Protesters stage illegal rally at California Capitol to support law enforcement

Pastor Tim Thompson of Riverside leads a protest at the state Capitol in Sacramento on May 7, 2020, against Gov. Gavin Newsom's restrictions to stem the spread of the coronavirus.
(Anita Chabria / Los Angeles Times)

Protesters of California’s stay-at-home orders returned for another unsanctioned rally at the Capitol on Thursday, this time with a different message: They forgive law enforcement for arresting them last week.

Led by Murrieta preacher Tim Thompson, who was among 32 people detained and ticketed by the California Highway Patrol during an unpermitted gathering Friday, about 200 protesters crammed onto the sidewalk and presented a small olive tree they described as a peace offering to hundreds of officers assembled in riot gear.

In an earlier interview, Thompson said that many of the supporters were angered by the arrests because they consider themselves strong supporters of law enforcement. Thompson said he is a chaplain for the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department.


“At the end of the day, we are all on the same side,” he said. “It’s unfair of Gavin Newsom to ... pin us against the CHP.”

The officers surrounded the building, blocking access for the protesters but allowing others with business in the building to enter. While officers wore masks and had face shields at the ready, protesters did not have protective equipment and did not observe social distancing. Many said they believed fears of the coronavirus were overblown.

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Saying they understood that the officers were “not the enemy,” demonstrators on Thursday directed their anger at what they called overreach by Newsom — including a belief that the governor was personally directing the CHP.

Some carried signs aimed at officers that read,”God forgives you. Join we the people,” while others in the crowd yelled at officers to disobey their orders.

While many in the crowd appeared to be associated with Thompson and his church, a contingent of Proud Boys, a far-right group, was also present.

“I want everyone here to know that our fight is not with the California Highway Patrol,” said Thompson as he stood at the barricade, imploring one of the officers to break ranks and come forward to accept the tree.


None did.

“It’s pretty disappointing that they wouldn’t accept,” said Stefanie Fetzer, a protester from Orange County and an organizer of the event. “It’s pretty shocking ... Gavin Newsom has met some new milestones with overreach and tyranny.”

The CHP, which grants permits for gatherings at the Capitol, has stopped doing so after earlier rallies failed to adhere to social-distancing guidelines.

On Friday, more than 1,000 people gathered to protest orders by Gov. Gavin Newsom to close beaches, churches, schools and other sites. When the crowd failed to obey orders to disperse, some were taken into custody, in part because they were not social distancing and at one point locked hands.

Thompson said that he didn’t have “any intentions of confrontations” before his arrest.

“As a person who loves law enforcement, it was kind of embarrassing to be hooked up and taken” into custody, he said. “This has really been hard on my reputation as a law-abiding pastor. That part of it was kind of frustrating.”

Thompson said that the issue for him is the separation of church and state.

He said his church resumed in-person services Sunday, ensuring that families are separated by six feet and wear masks.

“As a church leader, I don’t need to listen to what Gavin Newsom said,” Thompson said. “He has no authority over the church.”