Sacramento police and the California Highway Patrol are defending the way they handled Sunday’s bloody neo-Nazi rally that spun out of control and left 10 people injured – five of them stabbed – saying they intervened quickly to halt some assaults and that more than 100 Sacramento officers were on scene at the time violence broke out.
“When possible, our officers were intercepting some of these incidents when they were taking place and trying to prevent further violence,” police spokesman Matt McPhail said Monday as protesters on both sides of the melee criticized the police response as too weak.
Mayor Kevin Johnson was briefed Monday by police and fire officials but wants more information, said his spokesman, Ben Sosenko.
“Obviously, he has concerns over violence in the city of Sacramento,” Sosenko said. “He’s going to meet with law enforcement jurisdictions to review what happened.”
Sosenko said that meeting has not yet been scheduled, but that the mayor “looks forward to hearing from law enforcement to discuss lessons learned.”
No arrests have been made in connection with the melee, during which protesters fought each other with sticks, rocks, pepper spray and knives.
The flurry of violence began before the start of a rally organized by the neo-Nazi Traditionalist Worker Party, whose members were scheduled to gather at noon on the west steps of the Capitol. More than 350 anti-fascist protesters, known as Antifa, descended on the Capitol grounds to confront the 30 or so white supremacists, vastly outnumbering them and the police.
Sacramento police said none of the injuries are considered life-threatening and that no arrests have been made, but detectives are scouring hundreds of hours of video from the scene in hopes of identifying suspects. Police also are investigating a loaded 9 mm pistol that was found on the Capitol grounds and turned over to authorities after the rally.
McPhail said there were injuries to participants on both sides and that Sacramento police are focusing on two incidents on city streets – a stabbing along N Street south of the Capitol, and an assault near 10th and L streets.
Police have not released names of suspects or victims. By Monday afternoon, one of the anti-fascist protesters posted on Facebook the name and photo of a 26-year-old Sacramento-area man and claimed he was a “potential suspect” in the stabbings.
“We will be looking into this guy and giving updates as soon we have them,” the post read.
That sparked a chain of more than 40 comments homing in on the workplace, girlfriend and location of the identified man.
Reached via phone, the man said he had been at the rally and “defended myself ... with my fists,” but did not have a knife. He said he had been a white supremacist since 2010 but was not a member of the Traditionalist Worker Party holding the rally.
“It was just a white nationalist meeting, and I attended to show my support,” he said.
He added that he thought the police response was “pretty unsatisfactory. They failed to protect and serve, as was their duty ... I think it’s a dereliction of duty.”
The man, whom The Sacramento Bee is not identifying because he has not been named by police as a suspect, said he was walking with a group of about 18 other white supremacists on the east side of the Capitol when police redirected them to enter on the west side.
“That’s where all the Antifa were waiting,” he said. “We were just mobbed, just rushed.”
Police, he said, were “nowhere to be found.”
Asked how he felt about being sought by the anti-fascists, he said he was not concerned. “That’s nothing new. They’re always out looking for us,” he said.
‘It was weird’
One of the victims was identified as Shawn Moore, 23, of Sacramento, according to his mother, Tamera, who said he went to the Capitol to protest the neo-Nazi group.
“He lost a lot of blood, but the news was good,” she said. “He was stable and alive.”
Tamera Moore said she was concerned when her son told her he was going to the event, but added, “I thought they would each do their protest but the police would be there to keep order.”
Despite the massive police presence, which included large groups of law enforcement officers in helmets and riot gear, on horseback and bicycles, participants in Sunday’s demonstration claimed law enforcement did little to stop the violence.
“We were getting ready for them to just clear the grounds ... but that just never happened,” said Jamier Sale, an anti-fascist protester with the Party for Socialism and Liberation. “It kind of seemed like they were there to monitor the situation.
“Something about it rubbed me the wrong way when some of our protesters were getting stabbed and no one gets arrested.”
Both sides blamed the other for the outbreak of violence.
“I don’t think there’s any controversy about who started it,” said Matt Parrott, spokesman for the white supremacist group. “People rushed our guys. Our guys were all trained from the top down for months that this was going to be a permitted, peaceful demonstration at the state Capitol.
“Now, what we hadn’t anticipated was that the Sacramento police were going to actively and deliberately set us up for ambush by allowing angry mobs to come at our guys. We obviously didn’t anticipate that. ... I think the Sacramento police thought it would be funny to watch these Nazis get beat up by this numerically superior mob.”
