From the Central Coast to the north state, Black Lives Matter protesters are taking to the streets in some of California’s smaller cities and encountering armed individuals who say they want to protect property.
The gunmen have watched protests from rooftops and street corners, in some cases wearing Army-like uniforms with military service patches.
As more than 200 people marched in Arroyo Grande, armed gunmen took to the roof of a local mixed martial arts gym, according to the San Luis Obispo Tribune.
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The owner of that gym, John Hackleman, later posted a video to Facebook saying that he was worried that protesters might vandalize his business.
“I did that out of fear. I was scared and I wanted to be prepared. I didn’t want that to happen here. So I’m sorry for anyone that was scared about the visual of a guy on a roof that did have a weapon. It was unloaded and he wasn’t going to shoot anyone … but it was still a scary visual and I understand that,” he said.
Some were critical of Hackleman’s gym on Facebook, with one poster writing, “I would think that they could go hand to hand combat against any looters. They are just ‘pathetic posers’ putting our police officers at risk.”
Elsewhere in San Luis Obispo County, members of motorcycle clubs have showed up at protest marches, stating that they intended to protect local businesses from looting and vandalism. There has been no recorded protest-related vandalism in the county, according to the San Luis Obispo Tribune.
For the past two weeks, protesters have marched in cities large and small across the country, advocating for law enforcement reforms after the May death of George Floyd, a black man, while he was in the custody of Minneapolis police.
Looting followed some protests, including in Sacramento. Rumors have circulated in smaller cities that looters would target their communities, although that has not happened.
Members of groups such as the Three Percenters and the California State Militia, both of which are listed by the nonpartisan Southern Poverty Law Center as part of the anti-government movement, showed up in at least two California cities.
In Oakdale, in Stanislaus County, several armed members of the California State Militia provided security for several local businesses. Their arrival drew criticism from local law enforcement, with both the Stanislaus County Sheriff’s Office and the Oakdale Police Department saying that the militia presence caused problems, according to the Modesto Bee.
“This ‘militia’ has no official standing, no authority and their presence was counterproductive to keeping the peace in the City of Oakdale. Their activities were a drain on law enforcement resources and did nothing to protect the city,” Stanislaus County Sheriff Jeff Dirkse said in a Facebook post. “Neither I nor any member of my staff interacted with this group. I have never met or corresponded with their leadership.”
In rural Northern California, Black Lives Matter protesters have been by met by hundreds of counter-protesters, some of whom wore tactical gear, camoflague pants and protective vests, according to the Redding Record Searchlight.
One woman told the newspaper that she was a member of the Three Percenters. The woman was unarmed, according to the Record Searchlight, but wore a protective vest and carried a helmet.
Shasta County Sheriff Eric Magrini said in a radio interview that he did not endorse vigilante groups, according to the Record Searchlight.
“In no way, shape or form ever would I embrace any kind of vigilante group, do any call to arms to … deputize somebody or call someone in,” he said.
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