ANDY NGO REPORTS: San Diego jury convicts two So Cal Antifa members of felony conspiracy to riot with co-conspirators

Following a month-long trial, jurors in San Diego have convicted two So Cal Antifa members of engaging in a violent felony conspiracy to riot in their beach community. This brings convictions to all 12 members who were charged.

Andy Ngo and Eva Knott San Diego CA

A 12-person jury in San Diego County has convicted two So Cal Antifa members after hearing evidence over the course of a four week trial. The two men from Los Angeles were revealed to have conspired as part of So Cal Antifa to confront beach-goers at Pacific Beach more than three years ago. This legal case could provide a blueprint on how prosecutors can unmask and break up criminal Antifa cells.

Defendants Jeremy Jonathan White, 41, and Brian Cortez Lightfoot Jr., 27, both of Los Angeles, were accused of assaulting supporters of former President Donald Trump and others on a beach boardwalk, but the jury deadlocked on the six assault charges against Lightfoot. This case was the first time Antifa suspects were charged with conspiracy in the US. Ten of their comrades were already convicted in plea deals, including Luis Francisco Mora, 32, who took a last-minute plea deal at the start of the trial.

The jury found White guilty of felony conspiracy to riot, the most serious charge, and acquitted him of felony assault of a man on a bicycle who was documenting the Antifa rioters with his cell phone. Lightfoot, accused of being one of the "ringleaders" of the riot, was found guilty of conspiracy to riot and five felony unlawful uses of teargas.

Jeremy Jonathan White and Brian Cortez Lightfoot Jr. sit next to their attorneys. Photo: Ken Stone/Times of San Diego

Jeremy Jonathan White is a So Cal Antifa member from Los Angeles. Left photo by Ken Stone/Times of San Diego

Brian Cortez Lightfoot Jr. was recorded taking a lead role in assaulting numerous people. Left photo by Ken Stone/Times of San Diego


On Jan. 9, 2021, cars full of black-clad So Cal Antifa members traveled more than a hundred miles to Pacific Beach armed with weapons and protective gear to confront Trump supporters who had organized a rally. The "direct action" quickly devolved into a riot as the masked Antifa members bear-maced and assaulted their targets, including those just walking by on the boardwalk. A dog wearing a "service dog" vest and his walker were among those attacked. Prosecutors identified 18 victims including a woman and teenage schoolboys.

A group of schoolboys were assaulted by Antifa. Photo: Ken Stone/Times of San Diego

Assault victim 'S.G.' was a high schooler at the time of the So Cal Antifa attack. Photo: Ken Stone/Times of San Diego

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

A female victim was beaten to the ground at the Antifa riot. Photo: Ken Stone/Times of San Diego

A local man identified as S.M. tried helping a boy that was being beaten before the Antifa mob turned their attention on him. His knees were permanently damaged, he told the jury when he testified. Photo: Ken Stone/Times of San Diego


The verdict on Friday, May 3, brings the total to 12 for 12 charged So Cal Antifa members who were convicted of violent felonies.

Eleven suspects, about half from Los Angeles County, were indicted in 2022 by a secret grand jury on dozens of felonies including conspiracy to riot, assault and other violent crimes. 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, have all pleaded guilty.

A 12th co-conspirator, Jonah Abraham Bigel, pleaded guilty in 2021 to assault with a deadly weapon after having used a baseball bat in the riot. He was given a suspended prison sentence, which is sometimes offered for cooperation in an investigation. Within six months, into the following year, his comrades were indicted by a secret grand jury. Most of the co-defendants who accepted plea deals still await sentencing; they are expected to be sentenced to prison. Two defendants, trans activist Erich "Nikki" Yach and Jesse Merel Cannon were already sentenced to around five years in prison each; their sentences were compounded by other violent felony crimes committed in unrelated cases.

Jonah Abraham Bigel, seen with a baseball bat during the Antifa riot, pleaded guilty to assault with a deadly weapon.

So Cal Antifa member Erich L. Yach, who identifies as a woman, was sentenced to four and a half years in prison for multiple violent felonies. Right photo: Ken Stone/Times of San Diego

Jesse Merel Cannon pleaded guilty to multiple felonies and was sentenced to five years in prison. Left photo: Ken Stone/Times of San Diego

The Trial

Since April 2, prosecutors have presented evidence against defendants White and Lightfoot; this included hours of riot video, recovered encrypted Signal messages, private texts, aerial video from a police helicopter, photographs, and testimony from victims and law enforcement witnesses.

