Updated: Counterprotestors Overwhelm Planned Rally

Police maintaining civility on Main Beach Sunday during a demonstration.
Police maintain civility on Main Beach Sunday during a demonstration. Photos by Andrea Adelson




New information and photos were added to this article Monday, Aug. 21.

Hundreds of demonstrators, reacting to the eruption of violence in Virginia last weekend, swarmed into Laguna Beach on Sunday to stand in solidarity against racism, vastly outnumbering the anti-immigration group known as America First that initially organized the rally.

Police made three arrests during the nearly six hours of protesting, though demonstrations were largely peaceful. Tensions did rise as distinctive boisterous groups using megaphones surged through the Main Beach park.

The demonstration – which police say numbered 2,500 at its peak — came eight days after a woman died when a car was driven through the Charlottesville crowd amid a clash between white nationalists and counterprotesters.

Law enforcement officials took precautions to avoid a similar incident, lining the park with water-filled traffic barriers the night before. At least 250 officers from the Orange County Sheriff’s Department, California Highway Patrol, Irvine, Huntington Beach, Westminster, Anaheim, Newport Beach, Tustin, Santa Ana, UCI, Seal Beach, Fullerton, Fountain Valley, Orange, Costa Mesa, Garden Grove, and San Diego Sheriff and Police Departments responded to the protests.

Photo by Mitch Ridder

A dozen of those officers were on horseback and many more wore riot gear with clubs and face shields. They proved a visible if jarring presence along the boardwalk.

Officers avoided facing off with demonstrators, but their strategic planning was clearly evident as they fluidly regrouped, using their bodies to partition off dueling factions and create a buffer that headed off confrontation by isolating the groups within the park.

The Democratic Socialists of America showed up in force.
The Democratic Socialists of America showed up in force. Photo by Mitch Ridder


The Democratic Socialists of America  carried anti-fascist symbols. Photo by Joe Melita
The Democratic Socialists of America carried anti-fascist symbols. Photo by Joe Melita


Democratic Socialists faced off with police. Their slogans included, "cops and the Klan go hand in hand."
Democratic Socialists faced off with police. Their slogans included, “cops and the Klan go hand in hand.”

Using megaphones, organizers led a contingent of 40 to 50 people with red and black

flags and the banner of the Socialist Democrats. Many wore bandanas over their faces, chanting slogans equating police to the Ku Klux Klan.

Officers on horseback provided a physical barriers between opposing political factions.
Officers on horseback provided a physical barriers between opposing political factions. Photo by Mitch Ridder

Behind a row of officers on horseback, police with batons, face shields and belts of tear gas, stood in the protesters path, preventing them from crossing into the north end of the park. There, Johnny Benitez, organizer of the anti-immigration America First rally, said he had heard from many of the group’s supporters, who feared for their safety. At a previous rally in Laguna on July 30, “kids played in the sand with glowsticks,” he said.

He expressed disappointment that the rally attracted anti-fascist demonstrators and

America First organizer Johnny Benitez
America First organizer Johnny Benitez

Lance Brown Eyes, from Standing Rock, S.D., who shouted over Benitez with a megaphone. “I want as much dialogue as possible,” Benitez said.

Lance Brown Eyes, from Standing Rock, S.D., was one of the most provocative participants.
Lance Brown Eyes, from Standing Rock, S.D., was one of the rally’s most provocative participants.

American First supporter Jordan Davis, of San Francisco, self-described himself as half black and Jewish. “This is not a neo Nazi rally,” he said.

He said the group opposes immigrants who seek benefits granted citizens and foreign policy that benefits others. “We need to work on our own needs before others,” said Davis, who estimated that 150 supporters were present though the Indy counted no more than 30.

Despite a plea by Mayor Toni Iseman to avoid Sunday’s rally to avoid confrontation, many residents and many outside the area disregarded the warning. An earlier counterdemonstration the day before drew about 300 people and largely avoided political speech. Speakers hewed to a similar message that expressed support for unity and diversity.

Tzung-lin Fu, an immigration lawyer in South Pasadena, said she and her family came

Heather Galt, the daughter of a South Pasadena lawyer, makes a political statement at an early age.
Heather Galt, the daughter of a South Pasadena lawyer, makes a political statement at an early age.

to Laguna Beach purposefully to demonstrate their disdain for what occurred in Charlotteville. Counterprotests, she said, “means people care; you’re not going to wear us down.”

