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Far-right media stoked outrage that led to the LA spa protest

Activists arrived outside Westlake’s Wi Spa on Saturday morning, with some bracing for the worst.

Several wore helmets and cycling vests with additional padding. NWA’s “F— Tha Police” and Kendrick Lamar’s “Alright” filled the air.

They were greeted by far-right extremists who in recent weeks had turned a debate over transgender access to a Korean spa into a rallying cry.

It didn’t take long for the dueling protests to dissolve in disarray.

In the end, the LAPD had used projectiles and batons and arrested 40 people – most of them for not dispersing. Several said they were injured by the police.

“I knew it was going to be violent. I didn’t know it was going to end like this, ”said Jessica Rogers, a 31-year-old woman who came to document the event and support transgender rights and who was among those arrested.

In the process, the police are faced with the question of whether the officers used excessive force. But the incident also revealed the power of a viral video that caught the attention of the right-wing press and social media.

The spa has become the latest hotspot in clashes between far-right and left-wing groups in Los Angeles, started by video taken by an angry customer in late June.

The video showed a woman arguing with Wi Spa employees after she said she saw a client with male genitals in a female-only area. The Wilshire Boulevard facility includes gender-separated areas with changing rooms and Jacuzzis.

The footage was quickly amplified by an international network of right-wing activists, experts and media, including Breitbart, the Gateway Pundit, RealClearPolitics and TheBlaze, a publication founded by Glenn Beck. Discussion forums where anti-trans activists congregate, including Mumsnet, have received thousands of comments.

The spa told The Times on Monday that it was required to follow California law that prohibits companies from discriminating against customers based on race, gender, identity or gender expression.

“Like many other metropolitan areas, Los Angeles is home to a transgender population, some of whom enjoy visiting a spa,” he said in a statement, adding that the spa “strives to meet the needs and safety of all its customers “.

Brian Levin, director of the Nonpartisan Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at Cal State San Bernardino, said the protests are indicative of a “democratization of hate” that has enabled groups to extreme right wing with a variety of ideologies to come together around flash-point events after they have been amplified online and in conservative media.

“The lightning rod that occurs on social networks… is then launched like a catapult by influencers, then turns into violence in the streets,” he said.

The woman who filmed the video and many people on the right presented the issue as one of the protection of women and children. Some on social media have wrongly demeaned transgender people in terms of “perversion” or pedophilia, and the idea of ​​protecting children has become a rallying cry for online conspiracy theorists. Levin, the extremist researcher, said fear and discomfort over changing sex and gender norms has long underpinned far-right beliefs.

Saturday’s incident follows another day of dueling protests near the spa earlier this month. Ahead of the second, LAPD deputy chief Al Labrada said threats on social media from both sides called for violence.

“The social media chatter called for violence, revenge, ‘be prepared,’” Labrada said. “When you see this type of chatter, the intention is not to protest peacefully, to express concerns about LGBTQ issues.”

About 50 to 80 people, including members of the far-right Proud Boys, Labrada said, walked to the spa around 11 a.m. He said officials positioned themselves between the two groups at Coronado Street and Wilshire Boulevard after the fighting began.

Labrada said people on both sides were armed with weapons, including knives and bats.

“It was a potential for mass injury, mass carnage, due to the intention of the two groups to clash on Wilshire Boulevard,” he said.

An illegal rally – announced via megaphones and text alerts to locals – was declared at 11:07 a.m. Labrada said officers fired 40-millimeter projectiles and bean bullets at preparing protesters. to throw or who had thrown objects at agents.

“There must be a threat to the officers,” he said. “In this case, there was. There were water bottles, smoke bombs, stones thrown at the officers.

But several people who attended the protest provided a very different account, describing minimal violence between the two groups and claiming that the LAPD used excessive force against the counter-protesters.

Lawyer Christian Contreras said he was preparing to file at least 10 complaints against the police department alleging excessive force and violations of 1st Amendment rights, including cases of protesters he said were shot dead at close range and struck with batons when they posed no threat to the officers.

Among those he represents is documentary filmmaker Vishal Singh.

Singh, 28, said he was standing in the middle of Coronado Street filming the protest when a police officer started pushing him back with a baton, repeatedly telling him to step onto the sidewalk.

“Are you serious?” Singh said. According to Singh’s footage, the officer replied, “I’m serious – on the sidewalk. This is our street. Get on the sidewalk.

The video shows Singh, wearing a white t-shirt and black helmet, quickly walking backwards and filming. Singh walked behind a parked car and on the sidewalk to film officers who he said were wielding batons at protesters. He said an officer leaned into the back of the parked car and, with “both hands on his bat as if it were a baseball bat,” swung his right arm, fracturing a joint in his hand and two of his fingers.

The x-ray of her pinky finger, Singh said, looks like “a cup where you dropped it and put all the pieces back together.”

Labrada declined to comment on the incident until authorities had finished examining camera footage worn on the body.

Unlike the first Wi Spa demonstration on July 3, where protesters from the right and the left fought in the streets, on Saturday there was “no moment when the right and left really collided”, Singh said. The police, he said, “were really focused on their separation.”

Sean Beckner-Carmitchel, a freelance journalist, also said the clashes he saw were almost exclusively between counter-protesters and the police. Carmitchel, 34, said he saw counter-demonstrators throwing a smoke bomb at the officers and two more bombs in the far-right crowd.

Bamby Salcedo, president and CEO of Los Angeles-based TransLatina Coalition, called the protests “unfortunate.”

“We are just above a previous administration that inflicted so much violence on our community. Obviously, there are conservatives and extremists who are mad because they no longer have that power, ”said Salcedo. “This is the type of situation that creates and incites violence. “

Reached by phone on Monday, the woman who filmed the viral video that sparked the protests said she had been going to Korean spas for almost 20 years but had never met an undressed transgender person before. She found herself “stunned” and “traumatized” to see a person with male genitals on the women’s side of the facility come out of a shower.

The woman asked to be identified as “Angel”, not her first name, as she said she had received death threats. Angel said she had never been involved in political activism before, and that she and Marc Little, a prominent black conservative pastor, are now calling for revisions to California’s civil rights law, which prohibits businesses to discriminate against gender identity or gender expression – a provision added in 2011.

Angel said she hadn’t attended any of the protests and “absolutely” didn’t want to see anyone injured, but was not surprised by the clashes.

“Whenever good and evil meet, there will be violence,” she said.

The fight spilled over onto Wi Spa’s latest Facebook post. A few enthusiastic comments in English, Spanish and Tagalog about the spa reopening were quickly drowned out by more than 2,200 comments from Facebook accounts in Illinois, Texas, Georgia, England and Australia that accused the spa of do not protect women and facilitate pedophilia.

A woman who posted a week ago asking if the spa was open for business received a response from a man in Utah who wrote, “Not for very long! They made their bed polluted and now they have to sleep in their own sinful mud.

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