people who attacked her last Jan. 6 in L.A. will find her again.

“I don’t know who they are, and I don't know where they are,” she told LAist, trying to hold back tears. “I’ve been having a lot of nightmares lately.”

Jan. 6 In LA One Year Later: Memories Of An Extremist Attack Spark Nightmares

While the country marks the one-year anniversary of the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, it’s important to remember the date was marred by violence in L.A. as well.

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As hundreds of people stormed the Capitol, a small group of supporters of then-President Trump gathered outside City Hall to lend their voices to the cause. Dozens of people waved “Stop the Steal” signs and giant red and blue Trump flags. Ominously, some waved two flags often flown by extremist groups: the “Don’t Tread on Me” flag and the 13-star early American flag.

'The First Scalping Of The New Civil War'

Nibo and a friend were on their way to lunch as they passed by. Nibo videotaped the crowd while urging them to put on their masks. Soon people surrounded her.

“That’s when a group of people started chanting 'white lives matter' at me,” said Nibo, who is from Nigeria. The confrontation escalated quickly.

She said they called her the N-word and punched her. Video shows someone spraying a chemical in her eyes, and a woman ripping off her wig and calling it “the first scalping of the new civil war.”

A man with a red beard and wearing a backwards baseball cap hugs a woman from behind. Someone else's arm is reaching out from behind a pillar to the right and spraying her with a chemical.  They are surrounded by a crowd of people holding American flags. A man to the left wears a black shirt that says "Stop the steal."
Someone sprays a chemical in Berlinda Nibo's face as she is held by another protester.
(Raquel Natalicchio for LAist)

Images of the attack and Nibo’s face quickly spread on social media. She changed her residence within a week and doesn’t disclose where she lives now, nor where she works.

Nibo loves the beach but hasn’t been since the attack, she said. Friends and family do her grocery shopping. The anniversary has her on edge.

“I’m even more scared to step out of my home,” she said.

'From Proud Boys To Anti-Vaxxers'

Political violence in California mostly comes from a small group of far-right extremists, said Brian Levin, director of the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at Cal State San Bernardino. Some of them were in Washington, DC on Jan. 6.

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They show up at a wide range of protests, united in their grievances against a Blue state they consider tyrannical.

We have roving bands of folks that range from Proud Boys to anti-vaxxers and we consistently see them at various protests and even school board meetings.
— Brian Levin, director of the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at Cal State San Bernardino

“We have roving bands of folks that range from Proud Boys to anti-vaxxers and we consistently see them at various protests and even school board meetings,” Levin said.

In May, the Los Alamitos School Board met virtually after police warned of violence related to its decision to issue guidelines for teaching social justice. Opponents said the board was trying to impose critical race theory.

Violence has also erupted over gender. In July, opponents of transgender rights stabbed one person and assaulted another during dueling rallies outside a Korean spa near MacArthur Park.

“They’re all embracing violence and conspiracy theories at various levels,” Levin said.

'Precursors To More Violence'?

Levin worries the realignment of groups and alliances and the outbreaks of violence “are precursors to more violence” during the midterm election campaigns.

Counterprotesters intent on confronting the far right at every turn have engaged in violence too, but much less of it, and it appears they’re often provoked by extremists, he said.

They’re all embracing violence and conspiracy theories at various levels.
— Brian Levin, director of the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at Cal State San Bernardino

Increasingly, journalists have been attacked. I was roughed up at an August anti-vax rally outside City Hall.

Jessi Keenan said someone hit her in the head with a metal water bottle at the same demonstration after she walked over from across the street, where she was helping feed homeless people.

You can hear Keenan screaming as she videotaped the attack.

“At first I was like, Oh, it’s my fault for being there. No. I was trying to help someone and somebody actually came up behind me,” she said. “I’m a tough chick. But it’s scary to think about.”

Two people were stabbed at that rally — a counterprotester and an anti-vaxxer.

The LAPD Says It's Trying To Balance Free Speech And Public Safety

Some have criticized the LAPD for going easy on pro-Trump and anti-vax protesters, a charge it denies.

The department says it polices everyone equally, and that it’s hard to protect everybody’s free speech while maintaining public safety.

Looking back at last Jan. 6, Nibo recalled how she tried to get an LAPD officer to help her. The exchange was caught on video as she pointed out one of her attackers nearby.

A person with their back to us applies saline solution to the eye of Berlinda Nibo, who has a mask under her mouth, and has her head tilted back.
A street medic applies saline solution to Berlinda Nibo's eyes after she was sprayed with a chemical.
(Raquel Natalicchio for LAist)

“Look. She pepper-sprayed me, the girl right there,” Nibo is heard saying.

Officers could have made the arrest, but a captain tells Nibo she needs to fill out a citizen’s arrest form first. “That’s crazy ‘cause you’re giving them time to run away,” Nibo says. “Why can’t you guys go detain them in the meantime?”

She told us she didn’t fill out the form because she was afraid to confront the people who attacked her.

Nibo said the LAPD has told her it continues to look for her attackers. The department said it could not comment in time for this story.

The LAPD previously said its major crimes division is investigating this and other similar attacks.

The Attack A Year Ago Changed Everything

Nibo remembers when she came to the U.S. with her parents from Nigeria a decade ago, when she was 16 years old. “In the small village where I come from, going to America was like the dream,” she said.

The attack on her a year ago changed everything.

“That’s when I realized how little I was," she said, "how insignificant I was in the eyes of many."

Nibo said she doesn’t want to be scared. But she is. And she isn't sure when that will change.

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