As anti-Trump protesters crowded between the marker for Route 66′s westernmost point and the bright blue police station on Santa Monica Pier on Saturday afternoon, the latest violent political attack unfolded steps from the California beach.
Police announced Sunday that they arrested David Nicholas Dempsey, 32, on felony charges for allegedly violating his parole, using a prohibited tear gas weapon and assaulting the crowd with a caustic chemical, KTLA reported.
“It was these f---ing libtards over here, man,” the California man, in a short-sleeve button-down shirt with a marijuana-leaf print, told police in video captured at the protest. “These commies — I didn’t do anything.”
Saturday’s march was planned by an anti-Trump group called Refuse Fascism, which has partnered with the Revolutionary Communist Party and other leftist organizations to plan nonviolent protests since the 2016 election. Refuse Fascism advocates for the removal of the Trump administration, including Vice President Pence and the president’s Cabinet, and launched a pro-impeachment campaign called “Out Now” on Saturday.
The group said dozens of activists gathered on the beach in the early afternoon holding multicolored fabric to spell out “Trump-Pence #OutNow!” Then, the group marched along the boardwalk and onto the Santa Monica Pier to hold a rally.
A small group of Trump supporters followed the leftist protesters to the pier. The groups exchanged insults for about 10 minutes, police told the Los Angeles Times, before shoving one another and screaming obscenities.
“Everything went to crap,” Santa Monica Police Sgt. D. Hicks, who did not give his full name, told the newspaper.
That’s when Dempsey pulled out the bear spray, video shows.
“At least 10 other people got directly pepper sprayed in the face,” a writer for the Revolutionary Communist Party wrote in a post recounting the incident.
Two other pro-Trump supporters grabbed one man from the crowd and held him on the ground, against the sandy wooden planks of the pier. Video shows Dempsey running up to the man and spraying bear repellent into his face as the other men hold him down. Then, Dempsey and another Trump supporter quickly walk away.
Police cornered Dempsey shortly after the incident, detaining him in an alcove in front of the police substation on the pier, just steps from where the attack unfolded.
Dempsey and another protester, who told police he was Dempsey’s brother, said they had been attacked by the Refuse Fascism crowd. Protesters denied that story to police, offering to show them video of Dempsey spraying people after running up to the group from a few feet away.
“Why am I being penned up when you’ve got all these people who attacked us?” Dempsey said to a police officer who questioned him while onlookers recorded the conversation. When an officer moved to place Dempsey in handcuffs, he complained, “Why do you have to put me in handcuffs?” and again blamed the attack on “commies.”
In its post recounting the incident, the Revolutionary Communist Party said that several people were hurt as people scrambled out of the way of the fiery spray and that one protester may have broken her arm in the chaos. Police said no protesters suffered severe injuries, although some were treated for exposure to the bear spray.
A Facebook account that appears to belong to Dempsey regularly insults liberals and celebrates Trump. Some posts spread conspiracy theories about mass shootings, and two posts from August criticized Trump for statements he made supporting “red flag” laws after 22 people were shot and killed at an El Paso Walmart.
California has seen several violent street attacks and alleged terrorist plots motivated by politics since the 2016 election, as far-right groups have targeted West Coast cities seen as liberal strongholds and left-wing activists have taken to the streets to protest the Trump administration.
Antifascists in black tussled with far-right groups in Berkeley, Calif., in 2017, and vocal opposition led right-wing groups to cancel protests in the San Francisco Bay area. Several hate groups have become increasingly active in the state, targeting leftist activists and holding public demonstrations. In April, the FBI arrested a San Fernando Valley man who planned to bomb a right-wing protest in Long Beach, Calif., as revenge for a massacre in March at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand.
The bear spray attack on Saturday showed the continued danger of extremist political violence, advocates say.
“Saturday’s desperate violence by remnants of Trump’s tattered alt-right coalition is another example of why city leaders and law enforcement need to continue take these attacks on community safety seriously,” Eric Ward, executive director of the Western States Center, a nonprofit that works to counter far-right extremism, said in a statement to The Washington Post. “These individuals must be held responsible for intentionally sowing chaos and violence in communities.”
Dempsey has a “fairly extensive” criminal record, police told the L. A. Times. KTLA reported that the Southern California man had been previously convicted of burglary twice, as well as larceny and conspiracy. Police said he was on parole on Saturday and would have been prohibited from possessing bear repellent or similar tear gas weapons because of his status as a felon.
Police told the Associated Press that a second man may have also attacked the anti-Trump crowd with pepper spray on Saturday. Investigators said they are still analyzing video of the clash to identify the other suspect.
Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Office records show that Dempsey is being held in jail without bond. His arraignment is scheduled for Tuesday.