A grand jury in San Diego indicted 11 individuals for protest-related acts of violence committed against supporters of former President Donald Trump. It’s a case, brought against antifascist protesters, that’s thorough in its absurdity. Recently, a prosecutor in San Diego attempted to strip the people charged of their constitutional rights, all because they purchased cans of Twisted Tea.
And some of these individuals—whom the San Diego district attorney is prosecuting as part of a “conspiracy” to “incite and participate in a riot” in a campaign she is waging against antifa—are facing longer sentences than many of the Jan. 6 insurrectionists.
During the arraignment on June 7, San Diego District Attorney Summer Stephan requested that the judge grant a Fourth waiver for the 11 defendants. Under such Fourth waiver, citizens can lose their Fourth Amendment rights and can be the subject of warrantless searches and seizures.
Part of her argument centered on her claim that the individuals charged over the protest “stopped along the way in order to arm themselves with weapons.”
Stephan listed the weapons: Mace, pepper spray, a wooden chair, a stick, and a full alcoholic Twisted Tea beverage.
Having a Twisted Tea can, Stephan said, was an indicator that a person was a member of antifa.
Twisted Tea became a pop culture phenomena in late 2020 when a man from Ohio, Barry Allen, aka TeaKO, smacked a drunk white man in a convenience store with his can after the man made repeated racist remarks toward him.
People sitting in the public gallery burst into laughter at the tea reference, prompting the bailiff to eject two individuals.
But the concerns over cans of tea are emblematic of the past year in San Diego, as their district attorney and police department have taken a campaign against antifa to far-fetched new heights, using the state to further harass individuals facing charges, getting information on suspects from right-wing YouTube channels, angling for million-dollar bail requests for petty crimes, and subpoenaing anonymous Twitter accounts. It’s all in an effort to quell people who have come out in numbers to stand against far-right supporters of Trump.
Summer, Soros, and San Diego
The San Diego district attorney at the center of all of this, Summer Stephan, has not hidden her disdain for the left.
A now-deleted campaign website shows several photos of antifa activists behind George Soros with a caption that states her then-opponent “backs anti-law enforcement candidates over experienced prosecutors, trying to tip the balance to the criminals.”
Stephan herself shared the website on Twitter.
Stephan did not respond to multiple requests for comment from the Daily Dot.
The conspiracy theory that Holocaust survivor George Soros funds antifa to foment unrest in the nation has long been a canard of the far-right
This isn’t the first time Stephan has thrown the book at left-wing protestors, either. Stephan charged Black Lives Matter activist Denzel Draughn with 19 felonies and held him on $750,000 bail in August 2020. His charges, like the antifa defendants, centered around protest crimes including the use of mace. Draughn was eventually acquitted of all the charges by a jury. In an interview with CBS 8, Draughn said, “The jurors who stopped to talk to me said they saw through the state’s lies and that meant a lot to me.”
The deputy DA assigned to this case, William Hopkins, tackled this case with an attitude of antagonism toward the defendants, filing a motion regulating the release of discovery, to which the court agreed, hampering defense lawyers.
Hopkins claimed defendants would use information released to them to commit further violence, in a document filed with the court in December 2021.
“As a Deputy District Attorney, through the investigation of this case I have come across several gigabytes of data that the ANTIFA cells, to which the Defendents belong, have collected on persons they have had any sort of disagreement with … I know that members of ANTIFA specifically use this information to harass, attack, and stalk victims in order to socially, psychologically, and physically harm their targets. I am aware that several of the defendants’ and their affiliates have engaged in this type of behavior within their respective ANTIFA cells.”
Although he refers to the movement as having “cells” multiple times, Hopkins provided no clear evidence that the case defendants knew each other, but still tamped down discovery over a fear that information would be provided to other members of antifa and that it would “endanger … the safety of witnesses and victims in the present case.”
The indictments laid down for people participating in the Jan. 9 protest include charges ranging from instigating confrontations, using mace, using a stun gun, throwing chairs, and fighting.
According to the indictments, “On or about January 2, 2021, Antifa supporters posted on social media calling for ‘counterprotesting’ and direct action in response to a scheduled political demonstration in Pacific Beach on January 9, 2021. Defendants and other uncharged co-conspirators confirmed their support and participation by showing up in Pacific Beach on January 9, 2021, dressed in black clothing, and armed with weapons and protective gear, before participating in the violence described below.”
