This is not a drill: The raging right is spreading from Charlottesville to San Francisco.
The group, Patriot Prayer, has already obtained its permits, according to the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. Some back and forth on the nitty gritty is still required before a final approval, but they’re essentially “in,” said Sonja Hanson, a spokesperson for the GGNRA.
A Facebook post claiming “Neo Nazis are coming to San Francisco” started to go viral Monday morning, which was posted alongside phone numbers for federal agencies responsible for granting permits for rallies at Crissy Field — a literal “call to action.”
Mayor Ed Lee’s hands are seemingly tied, as the protest is on federal land outside city jurisdiction. Still, he denounced the gathering.
“As the Mayor of San Francisco my primary responsibility is the safety and well-being of the residents of San Francisco. As such, I cannot condone a rally that incites hate, bigotry or violence,” Lee said in a statement.
“They will have their rally on federal land because the U.S. Constitution provides all of us the right to freedom of expression,” he added. “But as Mayor of this city, I say: Any message of hate is not welcome.”
On Facebook, a counter-protest called “Unafraid!” initially had 160 people planning to attend, though the event was shut down and re-started. Other resistance events, including Bay Resistance Brigade Paddle Out, also pledged to fight back.
The pro-Trump protest is another stop for the Patriot Prayer group on its West Coast tour, led by right-wing notable Joey Gibson. Just Sunday, Gibson, clad in a “Hillary for Prison” T-shirt, led his band of wackos through Seattle, as minor clashes between liberal groups and self-identified white supremacists broke out around them.
The so-called “patriots” marched the day after Heather Heyer, a 32-year-old woman, was struck by a car and killed in Charlottesville, Va. Gibson tried to distance himself from the deadly event.
Apparently another brawl on the waterfront involving Antifa and Patriot Prayer. Rally from freedom and justice moved across the street. pic.twitter.com/0XuiRxT1v8
— Keaton Thomas (@keaton_thomas) August 6, 2017
“Listen, if you’re against what happened yesterday, you don’t ever let these people make you feel bad,” he told his supporters in Seattle on Sunday. “Because we weren’t there, and we had nothing to do with that. Patriot Prayer has always preached peace and always preached love.
“Unlike these people,” he added, pointing to the crowd of counter-protesters. “These people have preached hate too much and too often.”
City Attorney Dennis Herrera denounced white supremacists in general in an interview with the San Francisco Examiner, just after he announced The City’s lawsuit against President Donald Trump.
“Obviously, it’s a tragedy what happened in Charlottesville,” Herrera said. “It’s time people stand up against hate and intolerance … I think they’d be a lot better off staying out of town.”
Assemblymember Phil Ting also decried the group in a statement: “White supremacy, Neo Nazis, and hate have no place in San Francisco, especially during the 50th anniversary of the Summer of Love.”
On a lighter note, Alix Rosenthal, a local political insider and Examiner columnist, told me, “Haha! Don’t they know that’s during Burning Man? No one will be here. Silly Nazis.”
That said, it’s unlikely the permit will be revoked.
“It’s a first amendment right” to organize, Hanson said. “Those [permits] are approved on a first-come, first-served basis. It’s not approved based on organization at all.”
Officials on background expressed concern that U.S. Park Police and the GGNRA did not have sufficient staff to deal with potential violent clashes at Crissy Field, and may rely heavily on city resources to do so. Hanson said she was unable to elaborate on enforcement plans, citing security concerns, though she said U.S. Park Police would “work closely” with the San Francisco Police Department.
Despite Gibson’s lofty claims of peace, his message was undercut by his fellow protesters, which the Southern Poverty Law Center identified as members of white nationalist groups.
“In his speeches, Gibson spouts ‘love’ and ‘understanding’ and claims that the rallies are about dialogue,” the law center wrote, “while wearing a ‘Hillary For Prison’ T-shirt and telling his audience that Islam is not a religion, it’s ‘an ideology.’ What they are much more clearly about is an attempt to provoke black-clad ideologues on the left into acts of violence.”
Gibson claims repeatedly online and in speeches that he is about peace, love, and also denounces violence. He also distanced himself from the neo-Nazi groups who marched in Charlottesville on Saturday.
A Trump supporter is hit by silly-string after a pro-Trump “Prayer Rally” ends at Westlake Park, as police move in to keep sides apart. pic.twitter.com/2OxTozqMb9
— Ken Lambert (@SeaTimesFotoKen) August 13, 2017
However, the Southern Poverty Law Center identified among his followers and marchers, “an agglomeration of Trump-supporting ‘Patriots,’ including some white nationalists and skinheads, as well as ‘III Percent’ militiamen and LaVoy Finicum fans.”
So are the white nationalists marching simply to provoke black-bloc style retaliation? Are they trying to punk the Bay Area left?
It certainly seems like it. Already, San Francisco protest leaders are catching on to this.
Alex U. Inn, a local activist and this year’s Pride parade grand marshal, told his Facebook followers it might be a good idea to sit this one out — to not provoke the white nationalists into a fight that would benefit their cause.
“The reason i’m suggesting we don’t show up is when the fighting died down in Berkeley and we all left, they were just sitting there doing nothing,” U. Inn wrote of the clash with right-wing protesters in Berkeley, which centered around a UC Berkeley speech by Milo Yiannopoulos.
“No speeches, nothing,” U. Inn said. “We just stayed to see what they would do with each other. They come from all over and don’t know each other except to be in unison to fight.”
Another Pride community grand marshal (in 2014), Melanie Nathan, said San Francisco must resist and stand in the face of hate.
“As a Jew and lesbian, I will not sit this one out. I will be there,” she said. “I hope for a robust passionate and peaceful response to the hate engendered by those images and the putrid chants that will no doubt accompany them.”
No how you resist, I believe in San Francisco — where the minstrels of 1967 brought a message of peace to the nation, where a city-shattering quake and seemingly endless fire earned it the name The City That Knows How.
When the alt-right comes to hate, San Francisco will teach them how to love.
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.