A LOOK BEHIND THE RECENT NEO-NAZI BANNER FLOP IN COSTA MESA
May 4, 2022 by SEAN BECKNER-CARMITCHEL
Share this article:
A group of seven people began unfurling two Neo-Nazi banners above the 55 freeway in Costa Mesa, California on April 24th. In less time than it took to put them up, the group began to take the banners down after community members and reporters confronted them. Costa Mesa Police arrived shortly after, offering to assist with taking the banner down. The neo-Nazis present have connections to other white nationalist groups, but identified themselves as part of White Lives Matter (WLM) to LCRW. One was later recognized as Robert Wheldon, a member of both the Proud Boys and local neo-Nazi groups.
THE BANNER FLOP
Around 2PM, The group’s two banners were unfurled, with parts of both banners clinging to the overpass and blocking view of the full message for several minutes. One banner read “Honk If White Lives Matter,” and the URL for the California Chapter of White Lives Matter Telegram channel. The other attempted to display the “14 words,” of failed realtor-turned-Neovölkisch terrorist David Lane, who died in jail after being implicated in The Order’s assassination of talk-radio host Alan Berg.
It took the group nearly 15 minutes to unfurl their banners as counter-protestors and journalists arrived and watched. Two children were among the first to see them.
Once the banner was unfurled, LCRW approached the scene and Status Coup journalist Tina Desiree-Berg began confronting the group alongside two counter-protestors. Two men with WLM began arguing with the Status Coup reporter, while the other five slowly shuffled around the area quietly.
Internet sleuths were able to deduce the identity of participant Robert Bowen Wheldon within hours of the event. He’d already recently been identified by antifascist researchers utilizing a WLM promotional video. Pacific Antifascist Research Collective also identified Shaun Mulville, Juan Cadavid AKA Johnny Benitez and Michael Halahan III. Recognizing them was easy in part because they brought the same yellow ladder that they’d used to hang items in Thousand Oaks in March. Wheldon, who’s the administrator of the California WLM group on Telegram, was placed alongside many of the same faces at previous events, partly because he keeps wearing the same sunglasses.
Eventually, Costa Mesa police arrived and asked the group “who put the signs up.” When Wheldon volunteered by saying “I did.” Police had Wheldon walk several feet away. As the officer motioned toward the ground and Wheldon sat down while saying “I’ve been through this with you guys before.” The police officer asked if Wheldon “could take the mask off so I can see you,” and Wheldon declined by saying “I cannot. It’s COVID.” Wheldon then declined to identify who was with him or show the police identification repeatedly, saying “I’m not giving my name to you in front of those people” then gesturing towards the reporters. Eventually Costa Mesa Police told Wheldon’s group they must remove the banners. Wheldon called an LCRW reporter “communist trash.” An officer assisted WLM with their banner removal and allowed them to leave with it.
A videographer with WLM attempted to block both LCRW and Desiree-Berg from taking video by putting her hand in the way until police shouted at both to “walk away, separate.” When Berg told the woman to go in the other direction, several in the group began yelling that “they were here first.” Frustrated, the group began walking away as Wheldon asked police to prevent LCRW from continuing to follow them while asking questions.
While walking away, one Costa Mesa resident approached the group to high five them and suggest that “they gotta do that at night.” WLM’s videographer for the day confirmed that they were calling themselves “White Lives Matter” for the day. As the group left, their videographer attempted to block LCRW from filming the group leaving the scene. Seemingly not noticing one of their members had stopped following them, the rest of the group continued walking away for several blocks.
The videographer claimed she was upset that she was being filmed. The man who high-fived WLM participants asked her if she was safe. Seeming visibly distressed and nearly hyperventilating, she claimed she had been “isolated on the sidewalk,” as her group continued walking away out of viewing distance. Eventually, Wheldon appeared to realize that he had left one of the WLM members (and a banner) and pretended to rush towards an LCRW reporter. Wheldon shouted obscenities, threatened a counter-protestor and finally left with the group.
