More than a year after a bloody clash at the state Capitol left five people stabbed and nine more injured, prosecutors in Sacramento announced the arrests Tuesday of two suspects in the melee that erupted at a neo-Nazi rally.
Sacramento County District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert’s office said two men have been arrested: William Scott Planer and Porfirio Gabriel Paz. They face charges of participating in a riot and assault with a deadly weapon or by means of force likely to inflict great bodily injury.
The statement from Chief Deputy District Attorney Steve Grippi said Planer was arrested in Colorado and is being held pending extradition; Paz was arrested in Southern California and faces arraignment in Sacramento Superior Court on Monday.
Other arrests also are expected, but officials declined to comment on the number or other details of the case.
Planer, 34, is described in online posts as a member of neo-Nazi groups and is believed to be a member of the Traditionalist Worker Party, which had a permit for the rally. He is suspected of attacking an anti-fascist counter-demonstrator – or antifa – with a pole.
Online records from Sacramento Superior Court show charges in the riot were filed June 29, and that Planer has faced criminal charges in Sacramento three times dating to 2001. One case involved a charge of intimidating a witness, online records state, and resulted in a no-contest plea and 32-month state prison sentence.
Paz, 19, is believed to be an antifa follower who attacked two Traditionalist Worker Party members. The only case involving Paz in Superior Court records stems from the riot charges, which also were filed June 29. He faces arraignment in Sacramento on Monday. His attorney, Mark Reichel of Sacramento, said his client is out on bail and will be in court for his hearing Monday.
Reichel added that Paz has no criminal record and lives in the Long Beach area, and that prosecutors “are going to have to prove that he was up here and involved in that fracas.”
The riot sparked criticism of law enforcement for its subdued response to the violence. California Highway Patrol officials patrolled the grounds but largely stayed away from the battling groups, and Sacramento police stayed on the sidewalk on the perimeter of the Capitol grounds watching in what officials later said was an effort to ensure the conflict did not spill out onto streets and neighboring businesses.
The CHP issued a 2,000-page investigative report on the melee and sought numerous arrests, but Grippi’s statement said prosecutors were unable to identify many involved in the violence, including the people who roughed up KCRA reporter Mike Luery, who refused to give up his microphone and stop covering the event when accosted.
“In all, arrest warrants for 101 individuals were submitted for consideration,” Grippi said. “Many of the charges submitted did not meet the District Attorney’s filing guidelines including: 85 counts of Unlawful Assembly, 55 counts of Conspiracy to Unlawfully Assemble and 32 counts related to the possession of illegal signs and banners.
“In several other cases, there was clear evidence of felonious conduct, but the identity of the perpetrators could not be established. Unfortunately, included in this category were all of the stabbings and the attack on a local television reporter. After reviewing all of the evidence submitted, the District Attorney’s Office sought and received arrest warrants for individuals whose conduct represented the most egregious offenses that can be proven beyond a reasonable doubt.”
The Traditionalist Worker Party bills itself as a group of about 500 followers nationwide “defending faith, family, and folk against the politicians and oligarchs who are running America into the ground.”
The Southern Poverty Law Center describes the party differently, labeling it a “white nationalist group that advocates for racially pure nations and communities and blames Jews for many of the world’s problems.”
Party Chairman Matthew Heimbach said Tuesday night that his group had been unfairly attacked at the Capitol last summer as it tried to stage a free speech rally.
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“We had a right to be there,” Heimbach said. “Our members had the permit and our members were attacked.
“Our comrades defended themselves, that seems pretty open and shut that our members were in the right.”
Heimbach described Planer as a supporter who “is a normal, working blue-collar American patriot” and added that his group will be raising funds for Planer’s legal costs.
At the time of the riot, party spokesman Matt Parrott, Heimbach’s father-in-law, told The Bee that the rally was aimed at supporting people attending rallies for then-presidential candidate Donald Trump.
“We wanted to have a march to show we will not back down in the face of radical leftists, who threatened violence beforehand,” Parrott said, adding that the party and its California affiliate, the Golden State Skinheads, sent about 30 people to the rally.
The event had been widely advertised beforehand online. When the neo-Nazi marchers arrived, they were met by hundreds of anti-fascist counterdemonstrators in a collision that quickly erupted into violence.
Yvette Felarca, from activist group By Any Means Necessary, says her group's violent reaction to a white supremacist rally at the California Capitol will help prevent violence against immigrants. She was later arrested and faces assault charges.