The Saturday, April 15, farmers market next to Civic Center Park has been canceled because of fears vendors and patrons might be at risk if a planned rally by militant Trump supporters, as well as their combative opponents, turns violent.
Martin Bourque, director of the Ecology Center which runs the market, said the center decided to cancel the market because of the unpredictability of the planned “Patriots Day” rally, which is scheduled to start at the park at noon. A counter-rally organized by people on the far left will begin at 10 a.m. In early March, the last time the two sides met in the park, the protests turned bloody, police seized numerous bats and sticks, and ten people were arrested.
“We are deeply saddened that political confrontations have escalated this far,” the Ecology Center said in a statement. “In a peace-loving City with such a long non-violent tradition, it is terrible that the only responsible course of action is to close [the] market this Saturday. We have to be very cautious, as there are usually hundreds of shoppers, including children and elders, at our markets.”
It is the first time the farmers market has been canceled for anything other than extreme weather, said Bourque.
Berkeley has become a target for some far-right Trump supporters who feel free-speech rights were trampled when black-bloc and Antifa protesters shut down a Feb. 2 speech by the former Breitbart News agitator Milo Yiannopoulos. The two sides met up again in a violent confrontation in Civic Center Park on March 4.
The planned pro-Trump, pro-patriot rally is sponsored by the Liberty Revival Alliance, a new group created by Rich Black, who organized the March 4 protest. The group said in a video it is seeking to put on a peaceful march, along with other groups, including the Oath Keepers, 2 Million Bikers, and the Northern California Bikers for Trump. The rally will feature a number of speakers who are prominent because of their pro-gun, pro-nationalist, anti-immigrant views. The top-billed speaker is Lauren Southern, a right-wing Canadian activist who frequently writes about feminism and immigration. Others include Vaughn Neville — aka “The Man Spot,” who calls himself a “modern American patriot” and is a fervent supporter of gun rights — and Brittany Pettibone, a far-right nationalist.
Kyle Chapman, who was arrested after what police said was felony assault with a deadly weapon after beating people with a large stick at the March protest, is slated to speak Saturday as well.
Numerous supporters have posted videos to YouTube declaring that they will be traveling to Berkeley, or are tweeting and posting on Facebook. A man named Bunker from the 2 Million Bikers hopes to draw enough motorcycle riders to encircle Berkeley.
When those on the right arrive, they will be met by those on the left, many of whom have been confrontational in the past. On March 4 the By Any Means Necessary (BAMN) group confronted the Trump supporters and shouted at them to leave.
“Let’s fill MLK 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 the hate — all while enjoying dope beats and delicious BBQ protest,” reads a posting on the Strike Against Gender webpage.
The counter-protesters, a group of activists with different affiliations calling themselves Defend the Bay, plan to arrive at the park at 10 a.m. Berkeley Antifa is participating, as is the Antifa Noise Brigade, which wants to create loud noise and also protest with glitter and paint.
“We are going to occupy the square with music, speakers, and food,” Ryan Smith, one of the organizers of the counter-demonstration, told Berkeleyside.
“When [the pro-Trump protesters] arrive we are going to continue to hold the space for the people of Berkeley and deny their use of it. We are expecting to do this just by mobilizing sufficient mass. If they get violent we will defend ourselves but we will not initiate violence in this demonstration,” Smith said.
The counter-protest event flyer instructs participants to wear masks to conceal their identities.
“Some folks may be bringing protective clothing,” Smith said. “There may be some people who bring shields but we are not going to be coming in looking to cause trouble.”
No one has taken out a permit for a protest, according to Bourque.
Bourque said on Saturday he was agonizing over whether to close the market. It is right before Easter and many farmers have already taken a financial hit this winter because heavy rains flooded their crops. The Ecology Center stands to lose funds, too, from the loss of stall rental fees, he said.
But the police told the Ecology Center that they expect large numbers of people to come to the park during peak market hours. “A similar event on March 4th (March4Trump) was unpredictable and resulted in several injuries,” read the Ecology Center’s release. “It is our goal to create a safe and welcoming environment for all customers, vendors, and staff at our farmers’ markets. Based on the information we have, we do not feel it is responsible to run a market on Saturday the 15th.”
“This winter has been so brutal,” said Bourque. “We have been flooded out, gotten stuff to market late. People sell thousands of dollars (of produce) a day. They are going to take a hit.”
Berkeley officials have offered additional support during the market, said Bourque. However, he is concerned that if things get out of hand, police will be needed at the park itself.
Berkeley police have taken a mostly hands-off attitude to the protests, arguing that it is better to allow property damage than try and intervene in an unruly mob.
“Intervening on intermixed groups of armed participants fighting or eager to fight presents challenges,” Police Chief Andrew Greenwood wrote in a memo to the city manager after the March 4 rally. “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 a crime. Finally, intervention risks escalating an event into a full riot.”
Natalie Orenstein contributed reporting to this story.