Competing protests rock Berkeley

Becky O'Malley
Friday February 03, 2017 - 08:58:00 AM
Carol Denney

Well, the "President" Dumpf jobs program is finally underway! Thanks to his surrogate’s provocative teaser/performance on Wednesday, there is work galore in downtown Berkeley, sweeping up glass, restoring windows, cleaning off graffiti.

The most evocative of those was the one sprayed on the pristine walls of the U.C. Art museum: "Liberals get the bullet too…Fuck art". It's one the "president" would endorse.

Swell, ain’t it?

And the bad boy didn’t even have to deliver his talk to get ink. Chances are, of course, that this was part of the plan, and the Black Bloc boobies leaped willingly into the trap.

They’re peas in a pod, Milo Yiannopoulos and Ronald Rumpf. And this caper seems to have been orchestrated by one of my old-time faves, David Horowitz.

Yes, that David Horowitz, once Berkeley's own. I knew him way back when he was reputed to be a genuine big-C Communist. He went on to write a left-activist paen to the student movement of the early 60s. and became a key member of the Free Speech Movement.

He lived in Berkeley for a long time trying to get a toehold in reputable journalism with little success. His perfectly nice kids went to school with my kids. But the worm has turned (to add another metaphor to the string) and now David’s moved to LA to become a henchman of the alt-right. Now he runs an outfit called—wait for it—the Horowitz Freedom Center. Sort of like the Hitler-Stalin pact, isn’t it?

Much to my—I was going to say surprise, but disgust is more appropriate, a little google led me to this Tuesday January 31 story on Breitbart.com, a sewer into whose depths I had never previously descended:

MILO Launches Horowitz Freedom Center Campaign Against ‘Sanctuary Campuses’

Here’s the lede:

“MILO and the David Horowitz Freedom Center have teamed up to take down the growing phenomenon of 'sanctuary campuses' that shelter illegal immigrants from being deported.

“MILO will kick start the campaign with a speech at the University of California’s Berkeley campus on February 1, where he, backed by the Freedom Center, will call for the withdrawal of federal grants and the prosecution of university officials who endanger their students with their policies, starting with UC President and former Secretary of Homeland Security, Janet Napolitano and Berkeley Chancellor Nicholas Dirks.

“The so-called ‘sanctuary movement’ is a concerted effort by left-wing administrations in major cities to thwart the purposes of the Patriot Act, undermine federal immigration law, and cripple the efforts of the Department of Homeland security to protect American citizens from terrorist threats,” said David Horowitz, founder and CEO of the Freedom Center. “Thanks to the efforts of left-wing activists and administrators, this seditious movement has now spread to our colleges and universities.”
And the next day, right on cue, after Wednesday’s fun’s was well underway, Dumpf tweeted: “If U.C. Berkeley does not allow free speech and practices violence on innocent people with a different point of view - NO FEDERAL FUNDS?”

Do you think they planned this outcome? Oh, surely not…and yet… 


I didn’t feel like going to the performance, but thanks to an intrepid cameraperson on buzzfeed.com, I saw a lot of the street action live-streamed in the comfort of home. I posted quick summaries of what I saw as I watched it on Wednesday night, but later a fellow viewer ( writing as “Lia Maris”) posted this comment on Buzzfeed which captured perfectly what I also observed: 


“Saying this group represents Democrats is like saying the Canadian terrorist who attacked a mosque earlier this week represents Republicans. None of us - on either side - wants this to be the face of our parties, and it isn't fair or honest to paint either group that way.  

“Did everyone just ignore the part where the anarchists wrote ‘fuck liberals too, fuck art’ and similar messages towards the very end outside the art building? We just watched a livestream showing a group of what looked to be a couple dozen (maybe 30 at most in the parts I watched) masked people dressed all in black following along the edge of a much, much larger crowd of students that wore no masks, were dressed in regular clothes, and seemed to be just as preoccupied/concerned in documenting this as the cameraman filming it. Many of the students looked a bit bewildered watching as the people dressed all in black systematically traveled from one spot to the next smashing things—almost all of the students I just saw on live film did not cheer the anarchists on, or try to hide their faces when the camera man came through clearly holding his phone up to record (meaning they were not acting as though they were part of the anarchists' actions and did not have any impulse to hide). 

“In a way, it was like watching a show fall flat—the people dressed in black were going for hype, and other than their own bullhorn and some loud music playing elsewhere, it was a weird sort of awkward chaos that wasn't being received or reflected by the people standing around watching it unfold. There may have been more groups of anarchists spread out around this protest, I have no idea from watching the live stream, but I am disappointed that so many people commenting here who also watched that with their own eyes are acting as if we just watched students or regular protestors in action. 

“Clearly, the people in black and masks were operating with coordination and a completely different agenda than that of the literal millions of people we've seen marching since his election. This group on camera was openly hostile to ‘liberals’ as much as anyone as they yelled about banks, corporations, etc. 

“Some other thoughts: I do not understand how this reporter filming was able to calmly walk along filming this until his battery ran out towards the end (right when he was starting to get pushback from the anarchists he was walking with), but somehow the campus police and other police were unable to locate them or take steps to stop the couple dozen anarchists. It gives the impression of being strangely staged; given the fact that alt-right supporters have tried to show up and bait protestors in other areas over the last few weeks, it makes the whole thing seem a bit off.” 


I think she nailed it. 


