By: Neil Burger – Staff Writer
Berkeley, California, the birthplace of the ‘60s Free Speech Movement, is again in the spotlight as another violent clash between political groups occurred over Easter weekend, making it the third time this year.
This most recent clash occurred during an Anti-Trump group’s protest of a Pro-Trump Patriots Day rally going on in MLK Jr. Civic Center Park, located just west of U.C. Berkeley. Both groups were originally separated by a circular mesh fence set up by the Berkeley Police to surround the event, with the conservative Patriots Day attendees in the circle, and the left leaning protesters surrounding the outside of the circle.
Any agitators who attempted to cross the line or incite violence were arrested and any known weapons inside the event were confiscated. After the first hour, the crowds on both sides became too large to manage for Berkeley Police Department, leading to the collapse of the fence and the clashing of both sides. Given the size of the crowds and how rapidly events spiralled out of control, Berkeley PD was ordered to stand down.
As the situation escalated, many attendees not associated with organizations on either side left the event fearing for their safety. Among the Patriots Day groups that stayed were the Liberty Revival Alliance, led by Rich Black, who organized both park rallies this year, The Proud Boys, The Oath Keepers, Identity Evropa, and Hispanics for Trump. The Proud Boys are a Western chauvinist group led by Vice News co-founder and conservative Rebel Media pundit, Gavin McInnes. The Oath Keepers are a non-partisan civilian militia composed of both active duty and former law enforcement, military, and first responders. And Identity Evropa is an European pride group that celebrates the culture, history, and civilization that comes from the European continent.
The protesters side was largely composed of members of Antifa, an anti-fascist movement with many branches and subgroups across the country that draws it’s name from a similar group started by the German Communist Party in the 1930s. Among the subgroups of Antifa in attendance were the Oak Roots Collective and the Defend the Bay Coalition. Another group on the protestor side was By Any Means Necessary (BAMN), a left-wing militant group. Groups of anarchists were also amongst the protestors.
After the fence fell, fists began to fly on both sides. The speeches scheduled for the Patriots Day event in the park continued with diminished crowds, as most event attendees were in confrontation with protesters. It is unclear which side started the violence, as both sides had agitators that were determined to get violent with the other. One Antifa member that can be seen on video being punched in the face by the Founder of Identity Evropa posted on Facebook: “Nervous af but determined to bring back 100 Nazi scalps.” On Periscope LA street artist and Patriots Day attendee Sabo said: “We hope the Antifa shows up with a lot of sticks and mace. That way we can legally bet the hell out of them,… I hope there is going to be a good fight.” Unfortunately, both sides got the fight that they asked for.
Video of the clashes can be seen online showing demonstrators on both sides getting struck by punches and being treated for wounds. Most Patriots Day attendees lacked weapons during the clash, as they had submitted them to police in order to be allowed to enter the event, however the Antifa were able to keep their weapons, as they did not go through the police checkpoint and instead waited on the outside.
Among the primary weapons used were pepper spray, sticks, rocks, M80s, knives, and smoke bombs. Footage can also be seen of both sides implementing the use of trash cans and dumpsters as battering rams. Many protesters and Patriots Day attendants were dressed in varying amounts of protection. Some wore helmets, pads, and masks that made it difficult at times to tell who was on what side of the conflict.
The Patriots Day groups resorted to fist fights in the early fighting, due to their lack of weapons. Some people improvised with flag poles and rocks, while others managed to commandeer weapons from Antifa members or ones that had been dropped as group lines changed. The fighting quickly spilled into the streets as Patriots Day groups managed to push Antifa and affiliates out of the park, eventually getting Antifa to retreat altogether.
Over two dozen people have been arrested as a result of their actions during what is now being called “The Battle for Berkeley”. More arrests have been made in the following days as police examine footage from the event. Both sides of the clash are working online to expose the other in hopes of the police arresting more of the other side. Arresting Antifa members has proven to be difficult, as Antifa engages in “black bloc” tactics, meaning they mask themselves in similar dark clothing, making it difficult for them to be identified and held accountable for their actions.
One of the high profile arrests at the clash was of event speaker Kyle Chapman, who has rose to internet fame as “Based Stickman” or “The Alt-Knight”, based on footage of him adorned in pads striking Antifa with sticks at both park protests that have occurred this year.
These park clashes were preempted by an Antifa protest that started the trend when Antifa rioted against conservative provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos. They managed to get Milo’s speech at UC Berkeley cancelled, but not before causing over $100,000 in damage to the campus and surrounding area. The clashes will likely continue, as prominent conservative Ann Coulter plans to speak at UC Berkeley on April 27, despite UC Berkeley attempting to cancel her speech and trying to renegotiate terms to avoid violence. Milo Yiannopoulos has also announced that he intends to make a comeback to Berkeley.
Photo courtesy of Gage Skidmore.