Laguna Beach Prepares for ‘Alt-Right' Demonstration and Counter-Protest

Police expressed confidence law and order will be maintained in Laguna Beach Sunday evening when an "alt-right" demonstration and counter protest are both planned at the popular Main Beach.

"We will not tolerate any violence or violations," said Police Chief Laura Farinella.

"Stand with Patriots Against Left Wing Bullies," proclaims an online posting for the America First! rally.

The rally was scheduled prior to the chaos and deadly violence that unfolded last weekend at the Unite the Right gathering that attracted white nationalists and other hate groups to Charlottesville, Virginia. With comments by President Trump failing to diffuse tensions, the timing has generated unease a continent away in a left-leaning community known for its art festivals and beaches that draw thousands of summer visitors.

"I'm fearful it will be a conflict," said Steve Craig, a Laguna Beach resident.

"I'm just in shock over what's happened to our country," said Yvette Kaplan, visiting from Pasadena. 

The rally Sunday is the latest in a series organized by so-called alt-right activist Johnny Benitez. The previous events each drew turnouts of fewer than a hundred, and did not attract formal counter protest.

"Every time this has happened has been peaceful," Benitez said. "If this event goes significantly different, it won't be the right-wing element that caused it."

"That's of course what they would say," responded Jessica Riegert, a school teacher who serves on the steering committee of the OC Democratic Socialists, which is planning the counter protest. "We aren't going to allow them to stand up and intimidate us as a community."

Confrontations have erupted in Orange County during a demonstration in favor of Trump Administration policies last March, and last summer during a Trump campaign event in Costa Mesa.

Benitez has become a polarizing figure for the "alt-right" community in Orange County. He blogs extensively on a variety of issues, often targeting undocumented immigrants, and the harm he attributes to them.

"This country is going downhill fast," Benitez says in one video posted on his Facebook page. "America First!"

Asked if, amid the current tensions, he would consider postponing Sunday's demonstration, Benitez said no, adding that his group would include "strong young men."

Police Chief Farinella said the department was preparing for a larger turnout than at the previous demonstrations Benitez has organized.

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