About 20 people spoke out during the Riverside City Council’s afternoon session Tuesday, July 20 about the weekend rally in Riverside involving Reps. Matt Gaetz and Marjorie Taylor Greene.
Speaking in person and by phone, the commenters were sharply divided.
Some praised City Council members for taking a stand against plans to stage a rally at the city-owned Riverside Convention Center featuring the two controversial members of Congress. That Saturday-night, July 17, planned America First rally was canceled late Friday, July 16.
Other speakers criticized council members and alleged city officials violated the First Amendment by denying Gaetz and Greene the right to free speech.
Mayor Patricia Lock Dawson addressed the criticism.
“Neither the city leadership nor the City Council had anything to do with the cancellation of the event,” Lock Dawson said at the Tuesday meeting. “I just want to make that clear.”
Raincross Hospitality Corp., which manages the downtown venue for the city for about $500,000 a year, informed city officials Friday evening that the planned convention-center event would not take place, a news release stated. “I commend Raincross Hospitality Corp. for this decision,” Lock Dawson said in the release Friday.
Gaetz and Greene first planned to hold their rally at Pacific Hills Banquet & Event Center in Laguna Hills. But the center’s general manager canceled it, hoping to steer clear of the controversy.
The event then shifted to the Riverside Convention Center and after it was canceled there, organizers moved the America First event back to Orange County — to the M3 Live Anaheim Event Center. It was then canceled a third time.
After the three venues canceled the planned events, the two Congress members — who have been on tour since early May — settled on holding a rally outside Riverside City Hall, where no permit was required because it is a public place, city spokesman Phil Pitchford said.
A shouting match developed on Saturday night between supporters and opponents of Gaetz and Greene. No violence was reported.
On Tuesday afternoon, Riverside activist Jason Hunter thanked the mayor for providing context. If the council did play a role in the cancellation at a city-owned facility, he said, that’s concerning.
The First Amendment exists to “protect speech that you are not comfortable with,” said Hunter, who commented in person at City Hall. He said the city cannot be in the business of denying someone to speak on the basis of their anticipated message.
“Otherwise you are getting into ‘Minority Report’ kind of stuff about what they might say,” he said, referring to the futuristic 2002 Tom Cruise movie.
Debbie Mitchell, who commented by phone, was critical.
“I’m highly disappointed in my city government,” Mitchell said. “What you guys did is deplorable.” She charged officials took away her right to go and see someone she might have wanted to see.
A woman caller who didn’t give her name said free speech is for “everyone, not just for the liberals.”
Freya Foley, on the other hand, thanked council members for taking a stand “when peddlers of discord and disinformation came to Riverside this weekend.”
Vicki Bodich offered praise to those who “shut down the liars and haters.”
“This is about morality, this is about truth, and this is about public safety,” she said.
Gaetz, who represents a Florida House district, and Greene, who represents one in Georgia, are known for their staunch support of former President Donald Trump, their rejection of COVID-19 safety measures and their false belief that the 2020 presidential election was won by Trump.
Greene also is known as a conspiracy theorist who has written pro-QAnon articles, and reportedly said 9/11 was a government plot and a California wildfire was the work of a “space solar generator” controlled by a Jewish banking family, among others.
Video clips have surfaced of her espousing racist and Islamophobic views. And a recording showed Greene, who has reportedly claimed the government orchestrated several mass shootings to gin up support for gun control, following and taunting a survivor of the 2017 school shooting in Parkland, Florida.
Greene has said her past social media posts don’t reflect who she is.
Gaetz has said leftist radicals posing as Trump supporters were responsible for the Jan. 6 Capitol riot. He is under investigation for an alleged sexual relationship with a 17-year-old girl, which he has denied. He has said he is the victim of an extortion plot.
More public comment on the matter is anticipated during the City Council’s evening session, which is scheduled to begin at 6:15 p.m. Tuesday.