Middle East conflict tests Angel City’s efforts to provide safe, inclusive atmosphere

Supporters wave flags during Angel City's match against the Portland Thorns.
Supporters wave flags during Angel City’s match against the Portland Thorns on Sunday at BMO Stadium. Security officers asked fans waving Palestinian flags to take them down.
(Helen Li / Los Angeles Times)
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This article has been updated to reflect more accounts of conditions during Angel City’s regular-season finale Sunday.

The halo of community warmth Angel City supporters usually feel on game day was pierced Sunday by the unfolding conflict in the Middle East.

Jewish supporters and others concerned about Palestinians’ safety felt displaced despite efforts intended to improve security and focus on a key match. The event raised concerns about the club’s security and inclusion policies.


Moon has been an Angel City supporter from the start and has attended almost every home match. The 28-year-old is easy to spot in the supporters sections at Angel City FC and LAFC games waving his Palestinian flag on a bamboo stick.

This past Sunday, he left Angel City’s match 25 minutes in after being told to remove his Palestinian flag by security.

“That flag has always been there at Angel City and has never caused an issue,” said Moon, who shared only his first name because of fear of harassment.

As fans began arriving for the tailgate near BMO Stadium, Angel City posted an announcement around 10:30 a.m. on social media that read: “Out of an abundance of caution for the safety of our players, fans, and staff, only representations related to the two teams competing in today’s match will be allowed inside BMO stadium. This includes, but is not limited to flags, banners, and apparel.”

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When he saw the announcement, Moon said he felt conflicted.

“I immediately stopped thinking about how this was the last opportunity we had to make the playoffs,” Moon said. “My thoughts were only about what I was going to do. Am I going to live up to my morals and wave the Palestinian flag like I had with every game?”

When he was growing up in Casablanca, Morocco, Moon watched live footage of the death of Muhammad al-Durrah in Gaza, which reshaped his views on the events in Israel and Palestine.


Moon decided to bring the flag inside.

Stuart Waldman, 54, was scrolling on social media when he saw the Angel City announcement. He told his two kids, who were wearing Ireland and Barcelona jerseys, to change into T-shirts and jeans before they left Van Nuys.

“I assumed that if people were waving Palestinian flags or Israel flags, that it would probably cause some situations that the club didn’t want,” Waldman said. “I think trying to follow that line of avoiding confrontation was the safest bet.”

In front of the supporters sections, fans held a banner that read: “THE FOUNDERS DON’T SPEAK FOR ALL” in response to a message signed by Angel City’s founders posted on the team’s X account condemning Hamas’ attacks in Israel. Some Angel City supporters agreed not to cheer or drum for the first five minutes in protest of the statement and flag policy change. Afterward, Moon pulled out his flag at the 10-minute mark and began to wave it amid a chorus of drums.

About 15 minutes into the game, Moon said security and the club’s manager of support relations came and asked him and others waving Palestinian flags to take them down or leave.

“When I asked why they’re doing this now and not before, the security specifically told me that the order came directly from the founders. And when I asked him why this flag specifically, because there’s no other flag being picked out, he said it just is what it is,” Moon said.

While Waldman sat in section 129, he saw the flags and banners in the distance. Although he previously had seen the Palestinian flag at LAFC and Angel City games and felt its presence was political and inappropriate, he discussed the matter only with friends. Now, Waldman, who identifies as Jewish American, believes that the flag is “pretty hurtful.”


“If we’re being honest, that flag has a different meaning to observers today than it did two weeks ago,” he said.

Angel City declined to answer questions about the flag policy. The club did, however, secure permission from supporters who took issue with displays of the Palestinian flag and shared their messages with The Times. Fans asked that their names not be used because of concerns for their safety.

A source not authorized to speak publicly about the policy told The Times that Angel City staff was concerned about potential conflict at the stadium and changed the policy based on advice from security consultants.

A fan who sat in the stadium’s North End terrace sent an email to Angel City informing the club they left 15 minutes into the match after witnessing the five-minute silence protest and a heated exchange with another supporters group member.

“I have never in my 32 years left a sporting event early for anything. But this ended that streak,” wrote the fan, who identifies as Jewish and reported leaving in tears. “SGs [supporters groups] have lost sight of the fact that we’re all here to support a soccer team.”

After talking with security for 10 minutes, Moon said he decided to leave the stadium because he no longer felt comfortable.


“I could feel him, the security person, get angrier. He started getting a little handsy, just kind of trying to grab the flag a little bit. I could just tell that he was scouting away to like grab me and kick me out. At the moment, I just wanted to preach nonviolence,” Moon said.

“... It did feel like we didn’t have a choice. The choice was to be there but not as myself. They wanted a quiet version of myself, a censored version of myself, a silenced version of myself that I wasn’t willing to be.”

