Alt-right agitators targeting racial justice group encounter massive show of community solidarity in Santa Monica
By Joe Piasecki
White nationalist and alt-right groups threatening to mount a small army of protesters to disrupt the work of a racial justice organization in Santa Monica got more than they’d bargained for on Sunday.
Facing a massive counter-demonstration of community solidarity supported by a muscular police presence at Virginia Avenue Park, all but two participants in the ongoing fringe-right effort to antagonize the Committee for Racial Justice wimped out.
Six days before mid-August’s violent white nationalist protests in Charlottesville, more than two dozen young men and women vocalizing similar ideologies clashed with locals outside a committee workshop about confronting explicit racism. The discussion group formed in 2011 after a racially motivated assault at Santa Monica High School and gathered monthly in the park’s Thelma Terry Building without incident until July, when a handful of agitators disrupted a meeting with anti-Semitic outbursts.
This time around, a diverse crowd of some 200-plus mostly Santa Monica residents and community leaders was waiting outside the building, flanked by Santa Monica police officers and more than two dozen L.A. County Sheriff’s Department deputies on horseback or in crowd control gear.
“I’m horrified that these people think they can intimidate our ability to be a community, but I’m really heartened to see the number people from all different walks of life, ages and ethnicities,” said attorney Roni Crichton, a Santa Monica resident for 25 years.
“The message is it’s not going to work. We’ll come out and stand here for four hours if we need to in order to keep this community safe,” she said. “It’s important they see that and move on. They picked the wrong town.”
Some committee supporters showed up early to picnic. At one point more than a dozen spontaneously belted out a cheerful rendition of the Civil Rights Movement anthem “This Little Light of Mine” as a squad of young men and women in Antifa gear stood by.
Only near the end of the meeting did tensions rise after the arrival of two hostile demonstrators.
R.C. Maxwell, a young African-American man affiliated with a political action committee run by black conservatives supporting President Donald Trump, carried a microphone and sought to engage locals with confrontational questions.
The other was a young Latino man wearing a red Make America Great Again baseball cap who traded taunts with locals. He identified himself only as a “half-Puerto Rican” member of The Proud Boys, a “pro-Western fraternal organization” launched last year by Vice Media cofounder Gavin McInnes and alternately described as “alt-right” and “alt-light.”
Shortly after their arrival, 10 mounted deputies and a dozen in crowd-control gear formed a line to separate them from the hundreds of Committee for Racial Justice supporters. The standoff lasted about half an hour.
“From what we picked up on social media we had some concerns, so we’re prepared for anything,” said Santa Monica City Manager Rick Cole, who spent more than two hours speaking with committee supporters. “Nobody wants to dignify this fringe group, but on the other hand we want to protect everyone’s right to free speech. This is a demonstration of peaceful solidarity, and we’re hoping these fringe groups will find more constructive things to do with their weekends.”
State Sen. Ben Allen (D-Santa Monica) arrived early to show solidarity with the Committee for Racial Justice and condemn outside groups trying to intimidate its membership.
“I am heartened that this community has turned out so emphatically, so determinedly in opposition to their message of hate,” said Allen. “It shows we are a town that really values tolerance and open dialogue. We roundly reject the values of hatred and bigotry that are espoused by the alt-right fascist folks who threatened to disrupt today’s meeting. People are sick of the divisive tone of the national conversation and want to take a stand against it.”
Ryan Kelly, a 32-year-old Los Angeles resident who learned about the counter-demonstration through the advocacy group White People for Black Lives, said publicly denouncing white supremacists is the best way to shut them down.
“When people show up in the hundreds like this — when people show their power and you have so many groups interacting with each other — Nazis stay home,” he said.
Justin Williams, who graduated from Santa Monica High School in 2007, turned out not only to denounce racism but also in support of and as protection for his mother, a member of the Committee for Racial Justice.
“I love seeing the whole community turn out, not just certain segments of the community,” said Williams. “My only concern is that we don’t get lackadaisical and think ‘nothing happened, it’s over.’
We have to continue to show up.”
John Seeley, special to The Argonaut,also contributed to this report.