White Supremacists Run, Hide and Play Media Games in San Francisco

The organizers of Saturday's canceled Patriot Prayer rally in San Francisco spent the day trying to become right-wing media stars.


Starting at noon, they broadcast conflicting messages from their Facebook pages. First, they canceled a 2pm press conference at a well-known city park, slammed city officials for suppressing their speech, and said they would tell the media where they could secretly meet them later.

Hours later, despite all their pronouncements that they had nothing to do with white supremacists and that they eschewed violence, the lead organizer of Saturday's rally, Joey Gibson, was onscreen next to a notorious right-winger, Kyle Chapman. Chapman was charged with attacking counter-protesters with a bat at an anti-Trump rally in Berkeley in March. 

The first live video showed a split screen with Patriot Prayer organizer Will Johnson, alternately saying he thinks he's being taken off the air by Facebook while rejecting accusations that he affiliates with white supremacists. In the other panel was Gabriel Silva, driving a van through what appeared to be the streets of San Francisco while passengers pointed out signs that said "Resist Hate" and laughing at them.

"We want to make sure that the truth gets out," Johnson rambled on. "The truth has to get out. They are calling a black person, a Mexican person and a Japanese person and a female white supremacists when it is completely a lie. And if anyone believes that they might want to get checked out."

Johnson and his right-wing brethren are either deeply uninformed individuals playing a dangerous game, or immature egomaniacs seeking to become right-wing celebrities by trying to taunt a city. Sadly, it appears these right-wingers are all naive, attention-seeking jerks. As the San Francisco Chronicle reported in an rolling updated blog, the city has been scurrying to deploy its entire police force on Saturday to defuse tensions as this cadre dangled its latest provocations and counter-protesters reacted.

The right-wingers scheduled and canceled a press conference at Alamo Square Park, a popular tourist vista, after the city put up fencing before dawn closing the park. They said they would later speak to the press in a "private" press conference from a location "not to be disclosed." 

As the Chronicle noted, Patriot Prayer events have attracted many armed white supremacists similar to the marchers in Charlottesville. The paper reported that some white power symathizers showed up at Crissy Field, part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, where their planned rally had been canceled. (Johnson said they were anti-fascist activists in disguise.)

The Crissy Field organizers apparently chose that location because federal parkland is an open-carry zone, where guns can be displayed; in contrast to a city and state with strong gun control laws. When the National Park Service issued its permit for the event, it banned all guns, ammunition, sprays, and anything else that could used as be a weapon.

Meanwhile, before the Crissy Field rally was canceled Friday, San Francisco City Hall responded by organizing several dozen alternative events to promote peace and justice. The city also mobilized its entire police force to track and diffuse possible confrontations between the right-wingers and the counter-protesters. Hundreds of counter-protesters swamped city streets near Alamo Square, the Chronicle reported, and police urged them to go to a nearby plaza for a peace rally and concert. 

As these actions unfolded on the streets, the Patriot Prayer organizers slammed local officials on Facebook, using a live feed to broadcast their comments (even as they accused Facebook of censoring them). In response, they received support from conservatives from across California and the country. 

"So sad. Never thought I'd see the day when American patriots are deemed hate because they freaking love America. Sad. Keep strong and keep speaking truth," wrote one commenter. 

"It doesn't matter, Will. That's the ONLY ammunition progressive liberals have to combat FACTS. They label dissenting opinions 'racist,' those who have them 'white supremacists,' and attempt to shut them down. Damn shame this is what our country has become," wrote another fan of the white supremacists. 

These right-wingers don't know much about the First Amendment. It does not entitle citizens to say anything at any time and place. Every first-year law student learns the First Amendment has reasonable "time, place and manner" restrictions. To cite a cliche, you can't yell fire in a crowded theater and claim it's protected speech. Similarly, you cannot take a protest march from the streets into a federal courthouse.

The Patriot Prayer provocateurs are pushing the limits of these time, place and mannner thresholds. They are prompting the city police to track them, close city parks, divert bus and transit lines, and monitor counter-protests. This is not a game, not after the white power-sparked violence in Charlottesville. Somehow, they think their antics are patriotic and that any ensuing chaos left in their wake is not their fault.

If anything, their inability to march in public without props like guns and military-style uniforms has cut them down to size. They have retreated to the insides of vans and shuttered apartments, where they are broadcasting via the safety of the internet as opposed to standing on the streets of a city they've taunted.        

Just before 2pm, Crissy Field rally organizer Joey Gibson broadcast an "interview" on his Facebook page. He was seated in an apartment beside Kyle Chapman, who faces charges in state court for engaging in violent brawls in Berkeley during pro-Trump and alt-right rallies in March and was ordered by a judge to stay away from further planned protests.

"Often times when you incite this type of hatred within liberals they have no ability to filter their emotions and they act out violently," said Chapman, as if nobody had seen the video of him maniacally swinging a bat at counter-demonstrators in Berkeley. 

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