As San Francisco braces for an invasion of unknown size of alt-right and white nationalist factions a week from Saturday, one vital thing still does not seem to have gotten through to those on the left and those who believe that fascism must be met with loud, angry anti-fascist resistance: You are giving them what they want by showing up.
It may seem insane, and antithetical to all that the Bay Area represents to many of us, to allow and implicitly condone the presence of groups who spout racial hatred like those who showed up to rally in Charlottesville last weekend. But they are coming, they have a legal right to gather, and while protest of various creative kinds should take place, battles with sticks, shields, and pepper spray should not. The sooner the passionate foes of racism and fascism understand this, the better off this country will be. Perhaps the liberal youth of 2017 needs to be reminded that the most powerful images of the civil rights era came out of acts of passive resistance that were met with violence and rage. We are living in an age when images matter more than ever, and spread within seconds across social media, and the worst thing you can do to an alt-right rally is ignore it and make it look as small as possible, and show up in greater numbers elsewhere.
"The antifas feel that they have to come and have to confront them,” says Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguin, speaking to the Chronicle. “So you have two sides who are so passionate and ideological about what they believe in that it’s hard to talk some sense into them."
Rallies by the group Patriot Prayer are planned at San Francisco's Crissy Field on August 26, and in downtown Berkeley on August 27, and many of the attendees want nothing more than to have to do battle again in Berkeley for the third time in six months so that they can play the victim and contend that they never provoke violence. If you watched Vice News's excellent coverage of Charlottesville on Monday night, which you can see below, white supremacist figure Christopher Cantwell states that from his perspective, the alt-right showed great restraint in the face of leftist violence Saturday, and he passes off the vehicular death of one woman and injuries to 19 others as potentially an accidental casualty of one man's defensive panic in the face of attacks from counter-protesters.
California-based white nationalist leader Nathan Damigo of the group Identity Evropa, virally famous in April after video spread of him appearing to punch a female counter-protester during some chaos in Berkeley (he so far faces no charges), echoes Cantwell's sentiment to the Chronicle, clearly repeating what is currently the alt-right party line on the guilt or innocence of 20-year-old James Field Jr. He also helped organize the Unite the Right rally that led to the deaths of three people, including two law enforcement officers killed in a helicopter crash.
"We simply don’t know what the intent was,” Damigo tells the Chronicle in an interview, regarding Field. “I do feel that the blood rests in the hands of local law enforcement as well as the city officials in Charlottesville, because [they] created a scenario that created chaos and violence."
Damigo spoke also to KQED on Monday, suggesting that Charlottesville is going to aid in recruitment for the alt-right and, "I think there’s going to be a lot of people who are going to, for the first time, realize that they’re not getting the full story."
He also confirmed that groups like his thrive on the publicity that comes as a result of antifa groups coming to wage war with them. "The more these people kick and scream and whine and cry, the more publicity we get," he tells KQED.
Because Crissy Field, where the first rally is planned on August 26, is federal land, Patriot Prayer applied to the Golden Gate National Recreation Area for a permit, and they've gotten one, as an agency rep confirms to the Chronicle. Supervisor Mark Farrell, in whose district the event will occur, issued a statement saying his office would be coordinating with the National Park Service. He added "While I appreciate the event organizers claiming that they condemn hate and violence, we must remain vigilant. Unfortunately, at past events they have hosted, fringe individuals and hate groups have felt emboldened to publicly share their racist and discriminatory views. Those individuals and groups are not welcome here in San Francisco and should not plan to attend this rally."
The location will be particularly powerful when it comes to image-making, and that is likely the intent of Patriot Prayer in choosing it. Ostensibly a "religious" organization, the Southern Poverty Law Center calls them "provocateurs" and confirms that their previous rallies have appeared to be attempts "to provoke black-clad ideologues on the left into acts of violence." And pictures and video of such violence with the Golden Gate Bridge as a backdrop given all that the words "San Francisco" symbolize for commentators on the right, and even the center-right are most certainly what extremist groups and alt-right personalities are hoping for.
A Sunday event organized by the group in downtown Seattle was largely peaceful, however, and the SPLC reports that protesters on the left far outnumbered those who showed up on the right.
"The park will review and assess safety,” says GGNRA spokesperson Sonja Hanson of the Crissy Field event. “We’re planning accordingly.”
Mayor Ed Lee is calling for peace and love in the face of any hatred, saying, "I ask that when they chant of hate, San Francisco chants of love."
Arreguin is more pointed in his comments when it comes to facing yet another potential battle on the streets of Berkeley the following day. "If this was really about freedom of speech the city of Berkeley welcomes freedom of speech,” he tells the Chronicle. “This isn’t about that. This is about confrontation. This is about people coming to commit violence and spout hate speech and promote bigotry and promote white supremacy.”
Hanging banners from the Golden Gate Bridge, engaging in non-violent, non-confrontational acts that make the alt-right look silly, those are the kinds of things activists on the left should be planning. But, 1,300 people have already expressed interest in a planned counter-protest at Crissy Field the title of which, "Unafraid!," implies the possibility of violence.
Lecia Brooks, an Oakland native, just helped co-author this guide to dealing with alt-right invasions on liberal college campuses for the Southern Poverty Law Center. As she tells the Chronicle, "They’re trying to agitate a lot of people into reacting to them... They're determined to make a name for themselves."
The guide suggests holding alternative events during alt-right speaking engagements or rallies, in a different location, rather than showing up where they are and creating a spectacle. "Alt-right personalities know their cause is helped by news footage of large jeering crowds, heated confrontations and outright violence at their events... Denying an alt-right speaker of such a spectacle is the worst insult they can endure."
All in the Bay Area who want to show that hate and white nationalism will not be tolerated here should do so by showing up in numbers elsewhere marching down Market Street, drawing the cameras away from what may turn out to be small gatherings of extremists, all armed to do battle again and eager to do it.
As Cantwell told Vice, shortly after the events in Charlottesville, summing up the hunger for confrontation on the alt-right, "I think it's going to be really tough to top but we're up to the challenge... I think a lot more people are going to die before we're done here... These people want violence and the right is just meeting market demand."