EDITOR'S NOTE: Rocky Romano is an on the ground filmmaker and member of the press who was assaulted by a far right extremist named Aaron Simmons during the July 3, 2021 Wi Spa clash over transgender rights. For more information on this clash, here is context.
As my directing partner and I were driving to the Wi Spa protest on July 3rd, 2021 we discussed, as we always do, the potential dangers that we could face. This was not our first protest, in fact we have covered over fifty protests since the George Floyd murder video went viral with the goal of capturing the truth beneath the mainstream media headlines and to help amplify voices that are often marginalized. After the George Floyd murder we picked up our cameras and filmed protests throughout Los Angeles County, creating the now multiple-award winning short film “We Can’t Breathe”. We are currently working on a feature length version of the short film titled “Activated” that will give a more in depth look at the civil rights movement in Los Angeles over the last year, and that, along with our overall goal is what brought us out to Wi Spa that day.
We knew that there had been threats issued by far right extremists and, as always, we came prepared with our limited protective gear, which thankfully included my helmet. What we did not know was the extent of the danger we would be facing.
As we arrived at Wi Spa, it looked as though we were in for a short day and would soon be enjoying tacos at a local establishment. Approximately thirty people were standing on one side of the driveway entrance to the spa and on the other side stood a solitary older man holding a mic and wheeling around a large dark colored speaker. Preaching a message of hate and misinformation, the older man was continually drowned out by a woman sporting a fashionable summer dress and red parasol. Her message was clear, there will be no space for hate in our town.
Soon after, several more groups of transphobic individuals, QAnon believers, Trump supporters, and religious zealots began attempting to demonstrate their particular brand of hate. The numbers for the group defending trans rights began to grow as well with the crowd reaching close to one hundred people at that point. Things began to escalate from there as the two opposing groups migrated onto the four corners of Wilshire boulevard and South Rampart boulevard. As tensions rose, fights began to break out and I ended up being hit with a cloud of mace as I filmed. After taking a minute to recover, I witnessed a man wearing a US flag bandana and a t-shirt that stated “Stand for the flag, kneel for the cross” reach into one of his allies backpacks and remove what appeared to be a small caliber handgun and put it in his front right pocket. When questioned about what it was by a journalist, he stated “something to shoot you with”.
As the acts of violence began to escalate even more, I began to try and de-escalate certain situations where violence could reach the point of major bodily harm or death. This, as always, puts me in danger, but I feel a responsibility to act in those situations, rather than just being an observer. This is exactly what led to my failure to maintain situational awareness, leaving me completely blind to what was about to happen. Just as I stepped in to allow a far right protester to get to his feet after falling to the ground after a confrontation, I was hit from behind by some sort of blunt instrument. Getting hit like that is hard to explain. At first, you get sent into a “fog of war” state of mind in the sense that everything slows down and your brain is just trying to figure out what happened; what is the damage? Am I ok? Who did this? Then the rage kicks in and you want to strike back.
At this point I realized what had happened, watched footage of the attack, and really asked myself why the fuck I was out there… but of course, I knew. After getting aid from one of the street medics and a lot of convincing people that I was ok, I continued to film - and that is when shit got crazy...
A well armed group of far right extremists, including the person who hit me from behind with a metal pipe who we have identified and believe to be Aaron Simmons, marched up Wilshire Boulevard and began to attack multiple other people. The attacks were brutal, leaving multiple people battered, bruised, bludgeoned and stabbed. Ironically, even as the right-wing press claimed one of their own as a victim of being stabbed by ANTIFA in the arm - a fact that their press amplifiers giddily announced on social media to make it seem as if ANTIFA were perpetrators of the violence at the event (@ggreenwald @MrAndyNgo) - but our footage showed conclusively that one of their fellow heavily armed provocateurs first stabbed an opposing protester in the leg three times as he attempted to restrain the person, putting him in the hospital, then he stabbed the woman that the right wing press claimed was stabbed by ANTIFA - a case of right-wing friendly fire.
Despite the video proof, none of the right-wing press has offered a correction to their reports that ANTIFA was responsible for the stabbing. They are more happy to be victims than to correct the mistake. The police, who I presume were outnumbered, were reduced to passive observers as several fights erupted into the streets. Everything from that point on was chaotic. To be honest, I’ve been surviving off of adrenaline and social media dopamine since then, but now I’m facing the somber truth of what actually happened that day.
The far right extremists, fueled by conspiracy theories and driven by misguided hate, sent out threats of violence on social media days before the event - they were outfitted with tactical gear including communication systems, tactical knives, baseball bats, pipes, mace, and guns - They organized and executed multiple major assaults, that sent multiple people to the hospital and could have easily resulted in fatalities. This was all captured on film and, at this time, only one of the perpetrators has been identified and no one has been held responsible by the authorities. On top of that, it appears that no mainstream media in the US feels that any of this is worth mentioning with the exception of FOX news’s Tucker Carlson who used his platform to fuel the far right extremists.
The counter protest was a loose coalition opposed to the far right extremists, and was there to stand with the voices that are often marginalized, in this case, the LGBTQIA+ community. This collection of concerned citizens were willing to take on armed militant far right extremists, risking their health and safety to defend equality while others sat idly by.
I am sick to my stomach about the events that occurred that day. And I ask myself, what the fuck are we doing? How did we get here? Is political violence rather than meaningful discourse our future? Are we going to allow organized fascists to roam the streets with weapons assaulting people? The lies and bullshit that we are allowing to permeate our everyday lives are a fucking joke. We need to stop listening to one sided media, and start researching where our information comes from. We must stop with all the conspiracy Bullshit - it is literally a “mind virus” that is bringing our society to its knees.
I hope that this day serves as a lesson to all of us. I am glad that our footage was able to prevent the right wing press from promoting their fake news stories of victimization, and hope that it can help to catch the people who were assauting protestors and the press that day. I hope that we accomplished our goal of capturing the truth beneath the mainstream media headlines and were able to help amplify voices that are so often marginalized.