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A group of militant anti-vaccine activists protested children walking to school in Beverly Hills on Wednesday, with one notorious anti-vaxxer screaming, “They’re trying to rape our children with this poison.”
The protester in question was Shiva Bagheri, a dog walker, dancer, and founder of the protest group Beverly Hills Freedom Rally, which has held numerous anti-mask and anti-vaccine events in recent months.
She was also recently caught on camera punching a cancer survivor while protesting a mask mandate at a cancer clinic.
On Wednesday morning Bagheri joined a larger group of protesters who confronted parents and children from Hawthorne Elementary School as they took part in National Walk to School Day.
Also in attendance was Beverly Hills Mayor Robert Wunderlich, who proposed that the representatives from the protest group meet him later in the day, and leave the children to walk to school in peace.
While anti-vaxxer protests at schools have become increasingly common in recent months, particularly as mask-mandates have come into force, the violent rhetoric spewed at Wednesday’s protests shows just how extreme these incidents are becoming.
Bagheri was captured on video by Samuel Braslow, a reporter for the Beverly Hills Courier, shouting at the children: “This is rape. They’re trying to rape our children with this poison. They’re going to rape their lives away.”
At another point, a protester shouts out that asking children to wear masks is “child abuse.”
Disinformation researchers believe that groups like Bagheri’s are beginning to mimic the actions of other extremist groups.
“Some small, hateful anti-vaxx groups, like this one in LA, are starting to look a lot like the Westboro Baptist Church,” John Scott Railton, a senior researcher at Citizen Lab, a cybersecurity watchdog organization at the University of Toronto, tweeted.
Another disturbing aspect of the protest is that it was promoted by a group of Beverly Hills firefighters who themselves are protesting a vaccine mandate. At a Tuesday protest in support of firefighters who have refused to get vaccinated, one speaker urged those in attendance to also protest at the National Walk To School event the following day.
“They think it's gonna be a fun and safe photo opportunity with parents and kids,” David Hakimfar, a West Hollywood attorney and anti-vaccine activist said at the protest Tuesday. “Let's show up here and show them it's not. Let's show them how we really feel. Let's make them afraid.”
The Beverly Hills Firefighter Union also promoted the planned protest of the Walk to School Day event on its Instagram page.
The union has said that while it urges all its members to get vaccinated, it opposes the Los Angeles County mandate requiring all emergency workers to be vaccinated. “We strongly believe it should be a personal choice on whether one receives the vaccination or not,” the union says on its Facebook page.
School mask mandates have become the latest battle in the increasingly bitter partisan culture war that has gripped the U.S. in recent years, including everything from gender identity to critical race theory.
While many protesters would like to portray the opposition to mask mandates as a grassroots campaign led by citizens concerned by their freedoms being eroded, the reality is that these protests are being orchestrated by networks funded by GOP mega-donors like the Koch brothers.