Their faces hidden behind black bandannas and hoodies, about a 100 anarchists and antifa – “anti-fascist” – barreled into a protest Sunday afternoon in Berkeley’s Martin Luther King Jr. Civic Center Park.
Jumping over plastic and concrete barriers, the group melted into a larger crowd of around 2,000 that had marched peacefully throughout the sunny afternoon for a “Rally Against Hate” gathering.
Shortly after, violence began to flare. A pepper-spray wielding Trump supporter was smacked to the ground with homemade shields. Another was attacked by five black-clad antifas, each windmilling kicks and punches into a man desperately trying to protect himself. A conservative group leader retreated for safety behind a line of riot police as marchers chucked water bottles, shot off pepper spray and screamed “fascist go home!”
All told, the Associated Press reported at least five individuals were attacked. An AP reporter witnessed the assaults. Berkeley Police’s Lt. Joe Okies told The Washington Post the rally resulted in “13 arrests on a range of charges including assault with a deadly weapon, obstructing a police officer, and various Berkeley municipal code violations.”
And although the anti-hate and left-wing protesters largely drowned out the smaller clutch of far-right marchers attending a planned “No to Marxism in America” rally, Sunday’s confrontation marked another street brawl between opposing ends of the political spectrum – violence that has become a regular feature of the Trump years and gives signs of spiraling upward, particularly in the wake of the violence in Charlottesville.
“I applaud the more than 7,000 people who came out today to peacefully oppose bigotry, hatred and racism that we saw on display in Charlottesville,” Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguín said in a statement. ” . . . However, the violence that small group of protesters engaged in against residents and the police, including throwing smoke bombs, is unacceptable. Fighting hate with hate does not work and only makes each side more entrenched in their ideological camps.”
Last May, 150 similarly black-clad agitators caused $100,000 worth of damage when they smashed through Berkeley protesting a University of California Berkeley speech by right-wing provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos. Portland, Oregon, has been the scene of street battles between antifa and white nationalists this summer. White nationalist Richard Spencer was sucker-punched by a protester in a January video that went viral. And Inauguration Day 2017 in Washington, D.C., was marked by violence when masked protesters burned vehicles, smashed windows and clashed with police, leading to 231 arrests.
On Sunday, police in Berkeley maintained a strict perimeter around the area in the beginning of the afternoon, including enforcing an emergency city rule outlawing sticks and other potential weapons from the park. Fifty officers were spread out at the area’s four entrances, according to The Daily Californian.
But antifa protesters – armed with sticks and shields, and clad in shin pads and gloves – largely routed the security checks and by 1:30 p.m. police reportedly left the security line at the Center Street and Milvaia Street entrance to the park. Berkeley police chief Andrew Greenwood told the AP the decision was strategic – a confrontation was sure to spark more violence between the protesters and police.
(c) 2017, The Washington Post · Kyle Swenson