Anti-Vaccine Activist Assaults State Sen. Richard Pan, Posts Video to Facebook

Richard Pan, a medical doctor and California state senator. (Sacramento Bee/YouTube)

Updated 3:40 p.m. Wednesday

Police arrested an anti-vaccine campaigner for allegedly assaulting state Sen. Richard Pan in Sacramento on Wednesday.

Pan, a Democrat whose district covers most of central and suburban Sacramento, is the Legislature's leading advocate for vaccines.

Pan is also a pediatrician and the author of SB 276, which would require the state Department of Public Health to approve and track all physician-authorized vaccine exemptions.

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Pan was walking with Sen. Ash Kalra, D-San Jose, on his way to a noon event when the suspect, identified as Austin Bennett, shoved the legislator from behind.

"He struck me pretty hard but I didn't fall," Pan said in an interview Wednesday afternoon. "He kept shouting."

Sacramento police said the 54-year-old Bennett was charged with misdemeanor assault and released. The incident took place on on L Street near Eighth Street.

Bennett, who challenged Pan in last year's primary and is working to recall the senator, was shooting a Facebook Live video as he followed down the street — and filmed the moment he pushed Pan in the back.

"Yes, I pushed Richard Pan for lying, laughing at us and for treason," Bennett admitted on Facebook.

Before the encounter with Pan, the video depicts Bennett strolling in downtown Sacramento, discoursing on a series of topics he says he's concerned about: CIA "crimes," including what he called mind control efforts; angel statues on the Capitol Mall he described as preparing the way for the arrival of Lucifer and rule by the Antichrist; how President Trump has committed blasphemy "against the blood of Jesus Christ"; and the use of chemtrails for "mass spraying ... to stop the solar radiation" he describes as necessary to human health.

At that point, Bennett sees Pan approaching and exclaims, "What are the chances?" The video shows Bennett badgering Pan with a series of questions. After following the senator for about a minute, Bennett gives him a hard shove from behind.

The push happens about 10 minutes into the video.

"I probably shouldn't have done that," Bennett says in the video a few moments after pushing Pan.

The suspect's Twitter page says he is "fighting against mandatory vaccines, child act care laws" and is "for people's rights and freedoms."

Pan says Bennett has verbally harassed him in the past.

"He's approached me here in the Capitol and in the district as well," Pan said.


Pan's pro-vaccine leadership in the Legislature has led to other severe reactions.

"I get harassed on social media, practically daily," Pan said. "We've got to tone down the rhetoric. Assaulting a public official is the next logical outcome of violence-inciting language."

State Senate President pro Tempore Toni Atkins issued a statement following the assault.

“There is absolutely no reason for resorting to violence," Atkins said.

"We may not all agree on every piece of legislation, but that is no reason to resort to aggressive and harmful behavior. There is ample room to discuss differences of opinion within the Legislative process, which is transparent and open to the public, and it is shameful that someone would betray the trust we have placed in that process and physically attack Dr. Pan."

KQED's Tara Siler contributed reporting to this story. 

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