Violent Attack on UCLA Student Protest Encampment Leaves Over 30 Injured

A violent attack by far-right activists injured over 30 people at a UCLA student protest encampment supporting Palestine. Despite the severity of the incident, no arrests have been made, sparking criticism of the university and police response.

Aqsa Younas Rana
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Violent Attack on UCLA Student Protest Encampment Leaves Over 30 Injured

Violent Attack on UCLA Student Protest Encampment Leaves Over 30 Injured

On April 30, 2024, a violent attack occurred at a student protest encampment at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), leaving over 30 people injured. The attack was carried out by a group of far-right activists who had been involved in anti-LGBTQ and anti-vaccine protests across southern California over the past three years. Despite the severity of the incident, no arrests have been made.

Why this matters: This incident highlights the growing threat offar-right extremism in the United States, which can have devastating consequences for marginalized communities and democratic institutions. The attack also underscores the importance of protecting the right to peaceful protest and the need for universities and law enforcement to take a stronger stance against hate groups.

The protest encampment, set up by pro-Palestine students to show solidarity with Gaza, had been in place for a week. Tensions had been building online and on campus for days, fueled by social media posts and WhatsApp group chats claiming Jewish students were being mistreated, blocked from parts of campus, and even attacked. Although some of these claims were unverified, they sparked a crowd to converge on UCLA.

On the night of the attack, a crowd descended on the encampment, shouting slogans and demanding that police shut it down. Despite pleas from the crowd, police drove away, and a firework exploded, leading to a violent melee. Masked men circled the barricades, and a pipe was wrestled from a protester. The violence lasted for hours, with multiple people injured. Sean Tabibian, a 52-year-old lawyer who witnessed the violence, was disturbed by the police inaction. Kaia Shah, a 23-year-old UCLA graduate student, described the attack as "violent and terrifying chaos" and said she was targeted with bear spray.

Researchers have identified several far-right activists who participated in the counter-protests leading up to the violence. Narek Palyan, an Armenian American from Los Angeles, was photographed on UCLA's campus on April 26 and 30. He has a history of anti-Semitic and anti-LGBTQ posts on social media and has participated in "Leave Our Kids Alone" demonstrations, where he was photographed making Nazi salutes. Manuk Grigorian, an organizer of "Leave Our Kids Alone" protests, was present at the counter-protests on April 30. He has appeared on Fox News, making false claims about public education districts "grooming" children to develop LGBTQ identities. Michael Ancheta, a former mixed martial arts fighter, was spotted among the pro-Israel crowd on April 28 and 30. He has associated with southern California Proud Boys and has a history of violence, including assaulting a journalist at a 2021 anti-vaccine protest.

The UCLA administration and police have been criticized for their response to the attack. The university "stood by and did nothing," while the police watched the violence unfold. The following night, May 1, hundreds of riot police were deployed to terrorize peaceful pro-Palestine protesters, firing flashbangs, tear gas, and rubber bullets into the crowd, and arresting over 200 students, staff, faculty, and community members. OutWrite Newsmagazine, the oldest queer college publication in the United States, denounced the university's "blatant endangerment of students" and its use of militarized police to silence political dissent.

Multiple law enforcement agencies are investigating the incident, using facial recognition, cellphone data analysis, and other tools to identify the perpetrators. Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass compared the violence to the January 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol and expressed uncertainty about whether the attack was coordinated. UCLA Chancellor Gene Block has condemned the attack, but his justification for clearing the encampment based on the chaos of the previous night has been criticized by students and attorneys as cynical and obscuring the university's role in exacerbating the violence.

The violent attack on the UCLA student protest encampment is part of a larger trend of far-right actors seeking to sow chaos and undermine democratic institutions. Similar tensions are playing out in public education across the country, with attempts to bar districts from teaching LGBTQ topics and school board candidates aligning themselves with the "Leave Our Kids Alone" movement. As the investigation continues, the incident serves as a stark reminder of the ongoing challenges faced by marginalized communities and the importance of protecting the right to peaceful protest.