The feds have granted the final permit for the right-wing “Free Speech” rally to be held by Patriot Prayer on Saturday, which has city officials concerned that violent clashes between protesters may grace the foot of our Golden Gate.
The Golden Gate National Recreation Area and National Park Service announced Wednesday that the permit had been granted.
“We cannot deny a permit to anyone planning to exercise their First Amendment rights based on their political stance or beliefs,” the park service wrote in a statement. “We can deny a permit application for public safety reasons if the event raises such significant public safety concerns that law enforcement cannot manage the event.”
Patriot Prayer’s lead organizer Joey Gibson has maintained the Crissy Field rally is about “peace” and “love,” but city officials have decried it as an open door for white supremacists, neo-Nazis and skinheads, who have allegedly attended Patriot Prayer rallies en masse in the past.
The park service claimed it is trying to preserve public safety in awarding the permit. But Mayor Ed Lee scoffed at that justification at a Wednesday news conference.
“That’s a self-justifying argument,” he said. “I remain deeply disappointed and opposed to the issuance of this permit.”
At the news conference both Board of Supervisors President London Breed and San Francisco Police Chief Bill Scott said the public needs to know violence will not be tolerated — and neither will weapons.
“No guns will be allowed in the permitted areas,” Scott said.
The area of the protest will be “secured,” he added, and said people would be “screened” at checkpoints, though he would not specify if that involved metal detectors. Addressing concerns that the San Francisco Police Department would be spread thin covering multiple protests citywide, Scott said, “You will see a very, very large presence of officers,” but “we have a whole city to take care of.”
As part of the rally safety plan, law enforcement is asking businesses to close, Scott said, though it was not mandated. A long list of banned items for the rally has been released, which includes liquids, selfie-sticks, weapons of any kind and “tiki-torches.”
The allusions to the torch-carrying hate-filled Charlottesville, Va. march were not lost on officials. When asked if Lee believed Patriot Prayer organizer Joey Gibson’s messages of “peace” and “unity,” Lee was blunt.
“If I believed everything Mr. Gibson said, I wouldn’t have strong feelings about it,” he said. “We watch TV, we watch news reports, we’re scouring the internet to see what happened in Portland and Charlottesville.”
He said even the words used in the group’s name, “patriot” and “prayer,” are “disguise words for this group. We’ve seen their actions across the country.”
In a letter to the park service before the permit was approved, U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) also condemned Patriot Prayer, which she wrote “attracts white nationalists and other hate groups to its rallies with the intent to provoke unrest between those groups and counter-protesters.”
Last week, Gibson told me he has disavowed white supremacists and banned them from his rallies before, though he admitted they have repeatedly attended his rallies.
“We won’t let any extremists speak,” Gibson told me. “We’ll let moderates speak. It’s a big part of the goal. We have 10 speakers now, and out of them, we have one white male speaking.”
He also said the citizen militia group called the Oath Keepers would attend the rally.
Counter protests are planned for Crissy Field in direct opposition to Patriot Prayer, and at Civic Center, in an effort to lessen the potential for violence.
No matter how San Franciscans feel about the weekend’s protests to come, there’s one thing that’s certain: They’ll pay for it, literally.
“By the way, it’s on our dime, San Francisco’s,” the mayor said.
The Mayor’s Office said they’ll be sending the bill to the federal government.
On Guard prints the news and raises hell each week. Email Fitz at firstname.lastname@example.org, follow him on Twitter and Instagram @FitztheReporter, and Facebook at facebook.com/FitztheReporter.