SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) — The leader of a far-right group set to hold a free speech rally in San Francisco on Saturday has called off the event, citing concerns about safety.
Patriot Prayer leader Joey Gibson joined other organizers in a Facebook Live broadcast Friday to announce the “Freedom Rally” at Crissy Field had been canceled.
In the days leading up to the rally, the group was denounced by San Francisco officials who unsuccessfully sought to have a permit for the event denied by the National Park Service.
The group blamed San Francisco leaders for vilifying them and forcing them to cancel the event over security concerns.
“After several conversations with the police and understanding, you know, the situation of what’s going on we decided that tomorrow really seems like a setup. It doesn’t seem safe,” said Gibson. “A lot of people’s lives are going to be in danger tomorrow. The rhetoric from Nancy Pelosi, Mayor Lee, the media, all these people are saying that we’re white supremacists and it’s bringing in tons of extremists. And it seems just like a huge setup.”
Gibson has said the group disavows racism and hatred.
The civic leaders are on edge following the Aug. 12 white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, that turned deadly.
Gibson said the group would hold a press conference at 2:00 p.m. at Alamo Park in the city to talk about what led up to the decision to cancel the event. He called on Mayor Lee to provide security against left-wing militants and anti-fascists, or Antifa.
“These Antifa thugs, these kids who dress in all black, they constantly put police officers lives in danger, our lives in danger, liberal lives in danger if they get in their way or speak out against them,” said Gibson Friday afternoon.
Local counter-protesters have organized numerous actions this weekend to oppose the event in Crissy Field, as well as the No to Marxism in America rally scheduled for 1 p.m. Sunday in Berkeley’s Martin Luther King Jr. Park.
Some San Francisco officials spoke out against the sudden change in plans by Patriot Prayer.
State Senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) said that the group “showed its true colors by canceling, at the last minute, its permitted rally at Crissy Field and scheduling an illegal unpermitted rally at Alamo Square.”
San Francisco mayor Ed Lee and police chief Bill Scott, along with other San Francisco officials addressed the cancellation early Friday evening.
Lee said that, despite organizers saying it’s called off, they have not canceled the event in writing so the city is proceeding as though the event is still happening.
“We don’t trust this group. I never have from the beginning,” Lee said.
The mayor also urged people not to show up at the news conference the group plans to hold at Alamo Square Park, instead of the waterfront rally, and he said that police would be at both sites.
Lee apologized to residents about the disruption the protest was going to create this weekend.
“We’re going to do our best to make sure that everybody is safe,” said the Mayor. “This is still fluid, but we’ll do everything we can responsibly and will try to recoup all these costs and try to do right by our taxpayers.”
Police Chief Scott confirmed that no permit had been granted for Alamo Square and noted that guns are not allowed on city property.
“If we detect that there are weapons in the park, we can take action and will take action,” said Scott.
It was not immediately clear how Saturday’s cancellation will affect events organized by counter-protesters.
The Patriot Prayer rally at Crissy Field would have given the group a backdrop of the Golden Gate Bridge.
By holding a news conference at Alamo Square Park, now they will be standing in one of the most recognizable neighborhoods in San Francisco in front of the city’s famed “Painted Ladies.”
Earlier Friday, hundreds of people rallied raucously and danced against hate in front of City Hall in San Francisco.
People held signs that read “Unite Against Hate” and cheered religious and elected officials who took the microphone to speak of love and champion diversity in a city that famously prides itself as a sanctuary for gays, minorities and people who are in the country illegally.
Hip-hop artist MC Hammer, who grew up across the bay in Oakland, railed against the hate that killed leaders in the 1960s, including President John F. Kennedy and Malcolm X.
Gibson said the group would be also be present at the anti-Marxist rally in Berkeley Sunday.
“I can tell you for a fact that Berkeley is going to happen, so we’re excited to go into Berkeley,” said Gibson. “We’re going to put our effort and our resources into Berkeley. We’re extremely excited about that. Berkeley is a better situation because we don’t feel like we’re walking into a trap.”
But about two hours after the Crissy Field rally was canceled, the organizer of “No to Marxism in America” announced that her planned rally on Sunday in Berkeley was also cancelled.
Organizer Andrea Cummings said she is concerned for the safety of the people who might come to the event.
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