The Wi Spa in Koreatown, Los Angeles has, in the last month, turned into a lightning rod for political violence, anti-transgender extremism, and, now, police brutality.
Over the weekend, the unassuming spa in downtown LA was the backdrop to yet another round of clashes between far-right activists, bolstered by a group of suspected Proud Boy associates, and counterprotesters, including many black-clad antifascists. Video showed opposing sides brawling, and police firing less-lethal rounds at close-range into left-wing activists.
The LAPD declared an unlawful assembly, and arrested several dozen people. In a statement, the LAPD said that smoke bombs and projectiles had been thrown at officers. They also discovered weapons scattered across the site, including a stun gun, knives, and pepper spray.
Guardian reporter Lois Beckett was thrown to the ground by a group of far-right protesters who attempted to take her cellphone which she was using to report the day’s events.
Saturday marked the second violent protest to transpire outside Wi Spa just this month.
The trigger for the violence is, broadly speaking, the Wi Spa’s queer-friendly nondiscrimination policy, which welcomes transgender guests to use whichever facilities that align with their gender identity. In late June, a video surfaced online that purported to show three women confronting a Wi Spa staff member, claiming that a transgender woman had displayed her genitals to children in the women’s changing area. The video rapidly spread after it was featured in a Tucker Carlson segment on Fox News.
Some in local LGBTQ circles have suggested the video was a hoax, intended to foment anti-transgender sentiment by falsely implying that the transgender community poses a safety risk to children. Wi Spa has declined to comment, other than noting to news outlets that their nondiscrimination policy is consistent with California law.
A Telegram channel associated with the Proud Boys celebrated videos showing pro-LGBTQ activists being arrested by LAPD. Local activists identified some key players from right-wing circles who were involved in Saturday’s melee, including QAnon anti-vaxxers, and John Turano (aka “Based Spartan”), a minor celebrity in far-right “patriot” circles.
Groups of men wearing gloves, helmets, face-coverings, and apparel with slogans like “Pedophile hunter” and “fuck antifa” were also photographed at Saturday’s protest. Local activists suspect that Proud Boys were in the mix, though none came wearing their trademark black-and-gold uniform.
Since January 6, Proud Boys across the U.S. have latched onto hyper-local culture war issues, from defending a school nurse in New Jersey whose employment contract wasn’t renewed after she refused to wear a mask, to showing up to city council meetings in Modesto, California to protest the firing of a cop accused of killing an unarmed civilian, to supporting an evangelical preacher outside a Planned Parenthood in Salem, Oregon. California, in particular, has emerged as a hotspot for Proud Boy activity since January 6, a recent analysis by VICE News found.
On July 3, dueling clashes between opposing sides outside Wi Spa resulted in at least two stabbings. In that instance, masked men in tactical gear wielding bats, knives, bear mace, and other weapons went up against pro-LGBTQ protesters.
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