HUNTINGTON BEACH (CNS) - An unlawful assembly was declared Sunday in Huntington Beach, where anti-racism protesters squared off with supporters of a planned "White Lives Matter" demonstration.
The Huntington Beach Police Department declared an unlawful assembly in the area of Fifth Street and Walnut Avenue shortly before 3 p.m., "in order to disperse an unruly crowd," police said.
More than 200 demonstrators, some with the Black Lives Matter movement, had assembled at the city's pier beginning at 11 a.m. Sunday, two hours before the scheduled "WLM" rally at 1 p.m.
The Black Lives Matter protesters occupied Pier Plaza to prevent any demonstrations by the WLM group, KNX reported. The BLM crowd numbered about 200 people. Huntington Beach police arrested several people for noise violations, interference with police and one for alleged weapons possession.
The WLM rally was part of a nationwide group of protests planned in a handful of cities across the country to combat what organizers see as the threat to the white race from multiculturalism and what they term as the "anti- white" bias in media, government and education.
The group was promoting the events though the social media platform Telegram. Attendees were encouraged to wear masks "for anonymity."
In the days leading up to the rallies, Huntington Beach police and Orange County sheriff's officials said they would be out in force to keep the peace in the event of a potential square-off between attendees on both sides.
Three arrests were reported in the early going Sunday. One was for the municipal code violation of amplified sound at the beach, Huntington Beach Police Lt. Brian Smith told the Los Angeles Times. A second person was arrested for allegedly obstructing police and had a metal baton, two cans of pepper spray and a knife in his backpack, Smith said.
A woman was detained about an hour later for unknown reasons
Things began to grow heated after 1 p.m., with many people carrying American flags and signs supporting former President Donald Trump getting into profane verbal exchanges with the BLM supporters.
Many counter demonstrators chanted "Nazis go home!"
At least one WLM supporter was surrounded and violently pushed by several anti-racism demonstrators, according to video posted on Twitter.
Police would not provide specifics about their plans to monitor the rally, other than to say "increased staffing of public safety personnel" was expected.
"There will be a large contingent of police officers working in the area, along with various assets including a regional mounted unit and aviation assets," Smith said Friday. "Additional resources from allied agencies will also be on standby should the need arise, which is common practice for large planned events, including sporting events, community events, rallies and protests."
Carrie Braun, a spokeswoman for the Orange County Sheriff's Department, said the sheriff has pledged his mounted patrol units to help with crowd control and law enforcement. Investigators were also monitoring online chatter to see if there will be similar protests elsewhere, Braun said.
The planned events come at a time when anti-Asian bigotry is on the rise during the pandemic and local communities including Newport Beach, Huntington Beach and Villa Park have been papered with fliers advertising the Ku Klux Klan.
On Monday, April 5, the Huntington Beach City Council voted unanimously to condemn violence and hate crimes against Asian Americans and to condemn white supremacy. Another called for city-sponsored events to counter the planned "white lives matter" rally on Sunday. Those events are scheduled to be held April 18 at Central Park.
Sens. Dave Min, D-Irvine, and Tom Umberg, D-Santa Ana, and Assemblywoman Cottie Petrie-Norris, D-Newport Beach, on Friday released a statement condemning the Sunday rally organized by the Loyal White Knights.
"We unequivocally condemn white nationalism and the racist ideology promoted by the Ku Klux Klan," the statement reads. "While we acknowledge the rights of all Americans -- even the vilest racists out there -- to express their opinions, we want to loudly and clearly state that the views expressed by the KKK and other white nationalist groups do not reflect the views of Orange County's residents or elected officials.
"Our rich diversity makes Orange County and Huntington Beach stronger and better. We join the Huntington Beach City Council in condemning white supremacy and applaud it for planning a series of pro-diversity events to counter the disgusting message being promoted by the KKK and other organizers of the White Lives Matter rally this weekend."
Huntington Beach Interim Police Chief Julian Harvey posted the following statement on Facebook Wednesday:
"The Huntington Beach Police Department is aware of the planned events in Huntington Beach on April 11, 2021, and is taking measures to ensure public safety while preserving the participants' ability to exercise their Constitutional rights regardless of the message or ideology.
"We hope events such as this will serve as an opportunity for unity rather than a platform to spread hate, bigotry and division. The City of Huntington Beach proudly stands by the values of diversity, equity and inclusion.
"Toward this end, the men and women of the Huntington Beach Police Department will professionally and impartially perform their duties. I can assure you, we will not tolerate any acts of violence or criminal behavior meant to intimidate others."
The OC Human Relations Council held a virtual workshop on Zoom at 1 p.m. Sunday to help residents confront public acts of racism.
"It will provide tools for how to stand up and interrupt when you see hate and bigotry," the group's Alison Edwards said.
"If you can be reasonably sure you can be safe, there are a series of things people can do" when they encounter a racist act in public, "like creating a distraction like just asking what time is it to break up the interaction," Edwards said.
Since January, the organization has logged 14 anti-Asian hate incidents, Edwards said. One of those targeted was U.S. Olympic karate athlete Sakura Kokumai, who recently chronicled how she was subjected to racist insults while she was working out at a park in Orange.
Edwards said the HRC is also working on efforts to provide a forum for residents when verdicts come down in the trial of Derek Chauvin for the in- custody killing of George Floyd in Minnesota last year.
In response to the KKK fliers, the Huntington Beach City Council on a 6-0 vote Monday, with one abstention, passed a resolution reaffirming the city's commitment to inclusivity and two others denouncing hate speech, and specifically white supremacy.
Peter Levi, regional director for the Anti-Defamation League in Orange County, said the White Lives Matter phrase dates back to 2015. It was a "racist response" to the "racial justice issues going on in our country" at the time, Levi said.
It is difficult to know how many people will show up for the rally, Levi said. But he noted that "every day we've learned after Jan. 6 that if you show up and show your face, there are real-world consequences," referring to the Jan. 6 insurrection in the Capitol in which many participants were identified through social media posts.
The amount of racist propaganda doubled last year compared with 2019, Levi said. There were about 5,000 pieces of propaganda circulated in communities and on campuses, he said.
On Saturday, the Orange County NAACP issued a statement clarifying its opposition to the counter protest planned by Black Lives Matter, with some of its supporters citing concerns about potential violence.
"The Orange County NAACP does NOT support the upcoming Huntington Beach Counter-Protest to the White Lives Matter Rally on Sunday, April 11, 2021," the statement said.
"While the OC NAACP applauds the efforts of peaceful protest nationwide, we do not sanction this particular event and seek to make our position clear on this issue. Our prayers are for the safety of all individuals, and we would never impede on anyone's right to freedom of speech. The recent articles linking our organization to this event are factually incorrect."