Is this black bloc's biggest ever showing in the Bay Area? pic.twitter.com/qX1Ck3j8Sh— Michael Montgomery (@MichaelMontCIR) August 27, 2017
We used to use the term "anarchists" or "black bloc" to describe the marauding, black-masked kids who showed up for various Occupy-era and Black Lives Matter protests in the last half decade, particularly in Oakland, often with an apparent goal of smashing store windows. The anti-police, anti-capitalism sentiments expressed by those activists have given way to what's more commonly now being called "antifa," and a debate got louder in recent weeks about the effectiveness of antifa's violent tactics in confronting right-wing and far-right activists who now see it as their duty to poke liberal hives like Berkeley in the name of free speech some with more violent intentions of their own, others less so.
Now Berkeley is bracing itself for another potential conflict in its streets this Thursday when conservative speaker Ben Shapiro is scheduled to appear on campus even though Shapiro himself is anti-Trump, and not aligned with more caustic, incendiary figures like Milo Yiannopoulos and Ann Coulter, who claim they will be coming to campus for a "Free Speech Week" event later this month. And, naturally, Donald Trump, Jr. chimed in on Twitter to react to the press coverage about this riot-weary city "bracing" itself as if for a meteor strike, but he probably hasn't been as pummeled with the images and debates that have arisen from Berkeley conflicts this year as most of us in the Bay Area have.
He's going there to give a speech and they treat it like an incoming meteor. Sad that we have to "brace" for words these days. https://t.co/fFXOCc0f1S— Donald Trump Jr. (@DonaldJTrumpJr) September 10, 2017
Over the weekend the Chronicle dug into the law enforcement expenses that have been incurred by seven different East Bay police departments including Berkeley's and UC Berkeley's, beginning with the late night riots and vandalism that occurred the night of a planned appearance by Yiannopoulos on February 1.
The madness continued, with the help of right-wing provocateurs, battle ready alt-right warriors, and antifa counter-protesters, on March 4, April 15, April 27, and August 27, and it may repeat itself this week and later this month. In total they've spent about $1.5 million dealing with the rallies and protests, and the August event, which was the least violent, was the most expensive, with Berkeley Police spending some $700,000 dealing with preparations and overtime. (Also, Berkeley Police are having a special meeting tomorrow to seek authorization for the use of pepper-spray.)
To that end, Berkeleyside just took a deep and worth-the-read dive into the coalition of smaller groups, loosely organized groups that form the larger group now self-identified as "antifa" or antifascist. Their basic guiding principle is that peaceful protest and the traditional civil disobedience of the liberal and center-left is not appropriate in the face of a rising tide of fascism, and white supremacy.
But what we now have are passions being inflamed on both sides as images of these street skirmishes spread, and each comes with arguments about who threw the first punch and whether it was warranted in the case of the August 27 rally and counter-protest in Berkeley, the number of right-wing ralliers was tiny, and they were dwarfed and quickly overwhelmed, in most cases violently, by antifa. Those accounts and images led to a denouncement by Nancy Pelosi, and Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguin calling for antifa to be classified as a gang.
Antifa organizer Henry Taylor (not his real name) tells Berkeleyside the coverage of the violence was blown out of proportion. "It was a totally broad cross-section from all walks of life," he says. "There were a handful of scuffles but I’ve seen much worse when the Giants won the World Series."
Countering claims that anarchists are arriving from elsewhere and are mostly white males itching for fights, he says that's not what he's seen. "They are mostly young, but they tend to be local. A lot are black or Latino, a lot are LGBT, a lot are women. It’s really very diverse, and it tends to be lower-income."
Also, interestingly, the piece reveals that an interfaith coalition of protesters from Berkeley's liberal coalitions struck an agreement with antifa ahead of August 27 in which they hashed out a written agreement to avoid property destruction, and to take a "non-violent stance" at the protest. In exchange, the more peaceful protest groups agreed to stand in solidarity against fascism, and not talk to the media about their fellow counter-protesters or anything they saw that day.
It's an interesting document because it may represent a way forward in organizing events where antifa can feel that their actions are effective without overt violence and vandalism although in this case it didn't actually prevent a few individuals from specifically targeting right-wing ralliers with punches and pepper spray.