He was the kind of kid you avoided in school — there was always one.
And when he rolled by Laguna’s Main Beach on Sunday afternoon yelling “Trump, Trump, Trump” to a group of anti-Ku Klux Klan demonstrators, it was hard to forgive his lack of context.
Why take a protest position and invoke the president’s name at an anti-KKK rally? By definition, he was saying Trump supports the KKK. Everyone in the group chuckled at the boy’s ignorance.
But then he came back.
He was in the back seat of an SUV wearing a fishing hat, carrying the look of a good-ol’ boy wanting to start trouble.
He leaned out the window and gave a slow, deliberate Nazi salute, holding it high and firm for the entire ride across Main Beach, staring down the group with a glib smirk.
Given the timing, the day after Charlottesville, Va., the day after another young man drove his car into an anti-KKK crowd, you could not write it off as stupidity.
This weekend there will be another rally on Main Beach, this time by an ultra-conservative group calling itself “America First!”
Officially, the members claim to be anti-illegal immigration. Unofficially, they are haters.
According to various online manifestos, which often include automatic weapons in the background, they hate feminists, transgenders, liberals — anything outside their little sacred circle.
They’ve been to Laguna before, just a few weeks ago, in fact, but this time feels different. There’s a lot more social chatter. Many sides are mobilizing and so are the police, who have received enough community phone calls that they issued a news release earlier this week.
Sgt. Jim Cota, public information officer for Laguna Beach police, told me the department is trying to keep everyone calm.
“They’ve been here three times prior with no incidents,” Cota said. “The thing is, people are trying to tie this into the same group that was back East, and it’s not even close.”
One challenge for the police is knowing how to make a proportionate response.
“It’s the same tactic we used last time with them: We downplay this thing,” he said. “We don’t give them the attention they seek.”
It’s clear the group picks Laguna for a reason. In a rambling online video, one of the group’s organizers, Kenny Strawn of Mission Viejo, said Laguna automatically creates the type of political tension the group seeks.
“Why Laguna Beach?” he asks. “As far as hitting the left where it hurts, Laguna Beach is ground zero.
“Anti-feminists, which I am definitely one of, who are sick of the way the (George) Soros donors that live in Laguna Beach are bankrolling dangerous rhetoric in our colleges (are) welcome. Anyone who values safety over diversity is desperately needed. We need to show the Soros donors who the diverse ones are now, and that is only going to happen if you show up to do damage.”
This talk of doing “damage” is the type of language that gets the attention of law enforcement. Cota said that while he doesn’t expect any trouble, police can never underestimate a situation.
“They are speaking their beliefs,” he said. “It only gets fired up if you inflame the whole thing. You have to just separate them. You guys are over here and you guys are over there.”
Perhaps by Sunday there will be a lessening of national — and local — tension. But perhaps not.
Think again about the Nazi salute.
Take a look at Strawn’s video diatribe, which unfortunately is fairly easy to find.
That pit in your stomach is the same one you felt with the school bully, the one who was just a little off.
DAVID HANSEN is a writer and Laguna Beach resident. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.