Rush-hour traffic in Los Angeles can be nightmarish under the best of circumstances. A drive from, say, Santa Monica to downtown L.A. might take a half-hour in the middle of the night, but it could be two or three times as long during the morning and afternoon commute times. Every day, hundreds of thousands of drivers across Southern California consult their Google Maps and Waze apps looking for the accidents, stalled cars, jackknifed semis and any of the other minor inconveniences or outright catastrophes that can shut down a lane or, heaven forbid, an entire freeway and stand between them and where they need to be.
Drivers in Los Angeles are accustomed to these unforeseeable events and most often bear them with aplomb. That aplomb is tested to its very limits when someone deliberately sets out to disrupt traffic, most especially when it’s done in the furtherance of a dubious cause. On two occasions in the fall of 2017, members of the group Refuse Fascism, in a display of protest against the “Trump/Pence regime,” walked onto the 101 Freeway in downtown L.A. and brought morning rush-hour traffic to a standstill, an act for which the participants were prosecuted.
(Videos of the protests are here and here. Warning: the marginally literate narrator uses abundant coarse language.) In the trial for two of the defendants, Alex Antonio and Chantelle Hershberger, jurors were unable to reach a unanimous verdict and a mistrial was declared. Both defendants will be retried later this month.
Prosecutors love going to court with a confession from the accused, but rarely is one provided in the form of an op-ed piece in the local newspaper. That’s just what Mr. Antonio and Ms. Hershberger offered in the August 4 edition of the Los Angeles Times. The first time they stopped traffic on the freeway, Antonio and Hershberger write, was shortly after “Donald Trump said there were ‘fine people’ among the torch-bearing white supremacists” at the August 2017 protests in Charlottesville, Virginia.
With this is revealed something about the authors of the piece and indeed about the Los Angeles Times. President Trump’s “fine people” comment has been widely misconstrued among his opponents, which of course include most so-called journalists. That this canard was allowed to remain in the piece is a signal, as if more were needed, that the Los Angeles Times, like nearly every other major media outlet, is willing to sacrifice the truth in the service of opposing the Trump administration.
Antonio and Hershberger go on to lament that the Los Angeles Police Department used an informant to spy on Refuse Fascism meetings held in an Echo Park church, and they invoke the allusions to Nazi Germany that have become so tediously predictable in public discourse concerning the Trump administration. “Our group is concerned about fascist rule,” write Antonio and Hershberger. “Having our private meetings infiltrated by a police spy suggests that we’re right to worry.”
Lest there be any confusion on this point, private meetings at which plans to break the law are discussed do not enjoy constitutional protection, and there was nothing in the least unlawful about the use of an informant under these circumstances. Yes, Donald Trump’s election inspired much protest, most of it peaceful, but some of it very much otherwise. The shirttail bio appended to Antonio and Hershberger’s piece identifies the authors as “activists with Refuse Fascism and the Revolution Club,” the latter of which is perhaps better known as the Revolutionary Communist Party. On its website, the RCP says it hopes to bring about “a whole new stage of communist revolution, not just in this country but in the world as a whole.” How blocking freeway traffic and preventing members of the martyred proletariat from getting to their jobs and other obligations is nowhere explained. And when it comes to opposing Donald Trump, it’s beyond question that the great majority of motorists inconvenienced shared the protesters’ distaste for the man, if not necessarily their zeal in making it known: Los Angeles County voted for Hillary Clinton by a 72-22 margin.
The hung jury in the first trial for Antonio and Hershberger suggests there may have been a prosecutorial lapse, one that can be difficult to avoid in a case like this one. The defendants, after all, admitted their guilt on the witness stand, but sought to shield themselves with the First Amendment so as to avoid culpability. It was not disclosed what the vote split was among the jurors, but I suspect it was heavily for guilt, and that in jury selection the prosecutor failed to spot the kook or kooks who would go on to vote for acquittal. This is not a criticism but rather an acknowledgment that some prospective jurors have been known to go to great lengths to hide their biases during jury selection, and a case as politically fraught as this one would certainly inspire such a deception in someone so disposed.
Let’s hope the next jury isn’t similarly compromised. If Antonio and Hershberger and their fellow travelers are allowed to go unpunished for their misdeeds following the 2016 election, imagine what they might do when Donald Trump wins re-election in 2020.