Editorial | Violence Hits Home: News Staff ‘Trumped’ With Threats

What started as proper news coverage of a presidential rally, turned into threats on my life.

“Do you wanna die today?”

So much for providing decent news coverage to those seeking to have their voices heard loud and clear.

Is that the phrase you want representing ‘your side’?

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Full disclosure, there is no sugarcoating what was representative of the Pro-Trump MAGA protests that occurred on January 6 at city hall in downtown Los Angeles.

‘If you represent the media, you are the enemy.’ That was the message made abundantly clear. The duties as a photojournalist do not bestow carte blanche, but don’t be mistaken, even solely as a citizen you are within your rights to document in a public place.

I and many others had gotten a taste of the disdain associated with MAGA zealots covering the rallies that occurred in South Pasadena in November. Other residents were assaulted and harassed, resulting in public outcry over what was largely considered a gross misrepresentation of our city.

The confirmation bias and irregularly high lack of self-awareness that comes with this group is unnerving. Reading this story might give the impression of bias against the legions of anti-maskers, Proud Boys, and militants that descended upon us with feverish hatred.

Literally every 5 minutes I was asked who I was and who I represented. I responded to one specifically belligerent individual who demanded I don’t take photos with, “what if I were independent?” to which he replied “don’t be a smartass.” He then informed me to walk away or face consequences, after heeding his defensive request I heard them call me a “pussy”. Good one. 

“If you’re not out of here in 30 seconds, you’ll have 30 guys on you.” That is verbatim what was told to me by a man clad in paramilitary gear.

The fact that I was immediately harassed for taking a photo — scratch that, for even holding a camera — only to have 40-50 people swarm you eventually, is disconcerting. Mine was not an isolated incident.

One counter protester, a young black woman, was physically assaulted. She was pepper sprayed and physically restrained. Her wig was removed, only later to have it waved triumphantly in the air, displayed as a trophy by the Trump supporters. Police stood by and did nothing.

It’s heartrending to observe the type of mentality that deems it necessary to apply overwhelming use of force against one person. To pepper spray her, humiliate her, to emotionally scar her.

The mob mentality is real. As violence was celebrated and victims cried, families and “good Americans” cheered — claimants to non-existent victories who sat with complicity only 50 feet away, willfully ignorant of their peers’ disgusting behavior.

My colleague commented on how surprisingly fast the groups assembled to drive us and others out. He too was relentlessly accosted for doing his job. He then witnessed the mob swarm me from across the street.

Two officers at one point made eye contact with me as I had a crowd of people harassing me and making death threats. The cops still remained idle.

All who did not associate with the MAGA marchers were accused of being antifa, a loose term that describes the typically left-leaning groups who identify as anti-facist. Phrases like “fuck antifa”, “fuck fake news”, and “fuck you communist” were aggressively yelled in our faces to the extent that they became hoarse. Many more slurs were hurled at others.

You may think this is an exaggeration, but it is not.

After the fact, my colleague earnestly told me that — prior to the confrontation — he had no idea what antifa meant. After explaining it, he then, in all sincerity, quipped “Well that doesn’t sound that bad at all.” I’m inclined to believe the same. A cursory look into the meaning of the word reveals that it’s an umbrella term that doesn’t apply to any singular organization, oftentimes misconstrued as some monolithic, evil group, much like how the Black Lives Matter movement is perceived by its detractors.

Allegedly, some of those who directed threats towards me — and I reiterate, for taking photos of them — know who The South Pasadenan News is. News circulates fast and the way some of these groups operate is efficient. There’s a possibility this may be seen by the very same people who threatened me, which may or may not exacerbate the status of my safety. They may roll their eyes as they see this as a prime example that my predisposition was already set against them.

We all collectively saw examples that this binary way of thinking has led to dangerous, real-world consequences. The senate floor was stormed, armed individuals climbed the walls of the nation’s capitol. People died for a cause they believed in, instilled by a despot who clearly does not care about them. To them this is war and they want that to be known. ‘The silent majority’ complacently watched the civil struggles over the summer and are now witnessing the culmination of ill will gestated in a cesspool of reactionary thought.

I’m also finding it very difficult to process how the same group of people who wave ‘Don’t Tread on Me’ flags and tout rhetoric in line with ‘We don’t negotiate with terrorists’ don’t recognize that the forced censorship of media (and fellow Americans), by way of physical threats and extortion, parallels (and can constitute as) domestic terrorism.

Despise the above statement if you must, but there’s nothing controversial about this perspective. The insurgence witnessed by cities all over this nation was perpetrated by American citizens seeing red. It begs the question, how many of these people will be prosecuted for treasonous and unlawful behavior? A secondary question was more importantly raised by activists; if these were BLM protesters, would they have even made it past the stairs of the capitol? I think it’s a safe bet to say in that scenario there would’ve been a substantial body count.

However, I tried. I tried to be civil and non-confrontational. I actually honored some requests by some not to have their photos taken. I even apologized to a couple of the men who eventually threatened me, seeking some diplomacy. I didn’t have to.

