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Laguna Beach America First! vigil turns into Major Protest on Main Beach

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Counterprotesters vastly outnumber those at ‘America First!’ rally in Laguna Beach

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Protesters yell during a demonstration on Main Beach in Laguna Beach Sunday August 20, 2017. (Photo by Kevin Sullivan, Orange County Register/SCNG

“Laguna Beach – Mounted police maneuvered between political rivals. Angry Americans shouted about President Trump, the Ku Klux Klan, illegal immigrants and racism – all in the name of free speech.

Some of the most beautiful beachfront property in the world was blocked by barricades. Police held their ground in riot gear.

But as of 10 p.m. Sunday, this city did not become a violent political flashpoint.

A regular monthly vigil called “America First!,” usually attended by a couple dozen people who are opposed to illegal immigration, attracted counterprotesters that vastly outnumbered the pro-Trump group for much of the evening.

Fearing that white nationalists, neo-Nazis and members of the KKK would assemble, counterprotesters swarmed Main Beach.

There was little evidence, however, of an extremist presence.

Still, some Laguna Beach residents were stunned by the scene.

“I have never seen anything like this,” said longtime Laguna Beach resident Dottie Morss. “I have never seen so many police. Surprisingly, with hot tempers, calm has prevailed.”

he Laguna Beach Police Department reported three arrests among a crowd of about 2,500. There were a few shoving matches and some people were pepper sprayed. But an estimated 200 police officers helped keep the tense rally from becoming more violent.

“No more victims. Secure our borders now,” read one “America First!” sign.

“Our state is trying to put the rights and feelings of illegals before citizens,” Nikki Ciantra of Anaheim said.

Valentina Bankhead, who has attended several “America First!” vigils, said her group always holds L.E.D. glow lights when it gets dark. They say a prayer, then they leave. They had never attracted protesters.

“This is not a KKK rally,” said Bankhead, whose father was born in Mexico. “We are here to acknowledge people who have lost their lives at the hands of undocumented people.”

Bankhead said the news media and left-leaning groups have misinterpreted the point of the rally. “They (counterprotesters) walk by calling us racists,” Bankhead said. “How can I be some sort of racist? I’m proud of my father and my heritage.”

She said she called the police earlier in the day to report someone shouting Nazi slogans. Later, a man who joined the rally had a large swastika tattoo on his neck.

Rick Macias sat on the grass Sunday afternoon and, marker in hand, wrote, “One planet, one race” on a green poster.

He drove from Corona to protest white nationalism.

“We cannot be silent,” Macias, 52, said. “That’s how evil wins.”

Macias said he draws no distinction between the America First! group, which organized the anti-immigration rally at the other end of the beach, and the white nationalists and supremacists who marched in Charlottesville, Va., last week.

Counterprotesters shouted, “No Nazis. No KKK. No fascist USA.” Many passing car horns added to the noise.

Others tried to stay away from the fray.

“I’m afraid I might get trampled if I go to the front,” said Marissa Viszolay, 29, a fashion designer from Laguna Beach. “But I was appalled by the president’s reaction to Charlottesville.

“That’s why I’m here.”

Though Donald Trump condemned the white supremacists who incited bloody demonstrations in Charlottesville, he blamed “both sides” for the violence, drawing widespread criticism that he created a false moral equivalency between hate groups and the protesters who pushed back.

Wearing a red Make America Great Again cap, Lisa Collins of Mission Viejo said she considered not coming to Laguna Beach.

“I thought it was going to be dangerous,” Collins said. “And people will think I’m a white supremacist or KKK because we get lumped into those groups. I am not that at all.”

Collins said she was happy there was little violence.

“We showed that patriots, Republicans, conservatives and libertarians can come together, have a meeting, have a rally and be peaceful,” Collins said.

The heated night had at least one amazing moment. Two attendees from opposite sides of the political spectrum noticed they were both carrying signs with the same, one-word message:

Love.

“America First!” supporter Tenaya Delgado of Yucaipa and counterprotester Corinne St. Claire of Orange had a discussion about their similar signs and their differences.

“That’s the great thing about America,” Delgado said. “We are able to have different feelings or different beliefs and still live in one country.”

They smiled together and hugged.”

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