Updated Wednesday 3:48 p.m.
The National Park Service is approving a far-right “free speech” rally at Crissy Field planned for Saturday, according to a statement from the acting general superintendent of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area.
The statement from Cicely Muldoon cites the National Park Service’s “long and proud tradition of being the site of peaceful expressions of people’s views under the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.”
San Francisco city leaders were joined by state and national representatives last week in urging the National Park Service to reject the rally hosted by the Portland-based group Patriot Prayer, in the wake of a day of deadly violence on Aug. 12 in Charlottesville, Virginia, during and after a right-wing protest against removing a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee.
“The shameful, anti-American trend of hate-filled extremist rallies will unfortunately be allowed to continue this weekend in our city,” San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee said in a written statement. “Since the beginning of this process, we have repeatedly stated that the public safety of San Francisco residents and visitors is our top priority. With the event now officially permitted, the San Francisco Police Department is working with the Golden Gate National Recreation Area and the United States Park Police on a comprehensive public safety plan.”
That includes a long list of banned items, according to Lee’s office. The National Park Service confirmed that firearms will not be allowed within the rally’s “permitted area,” but did not confirm the rest of the list.
Plans for public safety around the rally also include a massive police presence, including local law enforcement and the U.S. Park Police.
“You will see a very, very large presence of officers at Crissy Field, as well as other parts of the city,” SFPD Chief William Scott said at a press conference on Wednesday. “Just be assured you will see large amounts of officers.”
The head of Patriot Prayer has repeatedly denied his organization involves white nationalism, white supremacy or other bigoted ideologies. However, the organization has ties to militias that frequently show up armed to white supremacist events, and has featured white nationalist speakers.
The group says its “Freedom Rally” in San Francisco will be different, though.
“No extremists will be allowed in,” the group posted on Facebook. “No Nazis, Communist, KKK, Antifa, white supremacist, I.E., or white nationalists.”
The post goes on to state that prominent leaders of white nationalist organizations, Richard Spencer and Nathan Damigo, will not attend. Patriot Prayer head Joey Gibson told the San Francisco Examiner last week that a member of Damigo’s organization, Identity Evropa, will be in attendance, though.
That’s in addition to Kyle Chapman, known as “Based Stickman” and the “Alt-Knight,” who brawled with protesters in Berkeley on March 4. Chapman was charged with felony possession of a weapon, a leaded stick, last week and is scheduled to be arraigned in Alameda County Superior Court on Friday.
U.S. Rep. and Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi criticized the park service’s issuance of the permit for what she called a “white supremacist rally at Crissy Field.”
“In San Francisco, we have great reverence for the Constitutional right to dissent and peaceful free speech,” Pelosi said in a written statement. “However, free speech does not grant the right to yell fire in a crowded theater, incite violence or endanger the public in any venue.”
With no hope of heading off the rally with red tape, Lee echoed statements of Berkeley’s mayor about an extreme right-wing, anti-Communist protest planned for that city on Sunday: Stay away.
“Do not engage with the members of this group, whose only priority is to incite violence through divisive rhetoric,” Lee’s statement says. “Instead of dignifying their display of hatred, we ask that residents join peaceful gatherings taking place at the Civic Center Plaza on Friday and Saturday at 12 p.m.”
Board of Supervisors President London Breed encouraged San Franciscans to find something else to do this weekend.
“Avoid the Crissy Field area,” she said at a press conference on Wednesday. “It is important we don’t dignify these people with a response.”
The National Park Service is also permitting counterdemonstrations related to the Patriot Prayer event. It approved a Friday candlelight vigil and press conference at Crissy Field, and two counterprotests Saturday at Ocean Beach.
Ted Goldberg, Tara Siler and John Sepulvado of KQED News contributed to this report.