Civil rights attorneys Richard Spix and Elizabeth Martin, of Huntington Beach, had a similar air. “We wanted to make sure they were over-powered and protected.”

Spiritual leaders from across the region raised their voices for unity.
Spiritual leaders from across the region raised their voices for unity.

In an echo of civil rights marches from 50 years ago, several ministers linked arms and marched along the boardwalk chanting slogans and singing spirituals, such as “We Shall Overcome.” Organizer Miguel Hernandez said spiritual leaders from Orange, San Diego and Los Angeles counties responded to his call. Police blocked their path as well.

Midway through the rally, a group of local drummers, including Chris Prelitz and Billy Fried, injected a different sort of psychic energy. They pounded out beats that drew protestors to dance rather than shout.

The 250 officers left no corner of the park unwatched, but exercised restraint to allow the exercise of free speech.
The 250 officers left no corner of the park unwatched, but exercised restraint to allow the exercise of free speech. Photo by Mitch Ridder

“Having the appropriate personnel and resources to properly address a rally of this size is what made it successful,” Laguna Beach Police Chief Laura Farinella said in a statement. “As always, it is always the mission of our police department to allow for freedom of expression afforded through the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, as long as it is done in a peaceful and lawful manner.”

Local Jill Doran said, “I came because I was worried there would be more people showing up with racist views.” She felt compelled to represent the spirit of inclusiveness that she believes is the majority view in town.

Marikyo Adams, also of Laguna Beach, said she had predicted few America First supporters would show up. “I still wanted to come down,” she said. “I’m so thankful things went peacefully.”

“How can you come to a place that is so progressive? It’s to be provocative,” said Joy Bawa, of Los Angeles, recruited by her friend, Adams, to attend.

Shonna Gottschlich, of Sebastopol, and her daughter, draped in a towel, stopped at the beach while in town home shopping. “We are the epitome of what they are protesting,” she said of her blended family. “I didn’t think it was going to be a real thing.”

Andrew Tonkovich, of Modjeska Canyon, carried a large peace sign, but watched the demonstration from the opposite side of the street. “The physics of 2,000 of us prevents any provocation,” he said, adding his surprise and gratitude that the demonstration drew people from throughout the region.

“I’m for coming here every Sunday for peace and justice,” he said.

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  1. Read most anything posted by the organizer Benitez on his Facebook and you will see that what he portrays at these events is a cover for White supremacy. 99% of the protesters and counter protestors were NOT from Laguna Beach, but the Mayor failed to act morally as a leader by not canceling this event in light of the raw feelings a week after Charlottesville. Cities like San Francisco pulled similar like rallies because of Charlottesville and its domestic terrorist activity. Its time for the Mayor to say no, protest in your neighborhood instead of exposing Laguna to forces that bring their hate here. The event was extremely costly to Laguna tax payers. Time to pass a permit motion on City Council for all events in the city, or the next tome one of these is planned the Mayor and City Council should pay for security out of their own pockets.

  2. The city did an excellent job preparing for this event. Thank you Laguna Beach and all surrounding communities that provided support. And hats off to the provider of the airplane message flying around. AWESOME touch of class!!

  3. I was there from about 7 until about 8:30. I missed the provocation of the police (note that I did not write “by” the police), and I almost missed the confrontation at the end. While I was on Main Beach, I saw one of the most incredible things I have seen in my fifty-one years on this planet. Old California meets young OC. I danced to the drums and sang with them “Give Peace a Chance” (they were salty and seasoned and I was singing the music I grew up with; the music from my childhood home). I raised my voice with the pro-immigration young people of every color, shape, political and sexual orientation, and it was all joyous. I was nothing but moved by the multiplicity of voices, and yes it is fine to be a young Democratic Socialist and there were also young Libertarians and this midlife woman cannot tell them apart anymore, based on what they say and how they look. Don’t move to shut them up; part of being young is being idealistic. Were you never young? I was as uncomfortable as everyone else watching on video the provocation of the police but it is important right now to feel a little uncomfortable. The people speaking to the police had a point and none of us want to hear it— police all over the country are showing up in riot gear when there is no riot. Some of them have gotten away with unambiguous murder. The police are taught to deal with provocation and they are there to serve and protect so they don’t need your hand-holding. They did their jobs and of that I am thankful but beyond that, well, it is their job. I saw no ugly until I was on my way home and a bunch of angry counter-protestors took the bait of some young Nazis; they simply don’t know how NOT TO TAKE THE BAIT. Can we learn from this? The protests are not going to stop anytime soon so consider the following suggestions. First, close the town; it Nazis and Klansmen can lose themselves in a crowd and provoke from there, they will. Second, bring in skilled organizers (we have to have some in this town and I am not one of them) and teach people, young people and people too pure of heart, how NOT to take the bait. And, for our treasured local press (not being sarcastic) keep the cameras rolling during all of the peace, love and understanding; maybe it makes for a boring story but it helps keep things in perspective if you show (not write) the event in its entirety — not both side, in it’s entirety..

