Christianity

Northern California officials brace for political rallies

Northern California authorities are bracing for politically charged protests in the coming weeks amid growing concerns of violence after the recent events in Charlottesville, Virginia.

The University of California, Berkeley's new chancellor said Tuesday that campus authorities were determined to protect free speech and public safety during a rally near campus scheduled at the end of the month and a proposed event next month.

In San Francisco, Mayor Ed Lee on Tuesday took a tougher stance, calling for the cancellation of an Aug. 26 rally organized by a group called Patriot Prayer, which supports President Donald Trump. The National Park Service gave the organization permission last week to hold a three-hour rally in a federal park along the bay within San Francisco.

San Francisco's mayor said he is concerned the rally will attract hate speech and potential violence.

"We are not welcoming this group into San Francisco to promote hate," Lee said. Lee asked that a number of unspecified conditions be placed on Patriot Prayer if the federal agency doesn't revoke its permit.

One of the featured speakers at Patriot Prayer's San Francisco rally is Kyle Chapman, who was arrested after a video camera allegedly captured him hitting an anti-fascist over the head with a billy club during a chaotic March 4 demonstration in Berkeley. Chapman describes himself in social media as a "proud American nationalist" and "ardent Trump supporter."

National Park Service spokeswoman Sonja Hanson didn't return inquiries Tuesday. On Monday, she the agency was required to give Patriot Prayer a "1st Amendment" permit and to deny it permission would violate its free speech rights.

The Southern Poverty Law Center said the Portland, Oregon-based group aims to provoke left-wing organizations into vociferous — and even violent — reaction to its rallies. A Patriot Prayer rally in Seattle in Sunday attracted a counter protest but no violence. Violence has occurred, however, at previous Patriot Prayer rallies.

In Berkeley, violent protests and clashes between pro-Trump and anti-Trump groups have erupted in city streets near the campus, most recently in April when a bloody brawl broke out in downtown Berkeley.

Newly appointed university chancellor Carol Christ's first news conference was dominated by security questions.

"We have not only an obligation to protect free speech but an obligation to keep our community safe," Christ said. "I've been working extensively with the police to plan for any disruptions that might occur."

Christ said the university is preparing for a rally scheduled for Aug. 27 near campus and a still-to-be confirmed speaking event by former Breitbart editor Ben Shapiro, who was invited by the university's College Republicans to speak Sept. 14,.

Christ declined to discuss security details, but she said she is "''putting an enormous emphasis on security and safety" and working closely with campus police, the city and mayor of Berkeley.

An event featuring Milo Yiannopoulos at Berkeley, also planned by the campus Republicans, was called off after protests over his views on race and transgender people turned violent.

Christ said that Shapiro would be allowed to speak at Zellerbach Auditorium. The venue seats about 2,000 people, but officials said the audience size for the event has not yet been determined. Christ said the university is determined for the event to happen, despite concerns about violent protests.

Ahead of the possible speaking event, she said the university is planning a variety of events focusing on free speech in hopes of getting the opposing political sides to speak constructively rather than violently protest.

It remained unclear if the event would go ahead. Berkeley College Republicans Vice President Naweed Tahmas said the group could not afford the university's proposed security costs for the venue.

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Elias reported from San Francisco.