Berkeley’s new mayor, Jesse Arreguín, could not have known that five months after he was elected, his city would become ground zero for a civil war of sorts that pits extremists from the right and left against each other. Three violent rallies have taken place in Berkeley since February, one on the Cal campus, and more are anticipated.
While far-right groups are calling the cultural and political clash “The Battle for Berkeley,” Arreguin has underscored Berkeley’s commitment to free speech, most recently in an opinion piece for the Chronicle, published Wednesday.
But the “battle” has also turned personal for Arreguín and his staff, who have been barraged with hateful emails, tweets and phone calls. The hatred is not just aimed at Berkeley, the left-leaning city that many like to poke fun at.
A number of right-wing activists have also tried to lump the young mayor — he’s 32 — with the far-left group By Any Means Necessary. They examined his Facebook page (and those of many staffers), and discovered that Arreguín had “liked” the BAMN page and was “friends” with Yvette Felarca, one of the group’s most high-profile members. They then accused Arreguín of supporting the violence committed by masked, black-clad antifa anarchists at various rallies.
“Wait, what? The mayor of Berkeley is a member of BAMN? Is that why we were arrested the moment we went near their leader Felarca?” wrote Gavin McInnes, the co-founder of Vice, a conservative media personality, and founder of the Proud Boys, a right-wing, pro-America group. He is slated to speak at a rally Thursday in lieu of Ann Coulter, who canceled plans for her own speech citing security problems and other complaints.
Breitbart News ran with the headline “Berkeley Mayor Is Member of antifa Facebook Group that Organized Riots.”
Arreguín admitted he had been following BAMN on Facebook and also had Felarca listed as a Facebook friend.
But, as he explained to Berkeleyside, keeping track of a group on Facebook does not mean you necessarily endorse them or are a member of their organization. “The folks at Breitbart know that, but they are in the business of misinformation,” he wrote to Berkeleyside earlier this week. “I am not a member of BAMN, and I do not support the views and the violent actions of that group.”
Arreguín added that he follows Donald Trump on Twitter. “Would Breitbart suggest that makes me a Trump supporter?” he asked.
As recently as Tuesday, Fox News continued to report on the accusations, however, and quoted an anonymous source saying Arreguín was “bolstering leftist groups by quietly aligning himself with them.” “Mayor Arreguín is not representing all of Berkeley right now,” the source said, “He’s coming from a deep leftist position.”
And on an anonymous message board thread started Sunday, in which people discussed what they should bring with them to a proposed protest in Berkeley on Thursday — suggestions included face masks, goggles, Kevlar helmets, armguards and Pepto-Bismol to mix with water in case of pepper spray — one poster described Arreguín as a terrorist, because, they said, BAMN is a terrorist group. Another poster responded: “Someone should storm that faggots house and hang him with an antifa flag next to him. day of the rope fuck commies [sic].”
Arreguín is also being held responsible by some on the right for what they see as too hands-off of an approach by Berkeley police at recent rallies that left some injured.
— Dawn Interesting (@Dawnhomes) April 21, 2017
It’s not only the mayor who is being targeted. His senior aide, Jacquelyn McCormick, received a hateful, threatening voicemail this week directed at her in which an agitated man called her “a fucking c***” over and over again and and said her “days were numbered.” Ranting about how the liberals of Berkeley were really “totalitarian scumbags,” the male voice also said he would be calling McCormick’s husband who he identified correctly as a banker. “Really, we should put you people in a fucking meat grinder and feed you to the animals,” he raged.
McCormick said the mayor’s office has been deluged by phone calls ever since Feb. 1 when the extreme antifa protesters, using “black-bloc” tactics, turned a demonstration against the slated appearance of Milo Yiannopoulos on the UC Berkeley campus into a violent riot.
McCormick said the office had begun to let calls coming in from outside area codes roll to voicemail, but she also sometimes picks up calls.
“I am always very nice to them,” she said Wednesday. “I’ve even had a couple of good conversations.”
McCormick said most of the callers, however, were “screamers.” One asked to speak to “the antifa department” when she picked up the phone.
The threatening voicemail was left on McCormick’s cellphone, which is not listed. She said she was not letting it upset her, but she had been advised to report the call to the police, which she did. McCormick has also been physically attacked and robbed by antifa members. At the Milo rally, she was taking photographs on her phone of protesters vandalizing banks downtown. She was knocked to the ground and her phone was snatched. She said she leaped up and grabbed one of the attackers by his clothes, and demanded her phone back. The group did not comply.
McCormick said the mayor is personally monitoring many of the social media feeds of the extremist groups that are criticizing him and Berkeley, and that promise to descend on the city to rally.
“He is looking at everyone from all sides — he’s an equal opportunity information gatherer,” she said.
She also said staffers in his office have reached out to some of the local groups and encouraged them not to attend the rallies.
“They tell them it’s best not to show up and to add fuel to the fire,” she said
McCormick expressed frustration at how the extremists were diverting the city’s resources from its principal work, serving the people of Berkeley. The city of Berkeley said overtime pay for the March 4 rally, where 10 people were arrested and a number were hurt, cost $90,000.
But McCormick added: “Our first priority is keeping the city, its people and its businesses safe. Bantering about [Ann] Coulter or antifa — that’s not our focus.”
Read more about recent protests in Berkeley.