Originally, a moderate conservative group known as Patriot Prayer had organized a protest in Crissy Field. However, in light of the recent events in Charlottesville, Va. in which an anti-white supremacist protest left protester Heather D. Heyer dead, the group decided to host a press conference instead to avoid potential violence.
“Over what’s transpired over the last week, we couldn’t ensure the safety of all of the attendees,” said protest organizer Gabriel Silva in a Facebook livestream.
Silva added that he felt a propagation of fear from Mayor Ed Lee and California Representative Nancy Pelosi.
“I think [Lee and Pelosi] just really called a lot of the extremists to come out [and exercise their right to freedom of speech] and we weren’t given the proper security measures to be able to control who comes to it and who doesn’t,” Silva said. “Intermingling of protesters [against the rally] and rally-goers would be a horrible, horrible idea. It would lead to nothing but casualties and possibly death. We’re doing the right thing right now. We’re stepping up the the plate.”
Though Patriot Prayer does not identify as a white supremacist group or an alt-right group, it has gained support from organizations such as the Oath Keepers — a non-partisan association of current and formerly serving military, police — and first responders, whose mission is to “defend the Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic.” Associations with such groups have lead people to label Patriot Prayer as a white supremacist group.
“Patriot prayer is about going into these areas where people are too afraid to speak out and speak up,” said group leader Joey Gibson.
Gibson added that Patriot Prayer was not a hate group.
In response to the press conference held in Alamo Square, people assembled throughout different neighborhoods in San Francisco to protest the conservative group.
“The overwhelming displays of racism and hatred across the country has only really been allowed to exist because of people being silent for so long,” said protest attendee Queenie Olalo. “I think that it’s really important, that if we don’t want this to continue and we don’t want this to be the new normal, that we stand up and we come, we show up and we support each other.”
Amid the various rallies against Patriot Prayer in San Francisco, a large group assembled on Castro Street to listen to different community leaders speak. Sam Modest, a teacher from San Francisco, attended to set an example for his students.
“I want to model for my students what citizenship looks like, and what active citizenship looks like,” Modest said. “I’m also someone who’s from primarily dominant groups. I’m white, I’m privileged. . . and therefore I feel a great responsibility to use that privilege towards good.”
Though some locals celebrated that the Patriot Prayer rally was cancelled, Modest does not see this as something to be celebrated.
“Personally, I see it as a strategic move and not necessarily a pure victory on our side which I think some people are saying,” Modest said. “To me, it seems like a strategic move to try to have their rally without as much disruption, but also potentially create a rally that could result in more violence. . . so I saw it as a pretty irresponsible decision.”
Similar to Modest’s opinions, many attendees felt that they had a responsibility to attend.
“I’m here today because I can be here,” said nurse practitioner Kathy Herr. “I’m here today because this country is important to me and so are all of our rights. . . I think it’s a really scary time.”
Though a rally in San Francisco was cancelled, another rally in Berkeley, Calif. held on Sunday resulted in violence and Gibson in the hospital.
In response to the news Gibson’s hospitalization, Silva made a livestream on Facebook.
“[This is] not what our movement needs,” Silva said. “We told everybody not to go to Berkeley today.”