Although right-wing extremists stabbed two demonstrators and clubbed a journalist at the first Wi Spa protest, the LAPD cracked down on left-wing protesters at the second.
Los Angeles police attacked trans rights activists with batons and rubber bullets on Saturday, declaring an unlawful assembly outside a spa where dozens of far-right transphobes dressed for battle gathered for the second time this month to demand that the facility stop permitting trans women to use the women’s section.
The police attack on the protesters outside the Wi Spa on Wilshire Boulevard came two weeks after right-wing extremists stabbed two demonstrators and clubbed a journalist during dueling rallies at the same location. That violence was wrongly attributed to left-wing counterprotesters by right-wing propagandists before journalists Vishal Singh and Rocky Romano produced clear visual evidence that both knife attacks and an assault on Romano with a metal pipe were the work of conservative thugs.
The previously obscure spa became the focus of national attention last month when Tucker Carlson uncritically presented as fact claims made by a Christian patron in a viral video that might have been a hoax. In the video, which Carlson took from an Instagram feed run by pro-Trump activist Jesse Holguin, the Christian woman claimed, without evidence, that she had just been traumatized by seeing a trans woman’s genitals in the spa. While complaining to the spa’s staff about the trans woman’s nudity, the woman who made the video also insisted that “there ain’t no such thing as transgender.”
Although there is no evidence that the incident actually took place — and the woman who recorded herself complaining about it has joined a conservative Christian campaign to repeal California’s law barring discrimination against trans people — the video Carlson boosted prompted dozens of Trump supporters, QAnon conspiracy theorists, and Christian zealots to rally outside the spa on July 3 and again on Saturday.
Wi Spa, which asks guests not to wear bathing suits in its gender-segregated saunas, told Los Angeles magazine that it was obliged by California law not to discriminate against trans individuals and “strives to meet the needs of all its customers.”
As Samuel Braslow of the Beverly Hills Courier reported, the right-wing group that gathered on Saturday shouted the QAnon slogan “Save Our Children,” based on the delusional belief that Democrats are pedophiles, and held signs with unhinged messages, including “Antifa Protects Child Molesters” and “Read Dr. Fauci’s Emails.” Braslow also recorded one extremist in a Trump shirt and another in a “Press” vest apparently threatening him as he filmed them, with one directing a throat-slitting gesture his way.
Video recorded by activists and journalists showed that the police chose to aggressively confront the left-wing counterprotesters — eventually kettling them and arresting 38 — while right-wing extremists who hurled invective and objects faced few consequences.
In a viral Twitter thread, an activist who uses the handle waterspider shared clear video of officers clubbing one counterprotester to the ground and then firing a beanbag of lead pellets wrapped in fabric from a shotgun at another from point-blank range.
The same activist later interviewed Vishal Singh — a nonbinary advocacy journalist whose hand was broken by a police officer’s baton as he filmed — and recorded an anti-trans extremist being allowed to hurl a plastic bottle of iced tea at protesters without being arrested.
Capt. Al Lopez, a Los Angeles Police Department commander, told the independent videographer Sean Beckner-Carmitchel that 38 people were arrested after the police forced the counterprotesters away from the spa with a barrage of so-called less-lethal 40mm foam-tipped grenades.
As activists pointed out, the LAPD’s firing of “less-lethal” but still dangerous rounds directly at protesters who were already retreating appeared to be a violation of a restraining order issued in May by U.S. District Judge Consuelo B. Marshall.
“An officer may use 40mm less-lethal munitions only when the officer reasonably believes that a suspect is violently resisting arrest or poses an immediate threat of violence or physical harm,” the federal judge’s order reads. After a dispersal order has been issued, the judge wrote, an “officer may fire the 37 mm at the ground 5 to 10 feet in front of the crowd. The 37 mm may not be used as a target specific munition unless absolutely necessary to prevent imminent serious bodily injury to the officer or others.”
Activists also pointed to the findings of research by the Los Angeles-based Police Assessment Resource Center, or PARC, indicating that “beanbag rounds present a risk of death or serious physical injury at less than 10 feet when fired at the chest, head, neck, and groin.” The report found that the “optimal distance for a beanbag” was between 21 and 50 feet from the person being targeted.
Several videographers captured images of officers shooting beanbag rounds directly at counterprotesters from less than 5 feet away, and firing 40mm foam-tipped munitions at protesters, in defiance of the restraining order.
An LAPD officer shot a less lethal shooting I captured- using a 40 mm at protestors trying to disperse. These were people trying to leave the protest and they were being forced into a kettle.— Lefty-Desiree McLefty Face, Milkshake Whisperer (@TinaDesireeBerg) July 19, 2021
Although the number of protesters on each side was small, the fact that so many of the activists who took part were also filming the event on their phones, and either livestreaming or sharing clips online, means that every potential violation of their rights by the police seems to have been captured from multiple angles.
Lopez, the LAPD commander, also said that the right-wing extremists were not arrested because they had complied with the order to disperse. But journalists who were with the left-wing counterprotesters reported that those activists were forced onto a street where they were surrounded by the police and not allowed to disperse before being arrested.
The right-wing group was pushed back from the spa but not kettled, as footage recorded by Guardian correspondent Lois Beckett showed.
There was also clear evidence that the right-wing extremists engaged in at least two assaults. In the first, a young woman was sprayed with Mace at close range by a man in football shoulder pads who was at the front of the transphopbe group during the rally. The second was an attack on Beckett, the Guardian reporter, who was knocked to the ground.
Just got thrown to the ground by right-wing anti-pedophile protesters as a crowd coverged on me and chased me. They threw water at me and screamed about Jesus and said to grab my phone. Police would not let me through the police line but after I got thrown on the ground they did. pic.twitter.com/LDGqkua3fi— Lois Beckett (@loisbeckett) July 17, 2021
According to anti-fascist activist Chad Loder, who keeps tabs on local extremists, one of Beckett’s attackers is the partner of a Proud Boy from Bakersfield who attended the previous rally at the spa.
Before she was attacked, Beckett shared video of the woman wearing a T-shirt that celebrated the murder of leftists who were hurled from helicopters by Chile’s military during the rule of right-wing dictator Gen. Augusto Pinochet.
The hostility against journalists was not limited to the police and the right-wing extremists, however. A group of counterprotesters in black clothing attacked Eric Levai, a reporter and podcaster who was photographing the protest, and took his phone and backpack. Several veteran left-wing activists have recently complained that some black bloc protesters have become so paranoid about being photographed or filmed by right-wing infiltrators that they have repeatedly threatened or attacked journalists and even other activists to stop them from recording.