A series of violent clashes this weekend involving neo-Nazis permitted to rally at the state Capitol was initiated not by the white nationalist group but by counter-protesters, a law enforcement official said Monday.
“If I had to say who started it and who didn’t, I’d say the permitted group didn’t start it,” said California Highway Patrol officer George Granada, a spokesman for its Protective Services division. “They came onto the grounds and were met almost instantly with a group of protesters there not to talk.”
The Traditionalist Worker Party had a permit to hold a rally on the Capitol grounds at noon, Granada said.
Waiting for them were counter-protesters, including members of the anti-fascist organization Antifa Sacramento, which had promoted a “Shut Down Nazi Rally” event on its website leading up to Sunday.
A similar melee broke out in Anaheim earlier this year when members of the Ku Klux Klan announced they were holding a rally at a park. Counter-protesters showed up early and waited. When the first Klansmen arrived, they were set upon by the group.
Three people were stabbed at the Anaheim rally. At the Sacramento rally Sunday, seven people were stabbed and nine were hospitalized.
Granada said more than 100 CHP and Sacramento police officers were at the park to keep the peace, but the ground spans five city blocks and violence broke out intermittently. Sacramento police found a loaded gun but the CHP didn’t recover any knives or other weapons, Granada said.
“It’s not like all that stuff is visible up until it’s about to be used… a lot of that stuff comes out of wherever,” he said. “We were prepared… it could’ve been much worse. Luckily there were no injuries to officers, tourists or people of the general public.”
All the injuries were sustained by white nationalists or counter-protesters though specific totals weren’t available, Granada said.
The Traditionalist Worker Party said on its website that it had planned a Sunday rally in conjunction with the Golden State Skinheads “to make a statement about the precarious situation our race is in” after “brutal assaults” at Donald Trump events in California.
When the groups met Sunday on the Capitol grounds, news media were on hand to bear witness and law enforcement was out to maintain control.
The violence erupted around 11:45 a.m., when word spread that roughly 30 people had shown up. Counter-protesters swarmed them and a fight immediately broke out, Granada said.
Robert Bautista, 65, said he saw a handful of white supremacists and skinheads arrive two or three at a time only to be immediately mobbed and chased away by the counter-protesters, who hurled water bottles and the wooden stakes that bore their signs.
“They beat the heck out of a couple guys,” said Bautista, a retired construction worker who was among the counter-protesters. “You could see their adrenaline was running high.”
Bautista also said he saw one counter-protester, a black man who appeared to be in his late 20s, convulsing on the ground with stab wounds to his chest and abdomen.
“He was a bloody mess,” he said.
Dozens of counter-protesters remained after the injured had been taken away, watching over the Capitol steps in sweltering heat. On the grounds, a lone white nationalist supporter approached with a cellphone and shouted about his constitutional right to be on site and shoot video. After exchanging heated words with the protesters, people erupted into a chorus of “Nazi, go home.”
For much of the afternoon, the historic domed Capitol was locked down, with staffers and tourists inside. Police swarmed the park-like grounds, but by Monday there had still been no arrests.
Police are scanning websites, social media accounts and videos online to find people involved in the violence, Granada said. Many of the counter-protesters wore masks, making them difficult to identify on video by law enforcement.
Counter-protester Yvette Felarca, 46, said the marchers had been driven away and had not been able to recruit members.
“The Nazis are the violent ones — we are acting in self-defense,” said Felarca, who sustained a bloody blow to the head. “We need to take them head on, confront them, but with as many people as possible.”
The Traditionalist Worker Party vice chairman, Matt Parrott, blamed “leftist radicals” for instigating the violence. Videos and photos of the rally posted on social media showed the white nationalists vastly outnumbered by protesters from anti-fascist groups.
“We stood our ground. We will be back,” Traditionalist Worker Party Chairman Matthew Heimbach, who was not at the rally, said in a phone interview.
Both sides declared victory on their respective websites Monday morning.
Staff writers Jazmine Ulloa, John Myers, Emily Alpert Reyes and Victoria Kim contributed to this report.