Robert Wheldon’s affiliations are a web of interconnected groups and right wing extremist beliefs. They and his life are worth examining. Wheldon circled in and out of various right wing groups over the last several years, joining the Proud Boys and getting to the “third degree” by tattooing himself, harassing San Diego Black Lives Matter activists alongside Defend East County in December of 2020, calling a Chicano man an invader while hanging banners WLM with members of neo-Nazi fight clubs, hanging anti-Semitic Goyim Defense League banners with GDL’s Robert Frank Wilson, becoming an admin on the “White Lives Matter California” chat, and appearing on neo-Nazi Chris Pohlhaus’ “Hammerstream” podcast.
Wheldon has had a hard time staying out of legal trouble over the years. His rap sheet includes “Assault by Means Likely to Produce Great Bodily Injury**,** Petty Theft, Grand Theft, Bringing Drugs Into A Jail Or Prison, Trespassing, and Possession Of Burglary Tools,” according to online records. Many of the charges were accrued in just a few years between 2014 and 2016.
In the hopes of documenting Wheldon’s radicalization, LCRW reached out to people that have known him in the past as well as Wheldon himself. Wheldon did not answer phone or email requests from LCRW nor did family members and close friends that LCRW attempted to reach.
LCRW contacted Vallejo Electric, who briefly employed Wheldon. A manager at the company who declined to give his name told LCRW that it’s been frustrating receiving calls and questions about Wheldon over the last few weeks since he was identified.
“As you can see on my Yelp page, it’s bringing me into this. He doesn’t even work for me. When someone helps you out work-related, you don’t know anything about people you hire,” the manager said.
The Vallejo Electric manger told LCRW that Wheldon worked several times as a general laborer no earlier than 2019. Wheldon didn’t work for him in any official capacity, and the manager described him as a “general laborer” and “dirt mover” that only helped him out a few times. When asked if he was a good employee, Rick described him repeatedly as “nice.”
The Vallejo Electric manager would not comment positively on the quality of Wheldon’s work. He didn’t appear to see any warning signs from Wheldon, describing him as “one of the nicest people I ever met.”
“And do White Lives Matter? Don’t All Lives Matter? It’s okay to have a Black Lives Matter group, but not a White Lives Matter group?” the manager then asked LCRW.
When told, however, about Wheldon’s use of neo-Nazi imagery and rhetoric, the manager seemed less inclined to defend him.
“I’m sort of questioning things…” he said.
“I know these groups have all kinds of people in them; not agreeing on everything?” he said.
Costa Mesa has had high profile issues in addition to WLM banners. Local high school students had arranged red solo cups in the shape of a Swastika during a party in 2019. Nearby Lyon Air Museum features a six-wheeled Mercedes-Benz touring car that was used by Adolf Hitler complete with its original bullet-proof glass and pistol holsters. In 1998, many prominent community members publicly defended Costa Mesa resident Martin H. Millard’s writing for the Council of Conservative Citizens, spouting hateful rhetoric against interracial marriage and other racist views. In March of 2021 Costa Mesa resident Johnny Santos Moreno repeatedly hit a transgender woman with a skateboard while hurling an anti-gay slur. He received a jail sentence of six months after his plea deal resulted in hate crime sentencing enhancements being dropped by District Attorney Todd Spitzer.
The community response to the event within Costa Mesa seemed reserved after the banner drop. Arlis Reynolds, the District 5 Councilmember in Costa Mesa stated that she “asked our chiefs to follow up” via Twitter. Costa Mesa Mayor John Stephens told LCRW that “on Sunday I got a photograph of the banner and our police chief had a patrol officer remove it. That’s the only thing I really know about it. I don’t know who put it up or how long it was there or anything.” Mayor Stephens promised to follow up with more information, but as of writing has not.
White Lives Matter’s official event schedule lists their next day of action as May 14th, 2022.