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Debate Over Planned 'Patriot Prayer' In San Francisco Heats Up

SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX 5) -- Fear of a violent confrontation was simmering Wednesday ahead of a rally planned in San Francisco's Crissy Field in late August as local leaders called for reconsideration.

The National Park Service has already granted a permit to the group "Patriot Prayer" for the Aug. 26 rally.

Concerns of the kind of violence seen in Charlottesville and at a recent Patriot Prayer in Seattle has local leaders and elected representatives calling on the federal government -- which controls Crissy Field -- to revoke the permit for the protest.

On Wednesday, Senator Dianne Feinstein added her voice to the chorus of officials calling for the NPS to deny the permit for Patriot Prayer.

"According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, Patriot Prayer attracts white nationalists and other hate groups to its rallies with the intent to provoke unrest between those groups and counter-protesters," Sen. Feinstein wrote in a letter to Cicely Muldoon, General Superintendent with the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. "I am alarmed at the prospect that Crissy Field will be used as a venue for Patriot Prayer's incitement, hate, and intimidation."

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Rep. Nancy Pelosi said she wants the NPS to consider the consequences of what might happen if a large group of protesters and counter-protesters converge.

"I have asked the Park Service if they have seriously evaluated there capacity to ensure the safety of those who would attend such a rally," said Pelosi.

Sam Singer -- who specializes in corporate crisis control -- agreed with that assessment.

"If there is no counter protest, all the public sees is a bunch of guys dressed as sort of right-wing military nut jobs talking to themselves," said Singer. "What is going to get them the attention is when there is a counter protest and there is a huge fight, because that gets news interest."

San Francisco Supervisor London Breed joined Mayor Ed Lee and police Chief Bill Scott Tuesday in sending a letter to the National Park Service to express their "outrage."

State Sen. Scott Wiener and Assemblymen Phil Ting and David Chiu also sent letters to the park service expressing concerns about the rally.

"As public officials we are used to differences in ideology, but the events in Charlottesville, complete with violence and protesters armed with automatic weapons, have moved us past any sense of civil discourse or peaceful assembly," that letter reads. "If this rally goes forward, we are extremely concerned for the public safety of the people of our city."

While officials are mostly united in their position against the rally, a KPIX 5 Survey USA poll shows that 47 percent of Bay Area residents responding said the group should be allowed to hold their protest at Crissy Field.

34 percent said they shouldn't.

The poll also found 37 percent of people think the Bay Area is becoming less tolerant of different views.

27 percent responded that it is becoming more tolerant, while 25 percent said it's about the same as always.

On Wednesday, Pelosi also offered advice to those planning to protest.

"I would say to not play into their hands," said Pelosi. "We expect that if they are there, that other people will be there to protest them. I would recommend that they do so with dignity and silence."

But with the violent images of Charlotesville still fresh in the public's mind, counter protest organizer Melanie Nathan with the African Human Rights Coalition argues it's no time to back down.

"It's critical that there be counter demonstrations," countered Nathan. "If we stayed away, it might be interpreted as tacit approval, and that could absolutely never be.

In reaction to that opposition, Patriot Prayer organizer Joey Gibson -- who led the demonstrations in Seattle and Portland -- was doubling down as well.

"The people at the top, they are doing everything they can to hold onto their power," said Gibson.

The concerns over a possible outbreak of violence are not enough to discourage Nathan.

"Personally I would want to confront them directly," she said.

When asked if she wanted the confrontation even if it resulted in violence as with past clashes in Berkeley, Nathan said, "It is dangerous and I'm a peaceful person, but I'm not afraid to confront somebody who is talking violence in the name of peace."

"When asked if that approach was simply bringing more attention to the other side, Nathan replied, America has never confronted bigotry the way we need to. If it takes bringing attention to them, then let that be."

On Wednesday evening, there were several protesters waving signs along Crissy Field to voice their opposition to white supremacists gathering in the park.

The ACLU of California issued a statement about the planned rallies in the Bay Area that read in part, "We review each request for help on a case-by-case basis, but take the clear position that the First Amendment does not protect people who incite or engage in violence. If white supremacists march into our towns armed to the teeth and with the intent to harm people, they are not engaging in activity protected by the United States Constitution. The First Amendment should never be used as a shield or sword to justify violence."

The office of General Superintendent Cicely Muldoon also issued a statement late Wednesday afternoon thanking the public and elected officials for weighing in on the permitting of the Aug. 26 rally.

"We will make a final determination on the permit within the next seven business days based on the thorough public safety review," the statement read.  "We will make a public announcement of our decision at that time."

Scheduled speakers at Aug. 26's event include right-wing figures associated with violent protests in Berkeley that took place in March and April, including "trans patriot" Amber Gwen Cummings and Kyle "Based Stickman" Chapman.

The event is the first of two planned for the Bay Area, with a second one scheduled for Berkeley on Aug. 27. That event, hosted by Cummings on Facebook, is titled "No to Marxism in America," and will take place in Berkeley's Martin Luther King Jr. Civic Center Park from 1 to 5 p.m.

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