Immigrant-rights advocates aren’t just squaring off against ICE—they’re also facing attacks on attendees at their rallies.
In Alabama, last week, a man allegedly pulled a gun on immigrant rights activists. In Oregon and Florida, anti-ICE protesters said people struck them with cars. The protests have been growing after revelations about the separation of immigrant families at the border. On Saturday, demonstrators across the country participated in mass actions against family separations.
Saturday’s “Families Belong Together” rally in Huntsville, Alabama was billed as a peaceful day of protest against family separations. But the afternoon turned chaotic, when a counter-protester with an “ICE ICE Baby” sign began pacing in front of a priest who was delivering a prayer to attendees.
“Womp womp,” the counter-protester, 34-year-old Shane Sealy shouted over the priest. (“Womp womp” has become an anti-immigrant rallying cry on the racist right, after former Trump advisor Corey Lewandowski used the slogan to demean a 10-year-old immigrant girl with Down’s Syndrome who had been separated from her mother.)
Sealy got into an argument with a protester, during which he started brandishing a gun, witnesses said.
"He pulled out a gun. I saw him holding it out in front of him. We just started screaming for everybody to drop to the ground," rally organizer Ava Caldwell told Alabama’s WHNT 19 News. "We all dropped to the ground crying."
Sealy, a former teacher, was quickly arrested, and charged with menacing and reckless endangerment. The confrontation ended without injuries.
But during an occupation-style protest in Portland, Oregon last month, at least one woman was injured when an opponent of the protests hit her with his car.
Stuart Lindquist, 79, owns the building that houses Portland’s ICE detention center. While driving by a June 18 demonstration outside the building, Lindquist appears to have got in an argument with a protester, and slapped the man’s phone out of his hand, according to video footage reviewed by the Willamette Week. Lindquist then appeared to accelerate into the crowd, hitting a woman.
In an interview with the Week, Lindquist admitted to hitting the protester with his car. He said he’d accelerated because he wanted to get away from the crowd, which he claimed was hitting his windows. But he also offered to fight some of the protesters, at least one of whom he’d just struck with a car.
“I'd be glad to take them on one at a time, bring 'em on. Even at my age, I'm ready to go,” he told the Week.
And on Saturday, when a car allegedly struck anti-ICE demonstrators outside the Baker County Sheriff’s Office in Macclenny, Florida, an activist was arrested, not the driver.
“While sitting inside the Sheriff’s Office lobby, this Sgt. was advised by radio communication, that the protesters were surrounding a vehicle in the front parking lot of the Sheriff’s Office,” reads a police report. “While dispatch was advising this information, deputies were observing approximately 10-15 people yelling at the driver of the vehicle.”
The driver, 37-year-old Julie Beighley, told officers that she had been trying to drive out of the parking lot when demonstrators surrounded her vehicle, and that one had hit the car. The young woman, 25-year-old Argentinian immigrant Sofia Palacios, was arrested on the spot on misdemeanor counts of assault and criminal mischief.
But eyewitnesses claim Beighley’s account is bogus.
“That didn’t happen. It’s just not true,” Stetson Cooper, a rally attendee told The Daily Beast. “She pulled out of the parking lot. People were dispersing. It wasn’t a crowd. She honked once or twice and people started getting out of the way … then she sped up into the crowd, and hit two people. I’m not sure how hard.”
Cooper was one of several witnesses who immediately started documenting the scene and posting footage to social media after the collision. Annette Gilley, another demonstrator who saw the alleged collision said she submitted a witness statement, which she shared with The Daily Beast.
“I heard a horn blowing, I think twice, and looked around to see a maroon colored 4-door sedan. It was stopped a ways away from the folks walking into the parking lot, facing them. I was thinking ‘what's wrong with that jerk?’” the statement reads. “Then the car just drove directly into the crowd. I was maybe 10' from the car, on the south side, which was the drivers side. Everyone was freaked out, jumping out of the way and yelling at the driver. I also yelled at the driver. This aggressive honking and driving into the crowd was very obviously deliberate. There were 2 lanes out of the parking lot and the driver chose the front lane, where all the people were walking, then stopped and blew the horn, paused, then drove into them.”
Video from the immediate aftermath shows demonstrators yelling at Beighley and disputing her claims of being surrounded.
“No one is blocking you,” one person shouts on the video. “You came through us.” “She tried to hit everyone,” another voice calls to police. Beighley does not appear interact with protesters, except to gesture to her New York Giants t-shirt and mouth the word “giants” several times.
Beighley spoke with officers and pointed to Palacios, according to the police report.
“I couldn't believe it. I felt like I was in some kind of bad dream,” Gilley said of watching police arrest Palacios. “I ran after the officers shouting at them, ‘not her’ ‘she's not the driver’ ‘what are you doing?’ I realized they knew she wasn't the driver and didn't stop.”
Palacios has since been released from jail on her own recognition while she awaits criminal proceedings. Gilley said she tried to give police a witness statement at the scene, but was rebuffed.
“I saw a woman giving a statement to a female officer. I went and listened to the end of what they were saying,” she said. “I tried to tell the officer what I saw. She said ‘we have enough,’ ‘We'll contact you if we have questions’. I asked ‘how can you contact me? Can I give you my contact info?’ But she just walked away towards the office.”