Three people involved in violent anti-vaccine and anti-abortion demonstrations livestreamed at a Rick Caruso event.
On September 26, 2022, right-wing demonstrator Shiva Bagheri livestreamed via Instagram an event atop the Grove. The event was for members of mayoral candidate Rick Caruso’s campaign team. In the video, Bagheri discussed working as a canvasser for the campaign with fellow right-wing agitators Paul Onaga and Ashley Jeffery. All three have been accused of participating in violent acts at protests, and are associated with pro-Trump rallies in Beverly Hills that occasionally devolved into violence. Bagheri also ran for Beverly Hills City Council in 2022, receiving less than 3% of the vote.
The livestream comes from Bagheri’s personal Instagram account, which describes her as a “Christian conservative, Constitutionalist, Mother,” and “Freedom activist.” In the video, Bagheri shows a picture of her alongside several others saying it’s “of us and Rick. It’s the Beverly Hills Freedom Rally folks,” then shows a picture of both Caruso and herself smiling in a selfie. Bagheri describes to viewers being paid $30 per hour for canvassing. She describes being given a Rick Caruso for Mayor shirt, proudly telling viewers that she received three. She goes on to tell viewers that she had stopped working for the campaign due to scheduling conflicts, when Ashley Jeffery interjects to say Bagheri can work other hours, saying “We need you, Shiva!”
Bagheri is perhaps best known for organizing the Beverly Hills Freedom Rally. Started in the summer of 2020 as a weekly gathering of pro-Trump and anti-lockdown demonstrators, the event quickly began attracting hundreds of attendees. With them came concerns from the Beverly Hills community. People affiliated with SPLC-identified hate groups like the Proud Boys and Three Percenters began showing up, as did counter-protesters. At several rallies, reporters were attacked, counter-protesters were beaten, large-scale fights erupted between opposing sides, and multiple unlawful assemblies were called after violence ensued.
As the election loomed, the rallies continued to swell. Connections between attendees that showed up every week started to solidify. Attendees taunted passersby with statements of what they felt was a sure victory for Donald Trump. After the presidential election was declared for Biden, the numbers noticeably dropped but still counted in the hundreds. Beverly Hills Freedom Rally attendees began to compare and discuss plans with each other for going to what Donald Trump promised would be a “wild protest” on January 6.
Bagheri, Onaga, and Jeffery all missed the January 6 rally but have numerous interpersonal connections with Capitol rioters and continue to associate with those who have not been arrested. At least two dozen people that attended the Beverly Hills Freedom Rally were present for the protests, which ended with the storming of the US Capitol. A Telegram channel called “Patriots45MAGA Gang” featured numerous confidants of Bagheri from the Freedom Rally bragging about their actions and later conspiring to hide evidence of their actions. They include DJ Rodriguez, and Edward Badalian.
The rallies eventually declined in attendance and are no longer a weekly occurrence. Bagheri entered a plea sentencing deal after Beverly Hills charged her with three counts of organizing gatherings without a permit. In July of 2021, she agreed to 20 days of community service, but was removed from at least one community service event for not wearing a mask.
Bagheri courts a very specific sort of attention on the internet. In September 2020, video of her calling Breonna Taylor a “thug,” and justifying the shooting resulted in blogger Perez Hilton posting her name. October of 2021 featured an anti-vaccine protest outside of Hawthorne Elementary school that included Bagheri yelling “This is rape. This is rape. They’re trying to rape our children with this poison…” at students and parents wearing masks. In January 2021, Jeffery and Bagheri attended an anti-mask event where a rally attendee named Asefeh Shirafkan told children wearing yarmulkes that “a new holocaust is coming.”
Bagheri punched counter-protester Kate Burns, a cancer patient, after ripping her mask off at a July 22, 2022, Cedars-Sinai protest. Several fights erupted shortly afterward involving Bagheri, Onaga, and Jeffery. Onaga slapped documentary filmmaker Rocky Romano’s equipment at the event before counter-protesters arrived. At the Cedars-Sinai protest, Onaga (who is Asian) yelled that “Asian Americans are the most socially naive group ever.”
Onaga is also a regular at Beverly Hills Rally events. He wears a “COVID is a scam” shirt at nearly every protest or rally he attends. In June 2021, security footage captured Onaga along with Jeffery congregating at City Council member Nury Martinez’s driveway. Fellow anti-vaccine demonstrator Travis Whitcher filmed from inside her vehicle. Protesting the closing of Burbank Tinhorn Flats bar due to failure to comply with COVID restrictions, Onaga shoved a code enforcement employee as Jeffery ripped off his mask in April of 2021. The video is now listed as private but was screen captured.
While Caruso has claimed numerous times that he’s “pro-choice,” Bagheri, Onaga, and Jeffery have participated in several anti-abortion rallies. Caruso’s record of donations includes money given to anti-abortion political candidates, anti-abortion group Knights of Columbus, and support for the Caruso Catholic Center. Hiring employees with virulently anti-abortion views casts yet another cloud on his record, though Bagheri said of Caruso during a livestream that “he’s pro-choice, and you guys all know I’m pro-life.”
Onaga and Bagheri attended an anti-abortion protest outside of a Highland Park Planned Parenthood in May 2022. Onaga carried around a large, graphic anti-abortion sign. Members of the group alongside Onaga and Bagheri carried signage for traditionalist Catholic site Church Militant.
Though Bass has slammed Caruso’s murky record on abortion rights, representatives for Bass’ campaign declined to comment to Knock LA regarding this story.
Caruso’s campaign first returned a call to Knock LA regarding this story. Though Knock LA’s initial message stated it desired comment for this piece, a caller first told Knock LA, “Everybody that works here is very liberal. I want to help you. Maybe if you had information, I could help you. I was not aware that this was for a story.” When given more information, they directed Knock LA toward press contacts who did not reply to several requests for comment.
In a livestream several days later, Bagheri made a statement regarding her employment with the campaign. Bagheri described a call with a reporter for the LA Times calling her regarding the work she’s done for the Caruso campaign. She stated that the reporter asked her if she’d been fired by the campaign and that the reporter had been told so by a Caruso campaign spokesman. Later, an LA Times piece on Bagheri’s employment states that the three have been let go. An LA Magazine piece also states that the three have been let go.
However, Bagheri denies that she was let go. The video is nearly 19 minutes long and contains various other rants, including calling for prayers for recently convicted former Beverly Hills Freedom Rally co-leader John Strand.
These three right wing agitators may represent an ideology that Caruso would like to publicly distance himself from, but it’s hardly the first time he’s been close with such elements. An LA Times piece regarding Bagheri and Caruso’s connections even quotes the Caruso campaign spokesmen saying “we obviously reject their views.” But it’s perhaps less obvious given his appearance with Paul Scrivano the same day as the campaign employee event, a person who has posted multiple anti-LGBT screeds against LAFD Chief Kristin Crowley. Caruso also has financed multiple anti-abortion Republican politicians in the past. While the Caruso campaign continues to trail Karen Bass in polls for the upcoming elections, another misstep could potentially put Caruso’s campaign in even further jeopardy. Bass leads Caruso by 12 points in a recent poll, and employing far-right connections could further damage the perception of him in a heavily Democratic-leaning city.