If and when “white supremacists” descend on San Francisco’s Crissy Field later this month, they can do so with concealed handguns.
That’s thanks to a 2010 federal firearms law that allows guns in national parks, when applicable under state and local laws, which local officials verified on background.
That’s especially pertinent as local officials came together Tuesday to take a stand against a planned Patriot Prayer rally on Aug. 26 at Crissy Field and cited fears of violence.
“Concealed weapons are always a concern,” Supervisor Mark Farrell told me in a written statement. “It’s one of the many reasons why I called on the National Park Service today to detail an appropriate and considerable plan to keep everyone safe.”
Farrell’s district includes Crissy Field, though it is located on federal land under the auspices of the National Park Service and is not in San Francisco’s jurisdiction.
Mayor Ed Lee announced his opposition to the rally in a news conference Tuesday, alongside Board of Supervisors London Breed, San Francisco Police Chief Bill Scott and Michael Pappas of the San Francisco Interfaith Council. Lee said he demanded the park service provide more safety assurances for the Patriot Prayer rally, which he said would attract “violence” and “hate.”
“We have demanded the National Park Service re-evaluate the permit in this case,” the mayor said.
Lee said he believes Patriot Prayer — a group that the Southern Poverty Law Center noted has attracted “white supremacists,” neo-Nazis, skinheads and other hate groups in previous rallies — is coming to San Francisco to incite violence similar to recent rallies in Charlottesville, Va. He said San Francisco would not grant a permit and “do such a careless thing with lives at stake.”
“They’re aiming their guns at our people,” Lee said.
Also citing safety concerns, three state lawmakers united to demand that the National Park Service and the Golden Gate National Recreation Area deny permits to the Patriot Prayer rally.
State Sen. Scott Wiener and Assemblymembers David Chiu and Phil Ting, in a joint letter to the park service, decried the U.S. from sliding into “racism and hate.
As this column reported Monday, the GGNRA, a federal agency over which the city of San Francisco has no control, has provisionally approved a permit for Patriot Prayer. That permit approval process is not yet complete, according to the GGNRA.
Previously, loaded weapons were not allowed in national parks. But a 2010 federal firearms law leaves it up to the states to decide which weapons are legal to carry. In California, those who obtained carry concealed weapon permits within the state can legally possess concealed handguns in national parks.
That means Patriot Prayer protesters from Oregon and Washington cannot carry concealed weapons in California — and no, there aren’t temporary permits.
Though handguns are a far cry from the rifles carried by self-styled militias in the infamous recent Charlottesville protest, they’re still a cause for concern. State lawmakers are already questioning the park service’s ability to keep people safe.
Wiener told me by text message, “Guns are a real concern … There’s a serious risk of violence — including gun violence, given who these protesters are — and the National Park Service needs to revoke the permit and start from scratch.”
When asked if the San Francisco Police Department would deploy its officers to help the smaller-staffed U.S. Park Police, regardless of jurisdictional lines, Scott said safety was paramount.
“We’re going to do what we need to help keep people safe,” Scott said. “We’re not going to draw a line of federal property or not.”
Lee sent a letter to GGNRA General Superintendent Cicely Muldoon on Tuesday demanding “contingencies” for additional safety.
“We are outraged” the permit was granted, Lee’s letter reads, “without proper planning and resources, given the public safety concerns,” including securing safety of people en route to their vehicles and counter-protest mitigation.
Breed was especially heated at the news conference.
“To say we are outraged is an understatement,” she said. “… these groups promote racism, promote hate and violence.”
Patriot Prayer has denied accusations by San Francisco politicians and others that they trumpet white power messages.
“Apparently we are having a white nationalist rally in San Fran with a black, Hispanic, Asian, and a transsexual speaking,” the Patriot Prayer group posted to Facebook on Tuesday, seemingly in response to recent news coverage.
They posted the text with an animated GIF of Winnie the Pooh tapping his forehead, saying, “think” repeatedly.
Though the group denies being themselves white supremacists, media outlets and the Southern Poverty Law Center identified hate groups in their ranks at rallies in Oregon and Washington states, and violent clashes followed their demonstrations. People pointed out the bait-and-switch messaging used by Patriot Prayer, and one of its central figures, Joey Gibson.
In a reply to the Winnie the Pooh Facebook post, Mike Woodward, a resident of Oxnard, Calif., wrote, “Gibson has attempted to sell a candy-coated form of Christian Patriotism to the mainstream, but his attempts at inclusivity and ‘dialogue’ are clearly duplicitous.”
Pappas, head of the San Francisco Interfaith Council that unites religious orders across San Francisco, was particularly bothered by the use of religious wording by Patriot Prayer to hide behind messages of hate.
“We are very concerned that the billing of this event is dealing with prayer and freedom and peace,” he said. “We believe that words are very powerful.”
Pappas added, “Disguising hatred and division and violence with words that are sacred are really misguided.”
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.
Editor’s note: This column has been updated with additional information and comments.