Hundreds of demonstrators turn out in San Francisco to denounce white supremacists – Los Angeles Times
Hundreds of protesters were in a celebratory mood across San Francisco on Saturday afternoon, claiming victory over a far-right group that had canceled a rally near the Golden Gate Bridge and a subsequent news conference in the face of large-scale resistance.
Droves of counter-demonstrators, anti-fascists and other protesters filled the streets around Alamo Square Park, then marched through the Mission District with blaring party music as they fired off chants in opposition to the Trump administration, white supremacy and the violence that plagued Charlottesville, Va., during a rally earlier this month.
“We defeated hate,” one man shouted as the march came to an end around 3 p.m. on Mission Street.
San Francisco officials had been concerned that violence could break out, as it has in the Bay Area before, between far-right and anti-fascist activists after the group Patriot Prayer announced a Saturday rally at Crissy Field. Joey Gibson, the lead organizer of the event and founder of Patriot Prayer, said Friday that he was canceling the rally out of fear of threats of violent retaliation by anti-fascist protesters. He then scheduled a news conference at Alamo Square Park for Saturday afternoon, but that too was canceled when city officials blocked access to the park.
Ultimately, Gibson ended up holding a news conference in Daly City with Kyle Chapman, the far-right activist and veteran of violent Bay Area protests known as “Based Stickman.” The two railed against the media and politicians, saying those forces combined to create unsafe circumstances for Gibson’s event.
Sgt. Michael Andraychak, a spokesman for the San Francisco Police Department, said Friday that his agency had not developed any information about specific threats against Gibson’s event. Late Saturday, police said they had made only one arrest for public intoxication.
Gibson has denounced white supremacists and urged white nationalist figures, including Richard Spencer, to stay away from his event. But Gibson’s past Patriot Prayer events in Seattle and in Portland, Ore., have attracted white supremacists and violent individuals, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center. Jeremy Christian, a man accused of stabbing two people to death on a Portland train after they tried to stop him from harassing Muslim women, attended one of Gibson’s events, the center has said.
On Saturday morning, dozens of demonstrators shouting, “Let us in,” and holding signs that read, “Resist the right,” stood at the intersection of Fell and Steiner streets near the entrance to Alamo Square Park, surrounding a few dozen city police officers on motorcycles wearing riot helmets.
One protester wearing a “Black Lives Matter” shirt, who said he was a teacher but asked not to be identified, said the demonstration was about making white supremacists feel unwelcome in San Francisco.
“We’re here to stand up to white supremacy. This is just one day,” the man said. “There’s white supremacy in our everyday lives.”
“This is a victory rally!” shouted another demonstrator as he clutched a microphone, speaking to hundreds near the park. “This is a victory over white supremacy.”
The crowd appeared to have completely overtaken the area where Gibson’s news conference was to have been held.
Many said they felt moved to march despite the rally’s cancellation in order to send a message that far-right groups, including the white supremacists and neo-Nazis in Virginia earlier this month, would not be tolerated in San Francisco.
“We thought it was important to put our bodies on the line,” said Kelly Schultz, from nearby Richmond. “I don’t really have an opinion on what they’re doing, but I thought it was important to be out here against it.”
London Breed, president of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, announced Saturday morning that Alamo Square Park would be closed to the public.
In a live broadcast streamed on the online site Periscope, Gibson complained about how San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) and the media had unfairly lumped his group in with white supremacists and therefore made it difficult to stage a rally. He also criticized officials for not calling out the violent acts of anti-fascist protesters, also known as antifa, at other rallies.
“Do you stand with antifa or not? Ask your mayor. Ask Nancy Pelosi. They’re using them as tools,” Gibson said. “They’re afraid to speak out against them.”
He also apologized to those who had planned to attend the Freedom Rally.
“I want to say sorry to everyone who bought tickets, paid for gas and drove 16 hours to come down here,” Gibson said. “It was not an easy decision. I know many people were disappointed.”
He added that he canceled the rally because of concerns that participants would face violence from counter-protesters.
“It felt like a setup,” he said.
In the same broadcast, Chapman, who got his “Based Stickman” nickname after he was filmed battling anti-facists with a shield and staff in Berkeley earlier this year, said he thinks far-right groups should take a hiatus from organizing rallies in progressive cities.
“I think the best game plan moving forward is for us to take a break on rallies within liberal enclaves like Berkeley and San Francisco,” he said. “Let’s let the wind out of their sails that they got via Charlottesville.
“You know, strategies change,” he added. “Unfortunately, Charlottesville has changed a lot of things.”
The Times has repeatedly published Gibson’s contentions that his group was not affiliated with white supremacists, and his comments that the list of speakers for the Freedom Rally included a black man and a transgender woman. Chapman ignored requests for comment from The Times and suggested reporters could “go to hell” in a Twitter tirade earlier this week.
Under close watch of U.S. Park Police, about two dozen demonstrators marched through Crissy Field, about three miles from Alamo Square, on Saturday afternoon with banners and chants against President Trump.
The demonstrators paid little mind to Terri Spencer and her companion, who wore a Trump/Pence cap.
Spencer, 53, a Bay Area resident, said she had planned to go to the Freedom Rally “to support our friends.”
When it was canceled, she showed up anyway to follow the counter-protest march.
“It is just misguided hate,” she said. “They will attack us for wearing red, white and blue. I just want this country to be united, you know, like it used to be.”
“I don’t care if I’m listened to,” said Quincy Antello from Portland, who wore a “Black Baby Lives Matter” T-shirt. He said he came for the Freedom Rally just to exercise his right to speak.
Hours later, Gibson and a handful of other Freedom Rally supporters turned up at Crissy Field, where they were met by dozens of counter-protesters.
Shouting matches broke out among the rival groups.
Kathryn Townsend, one of the original organizers and speakers for Freedom Rally, said she wanted to make sure that she had a presence in the park even though the rally was canceled
“Our event was from 2 to 5, and I determined that I would be here from 2 to 5,” she said. “It’s really cool. A lot of people are here.”
At one point, Townsend walked up to a man in a red “Make America Great Again” cap and asked him to lower his voice as he shouted at a counter-demonstrator.