Tory Johnson (right) rallying with BLM demonstrators at Pier Plaza in Huntington Beach. Katarina De Almeida/Lariat
BLM demonstrators arrived for a counter-protest, but the WLM demonstrators were a no-show though others showed to counter-protest the BLM rally
A White Lives Matter rally was advertised on social media to commence at 1 p.m. on Sunday, April 11, news caught the attention of BLM Huntington Beach founder Tory Johnson. He organized a counter-rally that took place at 11 a.m., including 500 demonstrators, according to a news release from Huntington Beach police.
Tory Johnson preparing for the BLM counter-protest as demonstrators arrive. Katarina De Almeida/Lariat
“When I started this, I was like, we have to do something,” Johnson said. “We need to do something. We have to do something to represent our Black community here inside Huntington Beach. Huntington Beach has such a strong history of racism and intolerance to minorities, and we’re just trying to change the narrative.”
But no formal WML protesters showed. Gio Morrelli, born and raised in Huntington Beach, was observing the crowd of BLM demonstrators as he is a frequent voyager of events that take place on the pier.
“When these things tend to spark up it usually tells you about something that is going on in the greater community,” Morrelli said. “It’s sort of a mix between revulsion and inspiration where clearly there’s a lot of very misplaced anger, but on the other hand, you also have people that seem to step up in moments of trial.”
Huntington Beach Police establishing a perimeter as they make their first arrest. Katarina De Almeida/Lariat
Huntington Beach Police Lt. Brian Smith was on the scene and preparing the press for the event as the crowd began to grow.
“So we’re just going to maintain a police presence in the area to hopefully ensure a peaceful afternoon where everybody can come out here and express their free speech and their right to protest in a peaceful manner without negatively affecting or impacting everybody else’s right to liberties,” Smith said.
Bethany Leal, a Los Angeles resident, heard about the counter-rally through Facebook and has experience with these events as she has attended previous BLM demonstrations in L.A.
“We have to stand up to white supremacy and fascism because the only way to keep it from growing is being more or less than them,” she said. “If not now, when, and if not me, then who?”
BLM demonstrators holding homemade signs in front of Pier Plaza. Katarina De Almeida/Lariat
Homemade signs were held up high as tensions began to rise with statements like “Death to the klan!” and “Fight white supremacy with multi-racial solidarity.”
Kelly Johnson, a Huntington Beach local, was seen waving his old “Trump 2020” and “All Lives Matter” flags across the highway as he denied having any knowledge of the WLM rally. Johnson is one of the few demonstrators that came to counter-protest the original BLM counter-protest.
Kelly Johnson brandishing “All Lives Matter” and “Trump 2020” flags across from Pier Plaza. Katarina De Almeida/Lariat
“This is the same thing the media does, is to divide the people, confuse the people, distract the people, so they don’t focus on what’s going on,” he said.
As Kelly Johnson made his way closer to the BLM demonstrators, the opposing sides began to clash. BLM demonstrators swarmed around him as mounted units rushed across the highway to control the crowd.
Kelly Johnson stands on the corner of PCH and Main Street as crowd tensions rise. Katarina De Almeida/Lariat
The police started to halt traffic at the intersection of Pacific Coast Highway and Main Street. While mounted officers positioned their horses where Kelly Johnson retreated, he continued to wave his flags with a bloody lip. Within a handful of minutes, he was approached by the police and arrested for possessing prohibited items at a public rally – a rigid flag pole – according to Lt. Smith.
It became more apparent that WLM demonstrators were not going to show, and the question remains if the call for such a rally was real or a complete hoax. The entire event became a counter-protest followed by another counter-protest that had no affiliation with the original WLM demonstration.
Huntington Beach local Keith, standing on the corner of PCH and Main Street after being bombarded by BLM demonstraters. Katarina De Almeida/Lariat
“The post was just originally a fake post, and it went from being a ‘White Lives Matter’ to all the local media putting ‘KKK’ to it, so then these people showed up,” said local Huntington Beach resident Keith, who requested that his last name not be used. “It was just a joke. Do you see a ‘white lives’ rally over there?”
Multiple arrests were made during the rally, the first for a noise violation and the second arrest was for obstruction of the police to the initial arrest.
“They were trying to contact the one gentleman for the noise violation,” Smith said. “The other gentleman interceded and interfered with the officers, pushed on them, and then he was found to be in possession of pepper spray, a billy club, and a concealed knife.”
Huntington Beach police made 12 arrests in total, according to a release, for various charges like fighting in public and weapon offenses.