Lawyers for three people arrested after protesting a 2016 white nationalist rally in Sacramento have accused law enforcement of conspiring with a hate group to crack down on counter-protesters.
In a 45-page motion filed this week, the counter-demonstrators asked a California judge to drop assault and riot charges stemming from violent clashes outside the state capitol. Multiple people were hurt in skirmishes between the opposing groups, including at least seven stabbings. The first arrests were made a full year later.
The California Highway Patrol and the Sacramento County District Attorney’s office “colluded” with the white nationalist Traditionalist Worker Party to identify counter-protesters, the motion says, and are now “carrying out a political witch-hunt” against the defendants, Yvonne Felarca, Porfirio Paz and Michael Williams. The charges “constitute discrimination based on political viewpoint and race,” the motion alleges.
Almost every person hurt in the violence was a minority. Matthew Heimbach, leader of the Traditionalist Worker Party, told CNN after the confrontation that party members armed themselves with knives and blades because they’d been threatened on social media.
Traditionalist Worker Party, which the Southern Poverty Law Center has identified as an extremist hate group, obtained a permit from police to hold the rally. It was heavily promoted on social media by the white supremacist Golden State Skinheads “to make a statement about the precarious situation our race is in” after “brutal assaults” at Donald Trump’s events during the presidential campaign.
Some 30 members of the supremacist groups who showed up for the rally found themselves confronted by nearly 300 counter-protesters — including members of Antifa Sacramento and the organization By Any Means Necessary. Violence quickly erupted.
Felarca, a Berkeley teacher, was stabbed in the arm and struck in the head, and spoke on TV cameras with her head wrapped in a bloody bandage.
The defense motion says the DA has chosen to prosecute the three counter-protesters, but “none of the fascists who tried to murder people.” It accuses police of “interrogating and harassing injured counter-protesters in their hospital beds while doing nothing to pursue charges against the Nazis who had stabbed them.”
Police filed charges based on ”videos apparently copied from neo-fascist and alt-right Facebook pages and blogs,” the motion says. It argues that the “police policy of allowing the fascists to get away with their attack at the State Capitol in 2016 set off a chain of events that ... ended with the murder of Heather Heyer in Charlottesville,” Virginia.
Heyer was killed during a “Unite the Right” white supremacist rally in October, when a man drove his car into counter-protesters.
Steve Grippi, Sacramento’s chief deputy district attorney, denied the defense accusations, and said there has been no collusion between law enforcement and the hate group, according to the Sacramento Bee. The prosecutor said stabbing victims have been uncooperative with investigators.
Grippi also noted that his office has filed assault charges against a Traditionalist Worker Party member ― Colorado white nationalist William Scott Planer, 35. Prosecutors say he bludgeoned an unarmed counter-protester unconscious in a confrontation captured on video.
TV video showed police on horseback largely hanging back while protesters attacked one another. CHP investigator Donovan Ayres testified last month that more than 100 officers had been assigned to the Sacramento rally.
“It was unfortunate the way that played out,” Ayres said. “We were unable to get in position.”