Berkeley, Calif. has become a focal point of ideological conflict in the new Trump era, with the president’s supporters motivated to take a stand in the bluest of cities in one of the country’s bluest states, and with the left looking for a proximate target for their outrage against Trump’s xenophobic and Islamaphobic agenda and narrow nationalism.
A pro-Trump “Patriots Day” rally scheduled for Saturday in Berkeley, which is expected to run up against sharp resistance from militant leftists, merited mention from Stewart Rhodes, the founder and national director of Oath Keepers, last weekend at a private park outside of Winston-Salem. Rhodes founded Oath Keepers as a far-right consortium of military veterans and retired law enforcement officers in 2009, Rhodes has been barnstorming the country and making the call-in interviews “to unite the American warrior class.” While many Oath Keepers members balk at being called a militia, Rhodes has embraced the reference as a fulfilment of the founders’ vision of a military made up of the people.
“We’re going [to Berkeley] because people are having their rights violated,” Rhodes said during a speech at the North Carolina Oath Keepers Summit at Jomeokee Park in Stokes County on April 8. “So it could be argued that with the full support of the local politicians, thugs in the streets are beating people up and suppressing their rights to free speech and assembly. It could be argued that California is in a state of insurrection.”
Saturday’s rally in Berkeley is organized by Rich Black of the Liberty Revival Alliance, and features Rhodes as a speaker, along with Lauren Southern, Vaughn Neville, Brittany Pettibone and Kyle Chapman. The latter is better known as “Based Stickman,” who has become a folk hero of the right after charging into a group of militant leftists with a long stick and shield while clad in a helmet and shin guards during a previous rally on March 4, which was also organized by Black.
As with the previous confrontation, militant leftists are planning to hold a counter-demonstration at Civic Park to hold the ground two hours in advance of the scheduled “Patriots Day” rally.
Billed as a “Defend the Bay Block Party & Cookout Against the Alt-Right,” a Facebook invitation on Berkeley Antifa’s page says, “Let’s come together to enjoy music, food, speakers and each other’s company while we drown out the embarrassing attempts of racists and nationalists to display their hate-fueled support for Trump. Let’s fill MLK [Civic] Park with our resilient bodies before these bigots can even show their faces, prevent their rally, and send the message that we aren’t down with hate — all while enjoying dope beats and delicious BBQ.”
— Steve McQueen (@stevemcqueen777) March 12, 2017
During the March 4 demonstration, where police estimated that the crowd peaked at 400 people, police Chief Andrew Greenwood reported to the city manager: “There were multiple assaults, all between elements of the crowd. This was not surprising. Many on both sides attended armed with weapons, shields, pepper spray, portable radios, smoke canisters, etc., wearing protective padding and helmets and in at least one confirmed case, ballistic armor.”
Rhodes has faulted the Berkeley police for failing to keep the two sides apart on March 4 and previously during on Feb. 2 when right-wing provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos was prevented from speaking.
Chief Greenwood noted in his report about the March 4 demonstration that initially the two groups massed in separate crowds, but noted that as more people arrived the two sides moved closer together and eventually “converged into one large group.”
“Fights broke out intermittently between various protesters and counter-protesters through the event,” Greenwood reported. “These altercations usually took place in the middle of the group, and lasted a few seconds. Based on the location of and duration of the altercations, it was frequently difficult for officers on the ground to identify primary aggressor, suspects and victims. BPD teams provided medical attention to those who needed it, and sought descriptions and other leads from victims and witnesses, many of whom were uncooperative. When officers did observe criminal acts, they took coordinated enforcement action when practical, while balancing the need to make individual arrests against he need of managing the risks posed by the overall event.”
The chief justified the police not taking a more aggressive tack.
“A fight within a volatile crowd is not a simple matter in which to intervene,” he wrote. “Intervening on intermixed groups of armed participants fighting or eager to fight presents challenges. Intervention requires a major commitment of resources, a significant use of force, and carries with it the strong likelihood of harming those who are not committing. Finally, intervention risks escalating an event into a full riot.”
The Berkeley police did not return multiples phone calls from Triad City Beat seeking comment.
Rhodes said in an interview after his speech at the North Carolina Oath Keepers Summit that his group expects to have a contingent of current and retired law enforcement officers from California and Nevada in Berkeley on Saturday. He said Oath Keepers will not be arguing or getting in left-wing protesters’ faces.
“We’re there to keep the peace and keep the two sides apart,” Rhodes said. “We hope the police will do their job.”
The left has also drawn lessons from the March 4 rally. An anonymous post reviewing the confrontation on the It’s Going Down website — described as “a media platform for revolutionary anarchist, anti-fascist, and autonomous anti-capitalist and anti-colonial movements” — concludes, “By showing up and taking space, we created an unwelcoming environment for the enemy. But by allowing our enemies to enter into that space, the door is opened up for confrontation and putting ourselves at risk.”
At the North Carolina Oath Keepers Summit, Rhodes largely characterized his group’s plans for Berkeley as merely an interest in protecting free speech through an armed deterrent presence. Rhodes views patriotic defenders of the Constitution as being in a fight to the death with a totalitarian troika of communists, radical Islamists and globalists, and in previous statements has made more bellicose statements about confronting left-wing adversaries in Berkeley.
“It’s a rapidly heating civil war,” Rhodes said two days after the Berkeley protest against Yiannopoulos on the Hagmann & Hagmann Report, a far-right internet broadcast. “I know a lot of folks don’t like to use that terminology. But you can call it an insurrection against the Constitution, which is very accurate. On our side, it’d be a battle for restoration, but it’s gonna take on the same characteristics as any civil war in human history. We have an immensely divided nation.”
The call to action on the Oath Keepers website articulates an unwillingness to cede any ground, including the most progressive cities in the country.
“There can be no such thing as a ‘no free speech zone’ in the founders’ republic,” the post states. “There can be no such thing as ‘no-go zones’ where patriotic Americans cannot go, under threat of violence from America-hating Marxist thugs.”
Rhodes went on to say on the Hagmann broadcast that because of the left’s inability to “brainwash” Americans during the Obama administration, “Now their last resort is to kill us all.”
“Any of the cities dominated by Democrats you can expect a stand-down order,” Rhodes said in early February. “That’s why people must be prepared to defend themselves. They must go in groups of six to a dozen at least, and be ready to fight. And I really think that what we need to see in this country now is for the people themselves to stand up and reinstitute the militia that we’ve supposed to be. And I know it’s a scary word and it’s been demonized by the left. It really amounts to you and your neighbors coming together for mutual aid and self-defense. We need to do that together as a community. That’s the real way to counter this.”