SACRAMENTO — Sitting state Sen. Richard Pan was violently shoved on his way to a meeting and the whole ordeal was streamed live on Facebook by the man behind it.
“The physical violence that was certainly shocking to me and certainly to Senator Pan as well,” said Assemblyman Ash Kalra, D-San Jose.
Assemblyman Kalra was next to Sen. Pan at the time.
“The video doesn’t do it justice as to how dramatic it was at that moment in time. It was a hard shove,” he told FOX40.
The video shows Austin Bennett running into Pan on the sidewalk and confronting Pan about his position on vaccines. Pan briefly engages Bennett while he continues to walk.
“Maybe you should study public health,” Pan says at one point.
The video then shows Bennett reaching out and shoving Pan in the back after Pan laughs, launching the lawmaker several feet forward.
“I pushed you,” Bennett says several times, before walking away and saying into the camera, “I probably shouldn’t have done that.” He then walks back toward Pan and continues speaking to him as Pan and several people he is with call the police.
“You are a liar and the assault that you’re committing on our children is so egregious,” Bennett says to Pan before leaving and continuing his video.
The assemblyman said the property owners called 911. Sacramento police eventually detained and cited Bennett on one charge of misdemeanor battery.
Bennett is no stranger to the senator. He has accosted Pan before, usually over the senator’s signature issue — vaccines.
Bennett, a well-known anti-vaccine activist, took issue with Pan’s legislation, which makes it harder for parents looking to exempt their kids from getting vaccinated.
“Richard Pan says that water is the most dangerous ingredient in vaccines,” Bennett said. “I wanted him to elaborate.”
FOX40 caught up with Bennett Wednesday evening to ask him what he felt gave him the right to push the senator.
“Well, I guess the same question would be what gives Richard Pan the right to misrepresent the truth? He promised to uphold and protect the Constitution,” he responded. “Well, we are in times of a tremendous … we are in a tremendous crisis.”
Bennett told FOX40 he has no regrets about the move and said his issues with Pan go beyond vaccines.
He claims to be launching a campaign to recall the senator.
Many anti-vaccination groups have condemned Bennett’s actions. Joshua Coleman with the campaign “V is for Vaccine” said:
The medical freedom movement that I am involved with does not and has never condoned or promoted violence of any kind. Austin Bennett is not and has never been part of our community.
Sen. Pan was back to work shortly after the incident and did not wish to comment. His office released the following statement:
It should come as no surprise that violence is the outcome of the inciting and violent rhetoric that antivaxxers have used for years.
It’s an ordeal Assemblyman Kalra said he hopes he will never encounter again.
“Our political discourse should never get to violence and no one should ever resort to violence no matter who it is, whether it’s a senator or a neighbor,” he said.
Sen. Richard Pan released the following statement Thursday morning:
“I am grateful and moved by the outpouring of support I have received since the assault against me yesterday. Thank you to the Pro Tem and minority leader and my fellow legislators for calling for civility and condemning this unprovoked physical assault.
Bullying, threats, and violence should not be acceptable in civil discourse and policy making. Yesterday’s assault was incited by violent rhetoric and imagery employed by anti-vaccine extremists. Anti-vaxxers have attempted to dehumanize me and other public health advocates on social media while making death threats. When rallying here at the Capitol, they displayed posters and wore shirts with my face splattered with blood. Vaxxed producer Del Bigtree, who promoted a doctored video of his attempt to harass me in the Capitol, told his followers, “I don’t know what you were saving that gun for then. I don’t know when you planned on using it….”
Mr. Bennett is not a lone actor, but a person who accepted the violent rhetoric of the anti-vax movement and acted upon it by assaulting me on a public street while live streaming the attack on Facebook. Social media companies also need to accept responsibility for giving a platform for this violence and hate. The perpetrator of the assault sought notoriety by posting his attack on social media, where it remains despite my requests that the video be taken down. The video may even now be inciting a future assailant who seeks to up the ante with a weapon.
I recognize that the coalition opposed to SB276 have condemned the assault, but they also must condemn and reject the violent rhetoric and imagery their followers employ that previously resulted in harassment and now in physical assault.
An honest, civil debate grounded in science and facts of the merits of legislation is always welcome. Threats, lies and violence will be rejected. No one should be assaulted for advancing public health. I am thankful that so many people are openly standing with me to require civility and resist violence so we can keep the people of California safe and healthy.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.