Home to California’s flagship university, ultra-liberal Berkeley has become the epicenter of ideological conflict in the Trump era.
Beginning with a militant action by the left-wing black bloc leading to the cancelation of right-wing provocateur and now disgraced Milo Yiannopoulos’ speech at UC-Berkeley in January, a consortium of Trump supporters, nationalists and white supremacists has decided to take a stand for free speech in Berkeley, drawing predictable outrage from the Bay Area’s deep bench of left-wing activists. After Trump supporters were attacked by the black bloc and antifa — short for anti-fascist — at a March 4 rally, organizer Rich Black of the Liberty Revival Alliance vowed a return on April 15. The Oath Keepers, a militia comprised of retired law enforcement officers and military veterans, put out a call to its members to go to Berkeley and protect the free speech rights of the president’s supporters.
So what does deep blue Berkeley have to do with purple North Carolina?
The April 15 pro-Trump “Patriot’s Day” rally came up in a speech by Oath Keepers founder and national director Stewart Rhodes at the militia’s state summit in Stokes County a week before.
“We’re going [to Berkeley] because people are having their rights violated,” Rhodes said during the April 8 summit. “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.”
By all available accounts, the Oath Keepers demonstrated restraint, and Rhodes is quoted in a Los Angeles Times story as commending the Berkeley police for keeping the opposing sides apart (although that clearly wasn’t completely the case). Rhodes has said on the group’s website that he was misquoted in the paper as saying he “would kind of enjoy hitting” counter-demonstrators. “I was not talking about antifa when I said that,” Rhodes wrote. “I was talking about the actual white nationalists who showed up and tried to co-opt the event. I said we wanted nothing to do with them, and while the police told them we could not kick them out of the park, because the event organizers did not have a permit to use the park (which would have allowed them to exclude people), we would not let the white nationalists up on the concrete ring where the actual rally and speakers were, and if they tried, we would remove them physically.”
While Rhodes credited the police with maintaining a buffer zone, several press accounts indicate that opposing sides took the battle to the streets surrounding a park next to City Hall. “By 1 p.m., all semblance of order or peaceful protest were gone,” Frank Dinkelspiel reported in the Daily Beast. “The two sides 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.”