Help us identify the attackers. If you recognize either of these assailants, please contact email@example.com.
Story and photos by Henri Migala
August 2, 2020 (La Mesa) -- La Mesa was once again the setting of a demonstration in support of racial justice and against police brutality on Saturday, August 1. Ironically, both protesters and counter-protesters aggressively sought to prevent media coverage by multiple outlets, raising the question of why many on both sides wanted to demonstrate their views without press coverage.
The protest focused on “Women of Color” including Vanessa Guillen, a slain soldier, and Breonna Taylor, a black woman killed by police in Kentucky. The demonstration was also joined by a group of vocal counter-protesters including Defenders of East County, the La Mesa Civil Defense group and supporters of President Trump.
Prior to the event, which had promised civil disobedience on a flyer on social media, many La Mesa residents had voiced understandable fears over the potential for violence after a night of rioting, fires and looting that occurred following a May 30th protest against police. Some also worried about potential spread of COVID-19.
But at the August 1st event, the protesters wore masks and remained peaceful. Most members of the “defenders” and other counter-protesters did not wear masks. Both sides were at times boisterous.
Violence did occur – instigated by counter-protesters who aggressively approached protesters and media multiple times. The only arrest announced by police was of a man with a record of past arrests and reported ties to white supremacist groups.
“Defender” arrested for battery after confrontation with protesters
Several skirmishes broke out among the ”Defenders” and protesters.
La Mesa Police arrested Ryan McAdams, 35, of Jamul for battery, possession of pepper spray and a probation violation, according to LMPD.
Photos, left and right: McAdams, with mouthguard, prior to altercation
ECM news partner Times of San Diego reports that McAdams is associated with white-supremacist groups such as Bordertown Patriots and American Guard. The American Guard, described as a “hardcore white supremacist” organization by the Anti-Defamation League, also had a presence Saturday at the La Mesa protest. McAdams has denied some associations.
San Diego Superior Court records indicate that a Ryan P. McAdams or Ryan Patrick McAdams has 11 prior criminal cases from 2007 to 2018. He has also been sued several times in civil court, including for alleged harassment, and has a string of domestic violence complaints including protection of minor children. The court records are not available online so there is no immediate way to determine if all involved the same Ryan McAdams, how many cases may have resulted in convictions, guilty findings, settlements or restraining orders.
This photo by Chris Stone, Times of San Diego, shows McAdams at the rally Saturday with Kris Wyrick of Alpine. Wyrick has been previously photographed wearing an American Guard shirt and has published remarks criticized as racist. Wyrick was identified on Facebook by the United Patriot National Front, a far-right anti-immigrant extremist group, as its San Diego president, Roll Call reported. Wyrick also drew controversy last year for flashing a white supremacist symbol in a photo taken with then-Congressman Duncan Hunter.
William Johnson, a liberal activist, previously sought a restraining order in a hearing against both McAdams and Wyrick. Johnson accused them of repeated harassment at protests and political events, alleging that McAdams jammed a flagpole into his torso, made threats to punch him in the face, and caused injury including a lacerated cheek. Johnson also accused McAdams of threatening to punch a disabled Black man in the face.
The large police presence largely succeeded in maintaining the peace during a day and evening marked with shouting and tense exchanges between the two groups. No looting, vandalism or fires occurred, although it is not whether any may have been planned. Some march organizers did remind participants to stay away from rocks or bricks if any were seen, and not to fall for any efforts to incite violence.
Community advisory and preparations
In preparation for the day’s events, the La Mesa Police Department closed several freeway interchanges and on/off ramps. Additionally, the City of La Mesa issued a Temporary Area Restriction (Executive Order No. C-2020) prohibiting possession of certain items on city property at the compound containing the police station, city hall, fire station, post office and library from August 1 at noon and through August 2 at 5:30 a.m.
Those areas were cordoned off on Saturday and the protest took place outside of the boundaries, with a heavy police presence that included officers from La Mesa, El Cajon, National City, San Diego State University, and the Sheriff’s department.
Prohibited items included guns, knives, and various other weapons as well as potential riot tools such as sticks, fireworks and glass bottles.
In addition to the defined restricted area, the streets and parking lots immediately surrounding the La Mesa Police Station were made inaccessible to pedestrian and vehicle traffic. Additionally, there was a police helicopter and at least two drones that were also deployed.
With the restricted area being implemented, the demonstrators in support of racial justice organized in the parking lot behind VONS, off Allison Ave. Some of the demonstrators wore helmets, knee and elbow pads, and carried home-made shields and walking sticks.
