This reporter describes the escalating and repeated violent clashes between large groups of citizens with diametrically opposed visions of America’s future as prophetic harbingers of the new civil war coming to America.
“The result was two camps with fixed ideologies determined not to discuss or debate but to fight one another for dominance. The hatred between the demonstrators could be seen on their faces and at the way they lunged at one another over a six-hour period. Each side was convinced of its righteousness, that it was fighting for the future of America.”
“I feel like Berkeley has become the ground zero of a new civil war.”
Frances Dinkelspiel (No, that’s not a fake (((name))).)
Starting around 10 a.m., protesters from both the far right and the far left gathered in a park next to City Hall. For the first few hours they stood on opposite sides of a no-man’s land space that police had set up with orange webbed fencing in the park. There were good-natured taunts between the opposing sides initially, but as more and more people arrived—eventually more than 2,000—the exchanges turned into name-calling and jeers. Police were able to temporarily maintain peace because they had confiscated flagpoles, bats, pipes, sticks, knives and other items as people entered the park. Police also positioned themselves in the neutral zone when the shouting got too intense.
By 1 p.m., all semblances of order or peaceful protest were
gone. The two sides had moved onto city streets and set upon each other with fists, M-80 firecrackers, and pepper spray. They hurled bagels, soda cans and even dumpsters back and forth as police largely stood by. The policy of the Berkeley Police Department is not to break up small fights as police involvement might result in more violence and injuries. Even so, 20 people were arrested by the end of the day, and 11 protesters reported injured.
As a reporter who has covered Berkeley since 2009, when two journalists and I founded a local news site, Berkeleyside, I have attended numerous demonstrations. Cal students have staged sit-ins at UC Berkeley buildings and Occupy activists occupied the same park in 2011. Black Lives Matter protests in Berkeley extended over five days in December 2014 and dozens were arrested as they surged onto various freeways, stopping traffic. Berkeley police handle, on average, nine large protests a year, according to Officer Byron White, a spokesman.
But what is happening in Berkeley in 2017 is completely different. Instead of protesters rallying against authoritarianism and state power (the Free Speech Movement protested against the University of California’s decision not to let people distribute political materials on campus; the fight for People’s Park was against the university and the National Guard) these are fights among citizens.
I feel like Berkeley has become the ground zero of a new civil war.
The first clue of the ferocity of this fight came Feb. 1, when former Breitbart writer and self-proclaimed “dangerous faggot” Milo Yiannopolous was scheduled to speak at UC Berkeley. While local media had reported the pushback by liberal professors, most everyone was surprised when an army of people dressed in black, their faces hidden by ski masks and bandanas, marched onto campus around 5:00 p.m. and began swinging sticks, setting objects on fire, and attacking pro-Trump attendees.
UC Berkeley cancelled Yiannopolous’s talk and the black bloc or Antifas, as they call themselves, then swarmed through the downtown, looting a Starbucks, and smashing store windows and ATM machines of Wells Fargo, Bank of America, Chase, and Mechanics Bank.
The violence of the riot garnered national attention. Rather than blaming the black-clad protesters for the violence, many on the right blamed UC Berkeley and Berkeley residents for squashing free speech, just yards away from where the original Free Speech Movement began on Sproul Plaza in 1964. President Trump tweeted that maybe funding to UC Berkeley should be cut.
Those on the right called for a response, and organized a Free Speech rally in Berkeley for March 4, prompting anti-fascists group to vow to show up. A few hundred attended and chaos ensued. The vitriol and violence spewed at that rally prompted the Liberty Revival Alliance, a new group created by Rich Black, to call for a “Patriot’s Day” rally for April 15.
The promoters insisted that they sought a peaceful demonstration, and many were, in fact, largely peaceful. And it did look to this reporter that the far left, the black clad demonstrators, initiated much of the violence. But the pro-Trump side also included provocateurs that preach in favor of white racism, gun rights and against immigrants both legal and illegal. Among those at the rally were members of The “Proud Boys,” a right-wing group started by Gavin McInnes that extolls white chauvinism and has called for closing America’s borders and the Oath Keepers, a group of former military and police who have pledged to uphold the Constitution and support gun rights. The founder of Identity Europa, a supremacy group dedicated to the idea of “awakened Europeans,” Nathan Damigo, attended and was captured on video assaulting a woman. (In the same clip, a man wearing a Jesus Will Judge You sweatshirt is kicking someone on the ground). Lauren Southern, a Canadian far-right activist, was a featured speaker and insisted that Berkeley was “infested” with Communists and militant leftists. Several protesters held up anti-Jewish signs such as one reading, “Da Goyim Know.” Others made the “Heil Hitler” salute…