Violence breaks out at pro-Trump rally in Huntington Beach

Marchers and counterprotesters clashed Saturday at a Make America Great Again gathering in Huntington Beach after an anti-President Trump protester doused marchers with pepper spray.

The anti-Trump protester, dressed in all black and wearing a mask, attacked an organizer of the event, Jennifer Sterling, and other members of the march with the irritant, causing a group of marchers to tackle the masked man, punching and kicking him.

The use of pepper spray was confirmed by California State Parks Capt. Kevin Pearsall.

The masked man was able to regain his footing and backpedaled as a group of flag-bearing marchers trailed him. He fled by jumping over the fence that separates the lot from Pacific Coast Highway but was quickly detained by California Highway Patrol officers.

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Pearsall said the masked man had been arrested along with two other male counterprotesters on suspicion of illegal use of pepper spray. Pearsall said a female counterprotester also was arrested on suspicion of assault and battery.

Travis Guenther, whose wife was also pepper-sprayed, said he was among those who chased the masked man. He hit him with a flag that read "Trump, Make America Great Again."

"I hit him five times with the flag over his head," said Guenther, who yelled at the man as the man was detained by law enforcement officials.

"We're not xenophobic," Guenther said. "We're not racist. We're just proud Americans."

Ray Evans, 55, of Westminster said he was trying to wrest a stick from a counterprotester who was using it as a weapon when he was pepper-sprayed by a woman.

State Parks officers gave Evans water to clear the spray from his eyes, which he struggled to keep open.

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Sterling said after the march that the violence "hurt" but that the "good outweighed the bad."

Sterling said she made a point of telling marchers to not engage with the counterprotesters.

Pearsall said about 2,000 marchers and 30 counterprotesters showed up to the noontime march, held at Bolsa Chica State Beach.

The counterprotesters lined up on the beach trail and were hoping to stop the marchers from progressing, said Byron Lopez, 20, of Santa Ana.

But when marchers approached the area, the counterprotesters parted and people were able to pass through until the violence erupted.

Lopez said he was there as a member of the Democratic Socialists of America and did not participate in the violence. He said the masked men were part of Antifa, an anti-fascist movement.

Huntington Beach and parks officials said they had been prepared for any violence Saturday.

​Meanwhile, Indivisible OC 48, which bills itself as nonpartisan, announced earlier that it would be meeting on rally day at the Edison Community Center to discuss the next steps to "ensure that decision-makers address the concerns of their constituents."

Indivisible OC 48 will not be engaging in any form of counterprotest to the MAGA march at Bolsa Chica State Beach, the statement read.

Natalie Curtis, 49, of Malibu said she was at the march to support the president and first responders. Curtis was carrying a flag that read "Latina for Trump."

Curtis said she felt that Trump was doing his best to keep his campaign promises and she wants to support him.

Many of the marchers carried American and "Don't Tread on Me" flags, a symbol of the tea party movement. Some carried signs saying "Build that Wall" and "Blue Lives Matter."

U.S. Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Costa Mesa) attended the march and spoke at the rally before people started marching.

"This is a turning point. I was about ready to give up," Rohrabacher said. "But you know what, you're here and Donald Trump is in the White House."

His speech was met with rousing applause.

Support for the military was a large component of the march.

Sterling had people bring clothes and other accouterments to be donated to veterans.

Members of the U.S. Marines set up a tent where people could test their physical skills on a pull-up bar.

Shipley Marmion, 49, of Huntington Beach said she's from a military family and wanted to march to support the military and Trump. She supports strong borders but said there were "people from all countries" at the march.

The march was originally going to be held near the OC Fair & Event Center in Costa Mesa, but fairgrounds officials announced earlier in the month that they would close the property on Saturday and Sunday in anticipation of the event because of public safety concerns.

A Trump rally held April 28 outside the Pacific Amphitheatre — where the then-candidate had been speaking — resulted in violence that spilled onto the streets. People could be seen jumping on the hood of a police car. The amphitheater is on the fairgrounds.

Pearsall said Friday that the department was planning for conflict based on monitoring social media exchanges. He said three dozen officers would be on scene at the march.

Huntington Beach police spokeswoman Jennifer Marlatt said Friday officers would be available to provide support if needed

Toward the end of the march, a small group of counterprotesters and marchers verbally clashed again near the roundabout close to the parking lot entrance at Warner Avenue and Pacific Coast Highway.

Obscenities laced the air but the groups didn't delve into violence. One of the counterprotesters was wearing a bandana over his face and marchers chanted, "Show your face."

Los Angeles Times reporter Cindy Carcamo contributed to this article.

benjamin.brazil@latimes.com

Twitter: @benbrazilpilot

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