A few local detractors of the “Black Lives Matter” movement sought to sow fear and upset before protests scheduled in Bishop and Mammoth Lakes using social media platforms. The hope was apparently to “mobilize groups” to “counter the protests” and prepare locals to, in some cases, “lock and load.” Even now, days after the protests, a few are still peddling divisive rhetoric and untruths online.
Most of the rumor-mongering was on local social media platforms (primarily on Facebook) which is where local authorities first heard of concerns coming from citizens alarmed about what they were reading online. Those promoting the falsehoods often used the term “from a reliable source” to make a convincing argument, yet never provided a credible, verifiable source of their sources of information.
Despite the attempts to derail the protests with false narratives of “domestic terrorists” such as “antifa” coming to the area, there was a successful “Black Lives Matter” protest held in Bishop on Tuesday, June 2, with approximately 130-140 protesters, and yet another very successful BLM Protest March on Saturday, June 6, in Mammoth Lakes with an estimate 600 marchers.
What is antifa exactly? The ADL describes antifa (short for “antifascist”) as a loose collection of groups, networks and individuals who believe in active, aggressive opposition to far right-wing movements, which also include neo-Nazis and white supremacists. Most established civil rights organizations criticize antifa tactics as dangerous and counterproductive.
Sierra Wave went directly to the County Sheriffs and the Chiefs of Police in Bishop and Mammoth Lakes, as well as the state police, i.e. California Highway Patrol and asked:
“To your knowledge, was there ever any credible source of information from a legitimate agency that would have indicated in any way that a busload of “looters, rioters and Antifa members” were taking time out of their busy day down south from looting and destruction, to come all the way up here to disturb the peace at the rally in our towns? Or was this all Facebook nonsense?”
This is what they wrote back, which speaks for itself:
From Sheriff Jeff Hollowell, Inyo County—
The Sheriff’s Office never received any credible information regarding Antifa coming here. The protests were in the City, so we just assisted them in the event manpower was needed. I don’t believe they received any credible threats either.
My intent was to allow the protests to take place, be available to assist the PD if needed, and allow people to exercise their constitutional rights. -JH
From Chief of Police Ted Stec, City of Bishop Police—
Before the date of the protest, a person was posting on FB (Facebook) that Antifa was on its way. He gave updates. People in Bishop became afraid. Some businesses prepared to close and did so.
With help of the CHP, we investigated, which seemed to disprove Antifa, agitators, buses, vans, etc. were en route. We reached out to the person, who said that he was just joking. The posts were edited to reflect that.
Even though we did not have credible information of agitators coming to town, it was still our duty to prepare a deployment plan so we wouldn’t get caught flat-footed on any trouble that might occur. We do the same for Mule Days, parades, graduations, etc. -TS
From Captain Terry Lowther, California Highway Patrol, Bishop Area—
As for the bus loads: I had not received any credible information that anyone was traveling to Bishop area to protest. I worked with other law enforcement agencies that were tracking social media posts claiming people were being bused in. CHP worked with other CHP areas to attempt to locate the bus sightings described only on social media.
All efforts, including posting units on 395 were unable to substantiate these posts. Ultimately, we canceled the efforts and remained focused on securing state properties and being available to assist BPD. -TL
From Ingrid Braun, Sheriff-Coroner, Mono County—
We had no credible information that any outside groups were coming up to Mammoth. There were rumors, but nothing substantiated. And, as I was at the Mammoth protest, I did not see anyone try to stir anything up. It was very peaceful. -IB
From Chief of Police Al Davis, Mammoth Lakes Police—
My first comment would be, CHP officers are police officers and have police powers anywhere in the state, not just state highways. Second, LE agencies in the Eastern Sierra rely on each other for assistance. We call it mutual aid. We help each other on a regular basis, daily in most cases. Usually backing up other officers etc.
Second, how do you determine credible? I had heard of a FB post as mentioned for the Bishop event. It appears the reason the event coordinator canceled the event. Some continued to demonstrate on their own. Great!
So, when planning events, such as Night of Lights (and many more in Ventura) I always plan for the worst-case scenario and hope for the best. The primary idea is to keep the public safe, either through presence or if violence does break out, we can respond quickly and quell it.
For our event we had additional resources available nearby. Fortunately, they were not needed. Again, great. We had a good time helping our march make it through town. It was a tremendous community event, one that was much needed for our Town.
Bottom line, both events went off well. Additionally, some of our young people learned they can peacefully demonstrate for their beliefs! -AD