ANDY NGO REPORTS: Antifa trial of the decade exposes a violent conspiracy in San Diego riot

Prosecutors in San Diego County have laid bare the felony violent conspiracies to commit violence within a southern California cell of Antifa.

Andy Ngo and Eva Knott San Diego CA

This is part of an exclusive series reporting on the So Cal Antifa cell.

As the criminal trial of two So Cal Antifa members goes into its third week, the public is learning about how one of the notorious Antifa groups organizes and carries out violence against targets.

Jeremy Jonathan White, 41, and Brian Cortez Lightfoot Jr., 27, both of Los Angeles, are accused of carrying out violent attacks on supporters of former President Donald Trump in a felony conspiracy—the first time Antifa suspects have been charged with such a serious felony accusation anywhere in the US. Nine of their co-defendant comrades have already been convicted in plea deals, including Luis Francisco Mora, 32, who took a last-minute plea deal at the start of the trial.

So Cal Antifa members Brian Cortez Lightfoot Jr. and Jeremy Jonathan White are on trial


On Jan. 9, 2021, roving mobs of black-clad So Cal Antifa members attacked supporters of Donald Trump and people walking on the boardwalk at Pacific Beach in San Diego County. A dog and his walker were among those maced. Eleven people, about half from Los Angeles County, were indicted in 2022 by a secret grand jury on a total of 29 felonies, including conspiracy to riot, assault and other violent crimes. Prosecutors alleged the defendants engaged in a coordinated conspiracy to riot. 

White is accused of two felonies: felony conspiracy to riot, plus felony assault of a man on a bicycle who was documenting the Antifa rioters with his cell phone. Lightfoot is accused of sixteen felonies as the alleged “ringleader” of the attack: conspiracy to riot, plus nine unlawful uses of tear gas charges and six felony assaults on six different victims. 

Defendant Jeremy White (in black) laughs in court. Photo: Ken Stone/Times of San Diego

Brian Cortez Lightfoot has been charged with 16 violent felonies. Photo: Ken Stone/Times of San Diego

Most of the nine co-defendants who already took plea deals still await sentencing, in which they expect to be sentenced to prison. Two were already sentenced to five years in prison each; their sentences were enhanced by prior outstanding felony charges in unrelated crimes.

The weeks of testimony in the trial so far featured experts on Antifa, detectives, and the victims of the violence that day. Testimony is supported by video evidence captured during the riot and messages sent between the co-conspirators. Just before jury selection, co-defendant Luis Francisco Mora took a last-minute plea deal and admitted to the charge of conspiracy to riot, plus assault by means likely to produce great bodily injury. 

White surprised the court and prosecutors by entering a plea of “not guilty by reason of insanity.” If he is found guilty at this trial, a follow-up trial will determine his sanity.

‘The Antifa Soldier’ 

During her opening statements to jurors on April 2, prosecutor Makenzie Harvey showed video footage of violence during the riot that included aerials from a local police helicopter. The jury also saw communications between defendants, including one from Lightfoot, before the riot, in which he stated: “Got a team coming from L.A.” and “I wanna fight!” Lightfoot used the alias “John Wick” on his Signal encrypted communications and had an Antifa logo featuring black and red flags as his avatar photo. One of his confirmed Instagram usernames was “@antifaboyacab5.” 

Prosecutor Makenzie Harvey shows jurors the Signal and social media usernames belonging to Brian Cortez Lightfoot Jr. Photo: Ken Stone/Times of San Diego

“ACAB,” an acronym of “all cops are bastards,” is a slogan used by Antifa and far-left extremists to express hatred of law enforcement and the state. White used the alias “ACAB Man” on Signal and “@theantifasoldier” on Instagram.

Jurors saw an Instagram exchange White had with a comrade after the riot where he appeared to be preparing for another attack and referencing that he had exhausted his supply of chemical sprays from the Pacific Beach riot. “I just ran out of bear mace and pepper gel and was hoping to get those but I should be fine,” White wrote seven days after the riot. They also discussed how to exchange funds through Venmo.

