As Election Day neared, conflict in Bakersfield between Trump and BLM groups intensified
NOVEMBER 5, 2020
Months before Election Day, tensions had been building in Bakersfield between Black Lives Matter supporters and a group of Trump backers calling themselves the 1776 Patriots. They’ve clashed in parking lots, on sidewalks and in the road, leading to three arrests–one of a BLM protester brandishing a firearm, another of a 1776 Patriot openly carrying a firearm, and a third of a 1776 Patriot accused of assault with a stun gun.
The hostilities give no sign of letting up. On Sunday, a BLM activist circulated a video showing a confrontation with Patriot members. On Monday the activist, Erika Harris, provided more testimony on Instagram about Sunday’s events, and then returned to the spot with fellow protesters.
In a separate Facebook video on Monday, a man associated with the pro-Trump group, who posts their events online, can be heard putting out a call for more Patriots. “We need to get them here, guys,” the speaker says. “Call the Patriots, you guys need to get here.”
Both groups eventually left the area, and no arrests were made.
Sgt. Robert Pair, Bakersfield Police Department’s public information officer, said the two groups have been clashing publicly since September 25. Together, they’ve filed no fewer than 17 different complaints–one almost every other day. Apart from the three arrests, it was unclear what action, if any, law enforcement has taken.
“We’ve had a series of meetings between the two groups because what we saw was an escalation of confrontations,” Pair said. “We would like to be in the middle of the two groups keeping the peace, but what we have found is that when we get in the middle, the two groups get emboldened and violence actually increases.”
Bakersfield Mayor Karen Goh did not reply to a request for comment.
Harris said the harassment began in late September when she and friends set up a stand on a street corner in Rosedale, a predominantly white section of Bakersfield, several feet from where Trump supporters already had their own stand. “I just wanted to show people in the Rosedale area that there were still people that supported the BLM movement,” Harris said during an Instagram Live stream.
Harris continued to show up over the next several days with her flag. As supporters joined her, the 1776 Patriots became more hostile. Cellphone videos by BLM supporters show the Trump supporters being physically aggressive, tearing up signs, knocking over the BLM group’s stand, and punching a few of its members. On one occasion, also captured on video, a group of Proud Boys showed up.
“They were recording us, saying we were on the wrong side of town,” Harris said via Instagram Live. “I remember we were dancing at one of the protests, just having a good time and some older gentleman came up and flashed his gun at us.”
Harris said she has been targeted for over a month because of her support for BLM. “I’ve made reports for them assaulting me, following me home, I’ve called [Bakersfield PD] multiple times and told them I feared for my safety.” Sgt. Pair acknowledged that Harris had called the police numerous times.
The latest flurry of hostilities began with two separate incidents on November 1 in which the 1776 Patriots confronted Harris and another woman flourishing BLM flags.
In the first incident, Bakersfield resident Maddy Spears, 22, said she was harassed by the 1776 Patriots when she, her boyfriend and her sister Baylie were on their way to a birthday party. Their car was blocked by a convoy of trucks flying Trump flags. While her sister recorded the confrontation on her phone, Spears hoisted their BLM flag.
Spears said her boyfriend had to swerve into oncoming traffic to avoid the blockade of Trump vehicles. As they waited at a stoplight, they noticed a white truck coming at them from behind, and closing fast. “They’re crazy, this car looks like they are going to rear-end you,” said Spears’s sister.
The white truck veered away at the last second and hurtled onto the sidewalk. A video provided by Spears shows that the driver lunged from his seat at the flag that Spears held in her hands and ripped it in half before Spears’s boyfriend drove off.
That same night, Harris, 20, who usually displays a very visible BLM banner in her car, was pursued by members of the 1776 Patriots and then threatened by three of them when she stopped her car in a parking lot. A video shows a man spraying what he says is bear mace on Harris’s car. It is illegal to use bear mace on humans in California.
Members of the 1776 Patriots in Bakersfield could not be reached for comment. Spears and Harris both say they plan to keep a high profile in their community, and that some passers-by have honked their approval.
“Even though [the Patriots] intimidate and harass us, we are not going to let them silence us,” Spears said. “They think they’re tough, but it is a bunch of grown men bullying women that are 20 years old.”
Freddy Brewster, Dereka Bennett and Injeong Kim are reporters at UC Berkeley’s Graduate School of Journalism.
This coverage is made possible through Votebeat, a nonpartisan reporting project covering local election integrity and voting access. In California, CalMatters is hosting the collaboration with the Fresno Bee, the Long Beach Post and the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism.