The Walk for Life is one of San Francisco’s largest annual public demonstrations in favor of a conservative cause. Every January, on or around the anniversary of the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision, anti-abortion protesters arrive by bus from across Northern California. Largely Catholic, the participants gather at Civic Center before marching down Market Street toward the Embarcadero.
The Walk for Life draws liberal-leaning counterprotesters who view abortion and reproductive health care as constitutionally protected rights, and the San Francisco Police Department typically keeps the groups separated to prevent rhetoric from escalating into a physical confrontation.
At this year’s Walk for Life, however, held one day before the symbolic 50th anniversary of the since-overturned Roe decision, a scuffle broke out. A small group of men, described by two witnesses as neo-Nazis, left the parade route and displayed a banner with a white supremacist message on the steps of the San Francisco Public Library at Civic Center.
San Francisco writer and activist Elizabeth Creely witnessed the scene. She told The Standard she saw “four burly guys with masks, concealing their identity” who were able to walk right past a line of police officers and into a knot of counterprotesters, where they unfurled a banner that read “150K WHITE BABIES PER YEAR. ABORTION IS GENOCIDE.”
“Basically, I thought, ‘Oh, they’re Proud Boys,’” Creely said. “They got pushed off the steps back into the march. They just walked in saying all the usual shit that neo-Nazis say.”
The counterprotesters quickly moved to stand in front of the sign, blocking its visibility and shouting down the men holding it. The confrontation was brief, but Creely observed that the cops did not interfere and that Walk for Life safety monitors in yellow shirts seemed unperturbed that a band of white supremacists with a racist message made their presence felt in an otherwise peaceful gathering of devout Catholic faithful.
“Does the Archdiocese know that neo-Nazis are marching in their parade?” Creely asked. “Whether they meant to or not is irrelevant, and you cannot say, ‘Oh, they didn’t know.’ They should have known. That’s what monitoring a parade is.”
The Standard has reached out to Walk for Life, the Archdiocese of San Francisco and SFPD for comment.
Neo-Nazis that @SFPD let through and didn’t protect us from @AaronPeskin @RafaelMandelman @mattdorsey @SupStefani @JoelEngardio @myrnamelgar @HillaryRonen @Ahsha_Safai @conniechansf @DeanPreston @LondonBreed @SF_DPA @SFPDCommission pic.twitter.com/ZDzA5crNKp— UCSC converted me to bi pinko (she/he)🏳️🌈🏳️⚧️ (@LeaMcGravy) January 22, 2023
Lea McGeever, a counterprotester who posted several photos and videos to Twitter, recounted the incident, which was only around three minutes in length.
“There was a certain determined way these men were marching that made them stand out,” she said. “Their faces were covered in [neck] gaiters, with dark-tinted sunglasses and caps, and they’re all wearing some combination of black and flannel and jeans. Officers made no movement to stop them.”
McGeever filmed much of what followed on her phone, but did not capture the alleged white supremacist who grabbed her by the shoulder and her wife by the wrist.
“I remember forces acting upon me, and then being forced to react,” McGeever told The Standard. “I’m pretty strong for a cis woman—much stronger than my trans wife—but with her adrenaline she pulled him off. She was wearing a cuff bracelet. They just pulled it off, which you have to do with force.”
The two emphasized that it was counterprotesters, some of them in their 60s or 70s, who successfully got the men back onto Larkin Street with the rest of the march, preventing further escalation.
The incident comes as numerous white supremacists, neo-Nazis and far-right activists have had their accounts reinstated on Twitter, and not long after a self-described Christian preacher menaced several LGBTQ+ venues in the Castro.
Elements of the anti-choice movement have fused with white supremacists and so-called men’s rights advocates in recent years. The once-fringe belief that legalized abortion is part of a “Great Replacement” designed to snuff out the white race has become mainstreamed through San Francisco native Tucker Carlson and other conservative commentators. In June 2022, Rep. Mary Miller, an Illinois Republican, called the Dobbs decision that overturned Roe v. Wade a “victory for white life.”
Astrid Kane can be reached at [email protected]