Prosecutor Makenzie Harvey shows jurors photos of defendant Jeremy J. White, his online monikers and the riot gear he wore for the attack. Photo: Ken Stone/Times of San Diego

Prosecutors say Jeremy White used his ‘theantifasoldier’ Instagram account to discuss in private messages how he had ‘run out’ of chemical weapons from the Pacific Beach riot. Photo: Ken Stone/Times of San Diego

Prosecutors also unmasked others who were at the riot and communicated with So Cal Antifa members using a secret members-only Signal group called “SD Fash Bash.” Among them are two far-left self-identified journalists. Sean Beckner-Carmitchel, an LA-based videographer, uses the name “A Cat with News” on social media. He originally uploaded video of the riot on his Twitter account but later deleted the evidence.

Another person at the riot in black bloc was Robert Sneed, a Portland, Oregon Antifa member who used the alias, “Chip Nooo.” Defendant White has testified this week that Sneed gave White and Lightfoot a ride to the riot from LA. Neither Beckner-Carmitchel nor Sneed were charged with crimes by prosecutors.

There were 18 members of the So Cal Antifa Signal secret chat group titled, ‘SD Fash Bash.’ Photo: Eva Knott

So Cal Antifa members communicated with other extremists all using aliases. Photo: Eva Knott

L.A. self-identified journalist Sean Beckner-Carmitchel was a member in the So Cal Antifa Signal chatroom, jurors saw

Robert Sneed, a Portland, Ore. Antifa member, was one of the extremists at the San Diego riot unmasked by prosecutors

Lightfoot had numerous communications with individuals on social media about the riot. Prosecutors showed jurors an exchange he had with an individual boasting about robbing a bicycle off one of their victims.

‘Bigmoneypayso’ was one of the Instagram accounts belonging to defendant Brian Lightfoot. A person discusses crimes committed at the riot with him. Photo: Ken Stone/Times of San Diego

White, who is 6 feet 3 inches tall, stands out in the riot video because of his height and his distinctive black armored riot costume with a gas mask and helmet. His defense attorney Curtis Briggs argued that his client was a “medic” at the event. 

Prosecutor Makenzie Harvey holds up the armored riot gear Jeremy White wore at the beach attack. Photo: Ken Stone/Times of San Diego

Since riots began against Trump and his supporters in 2017, Antifa and other far-left groups have popularized delegated roles to their members that include so-called “medics.” These protesters are instructed to provide first aid if their comrades are injured in the course of a riot. The self-identified medics often engage in rioting and violent behavior themselves. 

“He [White] wanted to protect protestors,” Oakland-based attorney Briggs argued. He is providing counsel to White pro bono, as is San Francisco far-left activist John Hamasaki, counsel for Lightfoot.

Defense attorneys Curtis Briggs and John Hamasaki represent Jeremy White and Brian Lightfoot, respectively, pro bono. Photo: Ken Stone/Times of San Diego

When prosecutor Harvey first showed video evidence of defendant White macing a man who was walking his dog along the beach boardwalk, people in the courtroom gasped.

Prosecutors say Jeremy White sprayed bear mace on a dog and his walker on the beach. Photo: Ken Stone/Times of San Diego

One of the victims in the case was a then-minor schoolboy who was beaten by the Antifa rioters. Attorney Briggs showed the jurors a still photo of the boy and other youths and claimed those teens “blocked” the much larger Antifa group from marching on the beach boardwalk. “Many people will say they are fascists, the people wearing MAGA hats….the persons that Antifa faces off with,” Briggs said. 

Lightfoot’s attorney defended his client’s use of bear mace on the group of schoolboys: “When you see the bigger picture, it is not just three kids getting pepper sprayed. You will understand that Brian using pepper spray was reasonable under the circumstances.” Hamasaki continued: “Bear spray, you’re going to learn, it stings, it burns like hell, but it doesn’t do any permanent damage.” When discussing his client going to the direct action in riot gear, he said: “Protective gear is there to do one thing, it’s there to protect you. It’s not an offensive weapon.” 

Jurors saw evidence of Brian Lightfoot allegedly initiating an assault. Photo: Ken Stone/Times of San Diego

Hamasaki tried to deny the organization and well-practiced techniques of many Antifa actors, telling jurors: “Antifascism is an ideology.” Though Antifa does organize around an ideology of anarchist communism, the label of “fascist” is applied to all their opponents. Their targets of harassment and violence often include journalists, elected officials, Republicans, women critical of trans ideology and people who consider themselves “patriotic.” 