"I hadn't seen a group that coordinated," San Diego Police detective Emily Clark testified in the first week of trial.

San Diego Police detective Emily Clark testified about the level of coordination she witnessed by Antifa at the riot. Photo: Ken Stone/Times of San Diego

Honorable Judge Daniel B. Goldstein heard the trial. At times, the judge admonished defense attorneys for repeatedly trying to bring politics into the case, especially in trying to explore the political beliefs of the alleged assault victims. But the jury deadlocked, they could not come to a unanimous decision on the assault charges, so it was declared "mis-trial" on those counts.

Lead prosecutor Makenzie Harvey showed jurors the armored black costume and mask worn by White at the riot, even though he claimed to be a volunteer "medic." White was armed with bear mace, a knife and a taser. White was known by several monikers online where he called himself "the Antifa Soldier," and "ACABman"; his co-defendant Lightfoot used "Antifa commander" as one of his aliases.

Jeremy White claimed to be a volunteer 'medic' but brought along a cache of weapons, prosecutors say. Photo: Ken Stone/Times of San Diego

Brian Lightfoot identified himself as an "Antifa Commander and Chief" online. Photo: Ken Stone/Times of San Diego

Jurors saw slowed-down and moment-by-moment freeze-framed videos of many frenzied attacks, this violence allegedly committed by White and Lightfoot's co-conspirators who have already admitted to the conspiracy, and certain specific assaults.

White and Lightfoot were represented pro-bono by Bay-area leftist activist attorneys Curtis Briggs and John Hamasaki, respectively. Throughout the trial, defense attorneys suggested to jurors that assault victims provoked violence by appearing to be "right-wing extremists" to their attackers, because of the way the victims were dressed, e.g., in khaki pants or by wearing American flag apparel, and therefore their clients' actions were lawful self-defense.

Curtis Briggs, the defense attorney for Jeremy White, tries to blame the assault victims for being beaten because their clothing could be interpreted as right-wing. Photo: Ken Stone/Times of San Diego

During the third week of trial, White took the stand in his own defense, a surprise given that at the start of trial, he shocked the court by changing his "not guilty" plea to "not guilty by reason of insanity." It was at first unclear if White intended to pursue his insanity plea for the one count in which he was found guilty, conspiracy to riot. The attorney for White later withdrew the "not guilty by reason of insanity" plea.

On the stand, White did not contest that prosecutors identified him in riot video.

"It is very easy to pick me out of the crowd," he said after confirming to the court he is six feet and three inches tall. He disputed the characterization that his riot costume was a type of armor for brawling or was part of black bloc—the tactic of wearing all black to hide identities and blend together with a group, especially while committing crimes. "It's essentially just protective gear," he said. "It's something I just cobbled together for when I'm out and practicing my First Amendment right."

Prosecutors showed photos of the So Cal Antifa rioters who have admitted to the felony conspiracy. Photo: Ken Stone/Times of San Diego

White said he has been a leftist activist for nearly a decade, going back to Bernie Sanders' presidential primary campaign in 2015. He said he then became involved with Black Lives Matter in Los Angeles, and he participated in protests "probably" twice a week from 2019.

Under questioning by prosecutor Harvey, White said he began his involvement with "Antifa" in Los Angeles in late September 2020, when many cities in the country were experiencing deadly and violent riots after George Floyd's death. However, he added: "There is no joining [Antifa], it is just a mindset of your personal relationship to fascism." White said that opponents of Antifa are "fascists." On former President Trump, he said that "support for Trump is textbook fascism."

Prosecutors showed more photos of the So Cal Antifa rioters who have admitted to the felony conspiracy. Photo: Ken Stone/Times of San Diego


What is Antifa?

Defense often argued throughout the trial that Antifa is not organized. However, Antifa organizes around an ideology of anarchist communism and it can manifest as radicalized individuals taking direct action or groups of people who form a cell, sometimes with formalized membership, such as Rose City Antifa in Portland, Ore. So Cal Antifa is the regional cluster of multiple Antifa groups from Los Angeles, Long Beach and San Diego.

