Bay Area Police Say They're Prepared For Weekend Alt-Right Rallies

Aug 25, 2017
Originally published on August 25, 2017 9:45 am
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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

The Bay Area is a mecca for free speech and political activism. But for some residents, upcoming "alt-right" rallies go too far. Two right-wing protests are planned for this weekend - one in San Francisco, another in Berkeley. The racist violence that resulted in one murder two weeks ago in Charlottesville is on the minds of city leaders, counter-protesters and those organizing the events, as NPR's Eric Westervelt reports.

ERIC WESTERVELT, BYLINE: It's no coincidence far-right activists are targeting liberal cities long known for their embrace of leftist politics, free speech and diversity. Talk about kicking the hornet's nest is how far-right activist Kyle Chapman (ph) put it on Facebook, urging supporters to head to rallies in San Francisco and Berkeley this weekend.

But the organizer of Saturday's San Francisco rally, Joey Gibson, founder of the group Patriot Prayer, insists he doesn't want to kick the hornet's nest. He has denounced the violence in Charlottesville. And Gibson insisted to a TV station in Portland, Ore., he isn't a racist and doesn't want racists at his rallies.

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JOEY GIBSON: I'm brown. So I'm definitely not a white supremacist, definitely not a white nationalist, definitely not a Nazi because I'm - you know, I want limited government, you know? Hitler was all about big government.

WESTERVELT: Members of the antifascist, or antifa, groups in the Bay Area have vowed to confront Sunday's event in Berkeley and Gibson's San Francisco rally tomorrow.

BRIAN LEVIN: The anti-fascist movement does think he's an extremist and an antagonist and wants to, quote, "shut them down." So that's why this stuff can go south pretty quick.

WESTERVELT: That's Brian Levin, director of the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at Cal State San Bernardino. He says Gibson's events often attract a wide range of racist, white nationalist, conspiracy theorists and anti-government extremists.

LEVIN: There's a diversity of people who show up. But whether or not you put the fly in the soup or you just allow flies to go with your soup, you still don't want to drink the soup.

WESTERVELT: Meantime, San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee is calling for calm.

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ED LEE: God pray nobody gets hurt because these people with hate-filled messages are coming in to our city to wreak havoc.

WESTERVELT: Mayor Lee is urging people to stay away and instead join one of the numerous peaceful counter-protests, many of which are in keeping with the San Francisco spirit. They include a mobile dance party called Loved Up. And the group Calling All Clowns says its members will use wit and absurdity to, quote, "mercilessly ridicule any neo-Nazis, white supremacists or "alt-right" trolls who dare show their face in San Francisco." Eric Westervelt, NPR News, San Francisco. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.