“He [Lightfoot] wanted to be part of standing up to fascism,” Hamasaki told the jury.

At one point when jurors were excused for a break, Judge Daniel Goldstein admonished the defense attorneys for persisting in their efforts to politicize the trial by making claims about right-wing groups and particular individuals to justify the actions of their clients. The judge had repeatedly rejected efforts to bring those claims in as evidence, during pre-trial motions.

“I made the ruling seven times,” the exasperated judge said.

Judge Daniel Goldstein has repeatedly rejected attempts by the defense to introduce claims about the political beliefs of the assault victims. Photo: Ken Stone/Times of San Diego 

High School Students Beaten

The first witness called in the trial was an undercover San Diego Police detective who observed the riot. The judge ordered the media not to identify this witness. This detective said he saw 40 to 50 people dressed all in black. 

“They are actually identifying themselves as Antifa for the first time here, with their flags,” he said. His testimony is backed by photography and video of the riot showing the Antifa side waving flags and symbols of their movement in addition to brandishing and later using weapons. One of Antifa’s signs read, “ASHLI BABBITT DESERVED IT.” Babbitt was the unarmed woman who was shot dead inside the US Capitol building during the Jan. 6 riot in 2021.

Prosecutors showed jurors symbols used by Antifa members. Photo: Eva Knott

On the third day of testimony, a now-university student identified as H.T. took the stand. He was 17 and in high school when he was beaten in 2021. The prosecutor asked him, "What does ‘patriot’ mean to you?” For years, during pre-trial court hearings, the defense has tried to cast the assault victims as white supremacists who organized under the label of “patriot.” 

H.T. replied: “I like the country I live in and I like to support it.” He said he met with high school friends to attend a “Patriot March” after seeing a post on Instagram. He wore a red “MAGA” hat, which immediately made him a target of Antifa. “There were at least thirty. They were yelling, ‘Go home racist,’” he said. He estimated that he and his friends stood on the boardwalk for about five minutes before being sprayed with a blinding chemical.

Prosecutors showed evidence of the moment the high school boys were assaulted after being surrounded. Photo: Ken Stone/Times of San Diego

In video evidence displayed to the witness, he identified himself on the screen and pointed out a masked man who had threatened and assaulted him. Prosecutors say that man was Brian Lightfoot. “He was yelling like, ‘I’m gonna beat your ass,’” H.T. said. He said that person first maced him and his friends. As the boys attempted to flee, they were chased. H.T. said someone bashed him in the leg with a skateboard, which caused him to go down. He said he limped to his friend, identified only as S.G., who was being beaten. 

Victim H.T., who was then a minor, was doused in a chemical spray in the attack

“They were punching him and kicking him and hitting him,” he said. “I limped over to him and tried to get him away. He was yelling in agony. I knew he was hurt, so I just kinda grabbed him.” H.T. said he suffered lasting nerve damage to his leg in the assault.

Prosecutors showed the court the level of coordination between the co-conspirators on the day of the riot. Photo: Ken Stone/Times of San Diego

During cross-examination of the student witness, Briggs suggested to the jury that the boys instigated violence by blocking the marching path of the black-clad group. “You were standing there five minutes, didn’t you think maybe you should go, or move to a safer place?” Briggs  asked. H.T. responded that he thought he was safe with the police being so close.

Prosecutors showed incriminating posts made by Brian Lightfoot on his Instagram account. Photo: Eva Knott

San Diego Police detective Emily Clark was next to testify. She attended the riot undercover.

“I hadn’t seen a group that coordinated,” Clark said. She said she witnessed more than 15 people coordinating their actions together on the Antifa side “to commit a crime.” 

Journalist Assault Victim Takes the Stand

By the second week of trial, a professional photographer who was beaten at the riot was called as a prosecution witness. John Cocozza waived his right to anonymity after having previously spoken to media about his injuries and sharing his footage. Cocozza’s footage was played at trial, showing the Antifa crowd shouting, “F—k around find out! Nazis out of PB [Pacific Beach]!” The video also showed Antifa threatening police who rode by them on bicycles.

“In my time living in Pacific Beach I have never seen people in body armor and shields, and protests like that,” Cocozza said. He said he was confronted after Antifa protesters took issue with him recording their gathering. His video showed him backing away from the menacing masked group before having his phone hit out of his hands repeatedly (defendant Faraz Martin Talab was recorded first hitting the phone away. Talab already pleaded guilty to his crimes at the riot and is not part of the current trial).