Criticize me if you will for generalizing, but there was not one, single moment that any one of the participants remotely condemned these egregious acts. One person tried to save face by protecting me from the mob. I’ll give credit where it’s due, he was a Trump supporter, and I thank you.

To the very few people who had the tiny modicum of decency, enough to hold a civil conversation, I am sorry. I’m sorry that this is the the image of what you believe in.

But the apologies stop there.

I was approached by two men who forcefully told me to promptly delete photos I had taken of a woman walking away from the crowd who pepper-sprayed the counter-protester. I now know why they were so aggressive, as she was one of the main assailants. Looking back on my sd card however, I was able to pull shots of that same woman in group photos. This is a blatant example of attempting to control the optics, which also seems to be an indication of the fact that somewhere, deep down, these people know there is something wrong about this.

The visuals speak for themselves. At the end of the day, documentation and reporting will still expose the truth in one form or another. It knows no allegiance.

For a group that is heavily concerned with acts of censorship, it’s odd to see them promote the very thing they say they are against.

Reporters oftentimes pride themselves on facts and objectivity. However, there is no journalistic nirvana, everything can be argued as being biased. But this is the objective truth; I, nor my colleague, nor any of the victims I observed antagonized anyone. We were harassed unprovoked, were were threatened with no protection offered by authorities who stood only feet away.

For what?

I wanted to be compassionate and fair, in spite of my own personal political leanings.

But

If you support our outgoing president, by association, you support: conspiracy theories that have wrongfully been given credence; militant groups who are both emboldened and feel they can function above the law; and a very dogmatic philosophy of ‘us vs. them’.

I tried giving the benefit of the doubt, but I cannot rationalize the actions of the aggressors and the indifference their companions.

No more. I’ve made it quite clear before that I am an ally in many respects; for Black Lives Matter, for LGBTQ+ rights, for homeless advocacy, for indigenous rights, for animal rights.

So why then, does that make us your enemy? Why are you threatened and angry by the idea that social and civil rights should be available for more groups? Why do you feel the need to disparage someone who strives to be more compassionate?

You may see this as victimization. I’m writing this to tell exactly what happened this day, to document it first-hand. Fortunately some people filmed these confrontations, hopefully those videos are lingering somewhere out there online, to be added to the extensive library of similar incidents.

If you’ve read my catalogue of coverage from the protests over the summer, you may see where I may stand on these issues. I was in Downtown LA in the wake of George Floyd’s death — when the national guard was called in, when the shots were fired and windows were broken on Spring and 5th.

I witnessed assaults by public servants perpetrated against citizens fighting for justice. Where were those meant to protect and serve on this day?

Officers in Downtown LA during the BLM protests arrested photographers, journalists, and protesters over seemingly nothing, for infractions as minuscule as staying out past curfew. They doled out use-of-force like it was going out of fashion. The press was not exempt from this. Contrasted with Wednesday’s events, the police did nothing to prevent violence precipitated by Trump supporters, who waved ‘Back the Blue’ flags.

I was also there when the local BLM chapter stood on the corner of Mission and Fair Oaks on June 1st, here in South Pasadena. Not once was I threatened or interrogated. Either in Los Angeles or in South Pasadena, people spoke to me, they helped me understand their stories. I thank them for that and I am proud to call some of them my friends.

What these Trump supporters fail to realize is that, in spite of our differences, they had the opportunity to do the same. We could’ve reached diplomacy, I could’ve told your story. Instead, you took my presence as a threat, you made me your enemy without even knowing me, as you have with many others.

This was a sad day for Americans for so many reasons.

One group of young Trump supporters glibly asked, “Why do you do this? Does taking photos of us get you off? Do you get pleasure from this?”

“No, it’s just my job,” is what I said. But it is more than that. It’s necessary to tell the stories of humanity’s struggles, of the fights being fought day in and day out. I do not get any gratification from witnessing fellow human beings act so abhorrently towards one another. I don’t receive any satisfaction having to relive those moments while writing, as I comb through the hundreds of photos, as I listen to the interviews with people who are hurting.

It was so very courageous to assemble a large crowd and physically assault a lone woman, to threaten photographers working for a small town publication, to champion violence over reason.

For those who continue to fight against these injustices, I am always with you. Even as I hesitate to publish this in the midst of death threats — some telling me they’ll “find me” — I know I’m not alone. This is the same set of threats hurled at so many others and to an even higher degree in cases other than my own.

The world is watching us and they are taken aback. Fitting that an administration that has consistently proven to be anti-democratic has been punctuated by the extreme acts of separatist nationalism veiled as patriotism.

Let’s not forget the behaviors that took place in the wake of this New Year.

PHOTOS by Eric Fabbro and Esteban Lopez | The South Pasadenan News 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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Eric Fabbro is a South Pasadenan whose family goes back to the 1950's. He graduated SPHS 2008, and Art Center College of Design in 2014. His versatile skill-set includes illustration, digital media, graphic design & photography. Eric is the in-house illustrator for The South Pasadenan, and the creator of our South Pasadenan icon logo. His work has been shown in galleries throughout the Los Angeles area.