Counter demonstrators organized primarily at the American Legion Post 282, on University Ave, although there was a group of about 15 counter-demonstrators who positioned themselves across Date Avenue from the racial justice demonstrators.
Many of the counter-demonstrators wore large knives, which are legal if openly carried in California. At least two of the counter-demonstrators in the smaller group had mouth pieces (like those used by boxers), while others wore tactical vests.
On Facebook, Lori Kern posted that she saw a prominent member of the La Mesa Civil Defense Group openly carrying a gun during the event; others also reported seeing guns among the “defenders.”
Scott McMillan, organizer with the La Mesa Civil Defense Group, denies Kern's claim. On Facebook, he later posted that he was carrying a taser, not a gun. Morever he stated that the civil defense group from La Mesa, which customarily wears yellow vests, ban guns. He stated, "Yellow vests have pepper spray, electric shock devices, but while in the vest, NO GUNS. Hard rule."
The police forces were present and visible, but not interfering with the groups at this time, primarily because the groups were still relatively distant from each other.
A group mostly wearing yellow T-shirts and calling itself “Umoja”, which, according to one of its members, translates to “unity”, arrived to the applause of the pro-racial justice demonstrators. Umoja’s leader, Atlas, explained that Umoja members were there as volunteers to ensure everyone’s safety and security. Most of the members of Umoja were women and many of the pro-BLM demonstrators referred to them as the “Wall of Moms” (a reference to the Wall of Moms in Portland, OR)
A rally also included a speaker from Uhuru, an African People’s Socialist Party whose name means freedom. The female speaker stated, “We are ready to arm ourselves,” then clarified, ”Make your fists lethal. Make your words lethal…We’ve gotta fight back…the more the better.”
In addition to these main groups, there were also smaller groups of local citizens who had come out in support of the police.
The pro-racial justice organizers also arranged for medical volunteers as well as legal observers to be in attendance. The legal observers were dressed in neon-yellow; they patrolled and documented every aspect of the demonstration. I tried taking photos, but was asked not to by some who asked that their identities be protected as they feared retaliation from counter-protesters.
Interview efforts thwarted by some
I then approached the small group of counter-protesters staging on Date Ave., across the street from where the demonstrators were organizing. I identified myself as being with East County Magazine, and asked if there is anything they would like to say. They said “No! Go away!” I asked why they were present, but they refused to give a reason. One made a derisive remark accusing the award-winning media outlet of bias, raised an arm and told me to go away. [ECM is nonprofit and nonpartisan, with a mission to reflect all views and voices in our region. Our coverage of recent protests has included incidents of violence directed toward protesters including fistfights in Santee and racial taunts, as well as violence committed by protesters, such as rocks thrown at police in La Mesa on May 30, as well as video of arsonists during the ensuing riot.] I assured them that I would take a brief video and share it so readers can hear what they have to say in their own words, but they repeated their demands that I go away.
Since the police station and parking lots were part of the Temporary Restriction Area, there were only police officers around the station. A line of cruisers encircled the station, parked along the curb on the east side; cruisers were backed into parking spaces along the south side. Sheriff’s officers were preparing at the station. Fencing and barriers were also placed around the station in the parking lot.
Threats and attacks on ECM photographer and other media
A group of flag-waving, pro-Trump supporters and counter-demonstrators were having a gathering at the American Legion Post 282. I walked across the crosswalk to interview the demonstrators there.
I introduced myself as being with East County Magazine (I was also wearing my bright blue safety vest which has “MEDIA” and “PRESS” printed on it front and back) and asked if there was anything they would like to share or say. More people joined in and the exchange turned hostile towards me. One man put his arm up in front of me saying I could not move any further, although we were in a public place, across the street from the Legion. I was bombarded with vulgar and aggressive comments. (I responded with a profanity, for which I apologize.)
What started as a discussion between three or four people had turned in an angry group of ten with more approaching. They raised their voices at me in anger, falsely accused me of various things and demanded to know why I was there. Not able to hear or comprehend all of the comments simultaneously, I felt increasingly uncomfortable and threatened, so I decided to just disengage and leave.
I walked across University Ave. to the American Legion, where many more demonstrators were outside. As I was crossing the street, one of the demonstrators with the “defenders” at the American Legion shouted, “You’re lucky we didn’t break your finger!” I turned around, raised my camera, and started shooting video of the group standing there looking at me and asked whoever said that to please repeat it. One shouted “No.”
When I returned to the intersection of Date and Allison, the pro-BLM demonstrators were preparing themselves to go on their march. Counter-protesters started gathering across the street on Date Ave.
One of the counter-protesters started taking pictures of me with his cell phone, so I took pictures and video of him. He shouted, “I’m gonna knock your f*cking ass down,” then slammed his hand forward, grabbed my camera and shoved it aside. That was the first time I was assaulted by a counter-protester that day.
