Portland “alt-right” organizer in Bay Area
Thousands of people gathered around the San Francisco Bay area on the weekend of Aug. 25 to demonstrate in unity against recurring systemic racial oppression in the United States, more recently in Charlottesville, Virginia, two weeks prior.
Demonstrations began on Saturday, Aug. 26 near Alamo Square Park, a location selected after the cancellation of a planned rally at Crissy Field, where the city of SF originally approved a rally permit for Patriot Prayer organizer Joey Gibson. Gibson, based in Vancouver, WA, has made frequent appearances around the Portland metropolitan area and had planned an event in the SF area for the weekend, inviting PP members and other people affiliated with national white supremacist groups.
On Friday, Aug. 25, Gibson announced the cancellation of “Liberty Weekend” altogether in order to “avoid violence,” but maintained he would stay in the Bay area and make random public appearances to speak to SF citizens about PP’s cause and ideology.
Although Saturday’s event at Alamo Square was canceled along with the planned rally at the Berkeley Civic Center on Sunday, PP supporters still made appearances with Gibson and attracted the attention of groups such as By Any Means Necessary and SF Antifa, a reality Gibson was anticipating despite his claims to be avoiding violent retaliation.
The weekend’s counter rallies were predominantly organized by the Frisco Resistance, a group founded and organized within one week of PP’s planned events. FR united speakers from a plethora of established groups such as International Socialist Organization and San Francisco Against Hate.
One speaker, introduced as SF elementary school teacher Natalie, demanded attendees set the stage in protecting local youth from the violence of hate groups throughout the country.
“I’m standing here with my students,” Natalie said to a cheering crowd. “You can’t see them because in the city of San Francisco they rarely have a voice. They are rarely seen.”
“My students are Latino, they are black, they are Asian, they are white, and many of them are deaf and hard of hearing. And they earned this city with me today. I know it,” Natalie said. “I know that if they could be here, they would stand and say, ‘Fascists you are never welcome here!'”
While many rally speakers acknowledged PP as a factor for initiating the rally’s organization, multiples messages called for a unified resistance against agencies who oppress communities around the U.S. More specifically, the large spread of recent violence advocated by white supremacist groups and the long record of U.S. injustices systematically implemented and said to be supported by government figures.
One speaker described white supremacist groups being “emboldened by the Trump administration” and “Donald Trump himself, who says there are good people among neo-Nazis.”
“This is bullshit!” the speaker said as the crowd cheered in agreement. “That’s right. What he has done, [what] his administration has done, is sowed division among Muslims, queer people, black people, Latinos, women, everybody. And the new scene in the streets of Boston, and San Francisco, and tomorrow in Berkeley, is that we are united. We think solidarity can defeat hate!”
One of the last speakers to address the crowd before mobilizing reminded the crowd of their intentions with demonstrating in the city that day. “I want to say that yes, this is a victory! That we stood our ground!” the speaker said. “That we said in San Francisco…you cannot bring your white sheets and Nazi flags to our streets!”
Saturday’s march ended on Mission Street, where a long formation of SF Police officers waited to enforce the march’s mobility. Event speakers invited marchers to embrace one another and to continue the resistance against hate group activity in the community before presenting spoken word performances from local activists and artists.
“Berkeley at its best”
Both days of protest began with inviting speakers to condemn hate groups, advocate community unification and resistance to oppressive agencies.
While Saturday’s march was significantly longer and more widely attended, Sunday’s event in Berkeley garnered larger attention from local news organizations, social media users, and counter protester attendees prepared to forcibly remove Gibson and his cohorts after confirming their planned presence.
In attendance was retired Berkeley educator Bill Joyce, who watched marchers prepare for mobilization near the entrance of the University of California Berkeley’s campus.
The Vanguard asked Joyce what it was like to watch the day’s event unfold from an educator’s perspective. “I’m just really proud of the community and the strong turnout from different groups of people, different churches, different segments of the community [both] young and old and in between,” Joyce said. “It’s very uplifting. It’s great to see a lot of my former colleagues who still teach and are getting ready for school out here. This is Berkeley at its best right now.”
Joyce said he didn’t recognize PP’s planned event “Stop Marxism” as the primary intention behind Berkeley’s large demonstration.
“This is a reaction against Charlottesville and about the heat on the national conversation,” Joyce said. “I don’t know any leaders of the right wing, and I think it’s provocative that they’re coming. That’s where a lot of the negative attention should be placed.”
Shortly after noon, the march began moving toward Berkeley Civic Center where additional resistance-affiliates awaited their arrival in addition to separate organized marchers, news vans, and the intermingled observations from neighboring community members.
A rental utility vehicle was parked in front of the Civic Center where a group of protestors spoke out into the square via microphone and sound equipment to chant in support of antifa and to make other statements such as, “This park now belongs to the people,” and “maintain your positions.”
— Alanna M (@alm5_m) August 27, 2017
Another speaker took over quickly to reiterate the last statement. “This is native land. This is nobody’s park,” they stated. “This is native land. Respect that shit and punch a Nazi in the face!”
Police presence was heavily noted throughout Sunday’s event and remained minimally involved although the arrival of police donning riot gear increased dramatically after an altercation between rally attendees and PP members, including Gibson.
Shortly after 1:30 p.m., the Vanguard captured footage of crowd members rushing out PP members who could be seen sprinting away from the violent scene.
— The Vanguard (@psuvanguard) August 27, 2017
A large mob of rally attendees chased PP members to the end of the street where they were inevitably detained by police, but not before a chaotic scene involving smoke bombs and frantic orders from other protesters to run in the other direction from nearby police officers.
At one point, local police appeared to arrest Gibson and other well-known PP member Tusitala “Tiny” Toese, after they rushed behind police and were escorted away in handcuffs. Police later reported the incident as a “rescue,” not an arrest. Gibson was sent to the hospital with injuries after a reported altercation with antifa members.
— Anna Williams (@MrsAnnaWilliams) August 28, 2017
The demonstration outside of Civic Center began dispersing from the area shortly after, while other protest groups moved further down Martin Luther King Blvd. to continue the day’s efforts.
Observations of the weekend’s protest events were met with both encouragement and condemnation alike from rally participants, local authorities, and politicians, and widely critiqued by social media users not present at the event or aware of what had actually unfolded.
Despite criticisms and the incidents of documented violence that occurred, the majority of participants of both protests were nonviolent, did not engage in disruptive or destructive behavior against others in attendance, and participated with the intentions of having a peaceful demonstration.
Local urban security force teams observed verbal altercations which appeared to be initiated by the occasional presence of one or two people who disagreed with the counter protester’s presence or political ideology.
After witnessing a particular argument, the Vanguard asked a nearby member from a local urban security force why the man shown was yelling at surrounding citizens. “I don’t know,” he said. “But as long as they’re friendly, we’re friendly.”
Sparse occurrences of physical altercations, such as shoving or unseemly regard toward others, were witnessed by the Vanguard as well. However, the perpetrators of the behavior did not appear to be affiliated with counter protesters, press or police.
Future PP events are predicted to be less civil and more deliberate in violent altercations as such groups are becoming more recognizable and less tolerated within host cities. Community leaders are urging Gibson and other white supremacist groups to discontinue plans in hopes of avoiding further violence.
Members of such groups have already begun leaving their affiliations behind in order to protect themselves from community alienation. However, while many white supremacist group members can decide to leave at will, the victims of racial, gender, and sex-based hate crimes will never have the option of not being a target by active members.
Check back for more coverage, including in-depth interviews with organizers.