Right-wing ‘Freedom Rally’ planned for Saturday in San Francisco

Justin Mutch,

Patriot Prayer, a Portland-based political and self-professed free speech organization has received approval from the National Park Service to hold a “Freedom Rally” at Chrissy Park in San Francisco on Saturday, Aug. 26.

Oath Keepers, a Las Vegas-based militia that the Southern Poverty Law Center describes as “one of the largest radical antigovernment groups in the US,” plans to attend, as well to offer extra security to local law enforcement.

City officials have decried the decision, claiming such rallies tend to attract violence from fringe extremist groups.“You are not welcome here,” San Francisco Board of Supervisors president London Breed warned. “Don’t come to San Francisco, we are going to do everything we can to stop you.”

City officials are concerned about potential violence from both protesters and counter protesters. Anti-fascist group Antifa established itself as a political force in the Bay Area in February when the group rioted at UC Berkeley to protest Breitbart columnist and far-right provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos’s scheduled speech at the university. UC Berkeley decided to cancel the event over concerns for safety.

Several other local politicians have publicly denounced the National Parks Service’s decision to allow the protest, including San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee, State Sen. Scott Wiener, and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi.

The event will be held just two weeks after a white supremacist rally turned deadly in Charlottesville, Va., where several extremist Alt-Right groups, neo-Nazis, and non hooded Klansmen gathered to protest the removal of a Robert E. Lee statue, a general who commanded the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia during the Civil War from 1862 to 1865.

Patriot Prayer did not attend the rally in Charlottesville, but held a rally in Seattle the following day, which was also planned before the attacks occurred. No injuries were reported in Seattle, and the event was described as mostly peaceful – though there were some harsh vocal exchanges, and a few counter-protesters were pepper sprayed by police.

The group is run by political activist Joey Gibson and routinely holds rallies and marches in Northwestern cities. “The message of Patriot Prayer is to promote freedom, love, unity, and respect,” Gibson told the Pioneer. “We invite everyone to come out and voice their beliefs. I just believe everyone has to come together and unite and be respectful.”

During the recent rally in Seattle, Gibson surprised many counter-protesters when he actively denounced white supremacists and neo-Nazis, reminding the crowd that he himself is a person of color.

Gibson has contradicted many of his claims of love and respect. For example, he has preached at rallies that Islam is not a religion, but an ideology. In the Facebook event description for the Patriot Prayer rally in Seattle, he claimed that “the West Coast has slowly been infected with communist ideologies,” and described major cities here as “liberal strongholds” that “run off of hate and negativity.” In an interview with SF Examiner, Gibson even went as far as calling downtown San Francisco “disgusting,” citing “the hate and the drugs” as the cause.

On whether he considers his group part of the Alt-Right, he told the Pioneer, “Absolutely not – no way. I’m not even a conservative,” he replied. “If you look at the people speaking at the rally, only one of them is a white male. But Nancy Pelosi went on social media and called me a white supremacist. She could stop [people from thinking that] if she just did a little research, and went back on [social media] and told everyone ‘sorry, I was wrong.’”

The day after the rally in San Francisco, there will be an Anti-Marxism rally in Berkeley. Gibson told us that he is not hosting that event, but will appear as a guest speaker.

Berkeley’s chapter of Antifa did not respond to a request for comment in regards to the upcoming rallies. Oath Keepers also did not respond to a request for comment.

When asked if he was concerned about the possible Antifa presence, Gibson replied: “Their intent is to scare. They just make threats, then run away and hide.”