A rally of about 40 white supremacists Saturday on the lawn of Los Angeles City Hall drew hundreds of counter-protesters, sparked brawls in which two people were severely beaten and ended with crowds of demonstrators hurling rocks and bottles at police and departing supremacists.
The rally, conducted by the National Socialist Movement, prompted the Los Angeles Police Department to go on tactical alert as counter-protesters from throughout the region flooded into downtown L.A. They included a wide assortment of African American, Jewish, Latino, immigrants-rights and anarchist groups.
While some counter-protesters said they had heard about the event through social media such as Twitter and had come to urge peace in the face of the group's hateful message, others had clearly come for a fight. At least five of them were arrested by the end of the demonstration for throwing eggs and rocks.
Before members of the white supremacist group had arrived, a bare-chested middle-aged man with Nazi insignias tattooed on his chest and back walked into a crowd of hundreds of counter-protesters gathered near 1st and Spring streets.
Surrounded, the man mockingly bobbed his head to the rhythm of demonstrators chanting "Nazi scum." About a dozen protesters suddenly began pelting the man with punches and kicks. He fell and was struck on the back with the wooden handle of a protester's sign, which snapped in two. Police eventually reached the man and pulled him from the melee, as blood poured from the back of his neck.
Another man was rushed by a mob on Spring Street. He was punched in the face and kicked for about 20 seconds before police made it to the scene. After that beating was broken up, the man began running south on Spring Street, only to be chased down by a protester and slugged in the face. He collapsed and his face slammed to the curb as protesters began pummeling him again.
The bloodied man was then escorted away by police. Both victims were treated and released, police said.
His sign, unclear in its intended meaning, read "Christianity=Paganism=Heathen$" with an arrow pointing at a swastika.
"Gosh, I think he just didn't have a clear message. I don't even think he was a Nazi," said one man, looking at the broken pieces of the sign left behind.
The neo-Nazi group had obtained a permit for its demonstration earlier in the week, and police prepared the rally area by taping off a section of City Hall's shaded south lawn. About 12:30 p.m., members began delivering anti-immigrant tirades and shouts of "Sieg Heil" that echoed down the street.
"We are tired of you clogging up our streets," shouted one white supremacist.
Another group member repeatedly denounced illegal immigrants, saying, "If the city supports illegal aliens and criminals, that is treason."
A counter-protester shouted back with a bullhorn.
"You're being protected by black and Latino cops, you cowards!" she said.
The rally ended around 2:30 p.m. with counter-protesters rushing toward the criminal courts building parking lot where the white supremacists had parked their cars. Dozens of them hurled rocks and glass bottles at the neo-Nazis and their police escorts.
One vehicle failed to start. As a group of white supremacists attempted to jump-start the car, others raised swastika-emblazoned shields over their heads to protect themselves from projectiles. After the white supremacists left, police allowed the crowds to dissipate.
Cmdr. David Doan said the LAPD's goal was to protect free speech and avoid using force. "There was a tremendous amount of restraint shown by our officers," he said. "We allowed both sides to exercise their 1st Amendment rights."
Doan said it was a frustrating situation for LAPD officers. "We took some rocks and bottles when they arrived, and we took some again when the car had some trouble starting."