An anti-vaccine rally at Los Angeles City Hall turned violent Saturday, with one person stabbed and a reporter saying he was assaulted, according to police and protesters on the scene.
A crowd of several hundred people, many holding American flags and signs calling for “medical freedom,” had descended on City Hall around 2 p.m. for the planned rally. A few dozen counterprotesters had amassed on 1st Street near the former offices of the L.A. Times before the clash.
A fight erupted on the corner of 1st and Spring streets shortly after 2:30 p.m., as counterprotesters in all black and anti-vaccine demonstrators draped in American flag garb and Trump memorabilia traded punches and threw things at one another. It was not immediately clear how the fight started, though each side quickly blamed the other.
One person, who the anti-mask protesters claim was part of their rally, could be seen collapsed in the intersection, bleeding. Police on the scene said the person had been stabbed, and paramedics arrived to take him to a hospital.
In the melee, counterprotesters could be seen spraying mace while members of the anti-vaccine rally screamed death threats. One older man screamed “unmask them all” and clawed at a woman’s face.
Capt. Stacy Spell, a Los Angeles Police Department spokesman, said police were monitoring the protest.
“We are on scene to maintain order after a fight broke out between Antifa and people gathered for the permitted event. We are aware of one male that was stabbed and is being treated by Fire Department personnel,” Spell said in a statement. “No arrests have been made but [the] investigation is ongoing.”
Spell could not immediately provide an update on the victim’s injuries. While the statement referred to “Antifa,” the counterprotesters appeared to be a mixture of people who have shown up to oppose anti-vaccine and anti-mask rallies in recent months.
A short time later, KPCC reporter Frank Stoltze could be seen walking out of the park near City Hall being screamed at by anti-mask protesters. One man could be seen kicking him. Stoltze later told a police officer he had been assaulted while trying to conduct an interview. Spell confirmed that a police report was taken.
Stoltze later tweeted this statement: “Something happened to me today that’s never happened in 30 yrs of reporting. In LA. @LAist I was shoved, kicked and my eyeglasses were ripped off of my face by a group of guys at a protest – outside City Hall during an anti-vax Recall @GavinNewsom Pro Trump rally.”
Los Angeles City Council President Nury Martinez also decried the violence in a tweet.
“These aren’t ‘patriots’. Not wearing a mask and being anti-vax isn’t patriotism – it’s stupidity,” she said. “We have to be able to have differences of opinions without resorting to violence.”
By late afternoon, a small crowd of counter-protesters, mostly dressed in all black, remained near LAPD headquarters, but police had formed skirmish lines to separate the two groups.
The demonstrators had billed the rally as a stand against rules requiring COVID-19 vaccinations and so-called vaccine passports and said they also opposed wearing masks. A flier advertising the counterdemonstration decried the group as fascists.
There is no blanket rule mandating that people get vaccinated in California, but some cities have or are considering requiring proof of vaccination to enter certain businesses. New York City became the first major city to do so earlier this month, followed by San Francisco and New Orleans.
Earlier this week, the Los Angeles City Council voted to direct city attorneys to draft a law that would require people to have at least one dose of a vaccine to visit indoor restaurants, bars, gyms, shops and movie theaters. Much of the plan has yet to be worked out, and the full City Council still must approve the proposed law after it’s written up.
L.A. County officials are also considering instituting their own public vaccine verification rules.
Last month, L.A. County reimposed a rule requiring people to wear masks in indoor public spaces amid a surge in new infections fueled by the highly transmissible Delta variant.
County public health officials Saturday reported more than 4,200 new cases of the virus and said unvaccinated people are about four times more likely to contract it. Although vaccinated people can still become infected, they are about 14 times less likely to be hospitalized, and almost no fully vaccinated people are dying from COVID-19, the county public health department said.
Times staff writers Emily Alpert Reyes and Luke Money contributed to this report.