SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) — Over the objections of San Francisco officials, the National Park Service has granted a permit to a far-right group seeking to rally at Crissy Field Saturday, as well as permits for groups holding counter-demonstrations.
The Patriot Prayer group has organized what it calls its “Freedom Rally” scheduled to start at 2:00 p.m. at Crissy Field, part of the park service’s Golden Gate National Recreation Area. Days after San Francisco officials questioned whether a permit should be issued to the group, the park service announced Wednesday in a statement,
“Many people have expressed concerns about safety related to the Patriot Prayer event. After consultation with other law enforcement colleagues, including the San Francisco Police Department, National Park Service law enforcement believe that whether a permit is issued or not, many people will come to Crissy Field on August 26 to express their opinions. Law enforcement advised that issuing a permit will increase their ability to ensure public safety. Accordingly, the National Park Service has decided to approve the permit with significant conditions to promote the peaceful, non-violent expression of views. “
GGNRA acting general superintendent Cicely Muldoon said in the statement Wednesday that the park service “cannot deny a permit to anyone planning to exercise their First Amendment rights based on their political stance or beliefs.”
Other permits were issued to groups seeking to counter the Patriot Prayer event, including groups rallying a day before the event, and another gathering at Ocean Beach in San Francisco.
San Francisco Police Department is having every officer come into work on Saturday for the Crissy Field gathering and expected counter-demonstrations. Police plan to put up fencing and physically separate the Patriot Prayer attendees from those arriving to protest their presence.
Mayor Ed Lee issued a statement following the park service’s decision on the Crissy Field permit:
“The shameful, anti-American trend of hate-filled extremist rallies will unfortunately be allowed to continue this weekend in our city.
Since the beginning of this process, we have repeatedly stated that the public safety of San Francisco residents and visitors is our top priority. With the event now officially permitted, the San Francisco Police Department is working with the Golden Gate National Recreation Area and the United States Park Police on a comprehensive public safety plan.
Let us show this nation that San Francisco is a city of peace and unity. Do not engage with the members of this group, whose only priority is to incite violence through divisive rhetoric. Instead of dignifying their display of hatred, we ask that residents join peaceful gatherings taking place at the Civic Center Plaza on Friday and Saturday at 12 p.m.”
The event will have security screening and restrictions on a long list of items that could be used as weapons, ranging from guns and aerosol cans to drones and coolers, barbecue grills, tiki torches and even selfie sticks.
A full restriction list, as well as information on road closures and other details about the park service’s plans for the event, has been posted online at nps.gov/goga/first-amendment-permits.htm.
Additionally, many of the businesses in the Presidio are electing to close their doors on Saturday due to potential impacts of street and parking lot closures and crowds. Some of the businesses include the Presidio Bowling Center, the Walt Disney Family Museum, the Sports Basement and climbing gym Planet Granite
A complete list of closed businesses has been posted to the National Parks Service website.
Along with the Patriot Prayer event, four other political events were approved this week on GGNRA land — “People’s Town Hall Candlelight Vigil” and “People’s Town Hall Press Conference” at Crissy Field on Friday, and “Better Angels San Francisco” and “Stop HATE human banner” at Ocean Beach on Saturday, according to the park service.
In a Facebook video posted Monday, Patriot Prayer organizer Joey Gibson said he was happy with the plans for security at the Saturday event.
“I’m extremely encouraged right now, I feel really good about the preparations that have been going on,” he said. “This is going to be fun, this is going to be different, this is going to be a unique experience for sure.”
Gibson has rejected accusations that his pro-President Donald Trump group is a white supremacist organization, arguing that the event includes black, Latino and transgender speakers. Gibson has said the event has a “message of love” and stated on the event’s Facebook page that “no extremists will be allowed in. No Nazis, Communist, KKK, Antifa, white supremacist, I.E., or white nationalists. This is an opportunity for moderate Americans to come in with opposing views.”
But extremists have consistently showed up at Patriot Prayer events around the country, including Portland, and Seattle.
Gibson blamed both sides for the violence that took place at recent events.
“Antifa using violence, extreme right is using violence. Unite the Right is a horrible term. It’s their justification for extremists,” said Gibson.
Mayor Lee and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi were among those who had asked the park service to rescind the permit for the Patriot Prayer event after an attack at a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia left one woman participating in a counter-protest dead.
Lee and other city officials have encouraged opponents to not engage with members of the right-wing rally and to instead join peaceful gatherings at Civic Center scheduled for noon Friday and again at noon Saturday.
“Let us show this nation that San Francisco is a city of peace and unity,” he said.
Bay Area leaders worry the rally on Saturday will attract hate-filled extremists, but a new Survey USA Poll released Wednesday indicates the public may have a different take.
The poll asked, “Generally speaking, are people today too quick to label something as bigoted or racist?”
A clear majority — 63 percent — responded yes. Just 16 percent said no, that people don’t react quickly enough. The remaining 14 percent responded that they felt people acted appropriately.
Answers to the poll were also dependent on where the respondent lived. Of those who said people today too quick to label something as bigoted or racist, 57 percent were from an urban area, while that number rose to 67 percent for those who lived in suburban areas.
70 percent of people who lived in rural areas responded yes to the question.
That differs greatly from San Francisco, where just about every elected official who has spoken on the issue has labeled the Patriot Prayer a hate group.
“I’m talking about racists, people who are white supremacists, white nationalists,” said SF Supervisor Sandra Lee Fewer. “People who don’t agree that we should be a sanctuary city, people who do not agree with inclusiveness.”
Supervisor Mark Farrell went so far Wednesday to issue a statement calling the Crissy Field demonstrators Nazis.
Nonetheless. Hastings Law Professor Rory Little told KPIX 5 it does not rise to the level of being banned.
“Even advocating violence is speech and has to be permitted,” said Little.
Not so long ago in the Bay Area, residents saw numerous anti-police protests that attracted fringe groups that turned violent.
When asked if those rallies should have been banned or condemned by city leaders for the marchers yelling “cops are murders,” Fewer disagreed.
“No, I don’t think so. My husband was police officer for 30 years. I think that is born out of frustration,” said Fewer.