On Sunday, a crowd of White Lives Matter protesters and anti-racist counter-protesters filled the streets near Huntington Beach Pier, but quickly dispersed after police declared a gathering illegal amid more clashes. and more hostile between supporters of Donald Trump, those who displayed allegiance to white supremacist groups and their opponents.
Several hundred people gathered in the plaza at the foot of the pier on Sunday morning to protest a so-called White Lives Matter rally which was scheduled to start at 1 p.m. Police officers stood at the edges of the plaza at Pacific Coast Highway and Main Street as helicopters and drones circled above us.
But by 2:30 p.m., the crowd had grown to nearly 500 and police ordered everyone to disperse – sending alerts on the cellphones of people in the area threatening to be arrested – as tensions intensified between rival demonstrators.
The rally drew a cross-section of people with conservative convictions, including gun supporters and abortion advocates, as well as members of the far-right group Proud Boys. William Quigg, who is known as the head of state of the Loyal White Knights faction of the Ku Klux Klan in California, was seen walking through the crowd.
The anti-racist demonstrators outnumbered the other groups by far. Tory Johnson, founder of local group Black Lives Matter Huntington Beach, said they have made it clear the city will not be a place of hatred and division.
“No Nazi will mirror Huntington Beach today,” he said.
The protest began peacefully, but as the day wore on and the crowds grew, several clashes between participants broke out in the city’s downtown shopping district. Some exchanged punches, prompting the police to intervene, while others threw verbal punches a few inches from the face of others. Lunchtime diners watched the chaos unfold from a patio on the second floor of Fred’s Mexican Cafe and Cantina.
Police arrested 12 people during the rally. Two people were charged with using amplified sound. Police said one person obstructed law enforcement and his backpack contained a metal baton, two pepper spray cans and a knife.
Others were arrested and held in the city jail on suspicion of public intoxication, fighting or carrying prohibited items from a rally such as pepper spray and long flag poles, said the Minister. Huntington Beach Police Lieutenant Brian Smith.
Tensions began to mount shortly after noon when a man with a beard and a cigar approached the plaza in front of the pier and said “White lives matter” several times before yelling at a counter-protester. , who held a poster that read “Death to the Klan.”
A crowd quickly converged around the bearded man and chanted “The Nazis are coming home” until he retreated to the Pacific Coast Highway.
In a separate incident, a man who identified himself as a former Marine was accused of being a white supremacist by several counter-protesters after seeing a skull tattoo on his right arm.
The man cursed the group and crossed his arms to cover the ink, which he said represented part of “an elite military unit”. He told the counter-protesters the tattoo didn’t mean what they thought it meant.
The Anti-Defamation League classifies the image in the tattoo – known as the Totenkopf, or Skull and Crossbones – as a symbol of hatred. The image was used by the SS organization and has been adopted by neo-Nazis and white supremacists since World War II, according to the ADL.
Many of those who arrived at the pier on Sunday did so to demonstrate their opposition to white supremacist activity that has plagued Huntington Beach for years.
Among them was Denise Wada, a 20-year-old resident of Huntington Beach, who was horrified when she learned on NextDoor, an app where residents can share information about their neighborhoods, that flyers from the Ku Klux Klan had been left on the threshold of houses in his town. The propaganda flyers have also been delivered to homes in Newport Beach and Long Beach in recent weeks. The police do not suspect that the same people are responsible for the leaflets and the rally.
Wada said there had been a discussion on his neighborhood forum that it may have been a hoax, but whether or not it was fake it required a strong response.
“I can’t be quiet about it,” she said. “The point is, it’s out there, and racial justice needs a louder noise.”
The White Lives Matter rally, which was announced via social media, was one of many such protests planned across the country on Sunday. The rallies were organized through the Telegram messaging app, according to the Anti-Defamation League.
Long-time resident Roger Bloom, 65, held a sign in his left hand that read “Old White Guys Against Racism” on one side and “No H8 in HB” on the other. In his right hand he held an American flag.
“I am here to defend my city,” Bloom said. “It’s a big city full of great people. Just because a handful of pathetic losers come here every now and then in a public square and smell bad … they give this town a bad name. I would like them to go back to their basements and stay there.
Antonieta Gimeno, 78, said she drove down from Los Angeles to show solidarity with the counter-protesters.
“I am horrified by the violence against blacks, Mexicans, Asians,” said Gimeno, who is Mexican. “It’s a small step, but the more people who are united, the more we can show that for white lives to matter, black lives must also matter.”
Huntington Beach has struggled with extremism for decades. In the 1980s and 1990s, its pier and surf spots became a draw for skinheads, white supremacists, and neo-Nazis.
Two high-profile hate crimes in the mid-1990s bolstered the city’s reputation as a hotbed of racism. In 1994, two skinheads shot dead a black man outside a McDonald’s on Beach Boulevard. Vernon Windell Flournoy, 44, tripped into the restaurant and collapsed in front of horrified diners.
In 1996, Erik R. Anderson, 22, a skinhead and card-holding member of the Ku Klux Klan, stabbed a 20-year-old Native American, George Mondragon, 27 times at the beach. Anderson was convicted of attempted murder and sentenced to life imprisonment. Two others served prison terms for their role in the attack.
In response, the city has stepped up the police presence on Main Street and created its Human Relations Task Force. While skinheads are not frequently seen in popular city gathering places, some say the racism has simply taken a more insidious form.
In 2018, the FBI arrested Robert Rundo, a Huntington Beach resident and leader of the so-called Rise Above movement, a far-right street fighting gang whose members reportedly trained in combat during political protests across the country. State and in 2017 assaulted counter-protesters at the murderous Unite the Right march in Charlottesville, Virginia.
More recently, downtown and the Huntington Beach Pier have become a rallying point for anti-mask activists and right-wing Trump supporters. Mixed martial arts fighter Tito Ortiz, a vocal opponent of public health rules who is known to share conspiracy theories online, was elected to his city council in 2020. Under the campaign slogan “Make Huntington Beach” Safe Again, ”he received the most votes in a council race in the city’s history.
Although Huntington Beach remains largely conservative, it is increasingly an island surrounded by growing liberalism and racial diversity. Experts say these demographic shifts are the best predictors of increasing political extremism and hate crimes in neighborhoods where some fear their way of life is threatened.
“White Lives Matter is not a band; it’s a whole subculture, ”said Brian Levin, director of the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at Cal State San Bernardino. “Klan swastikas and balaclavas are just not great branding and recruiting tools. Their goal now is the message that whites are under attack. ”
Times writer Alex Wigglesworth contributed to this report.