Editorials

Melee at the Capitol didn’t help anyone’s cause

Mounted police officers stand guard Sunday at the state Capitol, where clashes between neo-Nazis and anti-fascist protesters injured at least 10.
Mounted police officers stand guard Sunday at the state Capitol, where clashes between neo-Nazis and anti-fascist protesters injured at least 10. rbyer@sacbee.com

Free speech is a precious right for everyone, even for neo-Nazis spewing vile propaganda.

A group of about 30 had a valid permit to hold a rally at the state Capitol on Sunday. So what more than 350 protesters should have done is respond loudly – but peacefully.

Instead, there was chaos and bloodshed. The two sides fought with sticks, signs and other weapons. At least 10 people were injured, five with stab wounds. It was a shockingly bloody scene, and it’s fortunate that no one was more badly hurt.

While more than 100 police in riot gear and on horseback were there and closed down streets and locked down the Capitol for a time, some demonstrators claim that police did little to stop the mayhem.

Police say they moved quickly to protect people. Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson said Monday that he will meet with law enforcement to “discuss lessons learned.”

Other skinhead rallies at the Capitol have happened much more quietly. But in this intensely emotional election year, self-styled anti-fascists and anarchists are responding more aggressively.

It happened in February at a Ku Klux Klan rally in Anaheim, where three people were stabbed in a melee between protesters and Klan members.

And it happened again Sunday, after days of the rally being promoted and denounced online. Whatever the protesters wanted out of a confrontation, it backfired.

The neo-Nazi Traditionalist Worker Party, which very few people had ever heard of, got a national platform during cable news coverage. Protesters came off as thugs by inexplicably attacking a television news crew.

The message of right-wing hate groups is un-American. But the way to fight it is not by trying to stifle a fundamental American freedom. Both sides blame the other for the violence. That’s garbage. It takes two to fight.

Johnson put it right in the statement on Monday: “Our country, our state and our city have a long history of peaceful protests, and that tradition will not be disrupted by the few who wish to cause havoc.”

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