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Thousands march against right-wing rally in SF, Patriot Prayer flees to Pacifica

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Demonstrators hug one another while sitting in the intersection of Hayes and Steiner streets during a protest speaking out against a planned right-wing protest at Alamo Square park in San Francisco, Calif. Saturday, August 26, 2017. (Jessica Christian/S.F. Examiner)

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More than 13,000 mostly peaceful protesters took to the streets across San Francisco on Saturday, as Patriot Prayer’s small group of right-wing supporters fled to Pacifica.

Patriot Prayer spent most of the day running across San Francisco and the Bay Area, and the media chasing close behind.

The previous day, Joey Gibson of Patriot Prayer canceled his planned Crissy Field “Free Speech” rally which officials from Mayor Ed Lee to state Sen. Scott Wiener decried as an open door for white supremacists.

That canceled rally quickly morphed into a hastily announced news conference at Alamo Square Park. Lee and the San Francisco Police Department both warned, however, that no permits were issued for Alamo Square Park events — and the police quickly erected fences early Saturday morning, blocking off the park.

And as thousands of San Franciscans marched their way to resist Saturday morning, Gibson changed course to Pacifica.

He held his first news conference inside someone’s apartment, to a number of alt-right friendly interview questions, with right-wing activist Kyle “Based Stickman” Chapman by his side.

There Gibson decried Mayor Ed Lee, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, and San Francisco’s left, for painting him as a “crypto-racist” who is “hiding my racism.”

But he also said, “I’ve known racists that are good, law abiding” and who “have raised good families.”

Yeesh.

After Gibson held a second Pacifica news conference, he eventually did meander back to Crissy Field by about 4 p.m.. His whac-a-mole “where am I now?!” strategy successfully diverted counter-protesters from attending, save for a handful, and a yacht floating on the Bay flying San Francisco flags and a banner claiming it as a “Feminist Flotilla.”

“Some major players were trying to get people worked up,” Gibson said in a video feed from Crissy Field. “I feel in my heart people were trying to incite a riot here today.”

An unnamed man wielding two bullhorns blaring constant siren sounds blew out Gibson’s speech. By 4:50 p.m., U.S. Park Police and San Francisco police descended on Crissy Field. Gibson entered a vehicle and drove away.

Meanwhile, organizers said at least 12,000 people were peacefully marching in The City, from the Castro District to Civic Center, as bubble-blowing love fests celebrated peace.

At least 1,000 counter-protesters rallied at the foot of Alamo Square on Saturday afternoon, as the San Francisco Police Department geared up in riot helmets. Though some protesters wore the signature bandanas and hoods of “Antifa” or Black-Bloc, they were far from the majority of protesters.

One woman who lives in one of the iconic Painted Ladies, 33-year-old Gretchen Sisson, woke up early to hang banners against the protesters, she told me.

Her oversized “Love Trumps Hate” and “Black Lives Matter” signs would have shown prominently in any Patriot Prayer photo, if the group had ever reached Alamo Square Park.

Walter Miles Magness, of Palo Alto, also stood at the foot of the park. He told me “if you’re over six-foot-four and white as hell, you have to protest these mothers,” citing a need for solidarity with all people against hate.

San Francisco native Francisco Garcia wore a shirt that read “Punch More Nazis.” When I asked him what he would do should he see a member of the Patriot Prayer group, he said, “Punch them? No. I mean, I’d just say, ‘Why are you doing this?’”

“Why,” he asked, “do they have so much hate?”

A large contingent of protesters was led by Ben Bac Sierra, of the Mission lowrider fame, who wore white T-shirts marked “Frisco Resistance.”

Bac Sierra started his speech to the crowd by asking everyone to hug one another — hundreds embraced other strangers.

“I give them a very good applause because you have to be a gracious winner,” Bac Sierra told me later of Gibson and Patriot Prayer. “I don’t want to be someone gloating in a victory of this magnitude.”

But, he added, “They seem totally disorganized.”

Though there was not yet a final tally from SFPD, I saw only one arrest made at the Alamo Square rally, of a woman who had moved past a barricade, officials claimed. Public Defender Jeff Adachi was nearby, and noted that many protesters were allowed to cross the barrier after her, and that the rules laid out by SFPD were “confusing.”

By the early afternoon, those protesters marched down to the Mission District, and burned a pinata that resembled (who else?) President Donald Trump.

Hundreds of demonstrators make their way to the Mission District down Steiner Street during a protest speaking out against a planned right-wing protest at Alamo Square park in San Francisco, Calif. Saturday, August 26, 2017. (Jessica Christian/S.F. Examiner)

Gibson, in one of his earlier news conferences, claimed he was met with bike locks, clubs, and menacing “Antifa” in black masks.

But, at least as far as this columnist witnessed, on Saturday San Francisco did what it does best: Danced to the beat of Aztec drums, marched along with its glittering drag queens, and raised its voice in unity.

On Guard prints the news and raises hell each week. Email Fitz at joe@sfexaminer.com, follow him on Twitter and Instagram @FitztheReporter, and Facebook at facebook.com/FitztheReporter.

Follow @jachristian and @FitzTheReporter on Twitter for live updates from the scene.

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