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Presidio businesses rack big financial losses from ‘Free Speech’ rally

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Park rangers stand in a line blocking Old Mason Street on Saturday in the Presidio, where a Patriot Prayer “Free Speech” rally was scheduled happen at San Francisco’s Crissy Field. (Jessica Christian/S.F. Examiner)
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It was the onslaught that wasn’t.

In the end, the much-hyped Patriot Prayer “Free Speech” rally was a no-show at Crissy Field, nor did the feared thousands of brawlers appear near the Golden Gate on Saturday. Instead, thousands of San Franciscans rallied elsewhere in The City, for unity and love.

That didn’t help Presidio businesses’ pockets, however. The damage was done.

From the Presidio Bowling Center to trampoline gymnasium House of Air, losses to nearby businesses were reportedly devastating.

Days earlier, the National Park Service and Golden Gate National Recreation Area had asked the businesses to voluntarily close and, for safety reasons, announced road closures and barriers restricting access to the northern sliver of the Presidio.

By the time Patriot Prayer called off its event and those federal agencies got out the word, nearby businesses had already canceled their reservations and warned their employees to stay home.

At the Presidio Bowling Center, bowling pins stood tall and lanes laid silent.

“It’s hard to calculate the cost, but based on this weekend last year, the revenue was in excess of 10k,” Victor Meyerhoff, owner of the Presidio Bowling Center, wrote in an email to me.

At least 11 of his employees lost a day of work, and “all of the kids parties cancelled [sic] last week when news of the event broke.”

Carlee Williams, marketing coordinator for the House of Air, told me the closure hit them hard, too.
“I can’t give you hard numbers,” Williams said, “but I can tell you any Saturday in late August is a huge day for us. It affected us pretty bad.”

Hell, Patriot Prayer even messed with the House of Mouse. The Walt Disney Family Museum closed Saturday in anticipation of the protest and in a statement told me, “Weekends in the summer are among our busiest days, and the museum was financially impacted, although we do not have exact figures yet.”

Many others nearby closed Saturday as well, including the Sports Basement.

So will the GGNRA pony up to help them? The agency approved Gibson’s permit, after all.

Apparently not. “Those are Trust tenants,” recreation area spokesperson Dana Polk told me when I asked about possible reimbursement, referring me to the Presidio Trust.

The Presidio Trust is a federal nonprofit that manages the Presidio, in a unique board-trustee setup arranged after the military vacated that green, picturesque corner of The City. A Presidio Trust spokesperson gave me a statement that simply said, “We do not expect to be making reimbursements for any business interruption which might have occurred on Saturday.”

* * *
So where were the Oath Keepers?
The fatigue-wearing, rifle-toting quasi-militia was geared to join Patriot Prayer on Saturday. But when Patriot Prayer retreated to Pacifica, the Oath Keepers were nowhere to be seen.

Stewart Rhodes, founder of the Oath Keepers, told me it was this very column that helped dissuade him from attending Gibson’s Patriot Prayer rally.

“We decided against it,” he wrote me in a text message, in “part because of your quote of [Gibson] saying he couldn’t keep Identity Evropa leader [Jake] Von Ott from attending.”

Rhodes added, “We took it to mean Joey would not let Von Ott speak, but couldn’t prevent him from attending in the audience … Regardless, we cannot and will not be involved in any event where known white nationalists are allowed inside the security perimeter, inside the venue, and we are told we cannot kick them out once we identify them.”

“That,” he added, “is a no go for us.”

Rhodes did place some of that blame on the National Park Service for creating security plans that mixed protesters from different groups. But Rhodes also called out Kyle “Based Stickman” Chapman, an alleged white nationalist who reportedly attacked protesters with a lead-filled stick in Berkeley earlier this year.

In a video news conference from Pacifica on Saturday, Gibson sat side-by-side with Chapman to address Patriot Prayer’s followers, and Chapman was scheduled to speak at Gibson’s rally.

“Until Kyle Chapman publicly disavows and condemns white nationalism and severs all connections with such people,” Rhodes said, “we cannot be part of an event where he is a speaker.”

To be clear, Rhodes didn’t think Gibson is a white nationalist. But it’s telling that even the Oath Keepers thought his event was bogus.

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.

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