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Anaheim is land of Disney, not Ku Klux Klan, dismayed residents say

For many Anaheim residents, it was not enough Sunday simply to condemn a Ku Klux Klan rally that turned violent over the weekend.

They felt compelled to say that Orange County’s largest city was simply not the kind of place where the KKK’s message could gain any traction.

The rally, in which three people were stabbed and 12 arrested, occurred in a place that nearly a century ago was considered a haven for the Klan. But as residents were quick to point out, Anaheim today is a thriving melting pot where Latinos are in the majority, and whites now make up less than 30% of the population.

“Why would they target us and our city? I've lived here all my life, and I can tell you it’s calm and there’s the magic of Disney,” said resident Elizabeth Carreno, 24. “They picked the wrong place.”

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Carreno, who was on a family outing Sunday at Pearson Park, where the violence occurred the day before, motioned to the soccer field where her husband’s team, Liverpool, had just lost a match to Los Halcones.

“Look around you,” she said. “Are there any signs that this is not a tranquil place? People should not shy from coming here because they can be comfortable here.”

Anaheim Mayor Tom Tait said the city was a “rich, ethnically mixed community where people live with natural respect and tolerance” and that the KKK represents a handful of individuals who won’t get any support from residents.

“Their despicable message is not one shared by the people of Anaheim,” he added.

The violence occurred when a handful of Klan members clashed with counter-demonstrators. The rally puzzled some because the KKK has been a fading force both on the national and local level for years. In 2015, the group made headlines when it blanketed several neighborhoods in L.A. and Orange counties with recruitment fliers.

Rusty Kennedy, who heads the Orange County Human Relations Commission, suspects Anaheim was chosen for the rally because “it’s an international city with a high profile” and home to Disneyland and professional sports teams.

For all of Anaheim’s growing diversity, the city has in recent years debated how to deal with the demographic change. In a landmark vote in 2014, residents agreed to shift from at-large to district elections for City Council, a move that Latino activists hoped would give better representation at City Hall to underrepresented groups.

Kennedy said these factors put Saturday’s rally all the more out of step with the city today. The Klan, he said, “is desperate to stay vital even though it’s so antique, even among hate groups. They’re just grasping at straws to try and stay relevant.”

A day after the violence, questions remained about why the police didn’t have a larger presence at the park.

“There was no uniform police presence when I arrived,” said Brian Levin, director of the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at Cal State San Bernardino, who was at the park when the violence erupted.

A group of Ku Klux Klan members had planned to hold a rally at the park at 1:30 p.m., but dozens of counter-protesters showed up about two hours earlier. About 12:30 p.m., several men in black garb with Confederate flag patches arrived at the edge of the park in an SUV.

Levin said the protesters immediately swarmed the Klansmen, including William Quigg, head of the Loyal White Knights, a national Klan group.

“I saw a phalanx of anti-racist activists rushing toward an SUV,” Levin said. “They smashed a rear passenger window and then another window with a two-by-four. And then they were beating a couple of the Klan guys.”

Levin, a former police officer and a lawyer, stepped in front of the protesters and can be heard on videotape saying, “Do not hit him. Do not hit him,” citing the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s name. “The fear in Quigg’s eyes I will never forget.”

Witnesses said the Klansmen used the point of a flagpole to fend off protesters.

Three protesters were stabbed during the melee by a knife-wielding suspect, police said.

Anaheim Police Sgt. Daron Wyatt said Sunday that a KKK member originally arrested on suspicion of assault with a deadly weapon for allegedly stabbing some of the counter-protesters would be released. “Based on a video a detective reviewed, it does appear to be self-defense,” Wyatt said. A final decision on who faces charges will be made when prosecutors review the investigation.

Wyatt defended police efforts to control the confrontation.

“There were officers there. We had a plan in place,” he said. “We had individuals who specifically came there to commit acts of violence, and there is nothing to do to stop that.”

Wyatt noted that police quickly responded by taking a dozen people into custody and treating the injured. Several of those arrested are expected to be charged with assault with a deadly weapon.

He declined to provide specifics on how many officers were on hand. But he said the Police Department may reevaluate whether additional officers are needed at such protests.

Wyatt said the police chose not to have a more visible presence to avoid provoking potential anti-police sentiments among protesters, noting that protests are protected by the 1st Amendment.

“It is a balancing act,” he said. “We don’t want to look like we are taking anyone’s side.”

Tait, the mayor, echoed that sentiment.

“The police had a hard job in this instance,” he said, “...to protect people across the board.”

Kennedy said he doubted there would be a Klan return to Anaheim in the near future.

“I think they got scared to death,” he said. “They're going to be wary of any repeat.” 

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UPDATES

7:52 p.m.: This story was updated with additional information.

2:12 p.m.: Updated with more reaction.

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