Three people were injured and at least eight arrested Wednesday in Garden Grove after a motorist drove into a crowd of 300 demonstrators protesting a speech by the founder of the Minuteman Project, authorities said.
The Minuteman Project is a citizens group that patrols the U.S.-Mexico border in an effort to stop illegal immigration.
The demonstrators had gathered at the Women's Civic Club of Garden Grove on Chapman Avenue about 7:30 p.m. to protest an appearance by James Gilchrist, charging that he and his group were racist.
Gilchrist has denied those claims and insists the group is stopping only illegal immigration. His talk was sponsored by Citizens for Action Now, an anti-illegal immigration group.
The motorist had attended Gilchrist's speech and was leaving when protesters began hitting his van with placards and other objects, said Garden Grove Police Lt. David Kivler. The driver, who was not identified but spoke to a KCAL-TV Channel 9 reporter, said he gunned his car engine to get away from the crowd. The man was arrested.
Authorities said the incident occurred when 100 listeners attempted to leave through the crowd of demonstrators. Kivler said protesters gathered around one of their cars.
"They surrounded it and started beating on it," Kivler said. Then, a second car tried to get through the crowd as well.
"As he was doing so he hit at least three people," Kivler said. All three were transported to a local hospital. None had major injuries, he said.
Kivler said the crowd grew increasingly boisterous after the injuries.
He said protesters began throwing filled soda cans at the assembled Garden Grove, Anaheim and CHP officers. At least eight people were arrested on suspicion of felony assault, while others were booked for disturbing the peace.
A witness, Eric Garcia, 22, of Anaheim said the evening turned ugly about 9 p.m. after the talk.
He said some protesters were in a driveway when someone in a car tried to leave and made contact with the group. "Then all hell broke loose," Garcia said. "People started throwing things, like rocks and bricks and stuff."
Within minutes, he said, there were about 30 police cars, and dozens of officers on horseback or wearing SWAT gear.
Protester Jose Gonzales, 27, a graduate student at UCLA, said he noticed dozens of additional police officers, some of them on horseback, arriving on the scene. He said they began making arrests and dispersing the crowd, which had been marching in front of the building where Gilchrist was speaking.
"When the meeting let out ... police dragged people, men and women," Gonzales said. "There were men and women and children running away.... I ran. I lost my shoe."
By 10 p.m. police ordered the crowd to disperse, saying they were part of an unlawful assembly. If they refused, police said, they would be arrested. Within half an hour, the streets were nearly empty of protesters.
Times staff writer David Haldane contributed to this report.