On the afternoon of Aug. 22, a crowd of hundreds of activists, including proponents of the conspiracy theory known as QAnon, gathered in Beverly Gardens Park for a Freedom Rally in front of the Beverly Hills sign. Among the group were individuals associated with far-right organizations, including the Proud Boys, the Patriot Movement, and the Three Percenters. About 50 Black Lives Matter (BLM) activists staged a counter-protest in a separate area of the park cordoned-off by the Beverly Hills Police Department.
The event had a heavy law enforcement presence, with officers from the Beverly Hills Police Department (BHPD), Culver City Police Department, Santa Monica Police Department, and Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department. Despite the efforts to keep the two groups separate, by the late afternoon, fights broke out. The Courier observed several assaults take place. In one case, several BLM activists were pepper-sprayed in the face. As one BLM protester lay on the ground, a man stood over him and deployed a stream of pepper spray inches from his face.
According to BHPD public information officer Lt. Max Subin, the BHPD has not identified the man who used pepper spray and no one has come forward to press charges.
The event’s organizer, Shiva Bagheri, described one group of people who attended the Aug. 22 rally as “brawlers.”
“It’s just a group of people on Facebook that go to a lot of events,” she told the Courier. Posts on social media show members of the group attending rallies as far as Portland, Oregon. Photos posted on social media show members of the group flashing the “OK” sign, a pseudo-ironic gesture classified by the Anti-Defamation League as a hate symbol.
Along with the “Trump 2020” flags, rally-goers also brought a Confederate flag and a “Three Percenter” flag. The Southern Poverty Law Center classifies Three Percenters as an “anti-government” group. The group, so called for the disputed notion that only 3 percent of American colonists opposed British rule, drew scrutiny after heavily armed members in military-style combat gear were photographed at the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia.
After the rally, Bagheri says she messaged the group on Facebook.
“I said, listen, this is not what I stand for and what our rally is for,” she told the Courier. “Our rally is for peace.” The group reportedly responded that they would not return.
Bagheri has said that she plans on holding a Freedom Rally each Saturday until election day. According to Lt. Subin, she does not require a permit to do so.
Earlier in the day, BHPD arrested a man wearing a “Make America Great Again” hat for alleged battery. However, police did not intervene in the mass brawl that took place later that afternoon. “Due to numerous physical altercations between the two groups, it was not feasible for law enforcement to intervene,” Lt. Subin told the Courier. Minutes after the fights broke out, police declared an unlawful assembly and cleared out the park.
The so called “Freedom Rallies” have taken place for the last several weeks at Beverly Gardens Park. The events provide a platform for voicing opposition to the Black Lives Matter movement, mask mandates, and California’s political establishment in general. On Aug. 8, the protest drew its largest crowd to date when #WalkAway, a group that encourages Democrats to defect from their party and vote for President Trump, staged a rally with an estimated 400 people in attendance.
Initially, the Freedom Rallies did not attract much opposition, outside of one or two counter-protesters who waded through the crowds with contrary signs. But on Aug. 15, a group of approximately 20 Black Lives Matter activists showed up to challenge the narrative of the Trump supporters.
The BLM activists were greatly outnumbered. Videos from that day posted on social media show a tense atmosphere full of heated exchanges and minor physical altercations. The tension peaked when police forcefully arrested a counter-protester for allegedly obstructing a police officer, a charge that counter-protesters contest.
Afterwards, the BLM activists made plans to return the following week and put out calls for greater numbers. The next week, they did just that. Some 50 or so individuals from different groups arrived at Beverly Gardens Park on Aug. 22. On the Freedom Rally side, the infusion of new faces included some individuals who had previously been involved in violent clashes at other protests. Additionally, demonstrators from an earlier “QAnon” protest in Hollywood joined the rally, carrying signs that read “Democrats Sell Children” and wearing shirts that inscribed with “F**k Pedowood” (a portmanteau of pedophile and Hollywood).
QAnon is a labyrinthine conspiracy theory that asserts that President Trump is secretly at war with a global child sex-trafficking ring run by Satan-worshipping Democrats and celebrities. The conspiracy took hold on the anonymous message board 4Chan before migrating to more mainstream platforms such as Reddit, Youtube, and Facebook. The FBI has singled out the group as a domestic terrorist threat.
According to Lt. Subin, the BHPD encourages anyone with information about perpetrators of any violence on Aug. 22 to contact them.