Tensions began to build around Huntington Beach Pier on Sunday afternoon as people protesting a planned white supremacist rally clashed with supporters of Donald Trump and individuals touting white supremacist beliefs.
Several hundred people gathered in the area of the plaza at the base of the pier from Sunday morning to demonstrate against the so-called White Lives Matter rally which was scheduled to start at 1 p.m. Police officers stood on the edges of the pier plaza like helicopters and drones. circled above.
A group of cyclists and motorists raised their fists and honked their horns to support the crowd, who chanted, “What do we want?” “Unit!” “When do we want it?” “Now!”
The protest, which started around 11 a.m., was largely peaceful. No large cohort of people supposed to attend the planned white supremacist rally were present on the platform on Sunday afternoon. By 2 p.m., however, disputes between individual attendees, Trump supporters and counter-protesters had started to erupt along the Pacific Coast Highway.
The situation came to a boiling point when a man with a beard and a cigar walked up to the plaza in front of the pier and repeated, “White lives matter,” several times before yelling at a counter-defender, who held a poster that read “Death to the Klan.” ”
A crowd quickly converged around them and chanted, “The Nazis are coming home,” until the man retreated to the Pacific Coast Highway.
In another incident, 59-year-old Peter Zazzara and several counter-testers got into a screaming match when Zazzara was asked about a skull tattoo on his right arm. Zazzara got angry and started cursing the group, eventually crossing his arms to cover up the ink, which he said represented part of “an elite military unit”. However, the Anti-Defamation League classifies the tattoo – known as the Totenkopf, or Death Head – 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.
The crowd started to stir again shortly after 1 p.m. when a small group of people waving Trump 2020 flags, US flags and a banner that read “Don’t Step On Me” gathered in front of the hall. place at the foot of the pier.
At least 10 mounted policemen and Orange County sheriff’s deputies gathered on the Pacific Coast Highway as people began to spill into the streets. A stalemate arose when a man, waving an “All lives count” flag, began to approach the counter-demonstrators. He was quickly surrounded and pulled away from the pier amid chants of “You are not welcome here.”
Kelly Johnson, 60, and Ted Laporte, 57, of Huntington Beach, arrived along the Pacific Coast Highway carrying a large pole displaying American flags, Trump 2020 flags, a Gadsden flag and a black All Lives Matter flag and gray. Johnson, formerly of Laguna Nigel, added an orange jack-o’-lantern Halloween decoration. He changed it by putting on a blue surgical mask and writing “Wuhan virus”.
Johnson said he heard about the Black Lives Matter rally while attending another event on Saturday in Laguna Beach. He said he was not affiliated with the White Lives Matter gathering.
“It’s not that black lives don’t matter, but it’s a matter of knowledge and truth,” he said. He argued that BLM only creates “racial divisions”.
Many of those who arrived at the wharf on Sunday did so to demonstrate their opposition to the recent white supremacist activity that took place in the city.
Among them was Denise Wada, a resident of Huntington Beach for 20 years, who stood at PCH and Main Street with other protesters and her dog, Banner, a Brittany. A week ago, Wada was disturbed when she learned on NextDoor, an app where residents can share information about their neighborhoods, that Ku Klux Klan flyers had been left at the doorsteps of homes in her town.
“I was horrified that someone would do that,” she said.
Wada said there had been discussions on his neighborhood forum that maybe it was a hoax, but whether or not it was wrong, it required a strong response.
“I cannot be silent about this,” she said. “The point is, it’s out there, and racial justice needs a louder noise.”
Tory Johnson, founder of local group Black Lives Matter Huntington Beach, which was hosting a retest, stood in a suit and tie with a megaphone in hand as the crowds increased on Sunday morning.
“It will be a pretty important day for sure,” he said.
In the distance, swimmers and volleyball players on the beach paid little attention to mounting tensions on the dock. Johnson estimated that “a few hundred people could show up,” but couldn’t say for sure how many were expected.
“I just want to occupy this space,” Johnson said, “and get the message across that we don’t want this city to be a city of hate and division.”
Shortly after the start of the protest, police arrested three counter-protesters. One was charged with using amplified sound and a second allegedly obstructed police and had a metal baton, two cans of pepper spray and a knife in his backpack, the Huntington Beach Police Lt. Brian Smith. A third man was also taken into custody, but Smith couldn’t say why.
A woman was detained about an hour later after she was found with pepper spray, which is prohibited at a town hall, Smith said.
Activist Najee Ali described the arrests as “a double standard in the way our protests have been controlled … whether in Washington or here in Orange County.”
Ali, who wore a shirt with the words “I can’t breathe,” said the timing of the White Lives Matter rally was likely related to the ongoing trial of former Minneapolis cop Derek Chauvin. “Without a doubt,” he said.
“I am here from Los Angeles just to show my solidarity against racism, hatred and intolerance,” Ali said. “It is important that the residents of Huntington Beach know that they are not alone and we stand behind them.”
Smith said there were “more staff here than usual” but could not confirm the number of officers deployed to the area. The ministry has a large contingent on hold, he noted.
“Our hope is that everyone can come and express their freedom of expression peacefully today,” he said.
Authorities were unable to identify or contact who organized the White Lives Matter event, he said.
The rally, which was announced via social media, is one of many such protests planned across the country. The rallies were organized through the Telegram messaging app, according to the Anti-Defamation League.
It comes after flyers with KKK propaganda have been delivered to homes in Huntington Beach, Newport Beach and Long Beach in recent weeks. Police don’t believe the same people are responsible for the leaflets and the rally, Smith said.
Roger Bloom, 65, who has lived in Huntington Beach since 1975, 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 great city full of great people. Just because a handful of pathetic losers come here every now and then in a public square and make a stench … 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 came down from Los Angeles to show solidarity with the counter-protesters.
“I am horrified by the violence against blacks, Mexicans and Asians,” said Gimeno, who is Mexican. “It’s a small step, but the more people who stand in unity, the more we can show that in order for white people’s lives to matter, black lives must also matter.”
Cliff Smith – holding a sign that read: “Death to the Klan!” International solidarity of the working class! – preferred to stay at the corner of Main and PCH while the counter-demonstrators gathered in a circle to sing.
“It’s about being visible,” said Smith, 51, of south Los Angeles. “The crowd seems to be in control.”
Smith stood next to his friend Jesus Portillo, 35, a resident of Orange. He was holding a sign saying, “End Racism”.
Portillo, who is Mexican, said he stood proudly with his sign to defend his “color, my people and the resistance”.
“I have experienced a lot of racism, especially because my family and I are Latinos,” he said. “We are still stopped.”
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 solidified 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, accidentally walked into the restaurant and collapsed in front of horrified diners.
Jonathan Russell Kennedy, 19, pleaded guilty to the murder, as well as charges of attempted murder of two Latino men in a separate attack weeks earlier, and was sentenced to 19 years in life. Robert Wofford, 17, of Laguna Niguel, also pleaded guilty in Flournoy’s death and was sentenced to 18 years of life.
Although Huntington Beach remains largely conservative, it is increasingly an island surrounded by growing liberalism and racial diversity. Orange County as a whole has seen a remarkable demographic shift over the past two decades with the arrival of more Asian and Latino residents, who have helped to shift the region towards Democrats.
Experts say these demographic shifts are the most powerful predictors of increasing political extremism and hate crimes in neighborhoods where some fear their way of life is threatened.
Meanwhile, Huntington Beach City Council, at its meeting last week, spoke out against hate speech and white supremacy. The city is also hosting a virtual “Unity Day” concurrently with the White Lives Matter rally.