A right-wing group canceled its San Francisco rally. Counterprotesters showed up anyway. – Washington Post

 In U.S.
Hundreds of counterprotesters poured into the streets of San Francisco to make their voices heard, after a canceled free speech rally that city leaders had feared could turn violent. (Reuters)

Scuffles broke out on the streets of San Francisco after hundreds of people descended on the city to protest a now-canceled event by a right-wing group, according to media reports.

Organizers canceled the “Freedom Rally” as city leaders braced for the kind of protest that drew extremist groups to Charlottesville, Virginia earlier this month. The pro-Trump group Patriot Prayer then planned to hold a news conference instead — but that, too, did not happen after the city blocked the venue from the public. Meanwhile, hundreds of counterprotesters gathered at a San Francisco park on Saturday morning, according to media reports.

Organizers of the “Freedom Rally” 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 was scheduled 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. “The rhetoric from Nancy Pelosi, Mayor [Ed] Lee, the media, all these people are saying that we’re white supremacists and is 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.”

After canceling the Crissy Field event, Gibson said his group planned to hold a news conference Saturday afternoon at Alamo Square Park to “talk about some of the rhetoric in San Francisco.” But the city, suspicious of the group’s intentions, on Saturday morning built fences around the park, CBS affiliate KCBS reported. Gibson then wrote on Facebook he will hold an “indoor news conference” and show up at “random spots” in the city to talk to residents.

Counterprotesters later showed up at Alamo Square Park, where minor scuffles broke out between them and police officers, the San Francisco Chronicle reported. Some demanded to be allowed past police barricades. They chanted, “Let us in!” and, “Our streets!”

Tensions between Gibson’s group and city officials have been brewing over the past several days. Mayor Ed 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 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 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 witnesses in recent months, these types of rallies can quickly turn hateful and violent with tragic consequences,” the letter said, according to KCBS.

Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said in a statement Wednesday she had “grave concerns about the public safety hazard” tied with the “white supremacist rally.” In a letter last week to Park Service officials, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) 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 Patriot Prayer has relinquished its rally permit, but he said law enforcement officials are 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 Patriot Prayer has neither requested nor obtained a permit to hold an event at Alamo Square Park. “I want to reinforce that existing San Francisco law prohibits firearms and weapons in city parks. Those who seek to commit acts of violence or damage property will be arrested and prosecuted.”

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.

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