A rightwing group that had vowed to stage weeks of protests against California’s best-known African American member of Congress, Maxine Waters, was a no-show at its own demonstration as activists thronged to offer their support outside Waters’ district office in south Los Angeles.
The Oath Keepers, founded in 2009 in reaction to the election of America’s first black president, and described by the Southern Poverty Law Center as one of the country’s largest anti-immigrant and anti-government groups, had targeted Waters because of her encouragement of anti-Trump activists who refused service to cabinet members and White House aides at restaurants and other businesses.
Donald Trump slammed Waters on Twitter last month, calling her an “extraordinarily low IQ person” who meant to do his supporters harm. The Oath Keepers appeared to be happy to follow his lead.
“We invite all patriotic supporters of the constitution to join us in standing up against leftist attempts to impede the securing of our borders through intimidation and terrorism,” the group posted online.
Fearing the worst, Waters’ staff vacated the district office and Waters herself put out a statement discouraging counter-protests, for fear that they could turn violent. Nevertheless, about a hundred people – an eclectic mix of self-styled revolutionaries, Black Lives Matter activists, Democratic party supporters, religious groups and peace advocates – stood guard outside the locked office building with anti-Trump banners and signs that read: “Don’t Mess With Our Queen Maxine.”
The Oath Keepers told the police shortly before their protest was due to begin that they were pulling out. But several counter-protesters remained hot-headed, with confrontations coming close to physical violence.
A news reporter suspected of being a rightwing provocateur was chased across a busy street. He jumped into a car and drove off at high speed. A second man in a polo shirt had fingers jabbed into his face and was escorted away, even though he insisted he was a Waters supporter.
When a flatbed truck with a large American flag in the back pulled up outside the office, activists spat at the driver and his passenger, threw water and eggs at them, and grabbed the flag, which they then burned to chants of: “One two three four, slavery, genocide and war. Five six seven eight, America was never great!”
One activist, calling himself Billion Godsen, proclaimed: “We’re heterosexual black men. When we’re around, they don’t show up.”
A group of his friends then chanted: “If you ain’t from the hood, stay out of the hood.”
Not everyone was comfortable with this aggressive posture. Several peace activists said the flag-burning made them uneasy. Others said the radicals were playing into the hands of their adversaries and only bolstering their prejudices.
“I’m totally embarrassed by the way people are being treated here,” said Charles Russell, a reformed former gang member turned peace activist. “There’s only one or two or them. Let ‘em talk.”
Waters, who is 79, is a towering, sometimes controversial figure who has represented south Los Angeles for 27 years. She applauded when several Trump administration officials were turned away from Washington-area restaurants last month because of public revulsion at his administration policy, now revoked, of separating immigrant children from their parents.
After Trump attacked her, she ripped into him in return, telling a Democratic party meeting last week: “He tells us that he’s such a patriot, (that) he loves the flag. But he doesn’t know the words to the Star Spangled Banner … He doesn’t even understand what GDP is. As a matter of fact, he doesn’t even know how to spell his own wife’s name.”