Think the Aug. 26 “Free Speech” rally that politicians are billing as a “white supremacist” meet-up couldn’t get any more intense? Well, Dorothy, hold Toto close.
The self-styled militia known as the Oath Keepers will be on hand at the controversial Patriot Prayer rally at Crissy Field, the event’s organizer Joey Gibson told me in an interview Wednesday night.
“I’m not spending money on security,” Gibson told me. “It’s the Oath Keepers [who will provide security].”
Oh, the Oath Keepers. Sure …
Wait a minute — the Oath Keepers? Those folks with the enormous rifles, paramilitary gear and camouflage outfits? Will they be armed?
“We’ll see,” Gibson said, adding that the legality of weapons at Crissy Field is still unclear.
However, concealed handguns will be allowed in Crissy Field due to a 2010 law, which I reported earlier this week — and perhaps music to the Oath Keepers’ ears.
The Oath Keepers are a national group comprised of thousands of former law enforcement officers and soldiers. They describe themselves as a “non-partisan association” who take the Constitution nearly literally.
“Our motto is ‘Not on our watch!’” claims the Oath Keepers website.
An armed militia at Crissy Field “without a doubt” worsens the outlook for danger at the rally, said Mayor Ed Lee.
“The Oath Keepers are a radicalized group,” he said. “These hate groups are hell-bent.”
Lee added, “I do think the [National Park Service] is not fully prepared for this,” and said weapons should be banned or screened at the rally.
State Sen. Scott Wiener also told me the Oath Keepers’ presence was one reason, among many, that the Golden Gate National Recreation Area should not grant Gibson a permit for his rally.
“That’s truly disturbing and reinforces why this permit would be a threat to public safety,” he wrote in a text message. “Oath Keepers are armed extremists. Their presence makes this event even more volatile.”
The GGNRA said they would announce their permitting decision by next Friday at the latest.
The Southern Poverty Law Center has a similar view of the Oath Keepers, unsurprisingly, and describes them as one of the largest radical anti-government groups in the United States, based on “a set of baseless conspiracy theories about the federal government working to destroy the liberties of Americans.”
Notably, the Oath Keepers attended two April rallies in Berkeley.
Stewart Rhodes, founder of the Oath Keepers, confirmed his militia would attend the controversial Aug. 26 rally at Crissy Field, and he’s been in contact with Gibson about how best to provide security.
Oath Keepers traditionally wield guns that are more powerful than most police officers carry, according to various news reports. Still, Rhodes said the need for his group to be armed was not yet clear.
“We don’t know yet,” Rhodes said, noting he had not yet contacted local law enforcement to assess if they needed additional support. At Gibson’s last rally in Portland, Ore., the Oath Keepers went unarmed at local law enforcement’s request, Rhodes said.
Rhodes said his concern it that there is “always a crackpot that will pull out a gun and try to kill people. I want my guys to be able to respond to terrorists if we need to.”
The GGNRA did not respond to requests for comment, nor did the U.S. Park Police. (To be fair, both parties have presumably been inundated with phone calls from San Francisco citizens concerned about the rally.)
When asked how the San Francisco Police Department would respond to the Oath Keepers’ presence, SFPD spokesperson Officer Robert Rueca told the me the department will aid in enforcement but must take its lead from U.S. Park Police, as Crissy Field is their jurisdiction.
“We’re not going to overstep our boundaries,” Rueca said. “I can’t speak to how we’re going to respond until the U.S. Park Police tells us how to respond.”
Stymying local officials was part of the plan, Rhodes said.
Rhodes told me that Gibson planned his rally “on federal land for a very good reason, so the local mayor couldn’t do anything about it.”
Rhodes defended Gibson and said white nationalists only spoke at his past rallies because they were deceptive about their identities. Rhodes decried Wiener’s critiques of the Oath Keepers and said the organization’s only aim is to keep people safe.
Rhodes said the Oath Keepers’ critics were “drinking the Kool-Aid.” (I wonder if he knows that’s a very San Francisco reference.)
If a white nationalist is scheduled to speak at the Crissy Field rally, Rhodes said, he pledged to pull the Oath Keepers out.
“It’s weird for me to go back to California and have leftists screaming that we’re Nazis,” Rhodes said, noting that he’s from San Jose.
“My grandfather fought in the Battle of the Bulge. He killed Nazis. Fuck ’em. If they start a race war, I’ll be stackin’ ’em. I’ll be hunting Nazis.”
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.