Police in Anaheim, California, have released five members of the Ku Klux Klan who were arrested during a bloody brawl Saturday, saying that videos from the confrontation that were posted online showed the Klansmen were acting in self-defense.
Three people were stabbed in the scuffle that broke out near a planned KKK rally at a park in Anaheim Saturday afternoon.
In all, a dozen people were arrested following the melee, including one Klan member who was accused of stabbing a counter-protester with a flagpole, Anaheim Police Sergeant Daron Wyatt said.
On Sunday, police put out a statement announcing that they have released five of the 12 people who were detained at the rally after interviewing dozens of witnesses and poring over videos and still photos of the clash.
The press release from the Anaheim Police Department states that those images ‘offer clear evidence’ that the five KKK members who were arrested Saturday were acting in self-defense.
One video recorded during the brawl and later posted on YouTube shows presumed KKK members dressed in black being attacked by counter-protesters during the rally.
The graphic footage shows one man being surrounded by a group of people holding anti-KKK signs and stomped after being hurled to the ground.
Another portion of the recording shows an African-American man punching a Klan member and slamming him against a parked SUV.
At one point, a rally participant sporting KKK insignia on his clothing is seen wielding a flag pole as a weapon in an apparent attempt to defend himself as a clutch of angry protesters close in on him.
Later in the video, a man cries ‘I got stabbed,’ lifting his T-shirt to show a wound to his stomach. A fire hydrant where the man briefly sat was covered in blood.
According to police, the melee was instigated by 10-20 people, the vast majority of them out-of-towners, who came out to the park ‘with the intent of perpetrating violence.’
‘Regardless of an individual or groups’ beliefs or ideologies, they are entitled to live without the fear of physical violence and have the right, under the law, to defend themselves when attacked,’ the APD statement read.
Officials said police officers were present during the KKK rally and had a plan in place to engage more officers if necessary.
The press release goes on to say that additional police units were on the scene within 1 minute and 36 seconds of the first report of violence.
Law enforcement officials also revealed that a teenager who was released on Saturday after the brawl was re-arrested Sunday on a charge of assault with a deadly weapon after investigators reviewed video that allegedly captured the suspect taking part in the violence.
Though the five Klan members were released Sunday, prosecutors will review the case and decide whether to file criminal charges, he said.
Five members of the KKK group, four men and one woman, were arrested on suspicion of assault with a deadly weapon in connection to the stabbings before police decided to let them go citing video showing they were ‘clearly attacked’, Wyatt told Daily Mail Online.
The seven counter-protesters who remained in custody were booked for assault with a deadly weapon or elder abuse for stomping on a Klan member who’s older than 65 years old.
Police are still trying to identify a suspect who is wanted for suspicion of assault with force likely to cause great bodily injury.
‘Even if the vast majority of our community disagrees with a particular group who visits our city we cannot stop them from lawfully gathering to express their opinions,’ Police Chief Raul Quezada said in a release.
‘Violence is not acceptable, and we will arrest anybody who assaults another person or commits any other crime in our city.’
Anaheim Police said they were aware of both the planned KKK protest as well as the counter protest on Saturday.
Suspects originally taken into custody included Charles Edward Donner, 51, of San Francisco, who has been identified as the Klan member who stabbed a counter-protester with a flagpole;Nicole Rae Schop, 24, of Los Angeles, booked on an elder abuse charge; Marquis DeShawn Turner, 20, of Anaheim, charged with assault with a deadly weapon; Randy Omarcc Felder, 25, of Lakewood, charged with assault with a deadly weapon; Mark Anthony Liddell, 26, of Los Angeles, charged with elder abuse; Guy Harris, 19, charged with assault with a deadly weapon; and Hugo Contreras, 38, resident of Hawthorne charged with elder abuse.
At one point during Saturday’s scuffle, the Klan leader was apparently saved by a Jewish man who attended the rally as an observer and who pushed the Klansman away from the crowd as the violence escalated.