The court saw symbols of Antifa groups in southern California as well as logos and symbols of the wider Antifa movement. Photos: Eva Knott

The label of "fascist" is applied to all of Antifa's opponents to justify assaults on them. Their targets of harassment and violence go beyond the far-right to include journalists, elected officials, conservatives, Christians and women who are critical of trans ideology.

Prosecutors showed the court the official logos of So Cal Antifa and Anti-Fascist San Diego, groups involved in the Pacific Beach riot. Photo: Ken Stone/Times of San Diego


"I was going down there to attend a First Amendment protest in support of BLM," White said, regarding his role in the riot in January 2021. "BLM and Antifa share a lot of common ideologies and movement spaces," he explained. He said he was driven from Los Angeles with comrade Lightfoot by "Chip Nooo," the alias of Portland Antifa member Robert Sneed. White admitted he handed out yellow walkie-talkies to both Sneed and Lightfoot, and White kept one, so they could all communicate and coordinate during the action at the beach.

White claimed he didn't know Lightfoot's real name and had seen him "possibly four or five" times at previous direct actions. Antifa members are known to one another by aliases, a tactic to prevent them from learning the true identities of members.

Prosecutors unmasked the suspects in the So Cal Antifa Signal chat group where they planned the attack. Photo: Ken Stone/Times of San Diego

Throughout his two-day testimony, White declined to identify any of his fellow comrades displayed in video evidence. "I was just kind of there, hanging out," he claimed, despite video showing him taking a lead role and pointing out a man who was then promptly beaten. The prosecutor pressed him on his proclaimed ignorance, highlighting that he said he had been to hundreds of direct actions in southern California.

"Mr. White, you don't want to be associated with any of the other persons from Los Angeles, do you?" Harvey asked. In a long and rambling answer, White ultimately confirmed that the attorney's assertion was true.

'Kill All Nazis'

Prosecutor Harvey displayed video of the Antifa group chanting "Kill all Nazis" while marching, showing White in front of the group and carrying an Antifa flag. White admitted to walking with them but denied chanting the violent statement or leading the march.

"Mr. White, that's you leading the group of Antifa members, headed north on the boardwalk?" Harvey asked.

White responded: "Not leading, as directing. I seem to be in front of the procession but we are all walking in the same direction." The video showed the entire group, dozens of black bloc marchers, following White.
Jeremy White admitted to being at the front of the So Cal Antifa march and holding an Antifa flag while dozens followed him to where the Trump supporters were. Photo: Ken Stone/Times of San Diego

At first, White was reluctant to identify himself as the one with the Antifa flag but ultimately he confessed. "Yes, it was handed to me by someone at the action," White claimed. "I didn't bring it."

White said he identified his targets as "white supremacists" because some of them wore skull mask face coverings. Questioned about the group of schoolboys who were beaten by the black bloc group, White claimed they were yelling "F*ck Antifa."

Lead prosecutor Makenzie Harvey mimics the beating actions of the Antifa rioters on their victims. Photo: Ken Stone/Times of San Diego

Throughout the trial, prosecutors showed jurors videos of Antifa militants launching assaults on more than a dozen victims. White repeatedly characterized the "First Amendment march" in which he participated as "peaceful." Prosecutors accused Lightfoot of being one of the most violent aggressors. (Lightfoot's eyes and face are partially seen in many of the photos and videos.) White said he administered treatment for Lightfoot at one point because "he was covered in bear spray." He later admitted that Lightfoot could have sprayed himself while trying to spray Trump supporters.

Prosecutors say the person in black chasing after and assaulting a man is Brian Lightfoot. The jury deadlocked on this assault charge. Photo: Ken Stone/Times of San Diego

Bicyclist Beaten

One of the assault victims, identified by the initials R.L., was a man on his bicycle at the beach. White was accused of felony assault of that man, but the jurors declared White not guilty of that count. Prosecutors showed jurors video of White appearing to point out that man to his Antifa comrades who then quickly approached and beat him. "There is no way I was pointing at him," White declared from the witness box. He claimed he was telling his comrades to look down an alley located past the man on the bike. Co-defendant Erich Yach pleaded guilty to assaulting R.L. more than a year ago.

Jeremy White was asked to wear the mask he had on as part of his original riot costume. Photo: Ken Stone/Times of San Diego

Prosecutor Harvey said: "You pointed at co-conspirator Jesse Cannon, then pointed again at R.L. who is the upcoming next victim of the mob attack." Cannon was one of the 10 Antifa defendants who pleaded guilty before the trial.

