An OC Weekly reporter and two photographers said Sunday that they were physically assaulted by pro-Trump demonstrators at a Make America Great Again rally in Huntington Beach and are seeking the public’s help in identifying at least one of the people responsible.
Frank Tristan, an intern at the paper, and photographers Julie Leopo and Brian Feinzimer were attacked before one of several counter-demonstrators pepper sprayed an organizer of Saturday’s event. After Jennifer Sterling was pepper-sprayed, several fights broke out.
A video of the confrontation shows Sterling trying to intervene after a Trump supporter pushed and shoved Feinzimer, who was shooting pictures of Leopo being hit with an American flag, then repeatedly punched Tristan. A moment later, Sterling is pepper-sprayed and can be seen staggering around, rubbing her eyes before falling to the ground.
“My photographers and intern were just trying to do their jobs,” OC Weekly editor Gustavo Arellano said in a statement Sunday. “For that, they got harassed by Trump supporters, then shoved and punched when they tried to defend each other. . .I’m proud of them, and we will not be silenced by biddies or bros.”
On Sunday, Leopo posted a picture of the man in the white shirt and faded blue cap on her Facebook page. She asked her followers for help in identifying the man who assaulted her and two other colleagues.
“We'll be looking to refer him to law enforcement,” the post states.
Here’s the sequence of events from video (seen above) aired on KTLA-TV Channel 5.
1. Photographer shoved
2. Reporter defends photographer
3. Man punches reporter
4. An attempt to break it up
5. Pepper spray
Saturday’s noontime rally Bolsa Chica State Beach drew hundreds of Trump supporters and was billed as a show of patriotism, a way to celebrate first responders, military veterans, the vice president and the president. It was one of dozens of similar rallies held nationwide.
About two dozen counter-demonstrators, some of whom dressed in black and wore face masks, said they were overwhelmed by Trump supporters and posed no threat. One stressed that the group used pepper spray only after they were attacked by their rivals.
Travis Guenther, whose wife was also pepper-sprayed, said he was among those who chased the man who sprayed Sterling and struck him with a flag that said, “Trump, Make America Great Again.”
“I hit him five times with the flag over his head,” said Guenther, who yelled at the man as he was detained by law enforcement officials.
“We’re not xenophobic,” Guenther said. “We’re not racist. We’re just proud Americans.”
The three journalists found themselves caught in the middle of the Saturday’s fracas.
On Sunday, Leopo said her body still hurt.
"I ache all over,” she said. “What happened was crazy.”
Leopo, 26, stood in front of a banner while photographing the anti-Trump demonstrators, when a woman scanning the crowd zeroed in on her, she said. The woman held an American flag and “she walked directly to me, yelling ‘Fake news. Fake news.’ She hit my camera, then she hit my arm. I told her to stop, leave me alone” but the woman continued, Leopo said.
Feinzimer started photographing the incident when the woman turned on him, using the flag to swat his camera, Leopo said.
“I grabbed [the flag] and threw it to the ground and then she grabs my arm,” Feinzimer said in a phone interview Sunday. “It just got so chaotic. There was so much rage and anger in the air.”
A man in the crowd then demanded that Feinzimer pay for the flag while another man in a white T-shirt and faded blue cap shoved the photographer. Because things “happened so fast,” Feinzimer said he chose to continue “doing my job.”
“I wasn’t so afraid for me, but you have in the back of your mind what's going on around you and you have to stay aware,” he said.
Tristan, the 21-year-old intern, said he has been reporting on the event all day and noticed that the Trump supporters were the aggressors. In a story published in the OC Weekly, he said they were hurling racial slurs and chanting racist statements at anti-Trump demonstrators.
Video shows Tristan stepping in to stop the man from pushing his colleague. The man turned on Tristan and repeatedly began hitting him in the face and head. That’s when Sterling and others were doused with pepper spray.
“From everything I saw, the counter-protesters and Sterling were trying to defend me from the people beating me,” Tristan said. “Sterling got caught in the middle and was pepper-sprayed. It was not a direct attack on her.”
In all, four counter-demonstrators were arrested at Saturday’s event, authorities said. Three men were arrested on suspicion of illegal use of a Taser, and one woman was arrested on suspicion of assault and battery, said Capt. Kevin Pearsall of California Parks. Leopo said she reported her attack to an officer at the scene but he did not write up a report.
Feinzimer said it’s unfortunate that innocent people were injured exercising their rights.
“It hurts me to see people act this way, to act with such hate,” he said. “I can't speak to where that hate comes from.”
A photo caption ("Photographer shoved") in a previous version of this story misidentified which photographer was shoved in the video. The KTLA video shows Brian Feinzimer being shoved, not Julie Leopo. Another photo and caption ("Pepper spray") highlighted a person as shooting pepper spray. It's not clear if that person was the one responsible.