Parrott said only one of those injured came from his group’s supporters.
Anti-fascist protesters say the neo-Nazis sparked the violence by pepper spraying and attacking them.
James Lee Clark, a homeless activist, said he was surprised that police allowed the anti-fascist demonstrators to engage the neo-Nazis.
“It was weird,” he said. “They usually they don’t let us anywhere near them.”
“We’ve protested against them (neo-Nazis) in previous years, and we’ve never been allowed on state property during the rally, and this time we were there,” he added. “We had the steps. They didn’t try to stop us … it was a pretty interesting dynamic.”
McPhail denied there was any intent by law enforcement to hold back. He noted that the Capitol grounds themselves are under the jurisdiction of the CHP, but added, “It’s not as if our officers would only walk up to the edge of the sidewalk and stop.”
Signs of violence
The CHP would not say how many officers it had on hand, acknowledging only that more than 100 law enforcement personnel were there and that the outbreak of violence was extremely unusual.
“Between the two agencies, we had something that you typically wouldn’t see here on a Sunday,” said Officer George Granada, a CHP spokesman. “There was preparation made ahead of time. Now, whether it was sufficient remains to be determined.”
Cres Vellucci, a representative for the National Lawyers Guild, said his group had about a dozen people present to monitor the police response. He described it as a “free-for-all.”
“The police didn’t step in really at all,” Vellucci said. “They basically just let people do what they wanted to do.”
Vellucci said he was one of the first observers to arrive at the scene of the stabbings, and that police did not arrive for “I would say three to four minutes.”
“They weren’t there at all,” Vellucci said. “It was like, I don’t know what happened to them ... I mean, there is a pitched battle going on; there are people being stabbed.”
Even after the initial outbreak of violence, the demonstration continued into the afternoon with law enforcement watching as both sides screamed and threatened each other with sticks. Many were dressed all in black and wore masks.
“It was like someone made a decision,” Vellucci said. “In this case, someone made a decision just to let them fight it out, that’s what it appeared. ...
“I’m watching the CHP … they are standing there or on their horses, and they are watching this happen and I don’t know why.”
At past neo-Nazi rallies at the state Capitol, there have been complaints that law enforcement was “overly protective of the Nazis,” Vellucci said.
Various videos taken at the scene show police rushing in to set up perimeters around the injured and to allow paramedics to triage the wounded. Some show officers shoving protesters out of the way.
But for much of the afternoon, police stayed on the edges of the event, standing in the shade near the sidewalks fronting L and 10th streets as the two sides threatened each other with sticks, tossed fireworks and charged at each other.
Granada added that no officers were injured and that the Capitol, which usually remains open for tourists on Sundays through the north entrance, was closed. The building was shut down as soon as the violence began, and all permits for events at the Capitol that day were revoked.
The protest eventually ended on its own after the anti-fascist group marched around the block and people began to drift away.
Granada said past demonstrations have not erupted in such violence and that law enforcement did not expect what occurred Sunday. “This has not happened on a state property like this for years,” he said.
There were plenty of hints ahead of time that Sunday’s rally would not go peacefully.
A similar brawl occurred in February at a rally in Anaheim. Anti-fascist groups clashed with Ku Klux Klan members and left at least three people stabbed. Experts who monitor such groups say violence involving both sides is nothing new.
Both sides signaled in advance of Sunday’s riot that they were bracing for confrontation. The Antifa – a coalition of groups opposed to the neo-Nazi movement – issued a call on the web for protesters to show up and “smash fascism.”
“Their rally must be stopped by any means necessary,” declared a statement issued by the group By Any Means Necessary, or BAMN.
The statement blamed rhetoric from presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump for giving “a green light to neo-Nazi/KKK political forces.”
Participants from the neo-Nazi side, including the Golden State Skinheads group, also made it clear in online posts that they knew the rally would face opposition.
“The purpose of Sundays rally is simple: A peaceful demonstration based on the principle that we, like everyone else, has a right to stand and have our voices be heard,” the group wrote in a statement on its website. “The countless threats of violence and attacks on our very lives will not deter us from attempting to achieve our initial goals.”
The Sacramento Bee’s Ed Fletcher contributed to this report.