The Volokh Conspiracy

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Volokh Conspiracy

"The City Cannot … Prospectively Try[] to Guess Whether Certain [Speakers] … Will … Create a Disturbance"

Spokane Valley (Wash.) resists groups' letter opposing event put on by speaker who has at times drawn unruly supporters.


KXLY-TV (Hawk Hammer) reports that various groups have written to the City of Spokane Valley expressing concern about a rally led by one Joey Gibson, a Senate candidate, which will be held Sunday at a city-owned event center:

Joey Gibson's organization, Patriot Prayer, is a far-right fringe organization mostly known for fights at its rallies…. [A]ssaults and arrests were reported at Patriot Prayer events throughout summer 2017….

While Gibson has claimed to exclude white nationalist and white supremacist groups from his Patriot Prayer rallies, members of these groups show up regularly. Patriot Prayer is openly organizing with multiple white nationalist—and even self-declared "national socialist"—groups for an "Oregon Nationalist Summer" in summer 2018….

The current Facebook description of the March 25th rally (as of March 16th) includes plans for a "rally with a march after." This despite the fact that CenterPlace informed us March 12th that the rally organizer, Lesley Haskell, has not secured a permit for a march. On March 13th Haskell stated "the march […] has been taken off the table" but has not altered the event to inform attendees. Haskell (who has her own history of Islamophobic and anti-Black comments) also disavows responsibility for "those that may show up and attempt to create an environment of chaos, fear, dangerous behavior" and warns that "we who are involved with Mr. Gibson and this rally are not responsible for their actions." Considering the extremist groups with whom Gibson routinely allies, this is a dangerously irresponsible statement. The community also deserves to know the identity and qualifications of Haskell's "security team who has experience in handling situations involving protesters." Haskell and Gibson need to take responsibility for public safety before, during, and after their rally on Sunday the 25th.

These questions are particularly urgent considering the rally venue. CenterPlace is part of a Spokane Valley complex with a family atmosphere, including a YMCA with a pool and climbing wall, a popular playground, and a major public park. CenterPlace is also owned by the City of Spokane Valley and managed by the City of Spokane Valley Parks and Recreation Department. This publicly owned community resource has the mission "to build community identity" and "to serve the needs of a diverse and growing Northwest region." How is this mission fulfilled by hosting a group notorious for fomenting violence?

In sum, we question the time, venue, and safety of this rally. When extremists enter the heart of our community, they have the right to spew their hate. It remains ill-advised for them to disrupt and endanger our community with poorly conceived events that are likely to result in avowed Neo-Nazis rubbing shoulders with families at a playground.

The City responded:

The City of Spokane Valley rents space at CenterPlace Regional Event Center to individuals and groups from the community who are looking for quality meeting space. The City does this in a non-discriminatory fashion for anyone requesting space and who agrees to the City's terms of use. The City cannot be in a position of prospectively trying to guess whether certain renters of the facility will break the rules or create a disturbance. If the City gains information that suggests that may be the case, we will react accordingly and attempt to put appropriate plans in place to try to ensure that the use of the City facility is lawful and peaceful. The City of Spokane Valley and its elected leadership are strong proponents of the First Amendment and the right of citizens to express themselves in lawful ways.

The City has received calls from members of the community expressing concern about the City's rental of CenterPlace to the Northwest Grassroots Alliance for this event. Staff and the Spokane Valley Police Department are working to identify and hopefully resolve any issues that may come up. Spokane Valley urges the meeting participants and other members of the public who may show up to exhibit decorum and tolerance in all discussions that revolve around this event.

The City's position strikes me as quite correct, and indeed mandated by the First Amendment, once they open up space for members of the public to rent.