San Francisco Police Chief William Scott, left, speaks during a news conference about this weekend's rally as Mayor Ed Lee listens on Aug. 15. The Golden Gate National Recreation Area issued a permit for the event at Crissy Field, citing the First Amendment, but banned all weapons. Credit: Eric Risberg/Associated Press

UPDATE: Permit issued but guns are banned.

The organizer of Saturday’s rally in San Francisco, Joey Gibson, has pledged to keep the peace with the help of the right-wing Oath Keepers, an armed militia group. But they will run into trouble if they want to bring their guns.

This morning, the Golden Gate National Recreation Area issued a permit to the planned “Patriot Prayer” at Crissy Field, with a key restriction: “participants are prohibited from bringing firearms or anything that could be used as a weapon.” The list that follows ranges from guns to large backpacks, helmets to selfie sticks.

“We cannot deny a permit to anyone planning to exercise their First Amendment rights based on their political stance or beliefs,” said a statement from the recreation area’s Acting General Superintendent Cicely Muldoon. “We urge those planning to attend these events to share their views in a peaceful manner, to look out for each other, and to support law enforcement personnel to keep everyone safe.”

The decision followed intense work by San Francisco officials, including an effort from Supervisor Mark Farrell, who announced today that he will propose legislation to ban all guns on state and federal lands in the city. Unfortunately for Farrell, the Board of Supervisors is currently on recess; he will not be able to officially make his move until Sept. 5, long after the event is over. But it’s part of a broader campaign to send a message.

“We’re hoping it’s a deterrent for anyone who’s thinking about bringing a weapon concealed or otherwise,” said Jess Montejano, Farrell’s legislative aide.

Long rifles are allowed to be carried openly in 43 states – including Virginia – but open carry of any gun is illegal in San Francisco and on the 130 acres of federal park land at Crissy Field, where the event is scheduled. The city already had called on National Park Service police to arrest anyone who shows up with a gun in plain sight.

But federal law allows park visitors to carry concealed firearms if permitted under state law. State law in California allows them wherever the locals agree.

That’s where things got a bit circular: While San Francisco rarely issues concealed carry permits, the “locals” at Crissy Field technically are federal officials because the former U.S. Army airfield is part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area.

Mayor Ed Lee had implored the federal government to ban all weapons from the park as a condition of issuing a permit for the event. The ban, he had advocated, should include “anything that could be used as a weapon; those are some conditions that we’re expecting to put on the permit,” said Ellen Canale, a spokeswoman for the mayor.

Firearms are not the only weapons of choice at rallies and protests these days. From Charlottesville, Virginia, to Berkeley, California, police have confiscated everything from homemade slingshots and shields to machetes.

Rory Little, a law professor at UC Hastings – just steps from City Hall – said Lee’s proposed weapons restriction would be allowed under the First Amendment.

It is a condition on conduct, not speech,” Little said.I believe that a permit can be issued with conditions to ensure safety and security.”

Gibson, the event’s organizer, is an unemployed real estate salesman from Vancouver, Washington, who has held Patriot Prayer rallies in Portland, Oregon, and Seattle. He says the Oath Keepers will be in charge of security at the event, but he had been equivocal about whether the right-wing militia will come armed.

“It depends on the laws,” he told the San Francisco Examiner. “All of them have concealed carry (permits) in California. We’ll see, it depends on the permit.”

On other fronts, the city and the federal park police are already working hand in hand.

If thousands of people flood the Bay Area this weekend for protests and counterprotests planned both weekend days, the local ranks of the federal park police will rely heavily on the San Francisco Police Department for security at Crissy Field.

Officials from the two agencies are meeting daily to discuss safety plans, Canale said, including ways of controlling the many exits and entrances to the park. 

CBS SFBayArea reported that the entire city police department will be deployed for the rally. San Francisco police declined to comment on specifics of the planned response, but authorities are contacting other departments and borrowing heavily from previous strategies. This morning, the federal park service said it would restrict access to some areas of Crissy Field.

“To ensure public safety, portions of the Presidio and many businesses within the park will be closed to the public on August 26,” according to the statement

Gibson suggests it will all be unnecessary, because the rally will be dedicated to “freedom, love, peace and truth.” He says that if he has anything to do with it, the event will not devolve into another clash between leftist and right-wing street fighters.

“No extremists will be allowed in,” he wrote on the event’s Facebook page. “No Nazis, Communist, KKK, Antifa, white supremacist, I.E., or white nationalists.

“This is an opportunity for moderate (A)mericans to come in with opposing views.”

