ANAHEIM (AP) — The home of Disneyland, the self-proclaimed Happiest Place on Earth, is also the town where the Ku Klux Klan once ran the City Council, burned crosses and rallied 10,000 people in a city park.
That rally back in 1924 proved to be a turning point for Anaheim, which ousted the Klan and broke ground on Disneyland a generation later. Now a majority-Hispanic city of 350,000, it’s hardly welcome territory for a KKK protest against immigration.
Mayhem ensued Saturday as soon as six Klan members pulled up in a black SUV for a rally they had advertised in advance and pulled out signs saying “White Lives Matter.”
Dozens of protesters swarmed in and someone smashed a window. The SUV then sped away, leaving three Klansmen dressed in black shirts decorated with the Klan cross and Confederate flag patches outnumbered.
Police said one Klansmen carrying an American flag stabbed a protester with the bald eagle decorating the end of his pole. Counter-protesters, meanwhile, were seen stomping on Klan members. By the end, three people had been stabbed, one critically, and a dozen others arrested.
“(The counter-protesters) were so angry, they would have torn these folks limb from limb,” said Brian Levin, who directs the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University, San Bernardino. “I was afraid for their lives.”
Levin, who went to Pearson Park expecting to record the rally for research, found himself protecting the Klansmen until police could intervene. On a video Levin shot and posted to Twitter, he later asked one of them, “How do you feel that a Jewish person helped save your life today?”
“I thank you. I thank you,” said the Klansman, waving away the question with his blood-spattered arm. “I would have saved a colored man’s life,” he added.
Much of the clash was captured on video and posted online. In one, a man cries “I got stabbed,” lifting his T-shirt to show a wound to his stomach. A fire hydrant where the man briefly sat was covered in blood.
Five Klansmen were booked for investigation of assault with a deadly weapon, and seven of the approximately 30 counter-protesters were arrested on suspicion of assault with force likely to cause great bodily injury.
Like many other cities across the United States, Anaheim has a history intertwined with the KKK. What sets the city apart, however, is its decisive backlash after the Klan gained four of five City Council seats in 1924. Those Klansmen were ousted in a recall election after their affiliations with the Klan became public and following a nighttime KKK initiation rally that attracted an estimated 10,000 people to the city park where Saturday’s violence erupted.
“The only reason we remember Anaheim for the Klan is because they fought the Klan so hard,” said Phil Brigandi, an Orange County historian and author. “The more the Klan came out of the shadows, the more people became aware of it and the opposition grew.”
In the near century since then, Anaheim has gone from 95 percent white to become 53 percent Hispanic and 27 percent white, according to data with the U.S. Census Bureau.
“We’re a far cry from those terrible times and the Klan is really an anachronism,” Levin said. “Anaheim is now a diverse community that is in many ways an amusement and sports capital of California. This is just an example of how a small group of people can tarnish the name of a community.”
Rosa Madrigal, who was at the park Sunday with her husband and three children, said she was shocked to even hear about the KKK holding a rally in Anaheim, let alone the violence that ensued.
“I didn’t even think it was true when I heard it,” said Madrigal, 25. “It’s crazy, especially in a park where you take your kids.”
When the melee started, Levin said he saw no uniformed officers.
Sgt. Daron Wyatt said police were there and engaged with people at one end of the fight, and called for additional resources to deploy to the other end. The event stretched along an entire city block, he said.
Police Chief Raul Quezada said his officers were able to respond quickly enough to arrest all but one of the main participants, a counter-protester who remains at-large. Four of the arrestees were released after a review of video evidence.
“Even if the vast majority of our community disagrees with a particular group who visits our city we cannot stop them from lawfully gathering to express their opinions,” Quezada said. “Violence is not acceptable, and we will arrest anybody who assaults another person or commits any other crime in our city.”
Chris Barker, who identified himself as the imperial wizard of the Loyal White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, told The Associated Press by phone from North Carolina that his members were holding a peaceful anti-immigration demonstration and acted in self-defense.
“If we’re attacked, we will attack back,” said Barker, whose organization lists Pelham, N.C., as its headquarters. Last year, the group drew headlines when it protested the removal of the Confederate flag from the South Carolina Capitol.
Nationwide, the number of active KKK groups increased to 190 in 2015 after falling in 2013 and 2014, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks hate groups.
In January 2015, packets containing fliers from the “Loyal White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan” and condemning the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. were left in the driveways of about 40 homes in Santa Ana, about 8 miles south of Anaheim.