Action of the campaign
The prosecutor, Summer Stephen, has a history of promoting unsubstantiated claims and counter-conspiracy theories about “Antifa,” particularly that financier George Soros secretly funds them. His case seems predicated on the MAGA Right’s smear campaign demonizing fascists.
Stephen’s case against anti-fascist opponents of the Jan. 9 “Patriot March” pro-Trump rally in the San Diego suburb of Pacific Beach — held as a brazen gesture of support in the wake of the Capitol uprising on Jan. 6, and many people was characterized by who three days ago in Washington, D.C. were in the crowd—raised eyebrows among legal experts when he announced it. For starters, conspiracy cases typically don’t rely on evidence that involves ordinary speech and behavior—such as agreeing to appear at an event in response to a social media post—as this case would. is
Stephen’s criminal conspiracy complaint lists 68 overt acts by the fascists, including acts as innocent as wearing black clothing. Others included violent acts such as kicking or spraying the victims with mace, as well as hitting people with sticks and flagpoles or pushing them to the ground.
However, it offers no evidence that any of these actions were previously agreed upon by the participants. Rather, prosecutors allege that an agreement to commit these acts was evidenced by the defendants’ presence on social media or simply by their presence at the designated time and place of the counter-protest.
“The defendants are alleged to be associated with Antifa and are organized into two groups, one from Los Angeles and the other from San Diego,” the charging document reads. “Antifa is known to use force, fear, and violence to advance their interests and suppress the interests of others. This strategy is called ‘direct action’ and means acts of violence such as assault, battery, Known to attack. With deadly weapons, arson and vandalism. The alleged purpose of this conspiracy was to incite and participate in riots using direct action tactics.”
However, this is not what “direct action” actually means. Instead, the phrase describes a set of strategies intended to achieve goals outside of government involvement, including anti-pandemic rallies as well as the distribution of pandemic-era free aid. Claims that “direct action” implies a violent intent have been laughed out of court, most recently in Charlottesville. Sines v. Kessler decision
Seamus Hughes, deputy director of the Program on Terrorism at George Washington University, gave this information. San Diego Union-Tribune that the Fascists have never been charged with a federal conspiracy.
“It’s fair to say that this (case) is unique in its prosecution and its charges,” Hughes wrote in an email. used a possible investigation into that allegation to secure federal search warrants against, but ultimately did not bring, criminal charges.”
Longtime Pacific Beach resident Mike Brown told Carless he was shocked by the violence in his neighborhood — and said the pro-Trump “patriots” were not your average political opponents.
“These guys weren’t just Trump supporters, a lot of them were Proud Boys—you know, wearing black and yellow,” Brown said. “I don’t know where they were from, but what bothered me about all this was that they came into our community and disrupted business, occupied the streets, created a lot of tension for the whole afternoon. And it wasn’t even that. A local grassroots movement.”
Carles’ investigation found that many of the people identified as victims by prosecutors had histories of involvement with white supremacist groups in the San Diego area. Two San Diego men have been identified as attending several MAGA rallies wearing shirts bearing the logo of the American Guard, a Proud Boys-adjacent group that recruits from the ranks of racist skinheads. The ADL describes them as “hard core white supremacists.”
The listed victims also include other Trump supporters, some still unidentified by prosecutors. Many other white supremacists present at the rally have also been identified by local opponents.
Additionally, these extremists were captured on several videos engaging in gang violence and unprovoked attacks, including on an African American man they cornered in a street.
The “Patriot March” violence erupted when several dozen black-clad anti-fascists appeared near Crystal Pier to protest. As in almost all such conflicts, it is unclear where the violence began. However, at least five people who had been at the Capitol three days earlier were among the crowd, and as The Daily Beast’s Kelly Weil noted, reporters that day described a typically complex confrontation in which the left- And both right-wing activists and the police were involved. . A reporter “was killed by a right-wing participant with a smoke grenade, and documented two Patriot March participants who were armed with a knife or a BB gun.”
Still, Stephen refuses to budge. “When the evidence and facts support criminal charges, we will file them, as we did in July 2020 with a white supremacist group that attacked peaceful Black Lives Matter protesters and when we accused a white supremacist. was charged with murder and hate crime for killing an innocent. Jewish woman at Chabad of Poway Synagogue in April 2019. We were convicted in both cases,” his office responded in a statement.
Legal experts point out how difficult his approach is. Former Chicago federal prosecutor Patrick Cotter told Carles, “When you get a situation where there are two organized groups that have decided to fight each other, and only one side is charged and the other side walks away. If it has to, it’s stupid,” Patrick Cotter, a former Chicago federal prosecutor, told Carles. . “It is an insult to the public’s intelligence to suggest that this is a legitimate trial. it’s not. This is selective prosecution. “
Stephen has previously pandered to the radical right, buying into their conspiracy. He offered far-right anti-Soros propaganda as part of the 2018 election campaign in which he won office for the first time, as Weil reports for The Daily Beast. His campaign paid for a website attacking his Democratic opponent, Genevieve Jones-Wright, as a pawn of Soros, who “favors law enforcement candidates over experienced prosecutors, trying to balance criminals.” .”
The website (since removed, but archived) was essentially a scrolling ad warning: “San Diego Public Safety Under Attack,” and then claiming: “Billionaire Social Activist George Soros Against Law Enforcement in San Diego brought his fight and he’s spending more than that. $1 million to support anti-law candidate Genevieve Jones-Wright for district attorney,” with Soros shaking hands against a backdrop of black-clad anti-fascists at a protest. With a photo.
In October 2018, when Stephen was confronted by a Times of San Diego reporter about a hate crime monitoring website organized by San Diego congregation Beth Israel following the massacre at a Pittsburgh synagogue a few days earlier, she turned around and left. , and his security detail blocked any further questions.
“Do you regret putting up a website that labels George Soros as your opponent’s funder?” the reporter asked him.
After Stephen left, his security detail stopped the reporter. But moments later, he was asked again: “Why did you remove that website?”
At that point, he was escorted to the outside porch by a bodyguard, who told the reporter: “We’re done here. This is a restricted area.”
Stephen’s belief that there were nefarious forces behind the leftist opposition never went away. In September 2020, The Times of San Diego reported that Stephens told a bench-bar media forum that the “waves” behind the protests that erupted across the country over the summer in the wake of the Minneapolis police killing of George Floyd, a black man. were Which went viral after being captured in the video.
“We’ve seen where there’s a peaceful protest going on and suddenly another group shows up with unlicensed plates, generators and water, and things aren’t going well,” Stephen said. Nefarious acts were being planned.” view.”
“Someone talked about breaking the true nature of the protestors, and that’s going on,” Stephen said. “There are movements that are not what you would think.”
In Kotter’s view, Stephen’s actions have irrevocably tainted his case—though if he should indeed succeed, his new strategy of identifying “direct action” as a plot of violence would be long overdue. There may be long-lasting consequences. He believes it all comes down to partisan motives.
“It’s about votes,” he said. “This is about politics. It’s about some prosecutor trying to burnish his brand, looking at voters, and saying ‘Who can I prosecute that will get me the most votes?’ And, ‘If I sue these other people, will it get me votes or cost me votes?'”
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