This photo (right) shows the first person who physically attacked me. He wore a shirt with logos that read “Phillips 66” on the front and on the back, an image of wings and the words “Most trusted wing in aviation.”
Please help identify him. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org if you know who this individual is.
The pro-racial justice demonstrators began their march by going south on Date Ave. Numerous police monitored the situation. Counter-protesters started walking along the edges of the large group, intentionally bumping into the marchers on occasion, and shouting things at them. The racial justice protesters who brought shields and the medical volunteers walked along the outside of the marchers, trying to keep themselves between the counter-protesters and the marchers. The racial justice marchers chanted “don’t take the bait” in response to the taunting of the counter-demonstrators.
Ryan McAdams, who was later arrested, was one of at least two counter-protesters who brought mouth guards in apparent preparation for a fight or hostilities. McAdams had to be restrained on numerous occasions by his colleagues from physically engaging the marchers. On one occasion, this counter-protester charged at a marcher as if he were going to attack him, but stopped just inches before running into the startled marcher. This was not the same altercation that resulted in McAdams’ arrest later in the day.
The march continued to climb into the residential neighborhood of La Mesa. Within a few blocks, the counter-protesters turned back. The marchers were followed by several support vehicles carrying water and supplies. Because the streets were steep and the day was still warm, a couple of the marchers had to be given assistance along the way.
I asked one of the organizers why the march was going through the residential neighborhood instead of the more visible public area of La Mesa. The response was because there are many racists who live in La Mesa and the marchers wanted to bring their message to them. But all the residents I saw who came out to see the march greeted the marchers with clapping and support.
The marchers then came down Maple Ave and took a right on University Ave. When they arrived at the intersection of University Ave and La Mesa Blvd, they stopped in the intersection. As they continued on University, counter-protesters were waiting in the Vons parking lot. There were minor exchanges between the marchers and the counter-protesters, with the marchers chanting “don’t take the bait” again, and moved the marchers forward.
The marchers continued on University Ave until they got in front of the American Legion Post 282, where the counter-demonstrators were waiting. Numerous police were already there with many more arriving to form a barrier line between the two groups of protesters.
Photo, left: Counter protester group on University Ave., courtesy of Melanie Lucero
The two groups faced-off against each other at the Post. Counter-protesters were behind a yellow tape strung along the sidewalk, then there was a long line of police cruisers parked along the curb, then a long line of police standing in the street facing the pro-racial justice marchers. The pro-racial justice marchers initially stayed on the far side of the median, although a few started to cross the medium Although this was not an official Black Lives Matter event, some carried BLM signs, along with a variety of other messages. The racial justice demonstrators were more vocal during the exchange, although at one point, counter-demonstrators started chanting “USA! USA! USA!” This continued for maybe 10 minutes, until the protesters continued on their march towards Spring Street.
At one point, an African-American man from the pro-racial justice group and a white male from the counter-demonstrator group, met in a handshake at the police line. (Photo, right)
As the marchers started heading towards Spring Street, some of the counter-protesters followed them on their side of the street. The distance between the two groups started to come together just before the trolley tracks. A scuffle broke out, punches were thrown and McAdams, one of the counter-protesters was arrested.
ECM photographer attacked again
After the brief scuffle, the groups disengaged. The counter-protesters returned to the Post, and the pro-racial demonstrators headed back to the intersection of Date and Allison, where they started. I followed the racial justice marchers.
The group reassembled, had a few speeches about their cause and a few people started to leave. A discussion arose from the group about what they should do next. Some of the demonstrators were frustrated that they were just giving up. They proposed continuing to demonstrate in solidarity with the people of Portland, OR. But the organizer of the event addressed the group and said that they don’t have the numbers that they do in Portland, nor do they have an “autonomous zone” like they have in Portland.
A smaller group of about 100 pro-racial justice demonstrators decided to stay and continue their demonstration. The audience of their demonstration would be the police and Sheriffs who were lined up in the middle of Allison Ave to keep the demonstrators and the counter-protesters who were still there apart. The two groups shouted at each other.
As I was walking up and down the line of police and demonstrators, a member of the counter-protesters walked up to me and put his camera phone in my face, only inches away, bumping my camera.
I asked him to not touch my camera and turned on my video and started to take video of him and what he was doing. He then grabbed and shoved my camera out of the way.
This photo shows the second assailant, who wore a Harley Davidson motorcycle helmet. If you recognize him, please contact email@example.com.
This happened only a couple of feet in front of the line of Sheriff’s officers. The man made an obscene gesture, then went back to photographing or videographing with his cell phone.
