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San Francisco and Berkeley brace for politically-charged rallies

Posted August 25

San Francisco and Berkeley aren't rolling out the welcome mats for two controversial rallies scheduled for this weekend. In fact, officials are urging residents and the public to stay away from the events.

The liberal Bay Area cities are bracing for a "Freedom Rally" in San Francisco on Saturday and a "No to Marxism in America" event in nearby Berkeley on Sunday.

Organizers from both events have said they don't promote hate speech and that extremists, KKK, Nazis and white supremacists aren't welcome at their events. Nevertheless, San Francisco and Berkeley officials are worried that the two events could attract extremists and spark violent confrontations.

In an effort to prevent violence, officials have included weapons on a list of nearly 30 banned items from the San Francisco event. They're also blocking cars, bikes and parking near Crissy Field, where the Freedom Rally is scheduled.

Wary of the demonstrations, some Bay Area residents are getting creative in showing their opposition. Counter events -- from planning dances, distributing flowers to convening clowns -- have popped up. One Facebook page is even encouraging dog owners to have their pets poop at the park before the Saturday event begins -- and to clean up the mess together the next day.

SF politicians lash out against Patriot Prayer

"People with hate-filled messages are coming into our city to wreak havoc," said San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee, concerning the event organized by the group, Patriot Prayer.

"I ask people to avoid going to Crissy Field and engaging with members of Patriot Prayer, because that's precisely what they wish us to do," he said in a press conference this week. "I don't want to dignify their message of hate in our city of love and compassion."

It's a characterization that Patriot Prayer's founder Joey Gibson vehemently disputes. Gibson said in a Facebook video that the event is not a white supremacist rally and that the event will feature diverse speakers of color.

Gibson said in Facebook videos that he's been unfairly painted as a white supremacist by politicians when he is himself a person of color.

He said the event is for moderates and a way to bring together people who believe in free speech and a way "to build a healthy culture to stand against against antifa, Communists, white supremacists, Nazis."

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi described the Patriot Prayer event as a "white supremacist rally in the middle of a park for families and children."

"We must all pray it does not become an invitation to incite violence," the California Democrat said in a statement.

Gibson suggested that the San Francisco leaders should instead calm the city down.

"It's not a white supremacist rally," Gibson said in a Facebook video. "Let's not freak out. Let's not have a meltdown. Let's not have violence. Let's calm down."

The event page on Facebook states: "No extremists will be allowed in. No Nazis, Communist, KKK, Antifa, white supremacist, I.E., or white nationalists. This is an opportunity for moderate Americans to come in with opposing views. We will not allow the extremists to tear apart this country."

Gibson is not listed as an extremist by the Southern Poverty Law Center.

Patriot Prayer organized a controversial Portland rally that came nine days after a deadly, racially charged stabbing on a commuter train. That "Trump Free Speech" rally resulted in arrests and officers deploying pepper spray. The group has also held events in places like Seattle and Olympia, Washington.

"Patriot Prayer has always been about going into these areas where people are too afraid to speak out and speak up. It's not about going into liberal areas -- even though they are liberal areas. It's about going into the intolerant areas, the hateful areas," he said in his Facebook video entitled "What is Patriot Prayer?"

He called Portland an intolerant city.

How San Francisco is preparing

Despite opposition from the city of San Francisco, Patriot Prayer received a permit from the National Park Service to hold the event.

"We cannot deny a permit to anyone planning to exercise their First Amendment rights based on their political stance or beliefs," the NPS stated.

But the permit came with a long list of conditions: No guns, ammo, weapons, shields, sticks, pressurized canisters, mace, helmets and more will be allowed into the event. They've limited the size of backpacks and signs that people can carry into the park.

Officials appeared to be borrowing from Boston's playbook. Police there banned weapons, flagpoles and other items during last weekend's rally and counterprotests.

Berkeley braces for another event

Across the bay in Berkeley, officials are preparing for an event being called "No to Marxism in America" at the Martin Luther King Jr. Civic Center Park.

Although the city denied a permit to the group, officials are anticipating thousands to descend on Berkeley this weekend.

This year, politically-charged events have spiraled into violence in the famously liberal college town, including a "Patriot Day" rally in April and protests that erupted at UC Berkeley before a speech by Milo Yiannopoulos in February.

Sunday's event, which starts at 1 p.m., is being held off campus.

The event is in protest of Marxism and the teaching of it at schools like UC Berkeley, according to organizer, Amber Gwen Cummings.

"Berkeley is a ground zero for the Marxist Movement," the Facebook page for the event says, adding that Cummings doesn't want "any racist groups like the KKK, Neo Nazis, or any form of racist groups. You are not welcome at this event and please stay away."

Cummings described herself as a "transsexual female who embraces diversity" and said the event is not about hate speech.

Despite Cummings' statement, Berkeley mayor Jesse Arreguin told reporters that there are indications on social media that white supremacist and neo-Nazi groups intend to come.

He said that such groups "are using her protest as a platform to spout their hate and hatred against Muslims, immigrants, Latinos and the LGBT community as well."

"They're using her event as a platform... to invade our city and to physically clash with people they don't agree with," he told reporters earlier this week.

Berkeley city officials passed a temporary rule to give police more power to ban weapons.

"When you come dressed as a soldier with helmet, shield, weapons -- when you have flagpoles that you fashion as a spear, as a weapon -- you're not interested in free speech. You want a clash. You want a brawl, violent provocation. That's what we're working to prevent," Arreguin said. "We will not tolerate any violence on any side, left or right."

Counterprotests planned

Despite officials' pleas for counterprotesters to stay away from the rallies, some are planning to demonstrate against them.

"We don't have an option to not fight back," said Tur-Ha Ak of the Anti-Police Terror Project and Community Ready Core to CNN affiliate KGO. "We're not advocating violence, but we are saying you have to fight. So fight from where you stand. You choose the method, but fight."

Both Berkeley and San Francisco have planned counter-events at different locations, starting with a rally against hate at San Francisco City Hall on Friday.

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