The Sacramento Police Department on Wednesday cited a prominent anti-vaccine advocate on suspicion of assault after he shoved state Sen. Richard Pan from behind while livestreaming the interaction on Facebook, according to a report by the Los Angeles Times.
Along with the streamed Facebook video (which you can watch here), advocate Kenneth Austin Bennett wrote: “… 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.”
Bennett had previously accused Pan of treason in a recall petition he filed against Pan earlier this year. In the petition, Bennett cited Pan’s legislation aimed at tightening rules for vaccination exemptions in California. Bennett had also previously challenged Pan in the 2018 primary but did not qualify for the general election.
Wednesday’s interaction between Bennett and Pan came about as Bennett was discussing various conspiracy theories in a livestream as he walked near the state capitol. Bennett came upon Pan on a sidewalk. “What are the chances of this, Sen. Pan?” Bennett is heard saying on the video. Bennett then began walking alongside Pan, peppering him with questions and misinformation about vaccine safety. Pan responded to some questions before laughing, letting out an “oh boy” and trying to walk away. At that point, Bennett shoved Pan in the back. “I pushed you,” Bennett said to Pan when he turns around.
Pan (D-Sacramento) is a pediatrician and leading proponent of childhood vaccination in the Golden State. In the wake of a measles outbreak there in 2015, Pan co-authored California’s vaccine law SB 277, which banned exemptions from school-required vaccines based on personal and religious beliefs.
This year, Pan introduced additional legislation (SB 276) that would establish state oversight of exemptions in an effort to crack down on bogus, for-profit medical exemptions. Pan was motivated to write the legislation after medical exemptions in the state more than tripled after SB277 went into effect. Officials determined that some unscrupulous doctors were issuing the exemptions to anti-vaccine-minded parents, sometimes for hefty fees.
Following Wednesday’s assault, Pan’s spokesperson, Shannan Velayas, told the times that anti-vaccination advocacy is “moving from a peculiar fringe curiosity to a violent extremist movement.”
“Unfortunately, this is not a surprise when violent rhetoric is used,” Velayas added. She went on, “Assaulting a public official is the logical next outcome of violent… language.”
Velayas added that Pan had been routinely targeted by anti-vaccine advocates.
In a statement, the anti-vaccine group A Voice for Choice Advocacy condemned Bennett’s actions, saying, “Never would we partake in or encourage acts of violence against another person’s body, no matter what the disagreements may be.”
The statement went on to suggest—without any evidence—that Bennett is a “pharma shill” who is “trying to garner sympathy for Senator Pan” by casting anti-vaccine advocates in a “negative light.”
Anti-vaccine advocates have frequently accused public health officials, scientists, physicians, members of the press, and those who support vaccination generally of being secretly paid by pharmaceutical companies.