A man described as a white nationalist is fighting extradition to California on assault charges in connection with a brawl between extreme-right groups and counter-protesters that ended with seven people stabbed near the state Capitol last year, officials said.
The California Highway Patrol had initially asked prosecutors to charge more than 100 people in connection with the wild melee. But the Sacramento County district attorney's office has issued only four arrest warrants in the case. By Wednesday afternoon, all four of those suspects had been arrested, prosecutors said.
William Scott Planer, a 34-year-old Denver resident, was charged recently with assault with a deadly weapon and participation in a riot for his role in the violent clash that took place at the state Capitol on June 26, 2016, Sacramento County Chief Deputy Dist. Atty. Steve Grippi said in a statement. He is described by experts on hate groups as a member of a white nationalist group known as the Traditionalist Worker Party.
Porfirio Paz, a supporter of an anti-fascist group that police blamed for inciting the violence, was also recently arrested on the same charges in Southern California, prosecutors said. He is due in court next week.
On Wednesday, Sacramento prosecutors announced the arrest of two suspects. Yvonne Felarca was arrested Tuesday night in Southern California on charges of assault with a deadly weapon, participating in a riot and inciting a riot, prosecutors said. Michael Williams was captured Wednesday in Yolo County and charged with assault with a deadly weapon and participating in a riot.
Both Felarca and Williams were supporting the anti-fascist group, according to Shelly Orio, a spokeswoman for the district attorney's office.
Planer is currently being held in Colorado Springs, where he was arrested July 12 after he allegedly affixed a sticker reading "Fight Terror, Nuke Israel," to the outside of a Jewish center, said Lt. Howard Black, public information officer for the Colorado Springs Police Department. He was charged with a bias-motivated crime, according to Black, who said Planer was caught on video applying the sticker.
Planer is being held in lieu of $500,000 bail there and plans to fight extradition to California, said Jacqueline Kirby, a spokeswoman for the El Paso County Sheriff's Office in Colorado.
Earlier this year, the CHP presented a 2,000-page report asking Sacramento prosecutors to charge more than 100 people involved in the brawl with a wide array of crimes, including 514 misdemeanors and 68 felonies. On Tuesday, Grippi said prosecutors had declined to bring charges in many of those cases due to insufficient evidence.
The fact that many of the suspects had obscured their faces with balaclavas or masks made prosecutions difficult, Grippi said. The garb is common among members of Antifa — shorthand for anti-fascists.
The CHP reviewed hundreds of hours of surveillance video before presenting its report, but prosecutors were unable to identify or charge suspects in some of the most egregious instances of violence on that day, including several stabbings and an attack on a local television reporter, Grippi said.
"In all, arrest warrants for 101 individuals were submitted for consideration. Many of the charges submitted did not meet the District Attorney's filing guidelines including: 85 counts of Unlawful Assembly, 55 counts of Conspiracy to Unlawfully Assemble and 32 counts related to the possession of illegal signs and banners," he said in the statement. "In several other cases, there was clear evidence of felonious conduct but the identity of the perpetrators could not be established. Unfortunately, included in this category were all of the stabbings and the attack on a local television reporter."
When asked about the decision not to file charges against most of the suspects, CHP spokeswoman Fran Clader said, "Ultimately, it is the role of the district attorney's office to determine who should be arrested and face charges."
The melee at the Capitol grew out of a rally held by the Traditionalist Worker Party and the Golden State Skinheads, considered to be one of the largest hate groups in California.
The groups previously said they were demonstrating to condemn attacks on supporters of President Trump in California. They had a legal permit to hold the rally but were attacked by a large crowd of Antifa members and other counter-protesters, according to the CHP. Members of the group Antifa Sacramento have previously denied those claims.
Seven people were stabbed, and a total of 10 were hospitalized as the warring factions squared off, said Officer Deby Sherrick-Lopez, public information officer for the CHP's Capitol Protection Section, which investigated the clash. A loaded gun was recovered at the scene, but police failed to locate any of the weapons used in the stabbings.
Orio said the arrest warrants were issued late last month.
Planer has allegedly attended anti-Muslim events and rallies organized by the National Socialist Movement, one of the largest neo-Nazi groups in the country, in the last year, according to the Anti-Defamation League, a group that focuses on anti-Semitic actions but also tracks hate-based activity across the U.S. The ADL posted evidence of those claims, from some of Planer's social media accounts in a blog published Monday afternoon.
Oren Segal, who heads the ADL's Center on Extremism, said many members of the white nationalist groups are emblematic of a younger, confrontational wave of the extreme right, who see counter-protesters such as Antifa as sworn enemies and are willing to travel to rallies in order to fight them. Planer lives in Denver but has been spotted at rallies in several other cities and states, according to Segal.
"Part of what they do is not only to physically confront them, but they like to dress the part. They view themselves as the superheroes of the far-right," Segal said. "It's these new, younger, more violently inclined white supremacists that are willing to travel and take these risks of physical confrontation."
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July 19, 2017, 4:25 p.m.: This article was updated with information about additional arrests.