LOS ANGELES – A white supremacist group rallied against illegal immigration in downtown Los Angeles Saturday as hundreds of counter-protesters gathered to shout them down in a tense standoff that included several arrests, thrown rocks and police in riot gear.
Police officers stood between the white supremacists and counter-demonstrators on the south lawn of Los Angeles' City Hall, where about 50 members of the National Socialist Movement waved American flags and swastika banners for about an hour.
Five people, all of them counter-protesters, were arrested for throwing items, police said.
The white supremacists, many of them wearing flack helmets and black military fatigue uniforms, shouted "Sieg Heil" before each of their speakers took the podium to taunt counter-protesters with racial, anti-Semitic and misogynistic epithets.
"We will meet you head on," one of the white supremacists, whose name could not be made out over the fuzzy public address system, warned the crowd from behind several phalanxes of police in riot gear.
Members of the Detroit-based group said they picked the location for their rally because of Los Angeles' large immigrant population. They accused some of the immigrants of stealing jobs and committing crimes.
Group members also said they were reacting to the recent number of street marches across the country encouraging legislators to enact reform that includes amnesty for some illegal immigrants.
National Socialist Movement regional director Jeffrey Russell Hall announced that the group would begin backing political candidates who agreed with their anti-immigrant message.
But much of the white supremacists' words were drowned out by such chants as "Hey hey, ho ho, Nazi scum have got to go" from the larger crowd of about 500 counter-protesters who held signs that read "Nazis: Get Out of Los Angeles" and "Racists Are Ignorant."
There was a brief flare-up of violence before the speakers arrived. A shirtless man was seen being escorted to safety behind police lines by a plainclothes officer as counter-protesters punched and grabbed at him. Blood could be seen at the base of the man's neck.
National Lawyers Guild executive director James Lafferty, who attended both as a legal observer and counter-protester, said he saw the man get into a fight with crowd members who saw his Nazi lightning bolt tattoos.
Police Commander David Doan said a second man who crowd members believed was sympathetic with the white supremacists was also assaulted during the rally. Both men were treated for minor injuries at a hospital and released.
As the rally ended, counter-protesters hurled rocks, branches and other items over the police line and into a parking lot where the white supremacists' had left their cars.
Some members of the group had trouble starting a black Ford Mustang and attempted to hook up jumper cables to their engine. They protected themselves from the flying debris by holding up swastika-emblazoned shields.
The white supremacists eventually gave up and pushed their car away so they could jump-start it out of range of the projectiles.