When four South Bay locals were identified last week in a Propublica.org investigation as belonging to a white supremacist hate group based in Southern California, many began to think about intolerance in the beach cities.
The individuals named in the online news story included Ben Daley, who owns a tree trimming service in Manhattan Beach, Tyler Laube of Redondo Beach as well as Robert Boman and Tom Gillen of Torrance, all in their 20s.
Each were videotaped committing violence against left-wing demonstrators at some of the year's most incendiary events including the rally in Charlottesville. Daley and Gillen were among those chanting “Jews will not replace us,” and assaulting protesters. The pair were also joined by Boman in Berkeley to counter a left-wing demonstration, which led to violence.
Members of the group, called the Rise Above Movement (RAM), look innocuous enough with close-cropped hair and clean shaven faces. During protests, however, members wear menacing skull masks and goggles and act like alt-right street fighters, according to the Propublica report.
Questions to area police departments about the individuals were mostly not returned. Sgt. Tim Zins, a spokesperson for the Manhattan Beach Police Department, said he was not aware of any neo-Nazi or skinhead activity in that city.
Robe Richester, a North Redondo Beach resident instrumental in a gang task force in the 1980s, said white supremacist elements existed in the South Bay, especially in Hermosa Beach in the 1980s and 1990s, but they never formed an organized group.
“In terms of skinheads, it's never really raised its head in the South Bay," Richester said.
Seeing swastika tattoos among high schoolers in the punk rock crowd was not uncommon, according to others.
Under the radar
Courtney Lingle, who co-founded South Bay Cares, said stories like the one by ProPublica are opportunities for growth.
“I want to say it's a complete shock that this is in our community,” Lingle said. “It's a bit more hidden under the radar, but it's here. It's just not as blatant as in other places.”
Lingle and other locals formed South Bay Cares in November 2016 a year after the 2015 tire burning in front of a home of an African American family in Manhattan Beach. Viewed as a hate crime, the incident started an important conversation about tolerance, Linkle said.
"It's important to reach out and show support and not tolerate this in our community at all," she said.
In March, when a swastika showed up in the sand in Hermosa Beach, members of South Bay Cares transformed the symbol into a peace sign. The group now has more than 1,300 members.
“I do think our community is an amazing community and these people are the minority,” Lingle said.
Jan Dennis, author of several books on the history of Manhattan Beach, said the city has a checkered past on race relations dating back to the 1920s. Bruce’s Beach, one of the only beaches in L.A. County designated for African Americans, was between 26th and 27th street in Manhattan Beach. But it didn’t last long, said Dennis, as the city condemned the property, kicked out the inhabitants and left the land vacant. Years later, they formed a park there.
Around the same time, there was a Ku Klux Klan chapter in Hermosa Beach and a gay and lesbian community in El Porto faced persecution, according to Dennis.
“These issues have certainly lingered, not necessarily just in Manhattan," Dennis said. "It's that undertow all over the country."
In the 1940s during World War II, it was Manhattan Beach City Councilmembers who supported and even assisted in the forced removal of Japanese-Americans from the South Bay into internment camps, Dennis said.
One member of a family who helped start the Congregation Tikvat Jacob, a Jewish synagogue on 6th Street and Sepulveda Boulevard in Manhattan Beach, in the late 1970s said she received threatening phone calls and rocks wrapped in swastikas on her front lawn.
"They came out of the woodwork following the 1973 Arab-Israeli war and this antisemitism grew here,” said Bev Morse. “I think that's what woke up whatever sleeping ass*#* were here who thought they could get us to close the synagogue and be afraid of bomb threats.”
Today South Bay synagogues hire security guards during the high holidays.
Despite an undercurrent of intolerance, Morse and others said they are overshadowed by goodness.
“It's a nice place to raise kids,” Morse said. “There may be anti-semitism, and there is much less now than there was then, but our neighbors are wonderful, most of the kids’ teachers were wonderful. This sort of hateful behavior does not define our community.”
UPDATE 10/26: This article was updated to correct the spelling of Courtney Lingle not Linkle and to correct that South Bay Cares formed in November 2016.