Roughly 50 people attended a “pro-American” and “pro-police” event in Palm Desert on Thursday evening that featured a petition to recall Gov. Gavin Newsom and a live musical performance.
Many held signs or waved U.S. flags along Highway 111 in front of Westfield Mall as J and the Sundawgs covered rock songs such as Pat Benatar’s “Hit Me With Your Best Shot” and Grand Funk Railroad’s “We’re an American Band.”
Toni Ringlein, a Cathedral City resident and organizer who has held similar rallies in recent weeks, said she was “really delighted” by the turnout.
“We don’t want tyrannical government,” she said. “We want a safe country.”
Most of the protesters did not wear face coverings. Some, however, maintained social distancing on the sidewalk.
Across the street, a handful of counter-protesters with face coverings held signs and chanted “Black Lives Matter.”
State guidelines do not prohibit outdoor protests as long as protesters maintain a physical distance of six feet. If physical distancing cannot be achieved between people from different households, participants must wear a mask, according to the state.
During the coronavirus pandemic, thousands of Coachella Valley residents have taken part in protests against police brutality and racism from Palm Springs to Coachella. Others groups have protested Newsom and coronavirus-related business closures.
With a live band on the bill, Thursday’s rally appeared different from past protests and raised questions about what activities are allowed during a pandemic, especially as cases continue to climb in Riverside County.
Ten days ago, Riverside County Public Health Officer Dr. Cameron Kaiser tweeted, “It remains unclear at this time when concerts and/or live music events will be permitted as this is dependent upon certain public health metrics being met by the county.”
An open letter from county counsel said public health officials “need your help in both complying with and spreading the word about the state’s orders which prohibit live music events at restaurants, wineries, parks, and other local establishments at this time.”
Ringlein said she did not require face coverings or social distancing at Thursday’s event.
“They are free Americans,” she said. “They can come or not. They can join us or not.”
“I’m just practicing my First Amendment right and so is the band and everyone else that attends,” she added. “We’re not in a Communist country. We live in a free country.”
Ringlein said she didn’t reach out to Palm Desert city officials about the event but added the sheriff’s department was informed about the gathering.
Palm Desert spokesman David Hermann said via email that City Attorney Robert Hargreaves notified the county counsel’s office, when then notified the state, about the planned event “so that the public health enforcement task force can follow up.”
Sgt. Deanna Pecoraro said Thursday via that the sheriff’s department was aware of the event and that “we will be patrolling the area to ensure the people in attendance as well as the community remains safe.”
County spokeswoman Brooke Federico had not responded to questions about the event as of Thursday afternoon.
At previous events organized by Ringlein and others, protesters have gathered at locations such as Highway 111 near San Luis Rey Drive to wave U.S., thin blue line and Donald Trump 2020 flags.
Ringlein and others have criticized Newsom and coronavirus-related shutdowns. Roughly 500 signatures to support a recall have been gathered at the valley events, Ringlein said.
Thursday’s event was described by organizers as a “Unite 911” rally.
“Unite 911” is about uniting people with a sense of urgency and is described on its website as a “conservative volunteer-drive moment” whose mission is to “unite all Americans to help save our beloved country” from other political forces.
“It’s about everyone coming together,” Ringlein said.
Another flyer from “Unite 911” urges attendees to “refrain from using vulgarity or offensive gestures” at the event. It also urged attendees to be kind to counter-protesters and invite them to join, in addition to offering them food and water.
Ringlein said she’s lost work during the pandemic. At an earlier rally, she said she was supposed to manage a restaurant in Palm Springs that hadn’t opened.
On Wednesday, she discussed the pandemic’s economic impacts on musicians and business owners and other areas of society.
“The virus is real, but the shutdown is destroying us,” she said.
Shane Newell covers breaking news and the western Coachella Valley cities of Palm Springs, Cathedral City and Desert Hot Springs. He can be reached at email@example.com, 760-778-4649 or on Twitter at @journoshane.