Another journalist who was standing next to me then started addressing the police saying, “You just watched him get assaulted and you’re not going to do anything!?” “That guy just assaulted this photographer right in front of you and you’re just going to stand there?” The journalist next to me kept this up until one of the officers finally asked me if I wanted to file a report. The journalist next to me said “it doesn’t matter if he wants to file a report. You saw the assault. If you witness an assault you need to do something about it!”
I told the officer, “Thank you for asking. Let me check with my editor.’ I chose, at least then, to not file a report, although now that I have had some time to think about the incidents, I may--not so much for me, but for all journalists who are attacked for just trying to provide a public service by covering a story. I understand that people get worked up, scared, nervous and anxious, but there has to be a line drawn at some point.
East County Magazine has had three journalists attacked recently covering protests. Several other local media outlets have also had reporters threatened or attacked at protests in Santee, El Cajon, La Mesa and San Diego, which impeded their First Amendment free press rights to photograph people in public places and document breaking news.
Efforts to obstruct the press from photographing protest participants have come from both protesters and counter-protesters, including aggressive photographing of press credentials and vehicles as well as knocking or grabbing cameras.
In El Cajon, journalist Paul Kruze said he had protesters physically block his access to hear speakers or conduct interviews, with one putting a hand in front of his camera lens without respecting social distancing (photo, left by Paul Kruze). In Santee, yet a third ECM photographer reported being chased by a protester who photographed a press credential. In Santee, I was also followed by two trucks; one crossed a median and drove in the opposite direction from the flow of traffic to block me. Then later, the trucks tried to block me in on a cul-de-sac.
A CBS news crew has begun bringing a bodyguard to protests, including La Mesa, after aggressive confrontations targeting the press, two media outlets have informed ECM’s editor. Tom and Nadin Abbott, reporters on Medium who have covered many protests, left the La Mesa protest after racial justice protesters aggressively blocked their access to take photos and made them feel unsafe, Nadin Abbott told ECM.
Of note, under California law, assault is an attempt to commit violence against a person; battery is the actual act of unwanted force or violence. The offense can be charged even if the person does not suffer physical harm; mere unwanted touching in an offensive way can be a battery charge; attempting to do so can be charged as assault. See https://www.lnlegal.com/blog/2014/march/assault-vs-battery-is-there-a-difference-/ If anyone witnesses either of the attacks on our journalist, or has photos or videos, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Destruction of property and threatening harm are also crimes.
“Your life doesn't matter”
I headed over to see what was happening at the American Legion Post. When I got there, there was a small group of young pro-racial justice supporters, four females and one male. Two of the young women were crying, visibly distraught and shaking.
I interviewed two of them on video. One said the counter-protesters called her friend racial slurs before destroying a sign. View video.
Next I asked a young Black woman (photo, left) what happened. She said that one of the counter protesters came up to her and shouted in her face, “Your life doesn’t matter!” View video.
The young people stated that the counter-protesters grabbed their BLM sign, took it, pulled out knives and started stabbing the sign over and over, then scratched out “BLM.”
The black youth asked why police warned protesters that anyone with weapons would be arrested, yet did not arrest those who defaced their sign with knives and allegedly pointed guns in their direction.
“Nobody cares,” she concluded tearfully.
Dr. Henri Migala is the founder of Henri Migala Photography. He has won numerous photography awards and most recently had one of his images chosen as a “Top 10” finalist in the Smithsonian Magazine Photo Contest out of 48,000 submissions. The independent photojournalist has previously covered stories ranging from the La Mesa riot to wildfires; he has also provided video and photography for ECM ranging from bighorn sheep in the Anza-Borrego Desert to presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren’s San Diego visit.
He has lived and worked in 15 countries in global health, international development, higher education administration and humanitarian aid including disaster relief. His past positions include Director of the International House at the University of California San Diego, Executive Dean and Grants Administrator for the Grossmont-Cuyamaca Community College District, and Adjunct Faculty instructor at San Diego City College. He holds a doctor of education degree from San Diego State university, a Masters in Public Health degree from the University of North Texas, and a Master of Art degree at the University of Texas, where he studied anthropology. He is a volunteer and board member with AGuilas del Desierto, Inc., helping to save lives of lost migrants, and as a Rotary Club President, has worked with International Relief Teams. He speaks three languages (English, Spanish and French) has won many awards for his community service, and his international activities include working to eradicate polio through the World ealth Organization as well as participating in rural, border and cross-cultural health issues, , disaster relief and reconstruction. He has published numerous academic papers and written nearly $30 million in grants that have been funded.
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