May 19, 2024

Moon has been an Angel City supporter since before the club was officially formed and has attended almost every home match. The 28-year-old is easy to spot in the supporters’ sections at Angel City FC and LAFC games waving his Palestinian flag on a bamboo stick.

This past Sunday, he left Angel City’s match 25 minutes in after being told to remove his Palestinian flag by security.

“That flag has always been there at Angel City and has never caused an issue,” said Moon, who only shared his first name due to fear of harassment.

As fans began arriving for the tailgate near BMO Stadium Sunday, Angel City posted an announcement around 10:30 a.m. on social media that read: “Out of an abundance of caution for the safety of our players, fans, and staff, only representations related to the two teams competing in today’s match will be allowed inside BMO stadium. This includes, but is not limited to flags, banners, and apparel.”

When he saw the announcement, Moon said he felt conflicted.

“I immediately stopped thinking about how this was the last opportunity we had to make the playoffs,” Moon said. “My thoughts were only about what I was going to do. Am I going to live up to my morals and wave the Palestinian flag like I had with every game?” When he was younger growing up in Casablanca, Morocco, Moon watched the live footage of the death of Muhammad al-Durrah in Gaza, which reshaped his views on the events in Israel and Palestine.

Moon decided to bring the flag inside. In front of the supporters’ sections, fans held a banner that read: “THE FOUNDERS DON’T SPEAK FOR ALL” in response to a message signed by Angel City’s founders posted on the team’s X account condemning Hamas’ attacks in Israel. Angel City supporter groups agreed not to cheer nor drum for the first five minutes in protest of the club’s statement and flag policy change. Afterward, Moon pulled out his flag at the 10-minute mark and began to wave it amid a chorus of drums.

About 15 minutes into the game, Moon said security and the club’s manager of support relations came and asked him and others waving Palestinian flags to take them down or leave.

“When I asked why they’re doing this now and not before, the security specifically told me that the order came directly from the founders. And when I asked him why this flag specifically, because there’s no other flag being picked out, he said it just is what it is,” Moon said.

Angel City declined to answer questions about the flag policy.

A source not authorized to speak publicly about the policy told The Times Angel City staff was concerned about potential conflict between Israeli and Palestinian supporters and changed the policy based on advice from security consultants.

After talking with security for 10 minutes, Moon said he wanted to “preach nonviolence” and left the stadium because he no longer felt comfortable.

“It did feel like we didn’t have a choice. The choice was to be there but not as myself. They wanted a quiet version of myself, a censored version of myself, a silenced version of myself that I wasn’t willing to be,” Moon said.

Matthew Vitale, 26, a fellow AC Pandemonium member, also walked out in support of those waving Palestinian flags. He said what Hamas did was crazy, but he says that not all Palestinians support the group.

“I’ve grown up with Palestinians like my entire life. Gaza is basically going to be gone in a week’s time. And I can’t stand by,” Vitale said.

Josh Ahn, 38, from Glendale, cited his experiences visiting the Borj el Brajne refugee camp in Beirut more than a decade ago as the reason he left the game early.

“People were showing us their keys that they took with them during the Nakba, [also known as the Palestinian catastrophe], because they thought they were going to be able to go back and open the doors to their homes. Since then, I’ve just been like, people just want to be home. It changed my perspective on a lot of things,” Ahn said.

“It’s about solidarity with Palestinians everywhere. It’s a shame that the club can’t see why we would feel that way,” Vitale said.

Tiff Sanchez, 40, from Historic Filipinotown is a member of the PodeRosas supporter group, one of the club’s six official supporter groups which is primarily composed of queer women of color.

“Dale, Dale, AC FC!” she yelled, as she led the supporter section in cheers.

PodeRosas members waved 10-foot and 15-foot Palestinian flags. Within 15 minutes of the game, security came to remove them. She noted that PodeRosas usually also waves Pride flags, but they were not removed during the game.

“It was like directly about the Palestinian flags without them saying it. It’s clearly censorship,” she said, also citing how in the past Angel City FC has made statements or programming regarding other topics such as Black Lives Matter, women’s reproductive health access, trans rights and gun violence.

A source not authorized to speak publicly about Angel City’s security practices told The Times fans who approached the gate with flags from multiple countries were informed of the policy and either placed flags in lockers or put them back in their cars.

At least one French flag was spotted in the stands after fans were told to stop displaying Palestinian flags.

Sanchez said the club’s statement released on Oct. 12 did not acknowledge the people in Palestine “who are experiencing genocide right now.”

“They don’t speak for us. Each of the founding members has their own social media platform. They didn’t need to speak for a whole club, including supporter groups,” Sanchez said.

Daisy Chavez-Mendez, 41, from Boyle Heights, who is a member of PodeRosas’ leadership, said the front office and some supporter group representatives met on Thursday and Friday to discuss the founder’s statement. It was not until Sunday morning, when tailgates had already begun, that supporters group leadership received messages about a change in flag and apparel policies.

Sanchez donned a pale yellow keffiyeh, a Palestinian checkered black and white scarf, that was gifted to her by a friend. On the front of her T-shirt, the words “Del Barrio, Pa’l Barrio” and “Palestina Libre” encircled a Palestinian flag with the cluster of PodeRosas roses. She is disappointed with how the club profits off of the supporters’ “inclusive” image and is unsure if she wants to keep giving money.

“It’s in these moments right now that are critical that we show up. It’s not when it’s easy. It’s when it’s difficult,” Sanchez said. “One of our slogans is that we show up for the games like we show up for our real lives.”

Andrew Terranova, 48, was holding up a 3×5 Palestinian flag when security approached him during the second half of the game. They had a “back and forth” when Terranova pointed to a French flag draped in the stands.

“It just drives home that double standard. This is not about wiping out all expressions of nationality. It’s about targeting Palestinian solidarity,” Terranova said.

A season ticket holder, Terranova said he understands that clubs like Angel City FC need to show that women’s sports is profitable. He called his season ticket holder representative and said he is considering canceling his membership.

Angel City FC won 5-1 against the Portland Thorns, making the NWSL playoffs for the first time since its founding in 2020.

Moon said he feels robbed of what would have been a celebration of the team making the playoffs.

“If you’re a soccer fan, games like today are when you live for high stakes, win or go home, make history, and we were robbed of that,” Moon said. After he exited, he heard the crowd celebrate two Angel City goals. “I cannot believe they robbed me of a Sydney Leroux bicycle kick.”

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