Violence erupted at a Make America Great Again rally in Huntington Beach on Saturday after an anti-President Trump protester allegedly doused the female organizer of the event with pepper spray, sparking a brawl that ended with several arrests.
A group of flag-waving Trump supporters tackled the man with the pepper spray, who was wearing a black mask, and started punching and kicking him, according to witnesses. Several other fights also broke out between demonstrators.
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The crowd chased the man, who jumped over a fence and started running along Pacific Coast Highway, where he was detained by California Highway Patrol officers.
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A handful of counter-protesters fled the scene.
Travis Guenther, whose wife was also pepper-sprayed, said he was among those who chased the masked man and hit him with a flag that said, “Trump, Make America Great Again.”
“I hit him five times with the flag over his head,” said Geunther, who yelled at the man as he was detained by law enforcement officials.
“How is your head?” he asked the man.
“Were not xenophobic,” Guenther said. “We’re not racist. We’re just proud Americans.”
Jennifer Sterling of Laguna Beach, the organizer who was hit with pepper spray, seemed unfazed by the incident, which involved a small number of protesters.
“It was a quick reaction,” she said. “There was about 12 of them.”
Sterling said the rally was not simply for Trump but also “a patriotic rally, celebrating first responders, military veterans, vice president and president.”
The dozen or so counter-demonstrators — including one who wore a patch that said, “Only You Can Resist Racists Liars” — were overwhelmed by Trump supporters. All refused to identify themselves, but one told a reporter that the group only used pepper spray after they were shoved and punched by their rivals.
But Steele Vaz, 17, of Huntington Beach said he saw masked people spray and punch Sterling and got in the middle to try and break it up.
“I was here to support [Trump] but I didn’t know it was going to be violent,” said Steele, who was there with his family. “They sprayed her. They were punching her.”
His mother Arlet Vaz said she was proud of her son’ actions.
“He did the right thing,” she said. “He’ll defend anybody.”
Vaz said this won’t stop the family from attending more pro-Trump rallies.
“There is even more reason to go,” she said.
Capt. Kevin Pearsall of California State Parks said six people were originally detained but only four were arrested. He said three men were arrested on suspicion of illegal use of a Taser, and one woman was arrested on suspicion of assault and battery. None of their names were immediately released.
Pearsall said all of those arrested were counter-demonstrators.
The noontime rally and march at Bolsa Chica State Beach drew several hundred flag-waving supporters of President Trump. It was one of about 40 affiliated events scheduled nationwide throughout the day.
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