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Matthew Vitale, 26, a fellow AC Pandemonium member, also walked out in support of those waving Palestinian flags. He said what Hamas did was crazy but that not all Palestinians support the group.

“I’ve grown up with Palestinians like my entire life. Gaza is basically going to be gone in a week’s time. And I can’t stand by,” Vitale said.

Josh Ahn, 38, from Glendale, cited his experiences visiting the Borj el Brajne refugee camp in Beirut more than a decade ago as the reason he left the game early.

“People were showing us their keys that they took with them during the Nakba [also known as the Palestinian catastrophe], because they thought they were going to be able to go back and open the doors to their homes. Since then, I’ve just been like, people just want to be home. It changed my perspective on a lot of things,” Ahn said.


“It’s about solidarity with Palestinians everywhere. It’s a shame that the club can’t see why we would feel that way,” Vitale said.

One fanwrote to Angel City they felt the club’s policies were a way to “stand up against all forms of hatred, including antisemitism.” A second fan had requested to be relocated to a different seating area away from the supporters section and expressed “immense relief” for the club’s “swift action to ensure the game day’s safety” when “the atmosphere took a distressing turn.”

Another fan said they were concerned about how people did not follow the announcements.

“I fully understand that a Palestinian flag does not represent Hamas,” the fan wrote. “However, as a Jewish person, it was alarming to know that the people who have also supported the club since Day 1 felt that they needed to break the rules so badly that they risked missing the most important game in the history of the club. That in itself made me feel uncomfortable and unsafe.”

Tiff Sanchez, 40, from Historic Filipinotown is a member of the PodeRosas supporter group, one of the club’s six official supporter groups which is primarily composed of queer women of color.

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PodeRosas members waved 10-foot and 15-foot Palestinian flags. Within 15 minutes, security came to remove them. She noted that PodeRosas usually also waves Pride flags but they were not removed.

“It was like directly about the Palestinian flags without them saying it. It’s clearly censorship,” she said, also citing how Angel City has made past statements or programming regarding other topics such as Black Lives Matter, women’s reproductive health access, trans rights and gun violence.


A source not authorized to speak publicly about Angel City’s security practices told The Times fans who approached the gate with flags from multiple countries were informed of the policy and either placed flags in lockers or put them back in their cars.

At least one French flag was spotted in the stands after fans were told to stop displaying Palestinian flags.

Sanchez said the club’s statement released Oct. 12 did not acknowledge the people in Palestine “who are experiencing genocide right now.”

“They don’t speak for us. Each of the founding members has their own social media platform. They didn’t need to speak for a whole club, including supporter groups,” Sanchez said.

Daisy Chavez-Mendez, 41, from Boyle Heights, who is a member of PodeRosas’ leadership, said the front office and some supporter group representatives met Thursday and Friday to discuss the founders’ statement. It was not until Sunday morning, when tailgates had begun, that supporters group leadership received messages about a change in flag and apparel policies.

Sanchez donned a pale yellow keffiyeh, a Palestinian scarf, that was gifted to her by a friend. On the front of her T-shirt, the words “Del Barrio, Pa’l Barrio” and “Palestina Libre” encircled a Palestinian flag with the cluster of PodeRosas roses. She is disappointed with how the club profits off of the supporters’ “inclusive” image and is unsure if she wants to keep spending money.


“It’s in these moments right now that are critical that we show up. It’s not when it’s easy. It’s when it’s difficult,” Sanchez said. “One of our slogans is that we show up for the games like we show up for our real lives.”

Andrew Terranova, 48, was holding up a Palestinian flag when security approached him during the second half of the game. They had a “back and forth” when Terranova pointed to a French flag draped in the stands.

“It just drives home that double standard. This is not about wiping out all expressions of nationality. It’s about targeting Palestinian solidarity,” Terranova said.

A season ticket holder, Terranova said he understands that clubs like Angel City need to show that women’s sports is profitable. He said he is considering canceling his membership.

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Angel City won 5-1 against the Portland Thorns, making the NWSL playoffs for the first time since its founding in 2020. The next game will be against OL Reign in Seattle on Friday.


“All venue rules will be determined by the team hosting the game,” an Angel City spokesperson told The Times.

Waldman said he thinks that more people may try to bring flags, including the Israeli one, to future games.

“I’m hoping that we don’t have a confrontation,” he said. “We’re all there to watch soccer and root for our team. And I think anything else just takes away from the game.”

Moon said he feels robbed of what would have been a celebration of the team making the playoffs.

“If you’re a soccer fan, games like today are when you live for high stakes, win or go home, make history, and we were robbed of that,” Moon said. After he exited, he heard the crowd celebrate two Angel City goals. “I cannot believe they robbed me of a Sydney Leroux bicycle kick.”