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O.C. deputy under investigation after wearing extremist paramilitary patch at George Floyd protest

Orange County Sheriff Don Barnes denounced one of his deputies Wednesday for wearing a patch associated with an extremist paramilitary group while policing a Costa Mesa protest over the killing of George Floyd.

After seeing the video of the deputy wearing a Three Percenters patch during a protest this week, Barnes said, “these symbols are not department-approved and are prohibited by policy, and contradict the values of the Sheriff’s Department.”

“This deputy’s decision to wear these patches, and the implication of his association with an extremist group, is unacceptable and deeply concerning to me,” Barnes said. “Any symbol can have multiple meanings and is open to interpretation, which is why [the] wearing of non-approved symbols and patches is strictly prohibited. Instances like this can forge a wedge separating law enforcement from the community we serve, especially during these turbulent times.”

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The sheriff launched a probe into the deputy’s conduct and thanked the activists who publicized the behavior.

The unidentified deputy was among a group assigned to monitor a protest Tuesday night. A publicly shared video shows what appears to be a Stars and Stripes flag partially covered by the Three Percenters logo above the word “Oathkeeper.” It is visible in the middle of the deputy’s tactical vest on the video clip and appeared to cover the deputy’s name on the uniform.

The Three Percenters was founded in 2008 and is regarded by civil rights organizations as a far-right paramilitary group, known for violent rhetoric. Its founder published a novel in which members engage in gunbattle with law enforcement.

The Council on American-Islamic Relations of L.A. expressed anger at the public display.

“It is outrageous that a member of a law enforcement organization would be so brazen as to apparently wear a symbol of violent discord and bigotry on his uniform, especially in the wake of the murder of George Floyd,” said Hussam Ayloush, executive director of the Los Angeles branch.

Brian Levin, an expert on extremist groups and director of the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at Cal State San Bernardino, said display of such a symbol is especially ill-timed “when cities are burned and citizens questioning the level of racial bias in police departments.”

Floyd, 46, died last week after a Minneapolis police officer pinned his neck to the ground with his knee for nearly nine minutes. On Wednesday, charges against former Officer Derek Chauvin were elevated to second-degree murder. Three other officers at the scene face charges of aiding and abetting. All have been fired.

The Three Percenters’ website claims that the group is not an anti-government militia but is “committed to standing against and exposing corruption and injustice” and “will defend ourselves when necessary.”

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Barnes on Wednesday said a core mission of the Orange County Sheriff’s Department is to provide public safety services free from prejudice or favor and to listen to the concerns of the community.


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