“We have the power, as people, to stop racists from organizing and having a platform. If the government isn’t going to do it it’s up to us,” said Tyler, a participant in a protest against white supremacy on April 28.
Organizers and community members gathered in Long Beach, California to counter a planned far-right demonstration. The so-called “Free Speech” rally was called for by the white nationalist group United Patriots National Front. This group brands itself as a pro-Trump “patriot organization,” but includes members such as Antonio Foreman, a self-declared Neo-Nazi who has served as security detail for prominent white supremacists. He most recently entered a church in Phoenix, Arizona, openly carrying a weapon, to disrupt the church’s legal housing of immigrant asylum seekers. The group’s members have a history of violence and hate speech, from their participation in the 2017 “Unite the Right” rally in which anti-fascist activist Heather Heyer was killed, to participating in an attack on Chicano Park in San Diego, a famous local park created and fought for by local Mexican and Indigenous people.
This group’s supposed president, the lesser known right-winger Drake Nighswonger, announced the group’s intentions to hold the “Free Speech” rally in Long Beach via a Facebook event page, which was almost immediately taken down. Rumors about the event’s cancellation began to circulate around the community, culminating in a phone call to the Long Beach Police Department where someone claiming to be the leader of the UPNF confirmed the event’s cancellation. Even so, police reaffirmed that they would be “heavily deployed” on the day of the event.
Anti-racist organizers in the community were quick to point out that many right-wing groups cancel their events in an attempt to dissuade an organized opposition from coming out. Leading up to April 28, organizers remained vigilant of any right-wing activity within the community. Many pointed to the a nearby pro-Trump march in Orange County’s Huntington Beach neighborhood, in which multiple anti-fascist organizers were arrested, as an indicator of the possibility of a similar rally happening in Long Beach.
In the morning, police surrounded Bixby Park, blockading the surroundings where the white nationalist were expected to rally at, while hundreds of counter-protesters stood parallel to them. In contrast to the insignificant number of white supremacists who finally showed up, the counter-demonstration continued to grow as the day went on, with even visitors to the park joining in.
Sid Ziesman, a participant in the counter-protest, told Liberation News: “This was an event organized by white nationalists … I think it’s important that we should all be proud that as a community Long Beach came out.”
The idea of a white nationalist group coming to a diverse area such as Long Beach angered many in the community, and organizers transformed that energy into a powerful turnout. In the days prior to the event, organizers had launched an awareness campaign targeting the streets of Long Beach for the purpose of bringing the community out in large numbers.
Protesters carried placards and banners displaying their collective opposition to white supremacy and chanted in the hundreds in support of the groups which UPNF has historically targeted. When asked why it was important to still come out even after knowing that the white supremacists didn’t show up, Matthew, a protester, told Liberation News: “It’s important to show solidarity … there’s a clear existential threat to our country from Trump and white supremacy. The threat is real and if we don’t do anything to challenge that we will be complicit in it.”
The community’s successful counter demonstration is a powerful example of working class solidarity at a time of widespread hate crimes and mainstream legitimization of white supremacy. Those across the country should look to Long Beach’s example for inspiration. When organizers aligned with the working and oppressed people of the world stand up and fight back, we can win.