Even as Los Angeles County battles a surge in COVID-19 cases and deaths that’s pushed hospitals to the breaking point, anti-mask protesters are storming public places in defiance of local ordinances.
This weekend, hordes of protesters claiming to be “pro-freedom” marched into a Ralph’s supermarket and the upscale Westfield Century City Mall in Beverly Hills, haranguing masked customers and employees. And, like some other demonstrations at businesses around the country, these devolved into ugly scenes of verbal, even physical, altercations.
Video of one demonstration captured by a reporter for the Beverly Hills Courier showed a protester ramming a shopping cart into a masked customer at Ralph’s after she accused him of having assaulted her.
As the masked customer was checking out, the protester was seen on video kicking him and calling on other protesters to “take care of him.”
The Courier reported that the LAPD came to the scene and separated the individuals and interviewed them.
“We want to be able to shop without putting a muzzle on our face,” said an organizer of the “Beverly Hills Freedom Rally,” pro-Trump fitness and dance instructor Shiva Bagheri, on a livestream, as the crowd made their way to the Century City Mall. Video shows protesters marauding around the Bloomingdale’s cosmetics department chanting “No More Masks.” At one point, they dance to a song that has replaced YMCA’s lyrics with M-A-G-A” — which has become a mainstay at pro-Trump and MAGA rallies.
“Don’t allow them to take your freedom away,” Bagheri says to her camera. “This is Communism. Big Pharma, Big Tech, big government, no more. We might as well be Venezuela at this point. Bagheri was briefly detained by LAPD after a later confrontation with a shopper but was seen being released on site, according to people at the scene.
These scenes keep popping up even as the COVID-19 crisis in LA has gotten so bad that it’s spilled out from hospital wings into the streets—ambulances are waiting up to eight hours just to offload patients, and parking lots have been turned into makeshift infirmaries amid soaring numbers of critically ill people.
Braslow caught several other confrontations, including a heated argument that resulted in a Bloomingdale’s employee escorting a masked customer away from a group of protesters.
Further confrontations ensued when protesters went into the mall’s food court and demanded to be served, despite not wearing masks.
In another incident captured by local reporter Emily Taylor, a woman shouted at protesters that she was a doctor and her mother was in hospital with COVID-19. “People die,” a protester shouted back. “Your father isn’t special.”
LAPD did not immediately return VICE News’ query about whether there were any arrests.