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Huntington Beach exhales after ‘White Lives Matter’ rally fizzles out

Protesters scuffle during a rally against racial injustice and police brutality at the Huntington Beach Pier on Sunday.
Protesters scuffle during a rally against racial injustice and police brutality at the Huntington Beach Pier on Sunday.
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

Huntington Beach is regrouping after hundreds of people turned out at a counter-protest Sunday at the pier, held in response to a scheduled “White Lives Matter” rally.

“Going forward, the city is committed to diversity, equity and inclusion,” Huntington Beach Mayor Kim Carr said in a phone interview Monday. “We are taking steps to make sure that all voices are heard. It’s going to be something that we need to work on consistently, and it’s going to take time. We are doing that healing process right now.”

Though the scene was largely peaceful, small skirmishes broke out throughout the crowd. Most of the nearly 500 people in attendance were supporting an anti-racism counter-protest organized by Tory Johnson, the founder of local grassroots organization Black Lives Matter Huntington Beach.

They tussled with members of the far-right group Proud Boys, though a full on “White Lives Matter” rally never materialized. Other alt-right leaders were also seen in the crowd, including William Quigg, known as the state leader of the Loyal White Knights faction of the Ku Klux Klan.

There were 12 people arrested at the rally, Huntington Beach Police Department Lt. Brian Smith said, including two arrested for using amplified sound. Two other suspects were arrested for fighting in public.

After many of the counter-protesters started moving away from the pier and toward the police substation on Walnut Avenue, police declared it an unlawful assembly at 2:36 p.m. Most of the crowd had dispersed by minutes after that, effectively ending the rally.

Activists gather Sunday for a rally against racial injustice in response to a scheduled "White Lives Matter" rally.
Activists gather for a rally against racial injustice in response to a scheduled “White Lives Matter” rally on Sunday.
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

Huntington Beach resident Amanda Olson said she attended the rally with her toddler. She walked around the perimeter for about an hour, playing music and trying to “spread good vibes,” as she put it.

“I was really curious how it was going to go,” she said in a phone interview the day after the rally. “There was such a strong presence against even the idea of a KKK rally. So many people showed up to be against that, and that was very encouraging.”

Olson said she grew up in Huntington Beach, and remembers as a child going down to Main Street and yelling at white supremacists.

“Just the idea that they could not show their face without a huge backlash, that’s progress, but there’s still a lot of progress that needs to happen,” she said.

Nick McLachlan, left, Cliff Smith and Gesus Portilla hold signs during a rally against racial injustice on Sunday.
Nick McLachlan, left, Cliff Smith and Gesus Portilla hold signs during a rally against racial injustice on Sunday.
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

Victor Valladares, the co-founder of the grassroots Oak View ComUNIDAD community group who also attended Sunday’s rally, has many of the same memories of growing up in Huntington Beach in the 1980s and ‘90s.

“Seeing skinheads was normalized to me,” he said Monday. “Before adding that the city’s demographics have changed since then.

“People are standing up to white supremacy,” Valladares said. “For me to see actual white allies standing on the front lines with us, that was beautiful. The next step is to continue the attitude of solidarity with their sisters and brothers of color.

“When people talk about the good old days of Huntington Beach, they weren’t good old days for a lot of folks. The great days are ahead of us. Not behind us; they’re ahead of us.”

Most of the scheduled “White Lives Matter” rallies across the county on Sunday largely did not materialize.

Extremism expert Eric Ward, the executive director of the Western States Center, said in an interview Tuesday that the white nationalist and alt-right coalition has been unable to effectively mobilize people since immediately following Election Day in 2020.

“I think one of the things that confused the public, and perhaps even confused elements of the white nationalist movement, is I think folks saw White Lives Matter as an organization rather than a publicity stunt,” Ward said. “It’s not clear to me how much organization was really behind the national mobilization.”

Ward added that many of the white nationalists have been disrupted on mainstream social media platforms, leaving them to use Telegram to communicate.

“You lose the curious, folks who are following out of curiosity or who might be the random thrill-seeker,” he said. “They’re not seeing it.”

An activist sprays a can of beer on a person after calling him a Nazi during a rally in Huntington Beach on Sunday.
An activist sprays a can of beer on a person after calling him a Nazi during a rally in Huntington Beach on Sunday.
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

Carr said the city of Huntington Beach will continue efforts to promote inclusion and diversity. On Sunday afternoon, she stayed away from the rally area and took part in a virtual event on Zoom featuring three other City Council members.

Local leaders including state Sen. Dave Min (D-Irvine), Orange County Supervisor Katrina Foley and state Assemblywomen Cottie Petrie-Norris (D-Laguna Beach) and Janet Nguyen (R-Fountain Valley) also participated.

Ocean View High senior Bella Brannon and Fountain Valley High senior Cielo Chavarria gave speeches at the 90-minute event.

The city also is planning a pro-diversity, equity and inclusion community event on Sunday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. at Central Park.

Carr said that while she totally supports free speech, she believes the city needs to “reprogram” Pier Plaza, after a year full of protests there have continuously put Huntington Beach in the spotlight. She said she thinks that City Hall is a more appropriate place to hold a protest.

“I think you take the space back,” she said. “I really do. ‘Protests at the pier’ isn’t very inviting, but if we had, say, an art fair, a chili cook-off, or food trucks, a classic car show? That’s much more family friendly, and speaks more to the true heart of Huntington Beach and the Surf City community.

“We need to restore that ‘Aloha’ spirit, and part of that is reclaiming Pier Plaza. It’s not going to be easy. If it were easy, it would already be done.”

Los Angeles-based activist Najee Ali surveyed the scene Sunday afternoon before declaring the day a success.

“The community of Huntington Beach won,” he said. “They rejected racism and hate in their city, and that speaks volumes.”

A Trump supporter is arrested during Sunday's rally in Huntington Beach.
A Trump supporter is arrested during Sunday’s rally against racial injustice and police brutality in Huntington Beach.
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

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