Huntington Beach police are planning a ramped-up presence Sunday in the event of a potential square-off between attendees at a planned “White Lives Matter” rally and counter-protesters.
Police would not provide specifics of their plan to monitor the rally, other than to say “increased staffing of public safety personnel” is expected.
“There will be a large contingent of police officers working in the area, along with various assets including a regional mounted unit and aviation assets,” Huntington Beach police Lt. Brian Smith said. “Additional resources from allied agencies will also be on standby should the need arise, which is common practice for large planned events, including sporting events, community events, rallies and protests.”
Carrie Braun, a spokeswoman for the Orange County Sheriff’s Department, said the sheriff has pledged his mounted patrol units to help with crowd control and law enforcement. Investigators were also monitoring online chatter to see if there will be similar protests elsewhere, Braun said.
The rally, which is believed to be part of a nationally coordinated group of white supremacist protests across the country at various cities, comes at a time when anti-Asian bigotry is on the rise during the pandemic and local bigots have been papering Newport Beach, Huntington Beach and Villa Park with fliers advertising the Ku Klux Klan.
Sens. Dave Min, D-Irvine, and Tom Umberg, D-Santa Ana, and Assemblywoman Cottie Petrie-Norris, D-Newport Beach, on Friday released a statement condemning the Sunday rally organized by the Loyal White Knights.
“We unequivocally condemn white nationalism and the racist ideology promoted by the Ku Klux Klan,” the statement reads. “While we acknowledge the rights of all Americans — even the vilest racists out there — to express their opinions, we want to loudly and clearly state that the views expressed by the KKK and other white nationalist groups do not reflect the views of Orange County’s residents or elected officials.
“Our rich diversity makes Orange County and Huntington Beach stronger and better. We join the Huntington Beach City Council in condemning white supremacy and applaud it for planning a series of pro-diversity events to counter the disgusting message being promoted by the KKK and other organizers of the White Lives Matter rally this weekend.”
In response to the KKK fliers, the Huntington Beach City Council on a 6-0 vote Monday, with one abstention, passed a resolution reaffirming the city’s commitment to inclusivity and two others denouncing hate speech, and specifically white supremacy.
Peter Levi, regional director for the Anti-Defamation League in Orange County, said the White Lives Matter phrase dates back to 2015. It was a “racist response” to the “racial justice issues going on in our country” at the time, Levi said.
It is difficult to know how many people will show up for the rally, Levi said. But he noted that “every day we’ve learned after Jan. 6 that if you show up and show your face, there are real-world consequences,” referring to the insurrection in the Capitol in which many participants were identified through social media posts.
The amount of racist propaganda doubled last year compared with 2019, Levi said. There were about 5,000 pieces of propaganda circulated in communities and on campuses, he said.
“We’ve recorded 49 white supremacist propaganda incidents in Orange County just in 2020,” Levi said.
The racist KKK fliers can often be tools to guide people to online forums, where activists “drag people down these rabbit holes” and most of the radicalization takes place, Levi said. The movement is driven by “these crazy fabricated conspiracy theories about white people being replaced,” he said.
White supremacists are especially active during times of crisis such as the COVID-19 pandemic, Levi said.
“What we have learned is that any crisis — economic, health or even natural disasters — are opportunities that extremists will exploit to spread their message,” he said. “We’ve certainly seen it through the pandemic.”
It’s always a tough call to determine when to get involved in objecting to white supremacists gatherings, Levi said.
“Sometimes it brings more attention and brings a megaphone to others who might not otherwise get it,” he said. “It’s always a consideration for counter-protesters. There are also health and safety issues for everyone involved… We certainly want to protect First Amendment rights and hopefully not have anything dangerous happen for anyone… But sometimes we need to put our voice out there because to do nothing is worse.”
Huntington Beach has a history of white supremacist gang activity, Levi said. He added, “Huntington Beach is a wonderful city with a lot of great folks and wonderful diversity, but it tends to be a magnet because of this history.”
Alison Edwards of the OC Human Relations Council said her organization will hold a virtual workshop on Zoom at 1 p.m. Sunday to help residents confront public acts of racism.
“It will provide tools for how to stand up and interrupt when you see hate and bigotry,” she said.
“If you can be reasonably sure you can be safe, there are a series of things people can do” when they encounter a racist act in public, “like creating a distraction like just asking what time is it to break up the interaction,” Edwards said.
Since January, the organization has logged 14 anti-Asian hate incidents, Edwards said. One of those targeted was U.S. Olympic karate athlete Sakura Kokumai, who recently chronicled how she was subjected to racist insults while she was working out at a park in Orange.
Edwards said the HRC is also working on efforts to provide a forum for residents when verdicts come down in the trial of Derek Chauvin for the in-custody killing of George Floyd in Minnesota last year.