DAVIS — A conservative speaking event hosted by a student organization at UC Davis was canceled due to safety concerns after a brawl broke out involving members of the Proud Boys, a known extremist group.
The UC Davis student chapter of Turning Point USA held a speaking event featuring Stephen Davis, known as "MAGA Hulk."
The event was set up to be held Tuesday night in a conference center on the UC Davis campus.
The topic, according to a social media advertisement about the event, was "topics related to systemic racism and the lies that surround the topic."
The event brought out dozens of protesters, who were able to safely protest the conservative speaker's message in an assigned area outlined with metal barricades.
A spokesperson with UC Davis sent CBS13 an updated statement about the security setup at the event Wednesday night.
UC Davis Police, according to the spokesperson, set up a perimeter around the building so attendees could enter and exit safely. They worked alongside private security for "building management," who were on the front lines of security for the duration of the event.
"As is the UC Davis Police Department's practice, they worked with Student Affairs to monitor the protest in real-time and make decisions quickly. They were on standby when fighting broke out, but the situation de-escalated on its own, eliminating the need for the police to engage. No serious injuries were reported." said Julia Ann Easley, a spokesperson for UC Davis.
According to three witnesses interviewed by CBS13 and a cell phone video of the events, a group of people wearing the Proud Boy logo, who identified themselves as Proud Boys, arrived minutes before the event started.
They brought mace and, according to one witness, sprayed protesters within inches of their faces.
"They instigated fights, they had bear mace, they were shouting just awful things, they … were throwing the metal barricade fences at us. It was just awful," said Will Alpers, a UC Davis Alumni who says he attended the protest out of an interest in political science.
Alpers said he did not anticipate the event turning violent, and before the Proud Boys arrived, he explained, there was no violence.
"I thought it would be a protest about the event, but the Proud Boys showed up … and they were violent," said Alpers.
The fight involved around 100 people, according to the original statement released by UC Davis. The 30 event attendees inside the conference center were evacuated, and the event was canceled out of concerns for safety.
The national organization behind the student group, Turning Point USA, posted a statement to social media on Wednesday, calling the fight and event cancellation a "great loss for free speech."
The student organization and the event were held with approval from UC Davis and Student Affairs.
Are the Proud Boys growing in Northern California?
The fight on the UC Davis campus Tuesday was the third recent event Proud Boys have crashed in the last six months in the area.
This spring, members of the Proud Boys attended multiple Davis school board meetings in protest of the district's mask mandate. Then, in July, members of the Proud Boys disrupted a drag show in Yolo County by making homophobic and transphobic remarks. The Woodland establishment, Mojo's Lounge, and Kitchen 428 restaurant that hosted the event received online threats and were forced to cancel the event due to threats.
Brian Levin, the Director of the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism, said the Proud Boys, and extremist groups like them, seek out college campuses and cities that are "liberal" to make a point.
"Proud Boys often will have different chapters come together and show up in a particular region. They often come armed with weapons and sometimes with helmets. The insurrection was not a one-off for the Proud Boys." said Levin.
He said the events in Davis align with the Proud Boys' traditional approach to violence.
"They particularly enjoy showing up to places where they can 'own the libs' college campuses and cities like Los Angeles and New York," said Levin.
A Davis community activist who was protesting the speaking event on Tuesday night said she has been to protests where the Proud Boys brought "mayhem" in the past.
"We have seen the same faces who come to our community to create mayhem from the outside," said Anoosh Jorjorian, Director of the Davis Phoenix Coalition.
The Southern Poverty Law Center reports that the extremist group was designated as a terrorist entity by the Canadian government in February 2021, citing the role the group played in the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection at the U.S. Capitol.
The Proud Boys make up 65 hate groups statewide. There are known Proud Boys chapters in San Francisco, Bakersfield, Modesto, Fresno, Los Angeles, Sacramento, Redding, and Placerville. They are classified as "general hate" groups by the SPLC.
This means they are an extremist group that promotes a combination of "well-known hate and conspiracy theories," according to the SPLC.
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