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Right-wing Groups Cancel San Francisco Free Speech Rallies

  • VOA News

A woman holds up a sign at a rally in San Francisco, Aug. 25, 2017, ahead of politically conservative rallies scheduled this weekend.

The leaders of right-wing and anti-Marxist groups scheduled to hold rallies in the San Francisco Bay Area Saturday have called the events off.

Joey Gibson, founder of the group Patriot Prayer, announced Friday that the speakers initially scheduled to speak at Crissy Field in the city's Presidio national park area will now be featured at a news conference.

The announced location of the news conference, Alamo Square, is in the center of town -- far from the bayside park where the rally was planned.

When he cancelled the so-called “free speech” rally, Gibson said his followers would instead attend an anti-Marxist rally in Berkeley Sunday, but the organizer of that rally called it off a short time later.

FILE - Joey Gibson speaks during a rally in support of free speech April 27, 2017, in Berkeley, California.
FILE - Joey Gibson speaks during a rally in support of free speech April 27, 2017, in Berkeley, California.

Fears of violence

Gibson made the announcement on the group's Facebook feed. He said group leaders had changed their plans because of fears that violent protesters would disrupt the rally. He also said speakers and musicians expected to appear at the rally had undergone harassment.

Will Johnson, another event organizer, called on city officials to denounce the counterprotesters, saying, "They are bringing the violence."

With the rally canceled, it is unclear whether extensive closures in the Presidio park will continue through the weekend. The park service was planning on shutting down public access to parking lots, bike paths, dog-walking areas, restaurants, museums, and even a bowling alley in the park.

San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee had urged area residents to boycott the rally, after failing to convince the National Park Service to deny the group an event permit.

Patriot Prayer's organizer Joey Gibson, has said the group is neither racist nor neo-Nazi. But critics, including local U.S. Representative Nancy Pelosi, called the gathering a white nationalist rally. Counterprotesters also planned to gather at Crissy Field on Saturday, setting the stage for possible violence.

The weekend's events kicked off on Friday with a Unite Against Hate rally at the San Francisco Civic Center.

FILE - In this Nov. 25, 2014, photo, bicyclists ride past Crissy Field near the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. Federal authorities have approved a politically conservative group's application to hold a rally at Crissy Field in San Francisco on Aug. 26, 2017.
FILE - In this Nov. 25, 2014, photo, bicyclists ride past Crissy Field near the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. Federal authorities have approved a politically conservative group's application to hold a rally at Crissy Field in San Francisco on Aug. 26, 2017.

Competing rallies

Still scheduled Saturday is a unity rally in the city's Castro District, historic headquarters of San Francisco's gay community. Other groups are sponsoring counterevents centered on dance, flowers, boats and a even a "heart-shaped human banner."

Opponents of the right-wing groups are still planning to gather at Berkeley's civic center and also on the campus at the University of California Berkeley on Sunday.

On the East Coast Monday, the Rev. Al Sharpton is organizing the One Thousand Ministers March for Justice in Washington, D.C.

More than 1,000 religious leaders from multiple faiths will hold a rally in front of the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial, which is located along the Tidal Basin on the southwest side of the National Mall.

The march also commemorates the 54th anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, where Dr. King delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech. More than 200,000 people took part in that march, which was held August 28, 1963.

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