Opposing demonstrators gathered at the Huntington Beach Pier on Sunday, April 11, as Black Lives Matter supporters came out to condemn a planned “white lives matter” demonstration that was promoted in leaflets touting the Ku Klux Klan.
At least 300 people gathered in Downtown Huntington Beach, on either side of Pacific Coast Highway, by early afternoon, and several skirmishes broke out. With members of the various factions intermingling, it was difficult to gauge exactly how many demonstrators were representing the respective sides.
Shortly after 2:30 p.m., police declared an unlawful assembly at the nearby 5th Street and Walnut Avenue intersection in an attempt to disperse what law enforcement officials described as an unruly crowd.
The police announcement followed what had started earlier in the day as a peaceful Black Lives Matter rally exploding into chaos as new protesters arrived to confront the earlier demonstrators, throwing insults – and at times punches.
The “white lives matter” rally ostensibly started at 1 p.m. Its mission statement, according to posts on Telegram: “To revive the White Racial Consciousness and to unify White People against white hate. A show of support for White victims of interracial crime.”
That drew the ire of a local Black Lives Matter leader and organizations throughout the U.S. that monitor white supremacy and hate speech.
“We are united in Huntington Beach against racism and hate,” Tory Johnson, founder of Black Lives Matter Huntington Beach, announced on Facebook. “White supremacy is not welcome here and we will do everything possible to prevent this rally and defend our community from racist terrorism.”
So, ok! It’s been total chaos here for more than an hour. The rally on the south side of PCH is still going, and has been mostly undisturbed.
On the north side closest to Main Street, fights broke out over the place as anti-fasicists and BLM mixed with all sorts. pic.twitter.com/qYKB9Pp4YQ
— Josh Cain (@joshpcain) April 11, 2021
The BLM rally began at 11 a.m., with around 100 protesters holding signs and shouting through loudspeakers before a line of Huntington Beach police officers at the city’s iconic pier.
Police quickly made multiple arrests.
A man with a backpack and a tactical vest who was shouting obscenities was quickly taken into custody by police. A law enforcement spokesman said the man was carrying a baton. Two other protesters in the crowd were also arrested, taken into custody for broadcasting through loudspeakers.
The weekly crowd of beach visitors mingled with the protesters, as officers and deputies moved through the area around Main Street in vehicles and on horseback.
Andy Lewandowski, 60, of Anaheim, wearing a Black Lives Matter cap, said he and his fellow demonstrators were there to “keep the community safe.” Other Huntington Beach rallies he attended turned violent, Lewandowski said.
“We just came down here to protect people,” Lewandowski said.
The demonstrators brought with them a variety of handwritten signs, including ones saying “No H8 in HB,” “White Silence is Violence,” and “Uproot Fascism Before It Grows.”
“What do we want? Unity!” the protesters chanted at points. “When do we want it? Now!”
Michael Wauschek, 33, of Cerritos, blew on burning sage as he walked through the crowd.
“I’m here to help keep the peace and show people we are not violent rioters and also to reject the KKK and White supremacy,” he said.
Supporters of Black Lives Matter here at PCH & Main in Huntington Beach. This gathering is held the same day rumored “White lives” demonstrations promoted on social media were supposed to take place. . but I’m not seeing anyone who appears to be here for that. @ocregister pic.twitter.com/s3EZmXdvil
— Eric Anthony Licas (@EricLicas) April 11, 2021
Around 1:30 p.m., a group of several dozen protesters began arriving in the area. They did not carry signs or chant, but many of them began confronting the Black Lives Matter demonstrators.
The newly arriving protesters, who mainly came in pairs or small groups, quickly confronted protesters who had set up on the north side of PCH. Some were clad in dark t-shirts with the American flag, others in Trump gear. Arguments, and violence, quickly ensued.
Initially, police did not appear to try to keep the protesters, counter-protesters and beach visitors apart.
In one brief fight on the northeast corner of PCH and Main, a middle-aged woman approached a protester, mocked her Black Lives Matter chants then after a shouting match threw coffee in the protester’s face.
Across the street, a black-clad protester chased an older man, spat at him and struck his back. On another corner of the intersection, punches flew in multiple directions as a group of people argued. One protester hit another on the chin, and that protester responded by shoving the other man down onto a bike.
Police did intercede in some fights. At one point a man and a teenager waving large Trump and “Don’t Tread on Me” flags were chased around the intersection by a big group of protesters. When they were surrounded, police on horseback waded into the crowd and took them away in an SUV.
According to the Anti-Defamation League’s Center on Extremism, a new Telegram channel emerged on March 25 “agitating for nationwide ‘white lives matter’ marches and events to be held on April 11.”
Emily Kaufman, an investigative researcher with ADL, said that call to action grabbed attention with messaging that supports white grievance, or the idea that White people are victimized or marginalized, which is often the basis of white supremacist rhetoric, she said.
And Ku Klux Klan propaganda promoting the rally showed up on lawns in Huntington Beach on Easter Sunday, a week after similar flyers appeared in Newport Beach. The leaflets featured Confederate flags and urged “loyal white knights” to “say no to cultural genocide.”
Huntington Beach Mayor Kim Carr said she was flooded with emails from residents who were offended by the leaflets and their “hate speech.”
Coinciding with the “white lives matter” protest, the city and Orange County Human Relations said they would co-sponsor an online discussion about diversity Sunday afternoon.
The ADL says the phrase “white lives matter” originated in early 2015 as a racist response to the Black Lives Matter movement, which emerged in response to police brutality against Black people.
Kaufman said ADL does not consider “white lives matter” an organized group, though the Southern Poverty Law Center has categorized it as a “hate group.”
Brian Levin, director of the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at Cal State San Bernardino, also said “white lives matter” appears to be a phrase rather than the name of a specific group.
“That’s not to say there is no cell of individuals or a small group that decided to form a little group by that name,” he said. “We just don’t know. These types of catchphrases and bumper sticker slogans are typically used by a broader sub-culture rather than an organized group.”
Huntington Beach has attracted groups and individuals promoting white supremacy in the past. In the 1990s, it was relatively common to spot skinheads with Nazi tattoos.
The city also has a history of rallies turning violent. In March 2017, a rally in support of then-President Trump turned into a violent brawl between supporters of the president and counter-protesters.
Last May at the pier, as demonstrators protested the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police, tensions mounted while those supporting Black Lives Matter and counter-demonstrators shouted at one another and a few fistfights broke out. Huntington Beach police fired pepper balls at those who would not disperse after an unlawful assembly was declared.
Source: Orange County Register