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Rose Henna is San Diego-based journalist focused on protest coverage. You can follow her work on Twitter here
San Diego has a history of far-right figureheads and political groups from Roger Ogden and his white nationalist website to the Justin Haskin’s Defend East County group. Recently a new white nationalist group in San Diego, American Coalition Party, gained a following and growing online presence. The group appears to promote an America First and White Nationalist Agenda by appealing to zealous patriotism.
Damien Russell the leader of the American Coalition Party became known in right wing circles after an act of vandalism.
“I found out about the “patriot march” on twitter when someone warned how their leader Damian Russell has previously destroyed George Floyd memorials in North Park and left white nationalist poster/stickers in the area,” a local antifascist activist wo wished to remain anonymous told LCRW.
“That type of nefarious hate under the guise of patriotism is unacceptable in Pacific Beach and everywhere. An attempt to make their hateful presence known and intimidate BIPOC lives will always be counter measured with people who stand for love and compassion in the community,” they said.
A thread on twitter by the handle @CVAgainstFash describes the vandalism and the process of discovering that Russell was responsible for it.
A flyer was posted on the ACP’s Instagram and twitter pages calling for a rally at the Pacific Beach Pier on Saturday September 26, 2020 at 12:00 PM. The flyer was removed from the party’s Instagram page after antifascists posted a counter-protest using the original image mockingly. Antifascists added text over it calling for counter protesters to arrive in black block to shut the rally down before it could get started.
At approximately 11:30 AM a group of about 20 anti-fascist protesters congregated at the boardwalk next to Crystal Pier. They were all in black clothing with their identities well hidden. They took turns passing around a bright orange poster that read “anti-racist action. No Nazis in PB. Passer- bys often stopped to read the sign and look at the activists dressed in all black. Some started dialogues with the activists who explained why they were there. Some passed by and raised a fist in solidarity while others shook their heads in disapproval and made comments such as “are you guys ninjas?” One biker read the sign and said, “there are never Nazis in PB.”
Robert L., San Diego local, shared his reason for showing up to counter protest.
“I have noticed fascism gaining traction in America, so when I heard that Neo Nazis would be demonstrating, I immediately thought of my children. As a father raising three young kids, a fascist future is one of the scariest things I can imagine, and that is straight where we are headed unless we stand up and fight back! People need to wake up and activate!” Robert L said.
ACP’s social media pages are filled with classical roman art as well as anti LGBTQ imagery such as pictures of people at gay pride parades with the words “America has lost its way.” Fascist groups have historically appropriated classic Roman art. In fact, the term ‘fascism’ came from the Roman fasces symbol.
Russell was seen walking with one companion past the counter protesters. He spoke into his phone seemingly for a voice text and said, “I advise you not to come,” according to an activist who wished to remain anonymous. “I could see him posting the message in a group chat,” they said.
Shortly after, a post on the ACP’s Instagram page announced the postponement of the event. Russell then went on Instagram live and claimed the counter protesters were armed with guns, a claim that could not be confirmed as police were present and video of the counter protesters was captured throughout the event with no guns in sight. The police passed the counter protesters on ATVs several times, but no contact was made.
Some counter protesters jeered as Russell walked by them Several people who walked by the counter protesters stopped to inquire as to why they were and what they were doing. A counter protestor who wished to remain anonymous said “I am here because I want to stand up against this racist group that want to make their presence known. I showed up before they did to show the community. We do not accept racism or oppressive ideologies.” Counter-protesters dispersed at approximately 1:30 PM without incident.
There was community support for the counter protest and a local resident donated $150 for lunch to the counter protesters. One activist used the money to buy burritos for the group. They all moved to De Anza Cove Park where they celebrated their success by sharing food, drinks, and recognition. An activist raised their red solo cup and addressed the group, saying “good work today guys.”
This successful counter protest landed on the same weekend as a rally in Yorba Linda where Black Lives Matter protesters and zealous Trump supporters faced off, resulting in violence and vehicular assault. One Facebook user in the Defend East County Conservatives group named Mick Florio posted “I was at the protest is Yorba Linda today and Represented the DEC. I busted my knuckle on an Antifa face, it is so worth the pain.” After seemingly admitting to assault in a public forum, Florio made a video where he spoke of the incident followed by a photo of his speaking to an officer while wearing gloves with reinforced knuckles, known cause serious injury if worn while assaulting a person. For more on the clash see this thread on Twitter by @desertborder.
Violence among Trump Supporters at Black Lives Matter Protests have become increasingly common. “These racist groups and Trumpers are violent towards us every time we march. So, we didn’t want to let them hold their fascist rally in Pacific Beach. We figured if we just showed up, they would go away, and it worked out,” an activist from Pacific Beach told LCRW.
Another antifascist activist described how the counter protest came together:
“It wasn’t that hard. My friend saw the American Coalition Party flyer through someone’s twitter page and asked me and other friends if we wanted to counter protest. One of us made a counter protest flyer. We blasted it out on social media and then started a group chat to coordinate it. We decided to dress in black block because we don’t want to get doxed by racists. We set a time to meet and then showed up. I think when you explain to people that a bunch of racists are holding a rally, they get energized to help and fight back.”