On 4 September 2017, the right-wing web site Breitbart.com published an article by former California Assemblyman Tim Donnelly reporting that a “violent mob” had descended on a small “pro-Donald Trump” group of people who were present in an historic San Diego park, ostensibly intending to eat a pizza lunch and view cultural murals they were campaigning to have dismantled.
In a story headlined “Violent Mob Forces Police to Shut Down ‘Patriot Picnic’ at Chicano Park,” Donnelly, a Breitbart contributor, wrote:
An explosive confrontation erupted at San Diego’s Chicano Park Sunday afternoon as an angry mob of several hundred protested a pro-Donald Trump group’s decision to hold a “Patriot Picnic” in the symbolic public space.
The “Patriot Picnic” tour was captured on YouTube and shows a group of a half dozen or so gathered around a picnic table that is painted the colors of the Mexican flag on an unoccupied side of the park, sandwiched between a busy road and the freeway. They were there ostensibly to eat a pizza lunch, but as one of the group was filming some of the murals and doing his own commentary, a phalanx of San Diego Police formed a line along the sidewalk as the crowd of counter-demonstrators became increasingly agitated.
Within minutes, the group was surrounded by hundreds of people, many wearing brown berets and waving Mexican and Communist flags, while filming with phones and trading insults with the pro-Trump demonstrators.
Although article’s headline included the phrase “violent mob,” its text, which was aggregated from other sources, didn’t support that wording: San Diego police told us they made no arrests and received no reports of violent activity during the event, while a rally in support of the historic park murals, which depict the culture and history of the predominantly Mexican-American and immigrant community surrounding the park, lasted four hours. A brief but tense confrontation with the “Patriot Picnic” attendees lasted about 30 minutes but ended when police escorted them away, and the remainder of event was peaceful. Witnesses told us the “Patriot Picnic” group were partially responsible for instigating the confrontation, and both sides could be seen on video taunting each other.
The “Patriot Picnic” event was put together shortly after city officials removed a Confederate plaque from a downtown San Diego Park. According to Roger Ogden, the “Patriot Picnic” organizer, the group’s event was supposed to private, but an online backlash manifested once word of it leaked out. As a result, Ogden told us that the day before the picnic event he issued a press release in the hopes that violence would be averted due to the presence of news media:
A few patriots are planning to have a picnic and mural viewing in Chicano Park on Sunday at 1pm. This was intended to be a private party, but word got out on social media and plans for a large and violent protest against our little picnic and mural tour developed. The “community solidarity” protest starts at 12 noon in Chicano Park. Our Patriot Picnic and following mural viewing tour starts at 1pm.
Opposition to this Patriot Picnic have been whipped up by the San Diego Free Press and other far leftist sites. The patriots have received a number of defamatory and intimidating remarks, as well as direct threats of violence. After some complaints about these threats, plans for the counter-picnic protest were updated. The Brown Berets are now supposed to be there to enforce non-violence, but a large and noisy protest is still expected.
The “Patriot Picnic” group comprised about five men who, roughly two weeks prior, had made a blog post in which they expressed a desire to see Chicano Park, a historic landmark to Latino heritage, “toppled.” Once word spread that the men were planning to hold a picnic at the park on 3 September 2017, the community planned a counter-demonstration which came to be known as the “Solidarity Rally.” About 500 people attended the counter-demonstration, which was organized by the Chicano Park Steering Committee.
Ultimately, counter-demonstrators and the San Diego Police Department succeeded in preventing violence. The handful of people who showed up for the “Patriot Picnic” were surrounded by a large group of police, while activists from the counter-demonstration side also helped keep the two groups separated.
