Updated Nov. 19, 9:55 a.m.
A 34-year-old Jewish man who attended Saturday’s “We The People” rally in Philadelphia said he was mistakenly identified as a member of the right-wing Proud Boys group and attacked by small group of counter-protesters. The altercation took place outside the National Museum of Jewish American History in the city’s Historic District.
Left-wing organizers in Philadelphia with knowledge of the attack have started a crowdfunding campaign to help the victim, they said.
In numerous videos shared by reporters, Zachary, whose last name Billy Penn is withholding, can be seen shielding his face with his jacket as he tried to flee Independence Mall early this afternoon after being labelled a Nazi and a Proud Boy, an all-male group of self-proclaimed “Western Chauvinists” who have been identified as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center.
“I was just an observer,” Zachary, an organic produce salesman who lives in Philadelphia and identifies as a pacifist, told Billy Penn between tears.
Ezra, an organizer with The Fellow Worker Gritty Coalition who declined to give a last name, said the attacker — who can be seen on video headbutting Zachary — is not part of their group nor any other organizing group. It was their group that started the GoFundMe, they said.
The largely peaceful counter protest was organized by a coalition calling itself the PushBack Campaign. Several hundred people flooded the streets around the Liberty Bell to take part, facing off against roughly two dozen participants in the original rally, who gathered behind barricades on Independence Mall. Four people were arrested throughout the day, police officials said.
Zachary told Billy Penn he attended the protest as an observer with some friends, and they were hanging out on the counter-protest corral on the south side of the Mall. He said he and a friend ventured across the police bike barricade along on Market Street to use the bathroom inside the Constitution Center. Before he returned, he and his friend stopped to speak with some other “observers” around the right-ring protest corral. When he returned to the other side of Market Street, he noticed a counter-protester filming him, smirking. Zachary approached to ask if he was being filmed, he said.
A brief dispute about Zachary’s intentions on the other side of the rally quickly escalated.
“He starts yelling, ‘This guy’s a Nazi! This guy’s a Proud Boy!’ and I think, ‘Oh my god,” Zachary recounted.
An email sent to Billy Penn Saturday night suggested there may have been more to the start of the incident. A person claiming to have seen video of the beginning of the incident and spoken with people involved said Zachary admitted to having also spoken with the Trump supporters, answering a question with a line the person recalled as: “I like to talk to both sides, I’m talking to people unlike you guys.” A third party then began yelling about Nazis and the situation escalated, people involved with the interaction supposedly said.
That’s where Zachary’s account picks up. “People surrounded me, then bam-bam-bam, I was pushed, punched, swarmed. I just threw my jacket up over my face — one as protection and two, I don’t want any more people to think I’m a Nazi! Then I look up and all I see is news cameras. The cops basically abandoned me. I’m looking for any car to jump into, and they’re asking, ‘How do we know you’re a Jew?’”
As he attempted to flee, a counter-protester ostensibly associated with left-wing groups broke through the throng of reporters and head-butted Zachary near the corner of 5th and Market Streets. Police quickly detained the assailant, who was captured in action on video. Zachary was then able to hail a cab and seek solace with friends.
Domenick Regalbuto, the head-butting assailant, told Billy Penn on Sunday a conflicting account of what happened. He was at the counter-protest with friends — none of whom are affiliated with any political or activist group, he said — when Zachary got in an altercation with a nearby group about his presence on the other side of the rally. Regalbuto claimed Zachary identified himself as a “Proud Boy” multiple times.
“I didn’t know what was going though my head at that time other than racism = no,” Regalbuto wrote in a message. “He said he was a ‘Jewish Proud Boy’ multiple times…other people heard him say it, too. Then everyone started crowding around him. One thing lead to another and it got over our heads. I just want my name cleared.”
Regalbuto was arrested after the incident and charged with misdemeanor disorderly conduct, he said. He was released hours later.
Zachary said he has clinical depression and suffers from paranoia. “I already have enough issues in my life and I’m terrified that someone is going to recognize me and punch me in the face, a week from now, a month from now.”
Multiple sources contacted by Billy Penn confirmed that Zachary had no history of affiliation with right-wing or nationalist causes. “For his name to even be associated with something racist or a hate group, that would sound completely insane to me,” said Philly resident who is a college classmate of Zachary’s and toured the country with him in a mostly African-American choir group.
Reached for comment shortly after the gathering dispersed, Ezra and other left-wing organizers in Philadelphia who claimed knowledge of the attackers vowed to start a crowdfunding campaign for Zachary “to support them in their recovery and in a show of unified solidarity against fascism,” according to the campaign.
“Not everybody who assaulted this Jewish man are people who we support,” Ezra added. “As a community, we are raising money to help the person who was attacked — because obviously they’re not a Proud Boy. We want to support anybody who isn’t associated with right-wing activities. As a group of left-wing organizers, there many of us who are Jewish and we support those people in our community.”
Zachary did not go to the hospital for his injuries, he said. But he sobbed as he relayed fears of his identity being spread on the internet as part of a hate group.
“I would love if my grandparents could see people calling me a Nazi,” Zachary said. “These people are doing exactly what they protest against.”