U.S. Authorities Consider Shutting Down Hard-Right Rallies After Charlottesville

U.S. officials and mayors of cities throughout the country are weighing how to respond to upcoming hard-right rallies after violence at one in Charlottesville, Virginia. Jim Bourg/Reuters

A series of hard-right rallies planned for the coming weeks are under threat of being shut down after a violent white nationalist event in Charlottesville, Virginia, last weekend left one counterprotester dead.

In San Francisco, the U.S. National Park Service said it is deciding whether to pull the permit of a group called Patriot Prayer, which has organized a "Freedom Rally" in the city's Crissy Park below Golden Gate Bridge on August 26.

The federal agency, which is responsible for the park, said in a statement Wednesday that it will make its decision within the next seven days based on a "thorough public safety review."

The agency said it is receiving a "large volume" of comments from the public about the event, but these must be weighed against "our obligation to uphold one of our nation's most cherished constitutional rights, the First Amendment right to freedom of speech."

Democrats, including House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and California Senator Dianne Feinstein, have called for the event to be canceled.

In a letter to the park service Thursday, Feinstein wrote that the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), which tracks hard-right groups, has identified the Patriot Prayer rally as likely to "attract white nationalists and other hate groups...with the intent to provoke unrest between those groups and counter-protesters."

Armed and armored militiamen from the so-called III Percent group have turned up at past events by Patriot Prayer, but the SPLC noted that Patriot Prayer's rally in Seattle last Sunday saw the group's leader, Joey Gibson, denounce white supremacists and neo-Nazis. Gibson marched the week before in Portland, Oregon, with white nationalists.

Read more: Where are the next alt-right, white nationalist rallies planned?

One of the speakers at the event, Kyle "Based Stickman" Chapman, is a member of the self-described alt-right—a loose-knit group of white nationalists, nationalists, conspiracy theorists and misogynists—known for an image that went viral online of him hitting an anti-fascist counterprotester with a stick.

"I'm calling on all patriots and warriors to step up and support us in San Francisco and Berekley [sic] August 26-27th. The MSM is doing everything they can to slander us as racist," Chapman wrote on Facebook Saturday during the Charlottesville rally.

Pelosi questioned Wednesday whether the San Francisco event had been approved "under guidance from the White House."

But the Department of Interior, which manages the National Park Service, tells Newsweek that Secretary Ryan Zinke and the department does not "have a role in permitting events at local NPS sites."

A spokesperson for the department points out that last December, Zinke, then a congressman, wrote a letter denouncing a neo-Nazi march in his hometown in Montana.

Hundreds of people gathered Wednesday night in Charlottesville and several other cities across the country to hold a vigil for 32-year-old Heather Heyer, who was killed after being rammed by a car police said was driven by a member of the alt-right.

Officials in cities across the country are moving to stop upcoming white nationalist rallies, despite President Donald Trump's statement during a press conference Tuesday at Trump Tower in New York City that the group in Charlottesville included some "very fine" people.

The night before the Charlottesville rally on Saturday, alt-right protesters rallied around a statue of Confederate Army General Robert E. Lee that is under threat of being removed, shouting, "You will not replace us" and the Nazi slogan "Blood and soil."

The president condemned white supremacists Tuesday but said there was violence on "both sides" in Charlottesville.

Even one of Trump's rallies is being targeted over public safety fears. On Wednesday, Greg Stanton, the mayor of Phoenix, called on Trump to cancel his upcoming campaign rally in the city "as our nation is still healing from the tragic events in Charlottesville."

My statement on Trump's August 22 event at the @PhoenixConvCtr. pic.twitter.com/nPYIHX5eVg

— Greg Stanton (@gregstantonaz) August 16, 2017

Trump said last weekend that he is "strongly considering" pardoning controversial former Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who was found guilty of disobeying a court order to stop discriminating against immigrants.

"If President Trump is coming to Phoenix to announce a pardon" for the former sheriff, Stanton said, "then it will be clear that his true intent is to enflame emotions and further divide our nation."

An upcoming "Free Speech" rally in Boston this Saturday that features a number of alt-right speakers is also being targeted by the city's mayor, Martin Walsh, who tried to pull the event's permit early this week.

"I don't want them here," he said Monday. But the group prevailed in having its permit approved Wednesday, albeit with strict restrictions.

"What we want to do is to try to get the left and the right to exchange words instead of fists again," John Medlar, a spokesman for the event's organizers, told local radio station WBUR's Newscast Unit Wednesday.

"If we weren't there to direct things, to keep out the fringe radical groups that we're worried about trying to disrupt things," Medlar said, "then we're worried that that would only be all the more dangerous."