According to local news reports, the counter-demonstration started at noon, with speakers including faith and community leaders. Proceedings became heated only briefly when Ogden’s group showed up at the park at 1 p.m., as scheduled, and set up at a picnic table across the street from the larger event. Three journalists we spoke to who witnessed the incident said Ogden’s group actively attracted the attention of counter-demonstrators by waving at them. A video posted by “Patriot Picnic” participant Arthur Schaper corroborates this, as does a report by the San Diego Union Tribune. Ogden told us that by the time his group started waving, they had already received the crowd’s full attention. But San Diego Free Press reporter Doug Porter telated a different version of events to us:
Arthur Schaper walked to the sidewalk and started waving at [the crowd of counter-demonstrators]. Nobody noticed them until they tried to get their attention. I was on an overpass, I was up there trying to get a shot of the crowd, and I saw him out of the corner of my eye. It didn’t take people very long to see them after that.
Schaper, who narrates the video he posted, can be heard pointing at murals and angrily mis-translating the word “yonkes” to mean “yankees” and claiming that the murals were evidence of racial bias. (“Yonkes” is a Spanish slang word for “junkyards.” The Spanish word for “yankee” is more similar in pronunciation to the English version: “yanqui.”) Schaper’s group can be seen yelling greetings in Spanish at counter-demonstrators, at which point a crowd crossed the street and a shouting match between the groups ensued.
Shortly afterwards, a police officer told Ogden’s group that things were “going south quick” and instructed them to leave. Schaper filmed the group’s police-escorted exodus from the park, and although the two opposing groups continued shouting at each other, no one was physically assaulted. Multiple witnesses told us that Ogden’s group was able to walk to their cars and leave peacefully.
According to the San Diego Free Press, both Ogden and Schaper are well-known far-right figures in the community with a storied history of whipping up supporters on topics such as immigration and refugees. The San Diego Union Tribune reported that Ogden has been behind a number of “anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant websites and social media accounts.”
In the days immediately preceding the picnic, Ogden published a post on his “Patriot Fire” blog calling for the murals at Chicano Park to be “toppled” and urging supporters to email San Diego city officials calling for the park to be dismantled:
Chicano-ism is an odd mixture of La Raza ultra nationalism, Aztec neo-paganism, indigenous racism and Marxist doctrine. The spiritual father of the Chicano / La Raza movement was Jose Vasconcelos, who was a paid, pro-Nazi propagandist during WWII.
Chicano Park is also a monument to the Aztecs, who performed mass human sacrifice and took part in ritualistic cannibalism.
San Diego Free Press reporter Doug Porter then published an e-mail he’d obtained in which Ogden urged his followers to complain about Chicano Park to San Diego city officials and asked whether anyone would like to visit the “creepy un-American” landmark to see it in person. Porter also reported on the broader campaign to do away with the park:
City Councilman David Alvarez’s office has received “many racist emails” calling for the park’s destruction after an extremist site called for readers “to make them more nervous to know that the effort is spreading nationwide.”
It all started with an interview with “local patriot activist” Jeff Schwilk on Carl Demaio’s radio talk show. The former Minuteman leader commiserated with the host about the indignity of removing a plaque from the Daughters of the Confederacy honoring Jefferson Davis from Horton Plaza, moving on to complain about “Nazi symbols**” and “Communists” in the murals at Chicano Park.
At Roger Ogden’s Patriot Fire, formerly known as Impeach Obama Now, the plea to contact city officials followed the admonition “Chicano Park is also a monument to the Aztecs, who performed mass human sacrifice and took part in ritualistic cannibalism. ”
In an update appended to that story, Porter presciently noted that “Mr. Ogden and a small number of his fellow cockroaches WILL likely show up at the park, armed with cameras, hoping to get footage for a YouTube video they can shop to various reactionary media organizations.”
As if on cue, on 4 September 2017 Breitbart.com published their sensationalized story.
Sandy Huffaker, the professional news photographer whose pictures Breitbart.com purchased from the stock image service Getty Images for their article, also told us the claim that the counter-protesters were violent was false, saying: “That’s the biggest lie, [Breitbart.com] totally mis-portrayed that. Yeah, there was a lot of yelling but there was no violence.”