From my perspective there were two distinct actions underway on Wednesday night, operating in parallel. One was being carried out by the normal concerned-citizen student demonstrators, the ones described as “a bit bewildered”. Theirs was non-violent, cheery even, with a band and dancing in the street. 

The other crowd, not really that many of them, was something else altogether: cleverly costumed, expertly choreographed, dangerously armed with heavy stakes. A reliable friend of mine, a mature African-American woman, a Berkeley graduate with a law degree who is a veteran of Black Lives Matter demonstrations, recognized them immediately from previous actions, as she took part in the Sproul Plaza protest which preceded the downtown Berkeley rampage. 

She described them as all White, most looking to be over 30, and overwhelmingly male. This was not the Women’s March. 

(And let’s talk about cultural appropriation. Genuine Blacks can complain that the Black Bloc bullies are trying to hijack their good name.) 

She knew from previous experience that they were there to make trouble, and she warned the young students in the crowd to back off before something happened. Which it did, all too soon—she watched as some hapless fellow was beaten with the big sticks carried by two black-clothed people. 

It sure looked like a script to me. It’s likely that the unholy trinity of Horowitz, Yiannopoulos and Mumpf (most likely represented by his henchman Steve Bannon, Milo’s old boss at Breitbart) cooked this whole thing up to discredit their opponents. 

As a veteran of civil rights and anti-war protests myself, I’ve seen what we used to call “agents provocateurs” in action, not to mention less provocative but still dangerous crypto-moles. It’s painfully apparent that some of the Black Blocheads had been hired to make trouble, and we can guess who's picking up the tab. 

The rest of them? Testosterone poisoning for the most part. That’s what wars have always been about: young guys with too much time on their hands who enjoy dressing up in outfits and making trouble. Adrenaline junkies, most of them. 

There are more elaborate explanations of the violent anarchists. Here’s one that makes some sense: Who Are These Protesters In Black And Why Are They Smashing Things? The gist of it seems to be that our society doesn’t pay much attention to your demands unless you smash some stuff. 

Or maybe, the author says, they smash stuff “because anarchists actually oppose hierarchical government and private property in all their forms, and they don't care that property damage doesn't play well in polite society.” That too. And forget about free speech. 

The writer points out that Seattle anarchists were anti-globalization before Humpf adopted it as a campaign issue (with Bernie Sanders leading the choir, but that's a different discussion). 

I wondered, as did several readers who wrote and called me yesterday, where the police were when all this was going on. I didn’t see them in the live stream, and my friend on campus said the U.C. police mostly stayed inside the student union building watching the events in the courtyard. There is a rumor that UCPD had asked City of Berkeley Police Department officers to stay out of the campus action. This morning the UCPD union’s lawyer claimed on the radio that they were not told what to do by whoever. Maybe. 

When the marchers swung off campus toward downtown, BPD might have tried to stop them, but they didn’t. As I think about it in hindsight, that might have been a practical decision. Ultimate cost: some broken windows, some mess, not much more. No broken heads with hospital charges, no costly trials, no huge police overtime bills. 

Better the police didn’t take the Black Bloc’s bait this time, perhaps? But how hard would it be to isolate the worst vandals and arrest them? I’m not sure. 

What about the free speech part of this performance, now lost in the noise? I stand with the Free Speech Movement veterans whose letter on the subject appeared in a previous Planet: the University should not have cancelled the talk in advance. But I also believe with Justice Brandeis that the best way to counter speech that you don’t like is with more speech. Violence makes it hard to do that. 

Here’s a compromise strategy: When UCB determined there was a credible threat of a violent reaction, the Yiannopoulos speech could have been live-streamed from an undisclosed location, as many academic seminars are these days, disseminating his ideas but not presenting his corporeal manifestation which was the real target of the protestors. With, of course, a rebuttal and/or questions from viewers. That might have calmed things down. 

The mainstream media, overburdened as they are with these days with improbable events, seemed not to have grasped that there were two protests in parallel on Wednesday (though local news site Berkeleyside.com was a notable exception.) For example, the story on NPR’s All Things Considered, in a classic example of false equivalency, used a pair of on-the-one-hand-but-on-the-other student voices, which lent credibility to Gumpf’s phony attempt to link peaceful student demonstrators with fires started by anarchists. Don’t blame the students for what the invaders did. 

As my friend the retired journalism prof said when she forwarded the NPR link to me: “Did this seem—well—under researched? No info on WHEN the university canceled the speech and WHO were setting the fires?” 

Indeed. The San Francisco Chronicle wasn’t much better on Thursday, though they had access to the same accurate Bay City News stories which the Planet ran, if they’d chosen to run them. In today’s Chronicle a lot of space is devoted to parsing the free speech question and how it affects federal funding, but very little to how to deal with deliberate disrupters, which promises to be an ongoing problem. 

The newsies should really be more careful to get the full story. I know it’s hard. We’re all tired after this awful week. 


In your editorial of Feb. 3rd titled “Competing Protests Rock Berkeley” you refer to David Horowitz as “…a key member of the Free Speech Movement”.

The Free Speech Movement Archive (www.fsm-a.org) has no record of Horowitz as participating in the Free Speech Movement, and none of our board members who are veterans of the FSM have any recollections of his participating. As far as anyone can tell he was not present in the fall of 1964.

The Archives exist in order to keep the record correct - let’s do so here, please.

Lee Felsenstein
President, Free Speech Movement Archives