Over 100 people attended — some to support, others to protest — a thrice-canceled rally organized by Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Florida, and Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Georgia, outside Riverside City Hall.
The “America First” rally had previously been spurned by three separate venues before Gaetz announced Saturday afternoon that the event had been rebranded as a “free speech” rally and would take place outside City Hall.
Brief speeches by Greene and Gaetz at the demonstration were laced with conspiracy theories, praise for former President Donald Trump and barbs against the Democratic Party, Black Lives Matter and the media.
“Donald Trump won the last election and he’s going to win the next one,” Gaetz told the cheering crowd.
“The lying fake news media harassed him and smeared him to make America hate him,” Greene said. “But do we hate him? No, we love him. We love President Trump.”
Both leaders blamed the political left for spurring local officials in Orange and Riverside counties to cancel their event. Earlier Saturday, Gaetz suggested that he might sue the city of Riverside and the operators of the Riverside Convention Center over their cancellation of the rally.
That rally was initially planned for the Pacific Hills Banquet & Event Center in Laguna Hills, but canceled there because “we just want to stay clear of that,” General Manager Javad Mirtavoosi told the OC Register last week.
It was then shifted to the Riverside Convention Center, but officials with the Raincross Hospitality Corp., which manages and operates the city-owned center under contract with the city, told city officials Friday night the event would not take place.
“I recognize this was a divisive issue in our community, and I am glad it has been resolved,” Mayor Patricia Lock Dawson said. “I commend Raincross Hospitality Corp. for this decision.”
Mayor Pro Tem Gaby Plascencia also weighed in, saying, “Riverside is a diverse and inclusive community, so it is heartening to hear that this event will not move forward. I am disappointed we even got to this point because these speakers are the antithesis of everything Riverside stands for.”
Gaetz tweeted Saturday morning that “These quotes are going to make great exhibits in the lawsuit @RepMTG and I will be filing.”
The rally was moved to its third potential location — the Anaheim Event Center — before city officials there also announced that the event was canceled over public safety concerns.
“A planned America First rally at a private venue in our city is canceled. The city of Anaheim shared public safety concerns with the operator, and those concerns are shared by the operator,” Anaheim officials said in a statement Saturday morning.
“The communist left, they targeted every venue and business that we wanted to rent, that we wanted to pay money to simply talk about freedom and America. Can you imagine that?” Greene said at Saturday’s protest.
Gaetz told the crowd, “You’ve proven they can’t cancel these Congress members and they can’t cancel this rally and they can never cancel the America First political movement. We will not be silenced and we will not be shut down.”
Riverside police promised Saturday that they were prepared for the rally.
“We’ll have enough personnel there that we feel we need to help keep this event safe,” said Ryan Railsback, a spokesman for the Riverside Police Department. “We want everybody who may be going down there, whatever your viewpoint is, to safely and peacefully express your constitutional rights and do everything within the law. We don’t want any trouble. We want it to remain as peaceful as would be possible. Our role is to maintain peace and safety down there and we’ll do that.”
No violence was reported, though videos posted to social media show protesters and counter-protesters engaging in screaming matches while standing on opposite sides of Ninth Street outside City Hall.
While speaking to their supporters, Greene called the counter-protesters “toddlers” and Gaetz called them “pathetic losers.”
Greene, who is a mother, also used the rally to tell other parents to not allow schools to make their children wear masks, a preventive health measure against COVID-19. She also told attendees not to vaccinate their children against the virus.
Gaetz and Greene have held firm to their stated belief that Trump won the 2020 presidential election and was cheated by election fraud, a theory that has been debunked by elections officials.
Greene has also caught heat in the past for spreading other conspiracy theories, including that the 9/11 terrorist attacks were a government plot and that the Sandy Hook and Parkland school shootings were staged. She was stripped of her Congressional committee assignments in February for her incendiary comments.
Gaetz has also embraced conspiracy theories, saying that leftists posing as Trump supporters raided the Capitol earlier this year. He is also under federal investigation for alleged obstruction of a child-sex-trafficking case in which he is implicated.