After an unexpected protest dominated their July workshop, Santa Monica’s Committee for Racial Justice (CRJ) has reexamined how they conduct their events with an eye towards greater security.

Protesters at the July workshop made anti-Semitic statements, held handmade signs associated with online anti-Semitism and made statements that participants described as outright racist.

The experience has shaped the group’s upcoming workshop and will have an ongoing impact on the way they conduct business.

The upcoming workshop is a pointed response to the July event. On Sunday, August 6 CRJ will host a workshop on dealing with overt racism.

“It’s entitled ‘confronting explicit racism’ and we’re going to have a lawyer who can talk about what the law says are people’s civil rights that are attending a meeting and there will be a second speaker that is somebody who knows something about white nationalist groups so we can educate ourselves on their origins and ideology,” said CRJ Steering Committee member Joanne Berlin.

The July protesters came from two organizations. While a couple of individuals identified themselves and their organization, others wore masks throughout the meeting.

Organizers said they also have an escalating security plan for their meetings because some attendees found the presence of masked men intimidating and reminiscent of Ku Klux Klan behavior. New procedures will begin with a check-in desk at the entrance where anyone wearing a mask will be asked to remove it and include plans to remove individuals who seek to disrupt, rather than participate in, the meetings.

Berlin said attendees at the July meeting tried to talk with the protesters but she feels they came with the intent to derail the meeting.

“We tried to engage them but they were bent on disrupting the group,” she said. “Whether or not the subject changed to it not being white privilege, I think that they are going to be disruptive and we’re just going to ask them to leave because we think they only have one thing in mind.”

She said it’s possible the protests were a singular event tied to the topic of white privilege and if so, they might not make a habit of attending CRJ meetings.

“These people who are white nationalists seem to have this theory that there’s a white genocide going on. Anyone that’s not white is a problem for them and in their mind that includes Jews. A biracial group that deals with issues of racism and institutional racism is not going to hold their attention for any length of time,” she said.

She said attendees tried to engage with the group.

“We tried to engage them but they were bent on disrupting the group. Whether or not the subject changed to it not being white privilege, I think that they are going to be disruptive and we’re just going to ask them to leave because we think they only have one thing in mind,” she said.

Bob Gordh, also with the CRJ Steering Committee said open and honest discussion is welcome at CRJ meetings but the group does have its limits.

“If they were polite and respectful and on topic, it might be that we would have some respectful exchange,” he said. However, he said individuals that come with the intent to derail the meeting do not want to actually communicate.

“If they come with something that’s their own agenda, we are not going to take our time to debate with them on their terms because that also disrupts our plans.”

He said CRJ wasn’t interested in providing platform for individuals who want to defend outright racism.

“We’re interested in combatting racism, we’re not interested to debate people that are in favor of racism,” he said.

CRJ Steering Committee member Robbie Jones said the group’s response isn’t specific to any one political ideology and they would treat any disruptive individual the same way. She said the organization hasn’t had to directly address this kind of behavior before the July meeting and said the larger political climate has emboldened individuals who might have otherwise felt shunned for their opinions.

“Those that may have been here before now feel more support,” she said. “So they feel they can come out of the woodwork, now they feel comfortable with it.”

She said the display of racist behavior at an event specifically designed to fight racism shows there is an increased tolerance for those opinions in society.

“Most of the time, whenever you have any kind of groups or anybody chooses to do something in an arena where it’s never really happened before, it’s because they feel its OK now, they can do that,” she said. “You kind of wonder why it happened.”

The CRJ is an all-volunteer organization that was founded in response to a racist incident at Santa Monica High School in 2011. They group has maintained a presence in the community and holds monthly workshops on topics related to racism. They are a standalone organization but have partnered with other community groups and/or the city to highlight specific topics or bring their message to specific local communities.

For more information on their activities, call (310) 422-5431.

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Matthew Hall

Matthew Hall has a Masters Degree in International Journalism from City University in London and has been Editor-in-Chief of SMDP since 2014. Prior to working at SMDP he managed a chain of weekly papers...