Brian Levin, director of California State University, San Bernardino’s Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism said he asked the Klansman: ‘How does it feel that your life was just saved by a Jewish man?’ The man replied ‘thank you,’ according to Levin.
Three people were wounded in the ensuing confrontation, noting the most seriously wounded of the victims was stabbed with a flag pole that had an American eagle finial on at the top.
That person was taken to a local hospital’s trauma center in critical condition, which was later upgraded to stable.
Other victims, who are all believed to be counter-protesters, were stabbed or cut with a knife, according to Wyatt.
He said the altercation took place as soon as several Klan members arrived at Pearson Park in Anaheim, about 35 miles southeast of Los Angeles, for a planned rally there.
Several witnesses said a peaceful counter-protest had been under way for about three hours in the park a mile north of Disneyland when the Klansmen arrived in a black sport utility vehicle.
The SUV pulled up and three men got out and began to unload signs when the group of about 30 counter-protesters ran over, yelling and throwing sticks, witnesses said.
‘Three people were stabbed by the fire hydrant,’ said Darren Simpson, 49. ‘These Klan guys were fighting for their lives.’
As violence continued to erupt, some of the protesters were seen kicking a man wearing a shirt that read ‘Grand Dragon’, before one of the counter-protesters was seen collapsing on the ground, bleeding. He was crying that he had been stabbed.
A Klansman who was handcuffed told a police officer that he ‘stabbed him in self defense,’ according to the Los Angeles Times.
Chris Barker, who identified himself as the ‘imperial wizard’ of the Loyal White Knights of the KKK, said his members were defending themselves during a peaceful anti-immigration demonstration when violence broke out.
He added: ‘If we’re attacked we will attack back.’
Witness Kobe Sato, 18, told the Times that a crowd surrounded the Klan members when they showed up at the park and started displaying Confederate flags.
Levin said he was next to the man in the Grand Dragon shirt when protesters attacked the Klansmen carrying weapons.
‘As soon as they got out of their vehicle, immediately they were attacked by counter-protesters and this caused a melee down the block,’ Wyatt said.
The Klan members attempted to get back into the car as it sped off, leaving them behind, said Dion Garcia, 37.
He said the angry mob chased the Klansmen down the block, yelling ‘Get out of here! You’re not welcome!’
‘It was crazy,’ he said, adding: ‘A lot of us were trying to break it up. This was not necessary, they should’ve just let the Klan protest. This is America, we have free speech.’
During the brawl, one of the Klansmen was knocked to the ground and kicked, according to Levin. His arm was later seen bleeding.
Levin, who said he feared the Klansmen would be stomped to death, said he helped to Klansmen get away from the violent crowd.
‘I helped two Klansmen get out of the way,’ he said as he headed to the police station to give his witness statement.
‘I told the crowd: ‘Dr (Martin Luther) King wouldn’t approve of this, please don’t harm these men.”
Levin noted prior to the brawl he saw no uniformed police at the park.
Anaheim police had notified the public about the planned KKK protest Friday and said they would be ‘monitoring the situation for any violations of law.’
The department also said that while the group’s signs and fliers might be controversial, they are protected by the First Amendment.
Sgt. Daron Wyatt said police were present when violence erupted.
The Klan, known for their white robes and peaked hoods often worn by its members, has a long history of violence toward African-Americans, Jews and other groups, according the Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks hate groups in the United States.
The Klan was founded after the abolition of slavery in the U.S. South in the mid-19th century and has evolved in recent years into a collection of loosely affiliated or independent groups that share a political philosophy based on racial separation.
The Southern Poverty Law Center estimated the group has between 5,000 and 8,000 members across the country, according to the Times.
The KKK has a long history in Southern California, with Klansmen holding elected office in Anaheim in the 1920s.
Most recently the KKK made national headlines when a former KKK leader, David Duke, said he backed Donald Trump for the Republican presidential nomination.
Trump rejected Duke’s support and on Friday a man wearing a shirt reading ‘KKK endorses Trump,’ was ejected from a Trump campaign rally in Oklahoma.