‘Victory’: Thousands protest far right in San Francisco

Anti-racist demonstrators take to the streets despite rally cancellation by the right-wing Patriot Prayer group.

People march as part of a counter protest to a cancelled right-wing rally in San Francisco
People march as part of a counter-protest to a cancelled right-wing rally in San Francisco, California. [Elijah Nouvelage/Reuters]

More than a thousand people have protested a right-wing group in the US city of San Francisco, condemning white supremacy and bigotry.

The protesters showed up to Alamo Square Park on Saturday despite the cancellation of a rally and press conference by the right-wing Patriot Prayer group after officials walled off the area.

“Right now, this is victory,” protester Benjamin Sierra told The Associated Press.

“They did not have enough gumption to do what they set out to do,” he said.

On Friday, Joey Gibson, the leader of Patriot Prayer, cancelled the so-called Freedom Rally over fears of a “huge riot”.

He said the group would instead hold a press conference on Saturday in Alamo Square Park.

READ MORE: ‘Adopt a Nazi’: How groups are countering neo-Nazis and white supremacists 

But after police erected a fence around the park earlier in the day on Saturday to screen people as they entered, Gibson announced the event would be held indoors at a different location.

According to local media, Gibson eventually showed up to Crissy Field, the site of the originally scheduled rally, with about two dozen supporters.

They were eventually confronted by counterprotesters before leaving the area.

The Patriot Prayer leader has recently denounced white supremacy, but the group’s rallies in the past have attracted white supremacists, neo-Nazis, Ku Klux Klan (KKK) members and others from a number of right-wing organisations, leading to violent confrontations with counterprotesters. 

Many activists and rights groups have said Patriot Prayer seeks to provoke chaos and violence, especially because it often chooses to hold areas in more liberal communities.

‘Whose streets? Our streets’

A number of politicians, both at the local and national level, repeatedly voiced concerns that the previously scheduled event by the Patriot Prayer group would lead to clashes with counterprotesters.

The San Francisco Bay Area is considered a cradle for freedom of speech and police in San Francisco have traditionally given demonstrators a wide berth.

However, after a man with links to a white supremacist group rammed his car into a crowd of anti-racist protesters, killing a 32-year-old woman in Charlottesville, Virginia earlier this month, San Francisco police and civil leaders began to rethink their response to protests.

Gibson criticised the city’s move to wall off the park as an attempt to silence his group’s message.

READ MORE: Campuses, cities reject far right after Charlottesville

But the city’s mayor, Ed Lee, defended the decision, saying that “if people want to have a stage in San Francisco, they better have a message that contributes to people’s lives rather than find ways to hurt them”.

Outside Alamo Square Park, protesters chanted, “Whose streets? Our streets” as they waved signs denouncing hate and bigotry.

More than a thousand others took to the streets in the city’s Castro neighbourhood.

Hundreds had also protested on Friday under the banner “United Against Hate”. 

“San Francisco as a whole, we are a liberal city and this is not a place for hate or any sort of bigotry of any kind,” protester Bianca Harris said.

“I think it’s a really powerful message that we’re sending to people who come here to try to spew messages of hate that it’s just not welcome in this city.”

Online, many used #NoHateInTheBay, #SFrally and #UniteAgainstHate to condemn white supremacy and racism.

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies