Huntington Beach residents received an unwelcome surprise on Easter morning: Fliers featuring Ku Klux Klan propaganda peppered a block of 18th Street in downtown.
"White Lives Do Matter," one flier said above an image of the Klan's emblem. "Say no to cultural genocide."
A resident filed a report with the Huntington Beach Police Department about 7 a.m. Sunday, Lt. Brian Smith said. But it wasn't just the words and images that alarmed locals — it's what the pamphlets were promoting: a "White Lives Matter" rally scheduled in Huntington Beach for April 11.
"It is unnerving to find something like this deliberately placed on your driveway or doorstep," Huntington Beach resident Mary Adams Urashima said Monday. "It is very disheartening to me as a resident to see the Klan try to recruit here and any group trying to organize a 'White Lives Matter' rally here."
The fliers, which were sealed in plastic bags with rocks, arrived only a week after similar paraphernalia was found in Newport Beach. By Monday morning, the images and event information had been widely disseminated across social media.
Yet despite concerns about the proliferation of the messaging, Smith said there is little the city can do to prevent the rally from taking place.
"Typically, there's no permit needed for free speech activity such as that, as long as they allow free public access to the spaces, don't interfere with traffic, set up structures, or things like that," he said, noting that the Police Department is monitoring the situation and attempting to reach out to the organizers.
"Hopefully it is a peaceful, 1st Amendment-protected type of event that doesn't get to the point where it's affecting public safety," Smith said. "We'll staff it accordingly and have contingency plans in place in case there are issues that arise."
Some residents, not content with the Police Department's plan to monitor the rally, decided to take matters into their own hands: a counter-protest organized by Johnson has been scheduled at the Huntington Beach Pier on Sunday.
Smith said police will monitor that too.
"One of the things we anticipate in all these events is that there will be somebody on a counter-perspective," he said.
The fliers arrived at a moment of political change for Orange County, which for years was stereotyped as a bastion of white conservatism. People of color now make up the majority of the county's residents, according to census data. In 2018, a "blue wave" spurred a shift in congressional representation, although Republicans took back two seats in 2020.
Huntington Beach Mayor Kim Carr said Monday that she has received countless emails from residents expressing anger about the pamphlets and rallies, which she called "a cowardly attempt to drum up support for a hateful cause."
"We have zero tolerance for racism in our city, and while we absolutely support the First Amendment, we stand strongly against hiding behind it to promote hate," Carr wrote in an email. "And our residents stand with us."
The City Council was scheduled Monday evening to weigh in on three agenda items addressing issues of racism and bias, including one that would denounce hate crimes and reaffirm the city's commitment to inclusivity, and an item denouncing white supremacy movements.
"Tonight, we'll hopefully take decisive action against these concerns," Carr said.
Yet even as some residents reel from the fliers, others said it is part of an uncomfortable legacy for Orange County. For more than a century, the area has fought against hate groups such as the KKK, which flourished in Anaheim in the 1920s. In the 1980s and ’90s, Huntington Beach was a haven for skinheads.
"There has always been racism here," said Isaac Thompson, who grew up and still lives in Orange County. "If you're white and walking around during those rallies, you're going to be fine. If you're a person of color, like my wife and kids, you cannot just disappear."
In recent months, Huntington Beach Mayor Pro Tem Tito Ortiz drew national media attention for his anti-mask stance and support of right-wing conspiracy theories, much to the dismay of residents hoping to change the city's reputation.
"The last year has been so disheartening," said Cathey Ryder, a spokeswoman for the grass-roots human rights group HB Huddle. "This is our home, and it's very upsetting to feel like we're this city that's been labeled this 'hate city.'"
What will happen Sunday is anyone's guess. In May, a protest against COVID-19 shutdowns drew about 2,500 people to Huntington Beach. On Jan. 6 — the same day as the U.S. Capitol riot — a pro-Trump rally drew a police presence but was mostly peaceful.
Johnson, the Black Lives Matter Huntington Beach founder, said hundreds of people are planning to attend the counter-protest Sunday, including members of other Black Lives Matter groups from Laguna Beach, Long Beach, Los Angeles and Santa Ana. About 200 people attended a Black Lives Matter protest in the area in June.
"We need to show that Huntington Beach will no longer tolerate racism in any way, shape or form, and that it will not be a reflection of our city," he said. "I'm Black, and my life matters in Huntington Beach."
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.