The event, he says, has specifically banned two high-profile white nationalist leaders present in Charlottesville: Richard Spencer of the National Policy Institute and Nathan Damigo, founder of Identity Evropa, a “North American identitarian” group. Damigo, a Marine Corps veteran from the Silicon Valley, was arrested for punching a woman in the face at the “Battle of Berkeley” protest on April 15.

“We will not allow the extremists to tear apart this country,” Gibson wrote.

But other controversial figures are among the invited speakers at the San Francisco rally, including Kyle Chapman, also known as “Based Stickman.” A self-described “American Nationalist,” Chapman faces a felony weapons charge for swinging a stick packed with lead in the fighting with leftist counterprotesters on March 4 in Berkeley.

One thing might keep Chapman away: He is set to be arraigned in Alameda County Court on Friday.

The Patriot Prayer rally is the first of two right-wing events set for the Bay Area this weekend. On Sunday, a “No to Marxism in America” protest is scheduled for Berkeley’s Civic Center Park. It was organized by Amber Cummings, sometimes known as “Based Tranny,” who has appeared at earlier Berkeley protests carrying a pink “trans women for Trump” sign.

Counterprotesters recruiting reinforcements range from the anti-fascist forces known as the “antifa” to the passive, like those advocating on social media that people not clean up after their dogs on Friday night or fill all Crissy Field parking so anyone with a concealed gun has to cross city land to get from their car to the event.

Shoshana Walter can be reached at swalter@revealnews.org, and Lance Williams can be reached at lwilliams@revealnews.org. Follow them on Twitter: @shoeshine and @LanceWCIR.

Shoshana Walter

Shoshana Walter is a reporter for Reveal, covering criminal justice. She and reporter Amy Julia Harris exposed how courts across the country are sending defendants to rehabs that are little more than lucrative work camps for private industry. Their work was a finalist for the 2018 Pulitzer Prize in national reporting. It also won the Knight Award for Public Service, a Sigma Delta Chi Award for investigative reporting, and an Edward R. Murrow Award, and was a finalist for the Selden Ring, IRE and Livingston Awards. It led to numerous government investigations, two criminal probes and five federal class-action lawsuits alleging slavery, labor violations and fraud.

Walter's investigation on America's armed security guard industry revealed how armed guard licenses have been handed out to people with histories of violence, even people barred by courts from owning guns. Walter and reporter Ryan Gabrielson won the 2015 Livingston Award for Young Journalists for national reporting based on the series, which prompted new laws and an overhaul of California’s regulatory system. For her 2016 investigation about the plight of "trimmigrants," marijuana workers in California's Emerald Triangle, Walter embedded herself in illegal mountain grows and farms. There, she encountered an epidemic of sex abuse and human trafficking in the industry – and a criminal justice system focused more on the illegal drugs. The story prompted legislation, a criminal investigation and grass-roots efforts by the community, including the founding of a worker hotline and safe house.

Walter began her career as a police reporter for The Ledger in Lakeland, Florida, and previously covered violent crime and the politics of policing in Oakland, California, for The Bay Citizen. Her narrative nonfiction as a local reporter garnered a national Sigma Delta Chi Award and a Gold Medal for Public Service from the Florida Society of News Editors. A graduate of Mount Holyoke College, she has been a Dart Center Ochberg fellow for journalism and trauma at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and a John Jay/Harry Frank Guggenheim fellow in criminal justice journalism. She is based in Reveal's Emeryville, California, office.

Lance Williams is a senior reporter for Reveal, focusing on money and politics. He has twice won journalism’s George Polk Award – for medical reporting while at The Center for Investigative Reporting, and for coverage of the BALCO sports steroid scandal while at the San Francisco Chronicle. With partner Mark Fainaru-Wada, Williams wrote the national bestseller “Game of Shadows: Barry Bonds, BALCO, and the Steroids Scandal that Rocked Professional Sports.” In 2006, the reporting duo was held in contempt of court and threatened with 18 months in federal prison for refusing to testify about their confidential sources on the BALCO investigation. The subpoenas were later withdrawn. Williams’ reporting also has been honored with the White House Correspondents’ Association’s Edgar A. Poe Award; the Gerald Loeb Award for financial reporting; and the Scripps Howard Foundation’s Award for Distinguished Service to the First Amendment. He graduated from Brown University and UC Berkeley. He also worked at the San Francisco Examiner, the Oakland Tribune and the Daily Review in Hayward, California. Williams is based in Reveal's Emeryville, California, office.