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Anti-vaccine activist assaults California vaccine law author, police say

State Sen. Richard Pan
State Sen. Richard Pan (D-Sacramento) speaks on behalf of his vaccine bill at the state Capitol in April.
(Rich Pedroncelli / Associated Press)

An anti-vaccine activist was cited on suspicion of assault by the Sacramento Police Department on Wednesday after he livestreamed a physical confrontation with state Sen. Richard Pan, author of legislation to restrict vaccine exemptions.

Pan, a Democrat from Sacramento, was pushed from behind by Kenneth Austin Bennett, who challenged the senator in the 2018 primary but did not qualify for the general election. Bennett filed a recall petition against Pan this year alleging the senator was committing treason by authoring bills to tighten vaccination requirements in the state.

A video Bennett posted to Facebook shows he confronted Pan near the state Capitol and was livestreaming when he struck him. Afterward, Bennett said on the video that “I probably shouldn’t have done that.” The Sacramento Police Department said Bennett was cited for assault and released. The Times was unable to reach Bennett for comment.

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Pan, who was not injured in the attack, was walking with Assemblyman Ash Kalra (D-San Jose) during the incident.

Bennett posted the video with the caption: “yes, I pushed Richard Pan for lying, laughing at us and for treason.” He added in the video that if Pan “Got what he deserved he would be hanged for treason for assaulting children, for misrepresenting the truth.”

Pan spokeswoman Shannan Velayas said the senator has been routinely targeted by anti-vaccine activists since he introduced a bill in 2015 that created strict vaccine requirements for schoolchildren. Pan is carrying a bill that would further tighten California’s vaccine laws, prompting a new round of threats.

California’s kindergarten vaccination rate dropped again in the most recent school year as more parents sought permission from doctors to not immunize their children, according to new state data.

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“This is moving from a peculiar fringe curiosity to a violent extremist movement,” Velayas said. “Unfortunately this is not a surprise when violent rhetoric is used. Assaulting a public official is the logical next outcome of violent … language.”

Senate President Pro Tem Toni Atkins (D-San Diego) said the Legislature will assist in the investigation and do what is needed to protect elected leaders.

“There is absolutely no reason for resorting to violence,” Atkins said in a statement. “We may not all agree on every piece of legislation, but that is no reason to resort to aggressive and harmful behavior.”


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