Take four: Reps. Gaetz, Greene now planning ‘free speech’ protest at Riverside City Hall

After three Southern California venues canceled their planned America First rally amid growing protests, Reps. Matt Gaetz and Marjorie Taylor Greene now say they plan to hold a “Free Speech Peaceful Protest” of their own at 5 p.m. Saturday, July 17, at Riverside City Hall.

“You and I cannot let these Communists shut us down and take away our First Amendment Rights,” Greene said in a press release announcing the news three hours before the scheduled start of the protest.

Gaetz posted a video on Twitter inviting supporters to what he called a “peaceful protest against Communism.”

“These folks, they try to cancel our venues, but they can never cancel our patriotism or our American spirit,” said Gaetz, who wore sunglasses and stood in front of Riverside City Hall in the video.

Riverside spokesperson Phil Pitchford issued a statement saying “The City of Riverside is aware of the announced event and taking steps to ensure the safety of everyone involved.”

On Saturday morning, Anaheim officials said the latest venue Gaetz and Greene had planned to use for a local stop on their national tour – a private event center near the city’s convention center – had canceled the event.

“We as a city shared our public safety concerns with the operator and the operator shares the concerns,” Anaheim spokesman Mike Lyster said Saturday morning.

It was the third cancellation they’ve faced in just over a week.

Fliers started circulating last week about an America First rally at Pacific Hills Banquet & Event Center in Laguna Hills on Saturday, July 17. But the center’s general manager, Javad Mirtavoosi, said as soon as they found out who the speakers at the event would be, they canceled it, hoping to stay clear of the controversy surrounding Gaetz and Greene.

After searching for a week for a new venue in Orange County, Greene’s team announced Thursday that they were moving the rally to Riverside. They refused to disclose the location, citing security concerns. But Ted Weggeland, CEO of the company that runs the downtown Riverside Convention Center, told the Southern California News Group that his venue was expecting to host the event.

Multiple organizations announced plans to protest the rally, including Women’s March Action and The League of Women Voters Riverside. And some Riverside city leaders raised concerns, calling for an emergency meeting to discuss the issue.

“The hateful and racist rhetoric that will be perpetrated at this event by these two well-known extremists has absolutely no place in our City,” Riverside City Councilmember Ronaldo Fierro said in an emailed statement late Thursday.

Late Friday, city officials reported they were notified by operators of the convention center that the rally wouldn’t take place in Riverside. Gaetz is now tweeting about plans to file a potential lawsuit over the Riverside cancelation.

Shortly after 10 p.m., organizers announced the event was slated to be held in Anaheim at the M3 Live Anaheim Event Center on Harbor Boulevard.

“You can’t cancel us, you can’t stop us, we’re going to save America,” Greene said in a tweeted video.

Protestors started organizing to attend the Anaheim event and flooding the venue with negative Yelp reviews, calls and emails.

Anaheim already is accommodating an Angels game, a conservative forum at a local church and a labor rally outside Disneyland on Saturday.

By 10 a.m. Saturday, the city said the operator had pulled out.

That decision quickly became national news, with celebrities and supporters making “Anaheim” trend on Twitter.

Gaetz tweeted just before noon Saturday that the event was still on, with fliers only listing “Orange County” as the location. Then Greene’s camp sent an email at 2 p.m. announcing the Riverside protest.

An event page for the original rally was still live shortly after 2 p.m. Tickets were offered free for general admission. But those who registered received an email asking if they wanted to upgrade to VIP status for $250 per person, which was to include the chance to take a photo with Gaetz and Greene plus preferred seating.

Proceeds were to go to the Put America First Joint Fundraising Committee, formed in Georgia in late April to support Gaetz’s and Greene’s reelection campaigns.

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 stolen.

Greene also is known as a conspiracy theorist who has written pro-QAnon articles and reportedly said 9/11 was a government plot and that 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.

While Greene has said her past social media posts don’t reflect who she is, 11 House Republicans joined all House Democrats in February in voting to remove Greene from her committee assignments as punishment for her statements.

Gaetz, who has said leftist radicals posing as Trump supporters were responsible for the Jan. 6 Capitol riot, is under investigation for an alleged sexual relationship with a 17-year-old girl. He has denied the allegations and said he’s the victim of an extortion plot.

But Gaetz and Greene also have become firebrands for Trump-brand Republicanism. The pair have been co-hosting America First rallies across the country since early May, when they kicked off the series in a Florida retirement community that heavily supported Trump in 2020.

Staff writer Jeff Horseman contributed to this report.

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