Berkeley is bracing itself for another day of potentially disruptive rallies that might break out in violence.
Members of a number of far-right groups have said they are planning to hold a demonstration at Civic Center Park, some gathering at 10 a.m., others at 2 p.m., to protest Ann Coulter’s cancellation of a speech she had planned to deliver today at UC Berkeley. Others may gather on campus.
Those groups include the Proud Boys, an aggressive, “pro-Western” organization started by conservative commentator Gavin McInnes, who is flying in from New York for the event. A number of those who spoke at the April 15 Patriots Day rally will be there too, including Lauren Southern, a Canadian media personality, and Brittany Pettibone, the far-right sci-fi writer from Gilroy. The Oath Keepers, an organization of former military and law enforcement officers that provided “security” on April 15, along with the groups, American Civil Defense, III% patriots, and bikers from Two Million Bikers, will also be there.
Kyle Chapman, who is nicknamed Based Stickman, and who has been arrested twice in Berkeley in connection to his involvement in the violent March 4 rally, said he plans on coming. In recent days he has teamed up with McInnes to form a new, militant arm of The Proud Boys, called the Fraternal Order of Alt-Knights. According to a Chapman Facebook post, this group intends to “protect and defend our right wing brethren when the police and government fail to do so. This organization is for those that possess the Warrior Spirit. The weak or timid need not apply.”
— ))Bershae Sargon(( (@BershaeS) April 27, 2017
A group of Berkeley residents, tired of watching the city’s streets become battlegrounds, are planning their own demonstration. Members of the new group Respect Berkeley will gather at 2134 Martin Luther King Jr. Way., across the street from Civic Center Park, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., according to a press release.
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“Respect Berkeley is a group of Berkeley residents who are troubled that our community has been turned into a battlefield by groups more interested in violence than in supporting people’s rights,” Paula Aiello, one of the group’s founders, said in the release. “We believe that the majority of the American people, and especially the people of Berkeley, are committed to taking care of each other and safeguarding the foundations of our government which exists to respect and protect all of us… To that end, we stand in nonviolent witness for our peaceful, progressive community.”
Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguín and UC Berkeley Chancellor Nicholas Dirks issued a joint statement Thursday morning restating their support of freedom of expression and condemning violence or preventing others from speaking.
“The values of openness, equity, diversity and freedom of speech are deeply enshrined in our community,” they wrote. “Both the City of Berkeley and the University of California have been at the forefront of free speech and continue to do so to this day. We have worked on finding solutions that ensure that those who wish to speak are able to do so in a safe space.”
“What we will not do is allow our students, other members of the campus community, and the public to be needlessly endangered by permitting an event to be held in a venue that our police force does not believe to be protectable.”
“We have gone above and beyond to protect freedom of speech, contrary to many misleading reports. While we cherish our freedoms of speech and assembly, there is no freedom to silence others or to commit violence. If you are at a demonstration and you see violence, separate yourself. Keep a distance from violence. If you can do so safely, report it to police. The City and University stands together in our commitment to protect the fundamental principles of democracy — freedom of expression, thought and peaceful assembly, and we call on everyone to do the same.”
The big question mark is whether members of the antifa and extreme left will show up in Berkeley to thwart the message being delivered by McInnes, Chapman and others. The fighting at the March 4 and April 15 rallies was, in large part, initiated by those using so-called black-bloc tactics, although those on the right responded fiercely.
A spokesman for BAMN, or By Any Means Necessary, a militant anti-racist group that vows there will be “no business as usual” while President Trump remains in power, said Wednesday he did not think the group would protest. But Hoku Jeffrey made that comment to Berkeleyside shortly after Coulter canceled, and before right-wing activists announced the Civic Center Park rally.
Berkeleyside has heard from other people who have fought fiercely against the far-right groups, whom they consider racist and fascist, who say they won’t protest today.
Further complicating the issue is the fact that Civic Center Park is across the street from Berkeley High and its more than 3,000 students.
Erin Schweng, the principal, told parents and guardians in an email that the school is taking precautions to ensure the safety of its students. She asked them to encourage their children to stay away from the park, Shattuck Avenue, and the Cal campus. The high school plans to close the Allston Way entrance to school after 9 a.m. and keep it closed throughout the day. There will be extra safety staff on site too. Schweng said, “We will make a determination about how to proceed with lunch dismissal based on how events in the morning unfold.”
The Berkeley Chamber sent out an email to its members Thursday morning with recommendations on how to handle possible riots. Suggestions included not leaving anything outside their businesses that could be used as projectiles (signs, chairs, tables, trash receptacles), subscribing to Nixle alerts, and keeping tabs on local media. “Keep an eye out for objects being stored that could be used as weapons by others. Remove them or call BPD. Based on your observations and information you gather, prepare to make an independent decision on whether to close your business,” the Chamber wrote.
Berkeley and UC Berkeley police will be out in large numbers. A Berkeleyside reader saw what he described as “a big roll-out” of cars and vans from BPD HQ at around 7:45 a.m Thursday morning, and another reader spotted a staging area for the police near the Greek Theatre at around 8 a.m.. The departments have not revealed how they plan to respond to any outbreaks of violence, although UC Police Captain Alex Yao said officers would not take the hands-off approach they adopted during the violent rally against Milo Yiannopoulous on Feb.1.