AntiFa Comes to Berkeley Rally as Right Stays Away

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In the absence of right-wing extremists, the hundreds of AntiFa members focused their ire on law enforcement. Alexander Nazaryan

"If we are snowflakes," said the young woman's placard, "Nazis beware: Winter is here." It was a play on the right's mockery of the left's supposedly delicate, snowflake-like sensibilities. Like many of the other signs hoisted in Berkeley, California, on Sunday afternoon, it was intended to show the organizers of a right-wing rally that they were not welcome in this famous bastion of liberalism.

The neo-Nazis, white nationalists and right-wing extremists failed to materialize, much as they had in San Francisco the day before. There, an event billed as a "Patriot Prayer" was canceled and the city's streets filled with counter-protesters. The rally that was to take place in Berkeley on Sunday was called "No to Marxism in America." Violence was feared because there had been three such clashes between politically opposing factions since February, when an appearance by right-wing provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos had to be canceled because of mass disorder on the Berkeley campus.

That was the work of AntiFa, the loosely-organized group of "anti-fascist" leftists who believe that violence is acceptable in countering right-wing extremism. On the night of the canceled Yiannopoulos appearance, they set off flares, destroyed property on campus and rampaged through the Berkeley city center, breaking windows. They were responsible, in part, for two subsequent skirmishes in Berkeley. Since then, President Trump and Trump-friendly outlets like Fox News and Breitbart have used Antifa as a symbol of the excesses of the left.

In the absence of right-wing extremists from Martin Luther King Jr. Civic Center Park, the hundreds of AntiFa members—identified by their black outfits and masked faces—focused their ire on law enforcement, including members of the police departments of Berkeley and Oakland, as well as the California Highway Patrol. These officers were not hard to find, even as the crowd swelled to thousands under the warm California sun. Hoping to avoid the kind of violence that transpired earlier this month in Charlottesville, dozens of helmeted officers ringed the park where the "No to Marxism in America" rally was to have taken place. Members of the public wanting to enter the premises were searched. Potential weapons were confiscated.

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AntiFa presence strong at the failed Berkeley “No to Marxism in America" rally. Alexander Nazaryan

Members of AntiFa faced off with police officers along Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, which borders Civic Center Park, taunting the officers from across orange construction barricades. It was here, near Berkeley's historic city hall, that the AntiFa presence was strongest. It was also where the tenor of the rally was decidedly anti-law enforcement, in contrast to the mood elsewhere, as under a tent where members of a religious congregation joyously sang, or where a vendor offered Corona beer from a cooler, claiming against evidence that it was already "happy hour."

Speaking from the back of a flatbed truck, one AntiFa speaker urged those gathered to "fight the white supremacists who wear the uniform." Those uniformed officers did not respond to those provocations, retreating back from Civic Center Park after it became clear that the right's anti-Marxist brigades would be a no-show. AntiFa took this as a victory. "Fuck the police," some chanted. Others unfurled a banner: "Fuck this shit," it said. Eventually, the AntiFa legions marched to nearby Ohlone Park, for a sort of victory celebration.

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Speaking from the back of a flatbed truck, one AntiFa speaker urged those gathered to “fight the white supremacists who wear the uniform.” Alexander Nazaryan

In all, the Berkeley Police Department made ten arrests. And though tear gas was deployed on several occasions, there was no wide-scale violence of the kind that gripped Berkeley last spring. The presence of AntiFa, however, was an ominous sign that an anarchic element can easily hijack what is an otherwise peaceful demonstration. And since the right is already planning more demonstrations, the threat of violence will remain.

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The neo-Nazis, white nationalists and right-wing extremists failed to materialize. Alexander Nazaryan

Yet this demonstration was, for the most part, peaceful. Most of the attendants wanted only to rebuke neo-Nazis, white nationalists—and President Trump. Calls to impeach him were legion, if unsurprising. So were condemnations of hate, as well as pleas for comity.

"No hitting," urged a banner affixed to the portico of Berkeley's old city hall.

"Love, Mom," it was signed.

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In all, the Berkeley Police Department made ten arrests. Alexander Nazaryan