  4. You can’t cancel a “free speech” event if the organizers
    agree to all the terms & condition on the Permit!

    The people who ought to pay the costs for the excellent security provided by the City is Johnny Benitz & his group. And the City ought to send them the Bill!

  5. Agree it is a shame that the Laguna Beach tax payers need to foot this bill when we weren’t the catalyst. However, given the circumstances we all ought to congratulate and thank Laura Farinella – Laguna Beach Chief of Police, for doing a stellar job of strategizing a spot-on game plan, coordinating the efforts with multiple cities/agencies and flawlessly executing on this plan. As a father of two boys 12-14, I hesitated bringing them with me to counter protest, (but wanting the opportunity for them to experience and grow). As soon as we got to Main Beach, assessed the well planned police presence and felt the overwhelmingly good vibes, my concerns immediately dissipated. I was proud of our city. Proud to be safe amongst the counter protesters. Proud I could be there with my family. Thank you Laura Farinella and all the first responders who made yesterday a safe rally.

  6. Bill Clinton’s 1995 SOTU address, given repeated standing ovations by the joint session of the U.S. Congress:

    “All Americans, not only in the states most heavily affected, but in every place in this country, are rightly disturbed by the large numbers of illegal aliens entering our country. The jobs they hold might otherwise be held by citizens or legal immigrants. The public service they use impose burdens on our taxpayers. That’s why our administration has moved aggressively to secure our borders more by hiring a record number of new border guards, by deporting twice as many criminal aliens as ever before, by cracking down on illegal hiring, by barring welfare benefits to illegal aliens.

    In the budget I will present to you we will try to do more to speed the deportation of illegal aliens who are arrested for crimes, to better identify illegal aliens in the workplace as recommended by the commission headed by former Congresswoman Barbara Jordan.

    We are a nation of immigrants. But we are also a nation of laws. It is wrong and ultimately self-defeating for a nation of immigrants to permit the kind of abuse of our immigration laws we have seen in recent years, and we must do more to stop it.”

    You know Laguna Beach is in the wrong when socialists are on your side.

  7. Look at what the enemy of the United States has accomplished. The media has brought out all the Socialist Communist useful idiots, to counter protest a vigil remembering the victims murdered by illegals! This vigil has been going on in Laguna Beach for 4 months without incident until the enemy of the United States the Media publicized this was a KKK, white supremacist, Neo-Nazi rally what a bunch of Pendejos! These stupid people are!

  8. Hey Lisa, I’m one of those salty and seasoned drummers, thank you very much. We get better with age. I’m with you. It was inspiring to see so many disparate voices stand up to hate and answer with love, tolerance and inclusion. Yes, there were young militant groups among us, all in the black and and a little red. With no ideology on display. I do believe they would have incited violence were it not for the massive police presence. And that’s something we all need to concern ourselves with.

  9. “Love, tolerance and inclusion,” Billy Fried? Is THAT what you call beating up Trump supporters? Threatening assassination? Filling balloons with urine to throw at your hated enemies? Preaching climate change obeisance and then driving thousands of miles to protest? The Democratic Party should be prosecuted under the RICO Act for its criminal conspiracies and crimes.
    It’s no wonder Democrats lost 1,000+ seats during Obama’s disastrous and miserable 8 years. You think violence and protest marches are going to turn that around? I have news for you, Billy.


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