Update, Sept. 28: The preliminary hearing in this case has been postponed, and Eric Clanton is not set to return to court until Dec. 14, when attorneys will attempt to resolve the case during pretrial. If no resolution can be made, a new preliminary hearing date will be set, said Clanton’s attorney, Dan Siegel, on Thursday morning.
Original story, Aug. 24: Eric Clanton, charged with attacking four people with a bike lock at a Berkeley rally, has put out a statement criticizing Berkeley police for allegedly using the work of a “swarm of internet trolls” to arrest him.
On April 15, masked anti-fascist, or antifa, demonstrators, allegedly including Clanton, showed up to “shut down” a far-right rally in Civic Center Park. They got into violent clashes with a range of rally attendees, including some white supremacists.
After the rally, users of “/pol/,” a far-right forum on the website 4chan, got to work trying to identify an antifa member seen in videos attacking protesters with a metal U-lock. Examining close-up images from the April 15 rally, the amateur detectives tried to identify the masked attacker by matching up his perceived height and hairline with photos of people at a previous rally and on social media. They ultimately determined that Clanton, a former professor at Diablo Valley College, was the perpetrator.
When the online detective work was publicized by far-right icon Milo Yiannopoulos, people began posting Clanton’s address online, threatening him with violence and inundating his employers with calls to fire him, Clanton said in his statement, posted online on Aug. 16.
“Dealing with an unintelligible internet force smearing and threatening me online was not easy, and created stress to say the least, but I had every expectation that very few people would take them seriously, especially considering the character and credibility of their sources,” he wrote in the statement. However, many online began questioning why the Berkeley Police Department was not arresting Clanton.
In late May, Berkeley police searched Clanton’s San Leandro home, and later found him in Oakland, where they arrested him and took him into custody.
In his statement, Clanton alleged that he was told by a Berkeley officer, during an interview at the police station, that “the internet did the work for us.” The 4chan users also congratulated themselves for leading the police to Clanton and cheered his arrest.
BPD spokeswoman Officer Jenn Coats said the department would not comment on Clanton’s statement because the case is still going through the court process.
“Our officers conducted a complete and thorough investigation, which was presented to the District Attorney’s Office for charging,” Coats wrote in an email.
Police have not said what role the online sleuthing played in their investigation, but in May, Capt. Ed Spiller told Berkeleyside the videos of the bike lock attack were staggering.
“As a normal person viewing the video, it’s kind of shocking in my opinion,” he said.
On May 26, Clanton was charged with four counts of felony assault with a deadly weapon, with the special allegation of causing great bodily injury to one of the alleged victims. He pled not guilty and was released from jail that night on a $100,000 bail. His preliminary hearing, originally set for Aug. 10, was rescheduled for Sept. 28.
Clanton’s attorney Dan Siegel confirmed that the August statement was indeed written by his client.
In it, Clanton said police should not rely on the work of the angry online masses.
“My case threatens to set a new standard in which right wing extremists can select targets for repression and have police enthusiastically and forcefully pursue them,” he wrote. “All of this moves in a strategy to further chill dissent, and to clamp down on resistance to the dangerous and aggressive growth of the exact kind of white supremacist violence that we saw this last weekend” in Charlottesville, Virginia, he wrote.
In the wake of the white supremacist march in Charlottesville, where a counter-protester was killed and others injured, people on the left also attempted to identify some of the white nationalists on the internet. One man who attended both the Virginia and Berkeley rallies resigned from his job at Top Dog after Twitter user @YesYoureRacist outed him.
However, other similar efforts misidentified an Arkansas man as the person in a photograph from the march, revealing the risks of online “doxxing,” or outing, according to the New York Times.
Some of the far-right protesters from the April 15 rally and others plan to return to Berkeley for another demonstration this Sunday, Aug. 27. Local antifa members have said they will meet them there, and other progressive groups plan to hold a non-violent counter-demonstration on Crescent Lawn right beforehand. A number of other groups, including local musicians and anti-racist organization Standing Up for Racial Justice are holding related counter-protests nearby. The interfaith Network for Spiritual Progressives is planning a counter-demonstration on Saturday in Civic Center Park at 3 p.m.
The city of Berkeley, which put out a statement last week asking residents to stay away from all protests in the downtown area Sunday, has printed 20,000 posters that say “Berkeley stands united against hate.” Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguín provided a list of locations where the posters can be picked up and is promoting a number of upcoming community events against hate and bigotry.