Harvey said: "You want us to believe it is a coincidence that Jesse Cannon immediately walks right up and kicks him off the bike and begins that attack?" White responded: "That is correct."

Prosecutors showed evidence of Jeremy White menacing a victim with his hand on a can of bear mace. Photo: Ken Stone/Times of San Diego


Prosecutors then displayed video allegedly showing White blasting R.L. with a chemical spray. Discovery evidence also appeared to show White boasting in private writings about the assaults. In private messages on Instagram using his "Antifa Soldier" account, White wrote to another person, "Yeah we f*cked his shit up." White admitted he wrote that but countered, "'We' in the colloquial sense, I didn't lay a hand on him, or touch him, I didn't direct the attack."

Jeremy White presented himself online with the alias, 'the Antifa Soldier.' Photo: Ken Stone/Times of San Diego

Jurors also saw an Instagram exchange soon after the riot in which White and another person appeared to discuss preparing for another direct action. White wrote 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. They discussed how to exchange funds through Venmo.

Antifa Attorneys Claim Self-Defense

During closing arguments, defense attorney Curtis Briggs repeated the claim that White was nonviolent and "protecting" people.

"He did not hit or kick or assault anyone that day—they want you to convict him anyways," Briggs said. "The Proud Boys are out there, they are yelling, 'F*ck Antifa! They are a real threat." He further argued that the prosecution of his client was political because White is against law enforcement.

The court saw evidence of the Antifa rioters assaulting police at Pacific Beach in January 2021. Photo: Eva Knott

Lightfoot's attorney John Hamasaki again dismissed the organized aspect of So Cal Antifa that was so often revealed throughout the trial. "It's the prosecution of 'Antifa,' whatever that means," Hamasaki said. He claimed his client acted in self-defense when he engaged in violence against his targets. Jurors earlier saw evidence that Lightfoot communicated in writing to others in his group before the riot, "I wanna fight LOL" and "I've got my bear mace."

San Francisco leftist activist attorney John Hamasaki denies that Antifa exists as an organized movement. Photo: Ken Stone/Times of San Diego

Hamasaki repeatedly stated that Lightfoot acted alone and did not know most of the black bloc marchers there. "Brian was lawfully defending himself and others from the violent rightwing extremists who were blocking the path," Hamasaki declared.

Prosecutors say Brian Lightfoot used multiple weapons to assault people, including a stick. In spite of video evidence, the jury was not able to come to a unanimous decision on the assault charge against Lightfoot, for striking victim John Cocozza. Photo: Ken Stone/Times of San Diego

"While I am disappointed the assault charges ended up in a hung jury, the more important charges of conspiracy they were found guilty," assault victim John Cocozza said. "Hopefully they will be given the maximum sentencing."

The jury could not come to a decision on Brian Lightfoot's assault charge involving victim John Cocozza. Photo: Eva Knott

Prison Time?

The four-week trial concluded after more than three years of investigations. The evidence, discovery, and plea-deal convictions have effectively broken up a regional southern California cluster of Antifa cells. The San Diego District Attorney's Office, headed by DA Summer Stephen, has been targeted by left-wing media that has baselessly accused her of being "alt-right" and "antisemitic." In 2018, Stephen was elected by San Diego voters over her George Soros-financed opponent.

Reporting on this case has also proved challenging because one defense attorney tried to prevent media access to the courts. Last year, Lightfoot's attorney tried and failed to get TPM's reporter Eva Knott banned from photographing and reporting on this case. The judge denied his motion.

The grand jury indictment and the string of 12-for-12 convictions has sent a chill through Antifa organizing in the US. This case demonstrates a blueprint for authorities to curtail organized far-left criminal groups rather than only prosecuting individuals for acts of violence and vandalism. The latter typically does little to disrupt networks from regrouping, as is the case in Portland.

Other prosecutors may be paying attention to San Diego. Last year, Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr announced that 61 Antifa-linked suspects were indicted on RICO, domestic terrorism and/or money laundering charges for their alleged role in organized deadly violence in the Atlanta area.

Jeremy White and Brian Lightfoot, plus seven other Antifa co-conspirators who already made plea deals are scheduled to be sentenced on June 28. Court watchers are expecting state prison sentences and court orders to pay restitution to their victims.

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