El Cajon police Capt. Rob Ransweiler was a solitary figure in front of the Civic Center police station Sunday, hours after pro-Palestinian protesters and right-wing “patriots” clashed with Mace on Main Street a quarter-mile away.
“No victims have come forward,” he said in response to questions about violence outside a festive “We are Israel” rally at the grassy Prescott Promenade.
Perhaps 1,000 people heard former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and radio host Larry Elder, a candidate for governor, hail Judeo-Christian values.
But few at the rally were aware of the fumes that led about 100 chanting, sign-carrying protesters to abandon their march — making a U-turn on Main Street at Claydelle Avenue.
El Cajon Mayor Bill Wells didn’t know about the use of throat-burning spray until informed by a reporter 20 minutes after the fact.
Videos posted to social media showed aggressors on both sides. Black-clad protesters — who walked ahead of the main group — sprayed men including former Defend East County member Mike Forzano, shirtless and combative.
A couple dozen police in riot gear stood in a line near the entrance to the rally, which had private security inspecting bags and wanding the mostly older and white crowd — many wearing Trump paraphernalia.
But officers didn’t intervene against attacks from either side.
In response to questions from Andrew Dyer of The San Diego Union-Tribune, the El Cajon Police Department said via email late Sunday night that officers became aware of a fight involving several people within a large crowd at Main and Claydelle.
“While we were coordinating a response,” the statement said, “the crowd dispersed and the fighting stopped. All involved parties left the area.”
The department added: “None of the involved parties have contacted ECPD to report being a victim of a crime. To assist us in an investigation, if you have any information to help us identify and reach out to victims, or video evidence that would help us identify suspects, we would be happy to accept.”
Hours earlier, Ransweiler said of the police presence: “We were just here in case anything went silly.”
An organizer of the pro-Palestinian march wasn’t amused.
Mike Shede of El Cajon, among several people displaying Palestinian flags along Main Street next to the rally site, wasn’t immediately aware of the eye-stinging attacks.
Informed of the use of Mace or similar spray, he criticized El Cajon police for not watching out for his group as much as the rally-goers who received free Shield of David items — fans, T-shirts, buttons and Israeli flags. (Branded water bottles also were offered.)
Marchers carried signs proclaiming “Zionism is Racism,” “Pompeo Go Home” and “End the Occupation.”
One leader instructed the marchers: “Do not engage with other protesters. Please remember that we are here peacefully.” But after the clashes, the marchers made a U-turn at Claydelle and went back east on Main Street.
Appearing via Zoom earlier Sunday on KUSI-TV, Shield of David President Eli Ben-Moshe, an Ocean Beach optometrist, described the rally as a “historic event.”
He accused Congress of encouraging antisemitism, which he said has “become normalized” — equating criticism of Israel’s policies in the occupied West Bank with hatred of Jews.
Inside the rally venue, Susanna Summers of El Cajon quietly held a sign saying: “Yes! Bless Israel! (But) Liberate Palestine. SECURITY = A JUST PEACE.”
She called for an end of the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories.
“When you steal people’s livelihood and dehumanize them, it’s going to lead to a cycle of violence,” she said.
Across the street, near Main Street Donuts & Deli flying a “Trump 2024” flag, one of three men who declined to give their names said “any American patriot” was the target of protesters’ Mace-brand bear spray.
“We have a few videos of them going after females,” said another.
After his remarks on stage, conservative radio host Elder told Times of San Diego that he had been invited by organizers and wanted to express his love of Israel and the Jewish people — “and because so many Jews have been influential in my life.”
He also wasn’t aware of the clashes more than an hour earlier.
“But I am truly aware that I spark controversy wherever I go,” he said. “In fact, I’m kind of surprised when it doesn’t happen.”
Claiming he engenders antagonism and hostility, Elder said a “whole bunch of idiots in the world … don’t want other people to have another point of view — especially a black person who’s a conservative.”
He recalled what former Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir once said: “We’re going to keep having these problems as long as Palestinian mothers hate Jews more than they love their own children.”
Elder said that if the Jews lay down their weapons, “there will be wholesale slaughter. If the Palestinians lay down their weapons, there will be peace. And that’s the problem. You don’t have two partners who are truly willing to negotiate the peace.”
Pompeo, arriving a little after 5 p.m. from Orange County, greeted the crowd with “Shalom” and “Thanks for letting an Army guy (first in his class at West Point) come to a Navy town.”
He recalled President Trump citing a Washington Post headline in early January labeling Pompeo his most loyal Cabinet secretary.
“Trump called me, and he said: My Mike!”
Pompeo told POTUS: “That’s great, Mr. President. They did not intend that as a compliment.”
Sunday, he defended Trump’s America First foreign policy.
“I was determined to demonstrate how my faith, and America’s Judeo-Christian founding, mattered to improve our world. …. Shining a light, and evangelizing, are biblical requirements — not challenges to the so-called separation of church and state,” Pompeo said.
As a few raindrops fell, the former Kansas congressman and CIA director wrapped up before exiting and not meeting the media: “It is because I am a Christian and an American that I was proud to lead the fight in the defense of Israel, the Jewish people and the perennial cause of religious liberty around the world.”
As he left, a man on stage delighted the crowd: “Whaddya say? The next president of the United States?”