Advertisement

GOP rallies were canceled in 2 California cities. A judge just OK'd a lawsuit over it

Left; Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., Right; Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga.
A judge ruled GOP Reps. Matt Gaetz, left, and Marjorie Taylor Greene can move forward with their lawsuit against two California cities where rallies were canceled. (Nathan Howard / Associated Press; Mike Stewart / Associated Press)

A federal judge has ruled that Republican Reps. Matt Gaetz of Florida and Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia can move forward with their lawsuit against two California cities where their political rallies were canceled in 2021.

In a 22-page decision, U.S. District Judge Hernan Vera ruled Friday that the two lawmakers had grounds to allege that the cancellation of their rallies in Riverside and Anaheim was "expressly predicated on viewpoint discrimination." The judge, however, rejected the claim that the cities conspired with civil rights groups to shut down the events, calling it a "conspiracy theory that relies purely on conjecture."

"The Complaint — even charitably construed with all reasonable inferences drawn in Plaintiffs’ favor — is utterly devoid of any specifics plausibly alleging such an agreement," the judge wrote. "And without an unlawful conspiracy, all that is left to aver against the Nonprofit Defendants are the unremarkable allegations that they exercised their own First Amendment rights to lobby for the cancellation of the event. That is protected."

The two lawmakers who are known for their ardent support of former President Trump filed a lawsuit in federal court last year alleging that the venues caved under pressure from the cities of Anaheim and Riverside and canceled contracts for their America First rally because they disagreed with Greene and Gaetz politically.

Anaheim spokesperson Mike Lyster said the city remains confident in its position.

"While we disagree with the decision, it isn’t unusual to see a claim move forward at this early stage, regardless of the court’s initial thoughts on the strengths of the case," Lyster said.

Read more: Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene files motion to oust Speaker Mike Johnson

The lawsuit also accused a handful of advocacy or political organizations of conspiring with the cities to push the venues to cancel the rally. Vera dismissed that claim in his decision.

"The effect of Plaintiffs’ unprecedented and stunningly deficient pleading — haling nine civil rights groups into federal court for speaking out against an event — should shock in equal measure civic members from across the political spectrum," Vera wrote.

Greene and Gaetz tried to host their rally at two locations in Orange County and one in Riverside in July 2021, but the venue operators kept backing out.

They first tried to host the rally at the Pacific Hills Banquet & Event Center in Laguna Hills, but the venue opted to cancel after receiving a flurry of calls and emails about the event.

Read more: Reps. Matt Gaetz and Marjorie Taylor Greene sue Anaheim and Riverside over canceled rally

The rally was moved to the Riverside Convention Center. But Raincross Hospitality Management, which operates the convention center, said it decided to cancel the event because of a discrepancy on the certificate of insurance it had been provided, according to court records.

With less than 24 hours until the rally, the group moved it to the Grand Theater, a private venue in Anaheim, but the outcry over the event followed it.

An Anaheim code enforcement officer allegedly called the theater the morning of the rally and told operators that the venue's conditional use permit would be in jeopardy if they allowed it to go forward, according to the lawsuit. The Grand Theater canceled the rally.

With time running out and no venue, the lawmakers held a protest "against communism" outside Riverside City Hall.

Greene and Gaetz celebrated the judge's decision to allow the case to move forward on social media Monday. Gaetz wrote on X, formerly Twitter, that "spreading the America First message is our duty and our distinct privilege."

"We will win these important free speech cases against California cities Riverside and Anaheim and the insane left!" Greene wrote on X. "Then we will return to CA and hold America First rallies inviting everyone in California that hates what the Democrats have done to their state and our country!"

Times researcher Scott Wilson contributed to this report.

Sign up for Essential California for news, features and recommendations from the L.A. Times and beyond in your inbox six days a week.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.