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Laguna Beach Groups Hold Rally Against Racism Ahead Of Anti-Immigration Protest

LAGUNA BEACH ( – Hundreds of people came together to hold a Unity Rally against racism Saturday morning in Laguna Beach in solidarity with the people of Charlottesville.

The rally, put on my several groups, began at 10 a.m. at Broadway and Pacific Coast Highway, near Main Beach. There was no word of any arrests or disruptions as of 12:30 p.m.

It comes one day before an anti-illegal immigration protest slated for 6 p.m. Sunday called "America First! Electric Vigil for the Victims of Illegals and Refugees'' that will take place at the same location.

Organizers of the Unity Rally said they wanted to avoid confrontation with the America First group. Laguna Beach Mayor Toni Iseman will be attending as well.

The organizer of Sunday's America First rally, Johnny Benitez, said his group is hoping to keep the gathering peaceful. Benitez, who lives in south Orange County, said this would be his group's fifth gathering in Laguna Beach, and each time the demonstrations went off without incident.

Laguna Beach police told CBS2 that there will be about 100 officers from several nearby agencies monitoring Sunday's protest.

"We've just got to be careful and watch out for people that want to come there, just for the sole purpose of trying to initiate fights, or wanting to damage property," Laguna Beach police Sgt. Jim Cota said.

Several Laguna Beach businesses closed in the early afternoon as a precaution.

Since word of the demonstration got out following the violence last weekend in Charlottesville, Benitez said he has received "death threats and hate mail."

Some activists have rallied on social media sites such as Facebook to organize a counter protest. Benitez said he doesn't even want his group to argue with the counter protesters.

"I don't even like to see the screaming matches," Benitez said. "Hopefully, the police will do their jobs, which I believe they will... I'm assuming there won't be violence, but you can't really control it."

Since his events have been violence-free in the past, if there are conflicts this time then, "We'll know which elements made it happen," he said.

Laguna Beach demonstrators weren't alone on Saturday, however.

In Venice and Santa Monica, hundreds gathered for the Diversity Rally, echoing larger demonstrations across the country.

Members of the crowd took to the streets, called out the president and celebrated in solidarity. The rally, which started at Google headquarters, was initially billed as an event to celebrate diversity in tech. and overall. That meant strong words for white nationalists.

"We feel like it's our American duty to speak against what's going on in our country," Giani Duclair said.

Some said they planned to head to Laguna Beach Sunday to stage a counter-protest at the right-wing rally scheduled to take place.

(©2017 CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Wire services contributed to this report.)

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