‘Open California Now’ protest rallies without incident at Hemet’s Dwelling Place Church

More than 1,000 Inland Empire residents without masks listen to speeches demanding relief from the state’s coronavirus shutdowns and restrictions at the Open California Now protest Saturday, Oct. 17, at Dwelling Place Church in Hemet. Valley News Tony Ault photos.

More than 1,000 men, women and children, none wearing optional masks, rallied to demand Gov. Gavin Newsom open all businesses in California, essential or nonessential, at a “freedom rally” at Hemet’s Dwelling Place Church Saturday, Oct. 17.

American flags were flying, and banners with phrases like “Open Our Businesses Now,” “Recall Newsom” and “Trump for President,” were posted all over the church’s grass lawn.

Vendors in the church’s parking lot sold Trump hats, clothing supporting the U.S. armed forces and other wares. Three bands provided entertainment between speakers. Children enjoyed a large bounce house and watched nationally known Christian skateboarder Beaver Fleming and his BMX teammate perform many high-flying, injury-defying tricks on a temporary jump platform.

Food trucks served hot dogs, bacon sandwiches, Mexican food and other items to the crowd. Cold ice treats cooled many in the hot sun.

Free water was available for attendees, and first aid was provided by the Dwelling Place Church and other local churches. A prayer booth was set up for those seeking spiritual help. The crowd enjoyed by a five-minute flyover performed by a Navy T-38 trainer trailing a smoke screen.

High-ranking state and local government officials, along with pastors from many Christian churches in Riverside and San Bernardino counties, took to the stage at the event to express their views on reopening businesses across the state.

Officials who spoke at the event included state Sen. Melissa Melendez; Riverside 5th District Supervisor Jeff Hewitt; Orange County Supervisor Don Wagner; Andrew Kotyuk, San Jacinto mayor and 42nd District Assembly candidate; and John Aki, Riverside County assistant district attorney. Riverside County Sheriff Chad Bianco was invited to attend but could not because of an officer-involved shooting incident that afternoon.

Additional speakers included Jurgen Matthesius, pastor from C3 Church Global in San Diego; Rob McCoy, pastor from GodSpeak Calvary Chapel in Newbury Park; master of ceremonies and radio host Don Dix; Mike Netter, the key proponent of “RecallGavin2020,” and Rick Martin, a constitutional lawyer.

Bob Beckett, senior pastor of the Dwelling Place Church, and Sarah Stephens, rally organizer from the Revive America Tour took the stage to introduce guests and entertainers.

Stephens told the protestors, “Take a moment to be an American. You don’t have to wear your mask here, and you can be proud of God and proud of America and you can be proud of our law enforcement. This is a push for freedom.”

Melendez, wearing a red dress and accompanied by her husband Nico, said she usually talked about the different bills before the state Legislature, but instead she wanted to talk about “how they (the legislature) are ruining California.”

Referring to Newsom’s actions to prevent the spread of COVID-19, she said “It started in March and it is October, and he has us still in lockdown. This is ridiculous.”

She compared the mandates with how a person on an airplane can sit 1 foot from another passenger while wearing a mask, but thousands can’t sit in church together.

“In church you cannot sing?” she said. “When you go out to dinner, you should take off your mask after each bite?”

She said quoting some of Newsom’s comments on social media.

She gave additional examples.

“People are losing their businesses they have worked their whole lives to build with their families. Now you will have to wait until after the election before you can open.  It’s time to open California right now,” Melendez said.

She drew cheers and applause for her statements.

Hewitt took to the podium speaking about his childhood and his journey to a career in politics. He gave some examples of the problems facing Californians and those in Riverside County because of the state-mandated lockdowns.

“Fear has been a horrible, horrible weapon, and it has been used throughout history,” Hewitt said.

He encouraged the crowd to overcome their fear.

“What about the other four-letter word? Actually there are two of them. Put together, they can trump over it (fear). It is hope. It is love. If we exercise these and we stay very, very determined and persistent in our pursuits and we don’t let the government take everything we have worked so hard for. There can be good times ahead,” Hewitt said.

Wagner told the protesters that many Orange County churches have and continue to defy the coronavirus mandates regarding crowd limitations and remain open.

Before taking the podium, Kotyuk said he attended the rally because “people here are looking for somebody to stand up and fight for their freedoms. The freedoms of work, education, of religion and like minds to come together. It’s not party politics; it’s a nonpartisan event. People are coming together for freedom.”

He said as a veteran he attended the rally to stand up for those freedoms.

Stephens said the protest was planned and organized in two weeks.

“It was great,” she said. “Every organizer thinks things could be better and better but we always want the thousands, but this was an incredible turnout.”

She spoke about the purpose of the rally.

“We want to educate people of their constitutional rights, and we want to fight for freedom,” she said. “Here right now in America. We feel like now in America many of our freedoms are taken away. We are forced to close our businesses, our schools and churches… There is a socialist, communist agenda in our society.

“So what we want to do is to bring God back into our society and keep our freedoms,” she said.

Beckett said he decided to bring the rally to the church a few weeks before after talking to his church members.

“‘Shall we do it?’ I asked.” Beckett said, “They said, ‘Let’s do it.’”

Beckett said, “We believe the state should open up and we are politically active as a church and have been open for eight months, and it’s just time to open the state up get the businesses, get the kids back in school and put this thing back in order, So, we said time to go public with this.”

While police were present throughout and security measures were in place for the entire protest, there were no incidents reported during the six-hour event in near 90-degree heat.

Tony Ault can be reached by email at tault@reedermedia.com.