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Anti-vaccine activist assaults California vaccine law author, police say

Los Angeles Times logo Los Angeles Times 8/21/2019 Melody Gutierrez
Richard Pan in a suit standing in front of a crowd: State Sen. Dr. Richard Pan, D-Sacramento, urges lawmakers to approve his proposal to give state public health officials instead of local doctors the power to decide which children can skip their shots before attending school, at the Capitol Wednesday, April 24, 2019, in Sacramento, Calif. Pan, a pediatrician, said his legislation would give state health officials the tools they need to prevent outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases like measles. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli) © Rich Pedroncelli / Associated Press State Sen. Dr. Richard Pan, D-Sacramento, urges lawmakers to approve his proposal to give state public health officials instead of local doctors the power to decide which children can skip their shots before attending school, at the Capitol Wednesday, April 24, 2019, in Sacramento, Calif. Pan, a pediatrician, said his legislation would give state health officials the tools they need to prevent outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases like measles. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)


SACRAMENTO, Calif. — An anti-vaccine activist was cited for assault by the Sacramento Police Department on Wednesday after he livestreamed a physical confrontation with state Sen. Richard Pan, author of legislation to restrict vaccine exemptions.

Pan, a Democrat from Sacramento, was pushed from behind by Kenneth Austin Bennett, who challenged the senator in the 2018 primary but did not qualify for the general election. Bennett filed a recall petition against Pan earlier this year alleging the senator was committing treason by authoring bills to increase vaccination rates in the state.

A video Bennett posted to Facebook shows he confronted Pan near the state Capitol and was livestreaming when he struck him. Afterward, Bennett said on the video that “I probably shouldn’t have done that.” The Sacramento Police Department said Bennett was cited for assault and released. The Los Angeles Times was unable to reach Bennett for comment.

Pan, who was not injured in the attack, was walking with Democratic Assemblyman Ash Kalra during the incident.

Bennett posted the video with the caption: “yes, I pushed Richard Pan for lying, laughing at us and for treason.” He added in the video that if Pan “Got what he deserved he would be hanged for treason for assaulting children, for misrepresenting the truth.”

Pan’s spokeswoman Shannan Velayas said the senator has been routinely targeted by anti-vaccine activists since he introduced a bill in 2015 that created strict vaccine requirements for schoolchildren. Pan is carrying a bill that would further tighten California’s vaccine laws, prompting a new round of threats.

“This is moving from a peculiar fringe curiosity to a violent extremist movement,” Velayas said. “Unfortunately this is not a surprise when violent rhetoric is used. Assaulting a public official is the logical next outcome of violent … language.”

Senate President Pro Tem Toni Atkins, a Democrat, said the Legislature will assist in the investigation and do what is needed to protect elected leaders.

“There is absolutely no reason for resorting to violence,” Atkins said in a statement. “We may not all agree on every piece of legislation, but that is no reason to resort to aggressive and harmful behavior.”

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