SMC alumnus stabbed in fray with KKK
Before Feb. 27, SMC alumnus Tom Bibiyan, 34, was primarily known for his involvement in the Green Party. “I’m running for city council in the 26th district of Los Angeles,” Bibiyan said. “I will be on the ballot. This has kind of been a speed bump in all that.”
The "speed bump" he referred to? Being stabbed by Klu Klux Klan member Charles Edward Donner at the recent and short lived KKK rally in Anaheim, where 13 people were arrested after a riotous melee occurred between KKK members and counter-protesters. Video of the fight from major local news outlets and independent citizen journalists featuring Bibiyan bleeding on the sidewalk soon went viral online.
“It's kind of a weird thing to happen to somebody,” Bibiyan said. "I went to private schools growing up. Getting into fights with Klu Klux Klan members is a bit of a stretch."
Bibiyan had been invited to the KKK rally in Anaheim's Pearson Park on Facebook by Green Party members he worked with. While the Green Party never appeared at the rally, members of another group — the "Anti Fascist League Against Nazism and Fascism," otherwise known as ANTIFA — did. The international group that opposes all fascist ideology, groups and individuals had ample warning of the event as the Klan had advertised it on Facebook and Twitter weeks in advance.
According to Bibiyan, a group composed of Hispanics, Native Americans and African Americans as well as members of ANTIFA were waiting for the Klan members at their preset meeting point of Pearson Park in Anaheim. After arriving in a black SUV to unload signs and encountering the crowd of angry counter-protesters who outnumbered them, most of the Klansmen fled the scene.
“Without any police presence, it got violent,” said Bibiyan, who insisted that there were no police at the rally prior to the brawl breaking out.
Daren Wyatt, Anaheim Police Department Public Information Officer, refuted Bibiyan's claim, saying that officers had been there before the violence erupted.
“It may be because it’s a large park people didn't see where they were… that they were focused primarily on the KKK people when they arrived,” Wyatt said. “If we had 30 officers on the north end of the park, and this happened on the south side of the park, we’d be asked why we weren't on the south side. Just a fact of life.”
According to Wyatt, it had been police who initially reported the violence, calling for additional response. He reported that within 90 seconds, the first of the additional units were on the scene and that six more had arrived within two minutes. Following the initial two minutes, officers continued to arrive. Wyatt said that there was a standard Incident Action Plan — a prepared outline to handle emergencies — in place for the rally.
Watching video footage of the event shot by Brian Levin, a professor from CSU San Bernardino, there is a significant period of delay between when the fighting broke out and when police first arrived to break up the melee. Whether this is due to the police relocating from across the park or being in transit to the scene remains in dispute.
Bibiyan was the last of three people stabbed in the melee and was hit twice before police showed up. Bibiyan said he chased after Donner and “literally kicked him in the ass,” backed with photographic proof on his Instagram.
“The officers saw that part. They didn’t see the stabbing part, so [police] tackled me first,” Bibiyan said. “The guy with the knife, Donner, was just walking. Mind boggling right?”
In the video, Bibiyan is grabbed from behind and pulled back by a police officer onto the ground where he then proceeded to shout profanities at Donner. Another photo on his Instagram shows Donner walking away while an official grabs at Bibiyan's arm. Donner was arrested and put in custody but was not charged. Following the brawl, protesters convened the next day, Feb. 28, at the Anaheim Police Department to accuse the department of being complicit in the violent turn of events.
“The fact that he was so confident about stabbing a bunch of people, like really fearless about it, makes me think that they had some sort of arrangement with the police or the city,” Bibiyan said. “Personally, I feel as though we were kind of lured in a little bit. Thirty people came into a very controversial subject, without a single police officer present, and we get charged. We get put into custody. The Klanspeople, who stabbed people, nearly killed people, weren't charged with anything. It's absurd. It just seems a bit suspect that they didn’t charge him.”
Wyatt called suspicions that police were complicit in the violence "ludicrous." According to him, after police assessed various videos, still photographs and took into account interviews from both sides as well as independent witnesses, they believed there was “clear and convincing evidence” that Donner had acted in self defense, which he was legally allowed to do.
In one of the most gruesome photos from the event, Bibiyan is featured lying on the concrete with his shirt up, covered in blood.
“In the moment, you’re kind of in disbelief. You’re in a little bit of denial. You’re like huh, okay,” Bibiyan said. “I don’t know, I thought for a second, maybe this is it, this is how I died. Ku Klux Klan member just killed me, actually. I was like, that’s a shitty way to go.”
Despite having just been stabbed, Bibiyan found himself still up for jokes.
"I was like, 'That motherfucker.' And they were like, 'Sir, breathe, just breathe.' I was dressed pretty nice that day, and they had to cut off all of my clothes. I was like, 'Are you kidding me?' I was joking around with them, like, “This was a really nice tee shirt you just ruined.”
He even managed to give his girlfriend a hard time.
“I texted my girlfriend that I got stabbed by the Klu Klux Klan, 'lol.' And she was like, 'Why the fuck did you put lol?' And I was like, 'It's kind of funny. The KKK just stabbed me. Nice.'”
That night, Bibiyan remained in custody and was handcuffed to the hospital bed under the supervision of officer Troy Hill.
“[The nurse] was like, ‘You don’t seem like the kind of guy to get stabbed twice. You look like a computer programmer,’” Bibiyan said.
Bibiyan attended Yeshiva University High School, where he learned about fascism in the form of Nazism. As someone of Jewish heritage, the message of the anti-fascist protesters resonated with him.
“Our police — our politicians kind of enable this. They say, 'Oh, you can peacefully assemble,'" Bibiyan said. "They have a right to free speech, but for people of color or of different ethnicities that have been victimized by this particular group over the years, it doesn't sit well.”
However, Wyatt maintains that the police handled the situation to the best of their ability and chose the correct course of action. Wyatt said, “We cant decide that we don't like a certain groups' message and therefore treat them any differently."
Though the tumultuous event may end up raising his political profile for the upcoming election, Bibiyan said if he had known what he knows now, he wouldn't have gone to the event. He said, “I wish it had gone differently, as much as I’ve enjoyed my 15 minutes of fame."