With posters held high above their heads calling for a hate-free Long Beach, hundreds of people gathered at Bluff Park Sunday morning with one message: white nationalists are not welcome in this city.

They carried signs saying “Unite to smash white supremacy,” while they shouted “racists out; immigrants in,” or “hate free LBC.”

It was a peaceful rally but many were prepared for the worst because of a now-deleted Facebook event that sparked fears white nationalists were coming to Long Beach.

That Facebook event—created by a group called United Patriot National Front—purported to be for a rally in support of freedom and free speech, but local activists were quick to point out the group’s ties to known far-right figures.

Counter-protesters rally at Bluff Park against what was an anticipated white nationalist rally. Photo by Stephen Carr.

United Patriot National Front only got a few RSVPs before the Facebook event was deleted, and shortly before the rally was originally set to begin, someone told police that it was off.

Around 9:30 a.m. police said they, “received a call from an individual claiming to be the leader of United Patriots National Front stating the group will not be at today’s demonstration as previously planned.”

Police still had a heavy presence at the rally, and counter-protestors decided to carry on with their demonstration, just in case.

“I want to make sure Long Beach stays safe for everyone,” resident Anne McLaughlin said, holding a sign that read “Equality justice for all” in black and rainbow lettering.

While little is known about UPNF, the Southern Poverty Law Center has linked it to known violent white nationalists who were part of the deadly Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville and other violent clashes in recent years.

Brian Levin, the director of the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at Cal State San Bernardino, said such political rallies have been diminishing, despite a doubling of violent demonstrations between 2016 and 2017 (the year the Berkeley and Charlottesville clashes took place).

Statistics show Long Beach had an uptick in hate crimes that year as well, going from 10 in 2016 to 17 the following year.

Organizers of similar rallies are now shifting their approach to in-person or online contacts, Levin said, due to being attacked or having their personal details revealed.

When rallies do take place, they’re usually organized by people who live outside the cities where they are planned and the groups themselves try to brand themselves with Christian or patriotic names.

A counter-protestor holds a sign. Photo by Thomas R Cordova.

“A lot of those groups are trying to sugarcoat white nationalism under the guise of conservatism to get the mainstream on board, but it’s not working,” Levin said.

White nationalists are people who believe America should be a Eurocentric country demographically, according to Levin. He said far-right groups are not conservative people of goodwill but those defined by racial favoritism as well as a “rejection of the traditional balances that we’ve seen in politics.”

“White nationalism is now a coalesced sociopolitical movement and international one at that,” Levin said, pointing to statistics that show double-digit increases in the amount of white-nationalism rallies in Europe.

In the U.S., a total of 9% of participants in a 2017 ABC/Washington Post poll believed holding neo-Nazi or white supremacist views was acceptable.

“We’re not only more polarized than we’ve been in decades but we’ve been entrenched,” Levin said.

Levin said his center supports free speech— “even ignorant and bigoted speech”—but he also has advice for the general public when rallies like these take place: “Stay the heck home!”

Counter-protestors gather at Bluff Park. Photo by Thomas R Cordova.
Counter-protestor chant at Bluff Park. Photo by Thomas R Cordova.
A counter-protestors behind a mask. Photo by Thomas R Cordova.
Randall Cassey, of Long Beach, throws up the peace sign as he joins the counter-protestors at Bluff Park. Photo by Thomas R Cordova.
Counter-protesters rally. Photo by Stephen Carr.
Some wore masks. Photo by Stephen Carr.
Police said they had a heavy presence at the rally. Photo by Stephen Carr.

Stephanie Rivera is the community engagement editor. Reach her at [email protected] or on Twitter at @StephRivera88.