A band of conservative activists started Wednesday with what they called a “fiesta” on the grounds of the governor’s mansion protesting Gov. Gavin Newsom’s immigration stance. Wearing their serapes and sombreros, they moved on to a confrontation at a downtown Mexican restaurant. And the result was what they spurred – anger and a swarm of comments on the eatery’s social media pages.
Photos and videos posted to social media Wednesday show conservative activists Ben Bergquam and Laura Loomer being handcuffed near the governor’s mansion in their garb. Bergquam also wore a large fake mustache.
The two live-streamed their arrest for trespassing. They were cited and released a few hours later.
“Today I proved that Gavin Newsom, the Governor of California who is also Nancy Pelosi’s nephew, cares more about illegals than Americans,” Loomer wrote afterward on Facebook. “I was arrested for hopping his fence and having a fiesta on his lawn.”
Bergquam hosts a conservative radio show on Fresno’s KGED-AM called Frontline America, which has a Facebook page with more than 93,000 followers.
While Bergquam and Loomer were in custody, around 3 p.m., Bergquam’s page began livestreaming a video by a supporter at the outdoor seating area of La Cosecha Mexican restaurant. The video shows a group of four people, who said they were waiting to pick up Bergquam from jail, arguing with a manager of the restaurant.
The man recording the video is wearing a “Make American Great Again” hat and a shirt with the president’s cartoon likeness, and two of the other three are wearing shirts that read “Fund the Wall.” One of the men is wearing a baseball cap, emblazoned with the acronym “ICE.” They allege that they are being refused service due to their attire.
“We came to come sit down at this table right here, and this gentleman came out and said that the waiters here do not feel comfortable serving us,” the man says.
The manager in question appears to be the restaurant’s general manager, Victor Guzman, who is pictured on La Cosecha’s website and social media channels.
“Some of them don’t feel comfortable serving you,” Guzman says at one point.
Parts of the conversation are unintelligible as the individuals begin to talk over each other.
The group claims they are being denied service. However, the manager in the video appears to offer to serve the group himself.
“Because I’m manager, I will serve you guys,” Guzman says. “I have no problem with you guys,” he adds later.
About eight minutes into the video, the two parties take their discussion to the nearby fountain at the park and three police officers appear. A second manager of the restaurant joins the conversation.
The man recording the video, who is not identified, repeatedly says that his group has been discriminated against and calls the restaurant “anti-American.” After a few minutes, La Cosecha’s managers leave the park and the group continue to talk to police. A small crowd of spectators gathers.
After the group of activists explain their view of the situation to the authorities, one officer responds: “You didn’t expect that?” The group begins to yell back at the officer in response, and the officer points out that the ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) hat in particular may have led people to become uncomfortable.
“As much as it is your right to have all this stuff on, it’s their right to be uncomfortable by it,” the officer later tells them.
The activist group talks with police for a few more minutes before the situation mostly dissolves. The video ends without incident.
“Social media antagonists from out of town came to incite racial animosity at one of our beloved local Mexican restaurants, and our community has a strong message for them – we don’t tolerate racists and bullies,” said Councilman Steve Hansen, who represents downtown. “Don’t come for us, because we are united strongly together.”
The video has been viewed more than 40,000 times since it was streamed live to Facebook, and reposted to Twitter and other platforms.
Sacramento County jail records confirm Bergquam and Loomer were cited for trespassing and released Wednesday night. The governor’s mansion falls under the jurisdiction of California Highway Patrol’s Capitol Protection Section, which made the arrests.
Neither activist has an existing criminal record in Sacramento Superior Court.
Late Wednesday and early Thursday, La Cosecha’s page on Yelp became flooded with one-star reviews, many of them making reference to the confrontation and some linking to back to Bergquam’s page.
As of Thursday morning, Yelp had temporarily disabled posting to La Cosecha’s page because the restaurant “recently made waves in the news, which often means people come to this page to post their views on the news.”
La Cosecha was opened in 2017 by restaurateur Ernesto Delgado, conceived as a project to help revitalize Cesar Chavez park.
Requests for response from Delgado or Guzman were not immediately returned Thursday morning, and the restaurant’s main phone did not redirect to voicemail.
The bio for Frontline America Facebook page reads: “National organization to restore USA identity: ‘One Nation Under God!’ - exposing the left and mobilizing the Christian conservative remnant to rise. #MAGA.”
Bergquam, who is from Clovis, has been seen supporting law enforcement at tense protests in Fresno that resulted from ICE arrests at the local courthouse last year, according to previous reporting by The Fresno Bee.
“If you are a criminal, you shouldn’t trust law enforcement, you should be in jail,” Bergquam said during the public comment period of a Fresno County Board of Supervisors meeting.
In a phone interview Thursday evening with The Bee, Bergquam said the restaurant incident was unplanned and separate from the demonstration at the mansion, which he said was meant to be a symbolic protest.
“Our purpose, why we were there, was to expose the hypocrisy of Gavin Newsom and the Democrats,” Bergquam said. “We did it in a comical way.”
Loomer, whose Facebook page identifies her simply as an “investigative journalist,” is a much-publicized conspiracy theorist and far-right activist, who earlier this week wrote that the 2017 Las Vegas shooting was an ISIS terror attack being covered up by the FBI.
She said in another recent post that she has been permanently banned from Twitter for hate speech after posts she made about Rep. Ilhan Omar, one of the first two Muslim women elected to Congress.
Loomer, who lives in New York, also made waves in 2017 for storming a live production of “Julius Casear.” The rendition in Central Park was controversial in that the title character was “costumed and styled to resemble President Trump” according to The New York Times. It was during the climactic scene of Shakespeare’s play in which Casear is assassinated that Loomer jumped onstage and shouted, “Stop the normalization of violence against the right.”
This story has been changed to reflect the group was made up of conservative activists.