Right-wing group cancels San Francisco rally, but counterprotesters show up anyway

Hundreds of protesters march Saturday utside Alamo Square Park after a “Freedom Rally” was canceled.
Hundreds of protesters march Saturday utside Alamo Square Park after a “Freedom Rally” was canceled.Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

WASHINGTON — Scuffles broke out between police and counterprotesters Saturday after hundreds of people descended on San Francisco to protest a planned event that was canceled by a right-wing group.

The pro-Trump group Patriot Prayer canceled its planned ‘‘Freedom Rally’’ as city leaders braced for the kind of protest that drew extremist groups to Charlottesville, Va., earlier this month.

The organizers said they would hold a news conference instead, after the city blocked the venue from the public. They later held a brief conference in the nearby coastal city of Pacifica.

Meanwhile, hundreds of counterprotesters gathered at a park in Alamo Square, the Associated Press reported. They held signs condemning white supremacists and chanting, ‘‘Whose streets? Our streets!’’


Police in riot gear lined up Saturday along a fence erected at the park. Patriot Prayer officials blamed the cancellation of their event on public officials who they say falsely portrayed them as violent right-wing extremists intent on bringing hate to San Francisco. The event had been planned for Saturday afternoon at Crissy Field, a recreational area near the Golden Gate Bridge.

‘‘It doesn’t seem safe,’’ Joey Gibson, founder of the Oregon-based group, said Friday night on Facebook Live. He said US Representative Nancy Pelosi, Mayor Ed Lee, and the media “are saying that we’re white supremacists and are bringing tons of extremists. . . . We have a lot of respect for the citizens of San Francisco, and at the end of the day we want people to be safe.’’

The city, suspicious of the group’s intentions, on Saturday morning built fences around the park, CBS affiliate KCBS reported.

Tensions between Gibson’s group and city officials had been brewing over the past several days. Lee on Wednesday condemned the decision by the National Park Service, which controls Crissy Field, to grant Gibson’s group a permit.


‘‘The shameful, anti-American trend of hate-filled extremist rallies will unfortunately be allowed to continue this weekend in our city,’’ Lee said in a prepared statement. ‘‘Since the beginning of this process, we have repeatedly stated that the public safety of San Francisco residents and visitors is our top priority.’’

Lee, Police Chief Bill Scott, and Board of Supervisors president London Breed had written a letter expressing outrage over the Park Service’s decision to allow the rally, and urging officials to make sure that security measures were in place. Breed said last week that groups like Patriot Prayer ‘‘are not welcome’’ in San Francisco, KCBS reported.

‘‘San Francisco has a long and storied history of championing freedom of speech and First Amendment rights, but as we have witnessed in recent months, these types of rallies can quickly turn hateful and violent with tragic consequences,’’ the letter said, according to KCBS.

Pelosi, a California Democrat, said in a statement Wednesday that she had ‘‘grave concerns about the public safety hazard’’ tied with the ‘‘white supremacist rally.’’

In a letter last week to Park Service officials, Senator Dianne Feinstein, a California Democrat, said the rally ‘‘poses very real threats to the public should the protest devolve into racial violence and clashes with law enforcement.’’

In a statement Friday, Lee confirmed that Patriot Prayer had relinquished its rally permit, but he said law enforcement officials were prepared for ‘‘any contingencies and spontaneous events.’’

‘‘San Francisco does not welcome outside agitators whose messages of hate have the sole purpose of inciting violence,’’ Lee said, adding that Patriot Prayer had neither requested nor obtained a permit to hold an event at Alamo Square Park.


Patriot Prayer, originally based in Vancouver, Wash., and later moved to Portland, Ore., describes itself as a group that fights big government.

According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, the group has held protests that attracted white supremacists and white nationalists. For instance, Jeremy Christian, a white supremacist accused of stabbing three men who tried to intervene when he shouted anti-Muslim slurs at two young women on a Portland light-rail train, attended a rally organized by Gibson in April.

Recently, however, Gibson has tried to distance himself and his group from extremists. He openly denounced white supremacists and neo-Nazis at his rally in Seattle on Aug. 13.

Gibson pushed back at how San Francisco officials had characterized his rally, which he said would not have welcomed white supremacists and other extremist groups.

He said organizers decided to cancel, fearing a clash between white supremacists and ‘‘antifa,’’ referring to anti-fascist protesters, would lead to unrest.