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Facebook Group Leads To Violent Face Offs At Protests

 August 18, 2020 at 10:26 AM PDT

Speaker 1: 00:00 The demonstrations in support of racial justice, police accountability and black lives matter have sparked a counter movement, which is showing up in disturbing confrontations in San Diego is East County a Facebook site called defend East County has recently swelled to over 20,000 followers, San Diego union Tribune reporter Andrew Dyer has written about the origins of the group and increasingly volatile face-offs between protesters and counter protesters in East County. Andrew, thank you for joining us. Thanks for having me. So why did you decide to research and write about the confrontations happening in East County? Speaker 2: 00:35 Well, I've had my eye on the group, uh, about, since the beginning I was allowed into the group about a week after it formed. This is the defenders County group. Yes, it's a Facebook group called defenders County. It's one of several similar groups in San Diego. Uh, but it's, it's the largest that I've seen with with more than 20,000 members. Speaker 1: 00:58 It was started you right after the Lamesa protest at the end of may, which turned very destructive. Give us an overview of the aims of the group and, and the posts on the site. Speaker 2: 01:09 It started as a very kind of grassroots reaction to the Luning and arson and Lamesa community members, you know, business owners and other people in the community, you know, they did not want to see that happen again. So they kind of organized in order to kind of stand watch at businesses, you know, in Lamesa that night, I was, I was also there and there were a handful of businesses where people did go and stand in front of them, maybe the owners or friends of the owners. And they were largely untouched by looters. So I'm just having a person standing in front of a business. You know, it looked effective at least in the Mesa on, on May 30th. So that was how it started, but because it is a reaction to black lives matter, it also attracted another element of people who actively oppose the black lives matter movement and saw this as an opportunity to engage with, with the protestors. What do we know Speaker 1: 02:10 About the person who created the Facebook group, Justin Speaker 2: 02:13 And Justin Haskins? He is, um, formerly of, of East County. He now is in Arizona where he's incorporated defenders County into an LLC. I spoke to him to the story and he doesn't see himself as a leader of a group to him. This is just a community, a community forum. And he happens to be the person who started the group and who administered it. But, um, he, I describe him as kind of a reluctant leader. Speaker 1: 02:47 This country, you know, encourages free speech and demonstrations and counter demonstrations are part of a democratic society. What is it about the confrontations that you've reported on that you find concerning, you know, among counter-demonstrators Speaker 2: 03:01 There are different trains of thought. You know, some of them only want to stand in front of businesses. They don't want to engage in counter demonstrating. They don't want to provoke protestors, but there is another group who sees this as an opportunity to express their first amendment rights and to, you know, bring, you know, there's a lot of Trump flags, American flags pushing back on, on the, the aims and perspective of black lives matter. So I, I want to make it clear that, you know, this, this group, you know, there are different trains of thought and there are different aims and goals. But I think in the August 1st protest in Lamesa, there were a group of people counter-demonstrators who, um, several videos from the protest show kind of ran into the crowd of black lives matter protesters and did engage in physical altercations. Uh, one witness said that they, you know, grabbed somebody's Bullhorn and throw it on the ground and grabbing people's signs. There were punches thrown, and one man was, was, uh, arrested. So, um, after that incident, after the August 1st protest or in violent, I decided to that it was probably time to take a deep dive into the group and talk about what is actually happening online, because now it is having a real world, uh, impact. Speaker 1: 04:24 No Haskins says that he's not a follower of the Q Anon conspiracy theories. Although he says in your article, that quote, it sounds like there is a lot of truth to Q Anon. What kind of conversations around it are happening within the Facebook? Speaker 2: 04:37 Good Q Anon has really taken a foothold in the, you know, the conservative movement. And it's been, you know, the president president Donald Trump has retweeted Cunanan accounts. It's, um, there are several candidates for higher office that have promoted Kiernan on their social media accounts. So this is, it's kind of a new tendril, I think, in the, in the conservative movement. I didn't see a lot of Q stuff in the defender's County Facebook group until very recently, a lot of Cunanan adherence have kind of latched onto the, uh, save the children movement. Um, because part of the que conspiracy is this idea that there is a child sex trafficking ring among Democrats and Hollywood actors, including like satanic ritual and sacrifice and just a lot of conspiratorial, stuff like that. And so they've kind of found another movement to kind of, um, it's kind of like a gateway to Q Anon. It's not hard to get people to agree that child abuse is wrong. So they kind of take it a step further and give you this whole framework of a conspiracy around ritualistic child abuse. And so in mid July, there was the United nations save the children day. And out of that, I started seeing a lot more kind of queue affiliated chatter on social media, kind of co-opting that save the children hashtag and they began to manifest and defend these County Speaker 1: 06:12 Haskins also denies that this Facebook group is racist. Is that credible? Speaker 2: 06:16 You know, I wouldn't call the group itself racist. It is a group where racist conversations take place though. So, you know, with 20,000 people, you know, um, many of them, you know, disagree with a lot of the stuff that is talked about in there. Um, but it is a place where one might find likeminded individuals. If, if you disagree with the black lives matter movement, Speaker 1: 06:48 Well, it sounds like there's quite a spectrum of opinions. Um, this group could be a gateway to more extreme opinions. East County is struggling, you know, to move away from it's fraught history when it comes to race and hate groups, how is the community reacting to what looks like a reemergence of some of that culture that was well-documented in places like Santi? Speaker 2: 07:09 You know, it it's a sore spot for people. And, um, you know, there are a lot of people that live in, in Santee and Oklahoma, you know, there are a lot of people who live there who are not racist and they do not agree with this stuff. And it's painful for them to read over and over again about these incidents that, you know, bring up that history. You know, a lot of people do want to move on from it, but it also is true that there is a segment of the population, um, not just in East County, this is throughout San Diego County, but there is a small percentage of people who do hold extremist beliefs in the area. And it just so happens that those voices sometimes, um, are the loudest, Speaker 1: 07:51 What kind of feedback have you gotten from people who've read your story. Speaker 2: 07:55 It's a mixed bag because you know, the story is right there on kind of the ranger Razor's edge of, of this culture war between the left and the right. So it kind of depends on where people land on that spectrum, whether they liked the story or not. Speaker 1: 08:12 We've been speaking with Andrew dire, San Diego union Tribune reporter. Thank you very much for your reporting, Andrew. Speaker 2: 08:19 Thank you. [inaudible].

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Some of the confrontations have involved members of a Facebook group called “Defend East County.” The group was started after a La Mesa protest at the end of May turned destructive. It has recently swelled to over 20,000 members.
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