Witness John Cocozza publicly identified himself to the media as a victim before trial. The photojournalist was beaten on the back with a wooden staff at the riot. Photo: Eva Knott

As the video continued playing, defendant White was seen confronting Cocozza and pointing him out to his comrades. Cocozza was then pursued by them. He said that after he had been pepper sprayed, he fled and tried to help a man who was knocked off his bicycle during the beach riot. Cocozza said the man “was getting beaten to death” by assailants using a stick, skateboard, taser, fists and their feet in the attack. Evidence video of the incident showed a man alleged to be Lightfoot using a wooden staff to strike Cocozza on his back during this time.

During cross-examination, defense attorney Briggs suggested Cocozza provoked people by swearing at them when he was confronted. 

Police Commander Testifies

In the second week of testimony, San Diego Police captain Matt Novak was called as a witness. He testified that people in the pro-Trump group were law-abiding, but people in the larger crowd in black were committing unlawful acts. He said that day was the most violent protest he experienced in his law enforcement career. Defense attorneys, left-wing media and Antifa supporters have tried to cast doubt on the legitimacy of the current prosecution by highlighting that no right-wing people are defendants in this riot case. 

“I had no legal means to declare unlawful assembly against the other [right-wing] side because they were not being unlawful,” Novak said. “It was the violence of that group [Antifa] that came, that brought the violence.” He asserted that the locals who attended the “Patriot March” were nonviolent and that the responding “counter-protestors” came from elsewhere, including Los Angeles, to bring violence to the suburban beach community.

During cross-examination, attorney Briggs showed the jurors a photograph of a right-wing rally attendee who allegedly wore a sheathed knife on his hip but was not arrested or prosecuted. “They can carry a knife in a sheath, wearing the knife itself is not illegal,” Novak told the defense attorneys, although he noted that switchblades are illegal in California, and brandishing a knife could be unlawful.

Novak defended his officers for not intervening when people were being assaulted by Antifa. Many conservative activists and media have criticized police departments across the US for not reacting when conservative protesters are assaulted by far-left extremists. The captain said decisions were made to “keep discipline” and that officers were instructed not to be baited out of their lines. Novak said he announced an unlawful assembly after police were hit with rocks and projectiles from the Antifa side. 

Unbroken String of Convictions

Nine other Antifa co-defendants have already been convicted in the case that has taken more than three years to prosecute: Alexander Akridge-Jacobs, 33, Jesse Merel Cannon, 33, Joseph Austin Gaskins, 23, Christian Martinez, 25, Samuel Howard Ogden, 26, Bryan Rivera, 22, Faraz Martin Talab, 29, Erich Yach, 40, and Luis Francisco Mora, 32.

Nine So Cal Antifa members have been convicted so far through plea deals

One defendant, violent trans activist Erich “Nikki” Yach was the first to be convicted in September 2022, and he was sentenced to nearly five years in state prison. His sentence was enhanced due to him having outstanding felonies for other crimes when he rioted. He could be released as early as October 2024, according to the California inmate locator webpage. 

Convicted violent trans So Cal Antifa member Erich ‘Nikki’ Yach is eligible for early release in October 2024.

Violent So Cal Antifa member Jesse Merel Cannon is serving five years in prison for felony convictions spanning multiple cases

In February, co-conspirator Jesse Merel Cannon was sentenced to two years in prison for the 2021 Antifa riot case, plus three more years for a separate violent felony assault case that was included in his plea deal. While out on bail on separate violent charges, Cannon assaulted a woman and a teen at the Pacific Beach riot. Before he pleaded guilty, it was revealed by prosecutors that he had an Antifa girlfriend in the San Diego Public Defender’s office who allegedly had access to information about victims and witnesses in this high-profile case. Leah Madbak even posed with Cannon in front of Antifa propaganda.

The trial is in its third week of testimony, and closing arguments are predicted for next Monday, April 22. The jury is nine women and three men, with four alternate jurors. The defense began to present their case this week, with White taking the witness box in his own defense. White and Lightfoot’s attorneys are setting up a defense claim where the assault victims are to blame for being attacked by the black bloc mob.

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