White nationalist faces Capitol melee assault trial
SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — A purported white nationalist on Friday was ordered to stand trial on an assault charge from a 2016 melee at the California state Capitol that injured at least 14 people.
Sacramento County Superior Court Judge Sharon Lueras ruled that prosecutors have enough evidence to try William Scott Planer, 35, on a charge of assault with a deadly weapon. Prosecutors dropped another charge of participating in a riot.
Planer was among 20 members of the white-nationalist Traditionalist Worker Party rallying at the Capitol in June 2016 when he knocked a defenseless counter-protester unconscious, prosecutors said.
Defense attorney Danny Brace said Planer was defending himself and others from 200 to 300 counter-protesters, three of whom face charges in a separate case. He questioned why police didn’t do more to separate the two groups, criticism previously raised by independent observers who said police seemed slow to react.
At least 14 participants suffered stab wounds, cuts and bruises, with two surviving critical stabbings. Police also recovered a loaded gun.
Separately, Planer was arrested in Colorado in July 2017 on suspicion of pasting stickers reading “Fight Terror, Nuke Israel” on the front door of a Colorado Springs Jewish center.
The Sacramento case against Planer rests on a social media video played in court Friday that shows counter-protester Alice Summers attempting to rise to her feet from the Capitol lawn. Planer runs up behind her and hits her in the head with a pole, using a full baseball bat-like swing. She drops unconscious before three other counter-protesters drag her away.
“I do not see an issue of self-defense,” the judge said. “He comes up behind her and strikes her in the head.”
California Highway Patrol investigator Donovan Ayres testified on cross-examination that Summers was initially knocked down after starting and losing a fistfight with another member of the Traditionalist Worker Party, which had a permit to rally at the Capitol.
Planer had the 2-by-2-inch (5-by-5-millimeter) pole he used to strike Summers because he took it from another counter-protester who was using it to attack him, Ayres said. Counter-protesters also sprayed him with pepper spray before he struck Summers.
After striking Summers, Planer broke his stick over the head of another counter-protester who was attacking another white nationalist with a similar pole. He is not charged in that fight.
“They were outnumbered 10 to one,” Brace argued. “They had the right to protest, the right to defend themselves.”
Ayres testified that police knew for six to eight weeks that counter-protesters calling themselves anarchists, anti-fascists, socialists, communists, and a group called By Any Means Necessary planned to disrupt the rally, likely using violence.
He testified that he watched from the Capitol roof nearly three hours before the melee as counter-protesters practiced fighting, put on body armor and handed out “stacks of sticks,” poles that Ayres said are often reinforced with bolts driven into the end so they can be used as weapons or to break windows.
Ayres said 100 to 150 law enforcement officers from several agencies had intended to use officers mounted on horses or bicycles to keep the two groups separated. But they were distracted by an earlier confrontation between counter-protesters and one unaffiliated white nationalist elsewhere on the Capitol grounds, and had massed their officers near where the Traditionalist Worker Party had scheduled its rally.
They were caught off guard when scouts from the counter-protesters spotted the approaching white nationalists and began shouting, “The Nazis are here!” The crowd of counter-protesters then surged toward the Traditionalist Worker Party members and began the battle.
“It was unfortunate the way that played out,” Ayres said. “We were unable to get in position.”