SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — The late cancellation of two weekend political rallies in the San Francisco Bay Area has done little to stem fears that unrest and violence are brewing in the city.
On Saturday morning, the city set up fencing around the perimeter of Alamo Square Park where a right-wing group known as Patriot Prayer had scheduled a news conference for 2 p.m.
That event was a late substitute for a “freedom rally” near the Golden Gate Bridge that was supposed to happen at about the same time but was scrapped by organizers who cited threats from left-wing agitators and worries that local leaders and law enforcement would fail to protect them.
Responding to the change of venue, several counter-protest groups, branding themselves as “Frisco Resistance,” called for a peaceful assembly at Alamo Square Park at 11 a.m.
All sides appeared suspicious of each other’s true plans and motives.
“We don’t trust this group. I never have from the beginning,” San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee said of Patriot Prayer.
Lee said the group had not canceled the event in writing, so police will still be there and anywhere else they need to be to keep the city safe.
Patriot Prayer leader Joey Gibson said the rhetoric of Lee and other San Francisco leaders is what prompted fears for his group’s safety and the cancellation of the rally, and has said the group disavows racism and hatred.
Lee urged counter-protesters to stay away from both places.
“I do believe there are provocateurs in those groups that are intentionally wanting to incite some level of violence,” he said.
Gibson when he canceled the rally said his followers would instead attend an anti-Marxist rally in nearby Berkeley on Sunday, but a short time later the organizer of that rally called it off.
Organizer Amber Cummings said in a lengthy statement issued via Facebook that she had “grave concerns for the safety of the people attending my event.”
Cummings said her rally was “to speak out against the political violence happening to people who do not agree” with left-wing ideology, and that the meaning was being lost as rhetoric around the rally escalated. However, she said she “alone” would still show up Sunday.
Tension over the gatherings had built in the two weeks since violence erupted at a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. James Alex Fields Jr., 20, was charged with murder after driving a car into a crowd of counter-protesters, killing a 32-year-old woman.
Gibson and Cummings insisted their gatherings would be peaceful but critics alleged they would be magnets for racists and others who would seek violence.
A number of counter protests were planned. The left-wing group By Any Means Necessary, which has been involved in violent confrontations, vowed to shut down the Berkeley rally.
Many groups in the city synonymous with the “Summer of Love” had planned to welcome their political opponents with unusual weekend protests, though it wasn’t clear which of those would continue.
Plans included littering Crissy Field, the site of the now-canceled Saturday rally, with dog poop, dispatching red-nosed clowns and a giant inflatable chicken that bears the hairstyle of President Donald Trump.
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