Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations
Watch Live


Trial begins for alleged antifa members accused of riot conspiracy in Pacific Beach

The San Diego County Superior Court is shown in this image taken April 28, 2023.
Alexander Nguyen
The San Diego County Superior Court is shown in this image taken April 28, 2023.

Two members of a group of self-described anti- fascists came to Pacific Beach to violently disrupt a demonstration by supporters of former President Donald Trump, a prosecutor said Tuesday, while defense attorneys argued many of the supposed victims actually instigated the violence that broke out that day.

Opening statements were delivered Tuesday in the trial of two men who were charged along with nine other people in connection with the Jan. 9, 2021, "Patriot March" that devolved into brawls and violence.

Brian Cortez Lightfoot, 27, and Jeremy Jonathan White, 41, both from the Los Angeles area, face charges that include conspiracy to commit a riot. Their nine co-defendants have pleaded guilty to various charges and some have already been sentenced to prison.


Prosecutors allege Lightfoot and White played roles in a series of assaults on members of the Pro-Trump crowd.

Deputy District Attorney Makenzie Harvey told jurors they would not be judging the political stances of anyone involved, but whether crimes were committed "against unprovoked victims."

The prosecutor said, "You will not be asked what your opinion is of the Patriot group, of those people who support former President Donald Trump. You will not be asked how you feel about the ideology of antifa because having an ideology is not a crime."

In her opening statement, Harvey outlined 11 "separate acts of violence" allegedly perpetrated by Lightfoot, White, and other antifa members, who the prosecutor said converged on Pacific Beach in tactical gear and armed with weapons such as baseball bats, pepper spray and tasers.

Harvey said both Lightfoot and White pepper sprayed various people and either took part in or instigated incidents in which people were physically beaten by antifa members.


The prosecutor said the defendants "came to San Diego with a number of co-conspirators with the intention to shut down the speech and the assembly of a Patriot group for the simple fact that they didn't agree with their beliefs."

White's attorney, Curtis Briggs, and Lightfoot's attorney, John Hamasaki, argued their clients sought to defend counterprotesters from pro-Trump members who were trying to stir up violence.

"Not everybody was out there with good intentions," Hamasaki said. "The idea that they were out there just looking for a peaceful Patriot March — I think the evidence will show that is not correct. Some of these people out here were looking for trouble, were looking for conflict, and were looking for a fight."

The defense played videos recorded by one of the prosecution's listed victims, a man who live-streamed his interactions with a group of people at the protest.

The man was punched and pepper sprayed by a group of people, but defense attorneys say before that happened, the man declared on his stream, "This is going to be good content," that he was "going into combat mode" and that some of the antifa crowd members "are going to lose some teeth."

After several insults and yelling, a brawl ensues. One person swung a skateboard at the man, who later says, "I purposely did that to trigger him" in regard to the insults he directed at the crowd.

Another group of people who were allegedly pepper sprayed by Lightfoot and beaten by others were armed with a knife and a gun that turned out to be a replica, the defense attorney said.

White is accused of pointing out a man to antifa members, who then chased the man down and attacked him.

Briggs said that moments before, a member of the pro-Trump crowd threw a smoke grenade toward a large crowd. The attorney said White was not pointing at the man who was beaten, but rather toward an empty alleyway to show protesters that no one else was there to potentially attack them.

"Please ask yourself when the prosecutors put their witnesses on if you're getting the whole story," Briggs told the jury. "Please pay close attention to whether the people on the stand have bias, whether they're really victims or not, and approach the prosecution's case with healthy skepticism."

The trial is expected to last at least four weeks. Both Lightfoot and White are expected to testify.

Briggs previously sought to have the San Diego County District Attorney's Office disqualified from prosecuting the case and replaced with the California Attorney General's Office. He argued that San Diego County District Attorney Summer Stephan's office showed bias by prosecuting only anti-fascists and not those who attended the event in support of Donald Trump.

Briggs said Stephan's office has a history of declining to prosecute members of far-right organizations who commit violence. His motion was ultimately denied by San Diego Superior Court Judge Daniel Goldstein, who is overseeing White and Lightfoot's trial.

The San Diego County District Attorney's Office has said in prior public statements that "video evidence analysis shows that overwhelmingly the violence in this incident was perpetrated by the antifa affiliates and was not a mutual fray with both sides crossing out of lawful First Amendment expression into riot and violence."

KPBS has created a public safety coverage policy to guide decisions on what stories we prioritize, as well as whose narratives we need to include to tell complete stories that best serve our audiences. This policy was shaped through months of training with the Poynter Institute and feedback from the community. You can read the full policy here.