It says a defendant initiated an attack by shouting: “Proud Boy Killa!”
Protest on the pier
Despite Congress having certified the 2020 election at the D.C. riot, ardent Trump supporters still organized “Stop the Steal” rallies across the country.
The mood was tense on Jan. 9, 2021, just three days after the far-right stormed the U.S. Capitol in an effort to overturn the 2020 election. At least six people who were present in D.C., and who have been active at protests throughout Southern California, were on-site.
One of them was a Proud Boy, Albert Nunez, who runs the camera for right-wing streamer Jess Weber. Weber is known for posting a video at the Capitol on Jan. 6 while holding the riot shield of Capitol Police. Others were members of the group New Patriot Wave, whose logo appeared on the event flyers, and who can be seen in videos throughout the day.
By early morning a large group of counter-protesters was occupying the pier where the rally was scheduled to take place. And as small groups of Trump supporters showed up, they were confronted and chased away.
Eventually, these confrontations escalated and multiple fights, which included the use of pepper spray, broke out.
At one point a mob of Trump supporters surrounded and assaulted a counter-protester in an alley. Nunez posted the video on his Telegram account with the caption “San Diego KO of ANTIFA leader at Pacific Beach.”
But when the initial charges hit, Stephan stated in a press release, “Video evidence analysis shows that overwhelmingly the violence in this incident was perpetrated by the Antifa affiliates and was not a mutual fray with both sides crossing out of lawful First Amendment expression into riot and violence.”
Not one far-right protester was charged that day.
Included in the court filings is an order for the alleged victims of the acts by alleged antifa members to release their medical records to the court, filed on April 18, 2022. Not all of the names were redacted when the Daily Dot acquired these documents from the court clerk. On June 2, however, the judge sealed them.
One of the alleged victims is identified in the documents as Ryan Luke and he can be seen in video near the counter-protesters with a large knife. He is an ex-Pacific Beach Guardian Angel. The Guardian Angels is an organization formed in New York in the 1970s to run citizen-led safety patrols on the subways. Many view them as a vigilante group.
Police event logs even have him walking around with a knife at about 2:26pm: “Male w/knife. WML [white male] Black hoodie, brown pants,” reads the description.
In an additional video from the day, Luke can be seen confronting homeless activist Amy Zamudio. Zamudio told the Daily Dot that he has been violent with the unhoused population there on more than one occasion, noting that the “local Guardian Angels even kicked him out because he is so rogue.”
Another is identified as John Cocozza who appears alongside Luke in the same video.
Their altercation, described as Attack 5 in one the indictment, starts by stating that defendant Jeremy White pointed out Luke to other co-conspirators. The indictment makes no mention of the knife. It goes on to describe a scene in which Luke and Cocozza are surrounded and assaulted with tear gas and a stick and in which Luke’s bike is vandalized.
The original indictment lists 68 different overt acts by the protesters charged that day, including 12 different citations for putting on black clothes. It also details charges such as swinging a skateboard, using tasers, and two different instances of someone chucking a Twisted Tea.
But the story of these charges doesn’t begin on Jan. 9.
On Oct. 31, 2020, the San Diego Police Department arrested six individuals for conspiracy to commit a crime, among other lesser charges, at a small protest in front of police headquarters.
The protest was centered on justice for Jose Castro Gutierrez, who was shot and killed by an officer while experiencing a mental health crisis. The protest escalated when a metal barrier separating the police from the protesters fell over, falling toward protesters and not the police, according to multiple eyewitnesses. There does not appear to be any public video available of the event and the police body-worn camera footage has been sealed by a court protective order.
Two of the individuals arrested that day were Jesse Cannon and his partner Leah Madbak.
Cannon is also a defendant in the current Jan. 9 antifa case.
While recalling the incident, Madbak told the Daily Dot, “One officer pointed at Jesse and our friend and said ’10-16 those two.'” 10-16 can be the police code for picking up a prisoner.
“Jesse ran away from the police although they gave no commands,” Madbak said. “An officer chased Jesse and he tripped onto his back falling on top of him. Several officers dogpiled him. I stood frozen when I was suddenly shoved to the ground, landing on my wrist. An officer ripped my mask off and screamed at me. Another officer handcuffed me and took me to a police vehicle where I was searched. I watched another officer force a DNA swab on another man who was arrested. They shoved the swab in his mouth, grabbing his jaw forcefully.”
