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An activist group says it was holding a nonviolence training in Spenard when an intruder entered with pepper spray

Furniture, contaminated with pepper spray, is set outside the Anchorage Community House on Saturday. (Loren Holmes / ADN)

At a training about nonviolent protests Saturday afternoon in Spenard, an intruder opened the door and sprayed bear spray or pepper spray into the room, organizers said. Then he ran away.

Some thought it was part of the training. Turns out it wasn't.

"I didn't know what was happening," said Joni Bruner, an organizer with Alaska Grassroots Alliance, the organization hosting the training.

Around 2 p.m., Bruner and about a dozen others were inside a small room at the Anchorage Community House, behind the Church of Love on Spenard Road, she said. They were practicing how to hold a peaceful protest in a role-playing exercise, said Soren Wuerth, another participant and organizer with the alliance. Half of the group was lined up across the room as protesters, while the other half confronted them — posing as people upset or angry about the demonstration, or trying to shove through the protesters, he said.

Then, all of a sudden, the door opened.

The intruder — a man with a long white beard who stood about 6 feet tall and wore a black leather vest — waved a canister back and forth in the air, Wuerth said. Orange-colored spray filled the room.

The man took off running as those inside struggled to see and breathe, Wuerth said.

"Immediately I was blinded," he said. "I staggered out. I was choking."

Soren Wuerth, an organizer with Alaska Grassroots Alliance, holds up a sweatshirt that he said was drenched in bear spray or pepper spray Saturday. (Tegan Hanlon / ADN)

About two hours later, Bruner was still patting her face with a damp paper towel.

Wuerth and Bruner said they believe the man did not choose to pepper spray their training at random. One of the participants reported seeing him wandering around the parking lot before he came inside and aimed the canister at their faces, Wuerth said. A sign taped to the door advertised, "Nonviolence training here. Please come in!"

"That's what's so bizarre — it's a nonviolence training and then here's somebody coming in to commit a violent act," Wuerth said.

Anchorage police are investigating the incident, said police spokesman MJ Thim. Officers were called to the scene at the Anchorage Community House around 2:10 p.m. They believe the man used pepper spray on the group, Thim said.

Thim asked any nearby businesses or homes with security footage from Saturday afternoon to call police dispatch at 907-786-8900 and press "0" to reach an operator. To remain anonymous, contact Crime Stoppers at 907-561-STOP or online at anchoragecrimestoppers.com.

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