- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 27, 2017

Joey Gibson of the group Patriot Prayer had planned to hold a peaceful rally with a diverse array of speakers, but ultimately opposition from House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, other San Francisco Democrats and the antifa movement proved too much.

Mr. Gibson cancelled the Freedom Rally before it was scheduled to begin Saturday at Crissy Field in San Francisco, saying he feared it would erupt into a “huge riot” fueled by radical activists from antifa and By Any Means Necessary.

“It was the best thing to do for the city because the way it was set up is that a lot of innocent people were going to get hurt,” Mr. Gibson said during a press conference on Facebook Live. “That’s a fact. A bunch of supporters, a bunch of antifa communists, normal liberals would have all been mixed together. It would have been a huge riot, and it would have been a disaster.”

A separate right-of-center event slated for Sunday in Berkeley called “No to Marxism in America” also was cancelled by organizers over fears of violence.

San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee had urged residents instead to attend a rally at Civic Center Plaza, and thousands did, holding a “unite against hate” march while carrying anti-Trump signs and an enormous rainbow banner that said, “Rise and Resist!”

At a Saturday press conference, Mr. Lee applauded the counterprotesters, who “made sure that the face of love and compassion dominated over hate speech and inciting of violence.”

Ms. Pelosi had called on the National Park Service to reconsider Patriot Prayer’s permit, describing the event as a “white supremacist rally.”

“Reason has prevailed because the people of San Francisco have demonstrated our determination to protect the freedom of peaceful expression as well as public safety,” Ms. Pelosi said Saturday in a statement to the Mercury News.

But Mr. Gibson accused San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee and Ms. Pelosi of stoking unrest by labeling the event as a white supremacy fest, even though most of the scheduled speakers were not white and Mr. Gibson himself is half-Asian.

“To call us white supremacists made San Francisco way more dangerous,” Mr. Gibson said.

He also accused Democrats of hypocrisy on protester violence: “You have a mayor who says that we’re hateful, we’re violent, he doesn’t bring up any specific examples, but he doesn’t mention one word about antifa. Not one word.”

The rally was billed as a “day of freedom, spirituality, unity, peace, and patriotism,” and Mr. Gibson gave assurances on Facebook beforehand that “no extremists will be allowed in,” including Nazis, anti-fascists (antifa), the Ku Klux Klan and white nationalists.

Even so, he said he was being menaced Saturday by antifa and By Any Means Necessary activists who followed the Patriot Prayer organizers and used Twitter to announce their whereabouts.

“Basically all day, this is what it’s going to be like,” he said. “We’re going from spot to spot trying to hide from people who dress like ninjas, who run around, they want to burn stuff down, they want to commit violence, they want to use bike locks, they want to use clubs with nails through them.”

He did turn up later in the day at various locations, including Crissy Field, to speak to small bands of supporters, according to SFGate.

Mr. Gibson, who lives in Vancouver, Washington, started Patriot Prayer earlier this year to support President Trump, but has since placed the emphasis on fighting extremism on the left and the right in order to promote peace and unity.

His rallies in Portland and Seattle have attracted members of white-nationalist groups like Identity Evropa, which Mr. Gibson said he has tried to discourage.

The Southern Poverty Law Center, which does not list Patriot Prayer as a hate group, has criticized the rallies for drawing the “alt-right” while crediting Mr. Gibson for speaking out against white supremacists and neo-Nazis.

“At the end of the day, I just want a small government, and then there will be no tyrants,” Mr. Gibson said. “And we will be free people in a free society who can respect one another.”

• Valerie Richardson can be reached at vrichardson@washingtontimes.com.

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