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But that organizer admitted he’s received death threats and hate mail.
Nevertheless, in an effort to avoid confrontations, hundreds of protesters — including the Laguna Beach mayor — gathered about 24 hours before the “America First” event at the same beachside location to express their rejection of the beliefs of marchers in Sunday’s rally.
Hundreds gathered Saturday at Broadway and Pacific Coast Highway near Main Beach to advocate against racism and to call for unity in Laguna Beach.
“Laguna Beach doesn’t tolerate diversity-we embrace diversity,” Mayor Toni Iserman told the crowd, according to the Orange County Register.
The Saturday gathering was filled with signs reading “Unity over division, love over hate” and “The future is inclusive” among other sayings.
Many in the crowd expressed similar sentiments.
“I’m here because I’m against hatred,” Laguna Beach teacher Sabine Sato told the Register. “We’re all human and we need to work together.”
Participants in Saturday’s group tied ribbons around trees and lampposts to leave a peaceful message before Sunday’s rally.
But the organizer of Sunday evening’s “America First” demonstration, Orange County resident Johnny Benitez, said that this will be his group’s fifth gathering in Laguna Beach, and each time the demonstrations went off without incident.
“Last time, we had kids playing in the sand with glow sticks,” Benitez said. “I don’t think people feel comfortable coming with their kids this time.”
But those were before the KKK and neo-Nazis marched in Charlottesville, Va., and before Trump’s comments.
Since plans for the “America First” gathering were announced following the violence at a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia on Aug. 12, Benitez said he has received “death threats and hate mail.”
But Benitez said his group’s rallies focus attention on the “victims of refugees and illegals.”
“Not just violent crime” victims, he said. “But all of the repercussions of people who came here who shouldn’t be here… I don’t see it as a refugee crisis — it’s a cheap labor scheme.”
Since his events have been violence-free in the past, if there are conflicts this time then, “We’ll know which elements made it happen,” he said.
Benitez said he doesn’t want his group to argue if counter protesters show up Sunday.
“I don’t even like to see the screaming matches,” Benitez said. “Hopefully, the police will do their jobs, which I believe they will… I’m assuming there won’t be violence, but you can’t really control it.”
Benitez said he’s mostly concerned about “the people in the black masks. They generally get confrontational right away… But we’re going to try to keep it violence free.
“A lot of our people are pro (President Donald) Trump.”
But, he added, “My faith has been shaken by the (Steven) Bannon” ouster on Friday.
“The firing of Bannon concerns me the most,” he said. “He was the most anti-globalist of his cabinet.”
Laguna Beach police Sgt. Jim Cota told City News Service he was confident his department could handle the demonstration.
About 80 people showed for the most recent rally on July 30, Cota said.
“We’re ready for this. They can bring out the whole world and we’ll be ready for them,” Cota said.
The department has many officers with deep experience in crowd control, Cota said.
“A majority of the people working on this are very tenured, so we know how to deal with them,” Cota said. “We’ve been having meetings daily and our Chief is very pro-active.”
–City News Service
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