KKK members linked to violent brawl released
Anaheim, California — Five Ku Klux Klan members who were arrested following a vicious brawl in Anaheim were released because evidence shows they acted in self-defense, police said.
Seven people who remained in custody were seen beating, stomping and attacking the Klansmen with wooden posts, Sgt. Daron Wyatt said Sunday.
A police statement said the clash, which erupted after six Klan members arrived at a park Saturday for an anti-immigration rally, was started by a group of 10 to 20 counter-protesters who had “the intent of perpetrating violence.”
Police said the Klansmen stabbed three counter-protesters with knives and the decorative end of a flag pole.
“Regardless of an individual or groups’ beliefs or ideologies, they are entitled to live without the fear of physical violence and have the right, under the law, to defend themselves when attacked,” the statement said.
Mayhem ensued Saturday as soon as the Klan members pulled up in a black SUV and pulled out signs reading “White Lives Matter.” Dozens of protesters swarmed in and someone smashed a window. The SUV then sped away, leaving three Klansmen outnumbered.
“(The counter-protesters) were so angry, they would have torn these folks limb from limb,” said Brian Levin, who directs the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University, San Bernardino. “I was afraid for their lives.”
Levin, who went to Pearson Park expecting to record the rally for research, found himself protecting the Klansmen until police could intervene. On a video Levin shot and posted to Twitter, he later asked one of them, “How do you feel that a Jewish person helped save your life today?”
“I thank you. I thank you,” said the Klansman, waving away the question with his blood-spattered arm.
Anaheim is known for pushing back against the Klan in 1924 when its members gained four of five City Council seats. Those Klansmen were ousted in a recall election after their Klan affiliation became public and following a nighttime KKK initiation rally that attracted an estimated 10,000 people to the same city park where Saturday’s violence erupted.
“The only reason we remember Anaheim for the Klan is because they fought the Klan so hard,” said Phil Brigandi, an Orange County historian and author.
In the near century since then, Anaheim has gone from 95 percent white to become 53 percent Hispanic and 27 percent white, according to census data.
“We’re a far cry from those terrible times and the Klan is really an anachronism,” Levin said.
When the melee started, Levin said he saw no uniformed officers. Wyatt said police were there and engaged with people at one end of the fight, and called for additional resources to deploy to the other end. The event stretched along a city block, he said.
Police Chief Raul Quezada said his officers were able to respond quickly enough to arrest all but one of the main participants, a counter-protester who remains at-large.
The Klan members were booked for investigation of assault with a deadly weapon before being released. The seven people who remained in custody were booked for assault with a deadly weapon or elder abuse for stomping on a Klan member who’s older than 65 years old, Wyatt said.
Though the Klan members were released, prosecutors will review the case and decide whether to file criminal charges, he said.
Chris Barker, who identified himself as the imperial wizard of the Loyal White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, told The Associated Press by phone from North Carolina that his members were holding a peaceful anti-immigration demonstration and acted in self-defense.
“If we’re attacked, we will attack back,” said Barker, whose organization lists Pelham, N.C., as its headquarters.
Nationwide, the number of active KKK groups increased to 190 in 2015 after falling in 2013 and 2014, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks hate groups.