Lying flat on his back on the pavement, it took a moment for Tom Bibiyan to realize what had just happened.
He looked down at his shirt as it rapidly soaked up blood, and became terrifyingly aware of the open stab wounds on the right side of his chest and right arm.
“I actually thought that this was it,” Bibiyan told El Tecolote. “This is how I’m going to die. A fucking Ku Klux Klan member just killed me, and I prayed.”
Bibiyan was one of the three people stabbed by San Francisco Klansman Charles Edward Donner on Feb. 27, 2016, during the highly publicized melee that broke out between counter protesters and the Loyal White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan at Pearson Park in Anaheim. The KKK’s rally against immigrants and Muslims had been planned and publicized for months. Bibiyan, a Southern California native and self described Green Party activist, drove to Anaheim to protest the Klan.
“As someone who fights for social justice, I figured this is a place they shouldn’t be,” Bibiyan said. “I think this country has seen 400 to 500 years of white supremacy and oppression of people of color, of minorities … I feel like I was acting in self defense, because I am of Jewish heritage and I have friends that are Latino, that are black, Muslim.”
Amid the chaos of the melee, Donner, who was armed with a pocketknife, stabbed counter protester Armando Ortiz in the armpit and sliced counter protester Guy Harris on the forearm.
After those first two encounters, Bibiyan noticed Donner fleeing the scene on foot.
“I could’ve approached Donner maliciously, and been in my legal right to do so. Because I would’ve been acting in defense of others,” Bibiyan said. “He’s running around stabbing people with a knife. I could’ve made a citizen’s arrest.”
Bibiyan said he stood in front of Donner, attempting to block his path and that’s when Donner stabbed him. Fueled by adrenaline after being stabbed, Bibiyan chased after his attacker and kicked him, before being tackled himself by Anaheim police.
“He kind of looked at me like I was insane,” Bibiyan said.
Despite stabbing Bibiyan, Donner was never charged by the Orange County District Attorney (OCDA), and though Anaheim police arrested Donner shortly after stabbing Bibiyan, he was released after police determined that he acted in self-defense.
“I want to know why this guy wasn’t charged for nearly killing me,” said Bibiyan, who claims the police never followed up with him.
On June 30, 2016, the OCDA charged seven counter protesters, including Harris and Ortiz, for a variety of offenses ranging from resisting or delaying a peace officer to battery and assault. Bibiyan was not one of those charged.
“How do you defend yourself from a non-assault?” said Bibiyan. “If Charles Donner was a black man, he’d be in jail for life.”
When asked why Donner wasn’t charged with stabbing Bibiyan, OCDA Chief of Staff Susan Kang Schroeder replied in an email: “We were unable to meet our burden of filing only cases beyond a reasonable doubt based on the admissible evidence.”
Bibiyan left the scene that day on a stretcher and was admitted to a local hospital where he spent four days. He was listed as John Doe, to protect him from potential white supremacist attacks and media inquiries. But Bibiyan was recognized by his doctor, a black man, who thanked him for protesting the Klan.
Nerve damage suffered from the stabbing caused Bibiyan to lose feeling in two of his fingers (one of which has come back), and he still feels pain in his chest. The event took an emotional and psychological toll on him as well. Bibiyan had his arm in a sling for a month, and couldn’t work or drive. The immobilization led to depression.
Nearly a year after being stabbed, Bibiyan is still dumbfounded by the KKK’s brazen confidence in hosting a public rally in Anaheim. He attributes this boldness in part to the ascendancy of Donald Trump, who appealed to numerous white supremacist and white nationalist hate groups, including the KKK. But he feels that an undercurrent of white supremacism has always existed in the United States.
“I think now that we’ve got Trump as president, you’re seeing more of them come out and think that it’s OK … and say, ‘We’re not Nazis, we’re not white supremacists, we’re the alt-right.’ I think that it’s a rebranding. I’ll say it’s fairly clever on their part.”
Bibiyan believes part of what is driving this resurgence of white nationalism is a perceived loss of status.
“I think a lot of these people come from a heritage or have ancestors that were very powerful 100 or 200 years,” Bibiyan said. “So they’re clinging to the one thing they can cling to to feel better than other people, which is their skin color.”