The Jan. 9 indictments said that Cannon has previously “provided” a DNA sample.
According to Cannon, back at the station, he was sat in a chair while multiple officers watched a doxing video of him created by popular San Diego right-wing blogger Roger Ogden, who once threatened a BLM activist with pepper spray.
It seems that the officers did a superficial internet search on Cannon while he was in custody. While watching the video, one of the officers exclaimed, “Oh, this one’s ANTIFA.”
Cannon had multiple injuries following the incident.
The conspiracy to commit a crime charges for October 2020 were eventually dropped while other lesser charges remained. But the October incident appeared fresh on the police’s mind, as they mentioned they were investigating Cannon in an arrest warrant for one of the suspects on Jan. 9.
Cannon seems to be a regular target of police scrutiny. Madbak told the Daily Dot, “The police knew of Jesse’s former affiliation with a local cop watch group and have targeted him for it.” Cannon said he hasn’t been a volunteer with this cop watch group for quite some time.
In February 2021, Cannon was detained and handcuffed on the Pacific Beach boardwalk for several minutes before being released. A passer-by filmed the incident while making inquiries of one of the officers. In the video, the officer claims they are looking for protesters that vandalized property at the Jan. 9 protest. Cannon was eventually released.
On March 25, 2021, the San Diego Police Department pulled Cannon and Madbak over while they were out running errands. Police searched her vehicle thoroughly, at one point holding up and photographing a sweatshirt that says “cop watcher” on it.
Later that same day they also ransacked Cannon’s home, Madbak’s home, and Cannon’s father’s home under a sealed warrant. Police confiscated cameras, phones, and electronic equipment. Police additionally confiscated two legal firearms from Cannon’s father’s home.
On April 7, 2021, San Diego Police Officer Colton Hofrichter left a voicemail for Cannon on Madbak’s phone, since they had confiscated Cannon’s phone in the raid. Hofrichter wanted to set up a meeting to serve Cannon with a gun violence restraining order. Yet, the police had already confiscated his guns in the raid and Cannon has no known gang affiliation or history of domestic violence.
Cannon and Madbak were also the subject of San Diego’s efforts to get to the bottom of who ran the @SDagainstFash Twitter account, which the DA said was used to organize the protest.
As part of the protective order limiting discovery, the Deputy DA, William Hopkins, alleged that Madbak and Cannon are administrators for the @SDagainstFash account, which was also the subject of a Twitter federal subpoena.
“I am also aware that Jesse Cannon is or was romantically involved with Leah Madbak. I have seen evidence that both Cannon and Madbak run and or have administrative privileges for several ANTIFA based social media accounts, specifically SDagainstFash, sdreportingcollective, S.N.A.I.L. and R.A.B.I.D,” Hopkins said in his protective order.
Daily Dot has spoken with the @SDagainstFash account owner, who denied Cannon and Madbak’s involvement.
However, Hopkins was worried that the account would be used to harass victims in this case, namely Proud Boys, who are often the subject of posts by antifascist Twitter accounts.
“I know recently social media accounts associated with several of the defendants posted pictures of people they believed to be the victims in this case just last week on December 8, 2021, in an apparent attempt to intimidate or dissuade them from testifying,” Hopkins stated in his Declaration in Support of the Protective Order.
That post that Hopkins was referring to that doxed “victims” came in response to a thread from Antifa Watch, which was posting itself about the case. The post by @SDagainstFash involves public video clips that the DA referenced in initial charging documents.
The first defendant to be arrested after the Jan. 9 protest was Brian Lightfoot. Lightfoot was originally charged in May, with the remaining defendants charged in the December hearing.
At that time, the district attorney requested $1 million in bail, an amount on par with crimes such as first-degree murder.
At his bail hearing, on May 25, 2021, the state argued that Lightfoot was a potential flight risk because he had access to firearms, had a fundraiser for his bail, had posed in photos in front of expensive cars, and had hired an attorney that resides in Northern California. Included as proof were photos of Lightfoot posing with toy guns.
The judge ultimately decided that the bail request was excessive and released Lightfoot on his own recognizance with no bail posted, highlighting the contrast between what the San Diego District Attorney’s office thinks and what the court sees reasonable.
It will be a struggle that plays out this summer, as the trials for the defendants is scheduled to commence on Aug. 8, 2022.