Hoorah! We've Kept the Elephants Out of Berkeley!

Becky O'Malley
Friday September 15, 2017 - 02:33:00 PM

No news is good news, the saying goes. I thought of this as I listened to my usual amount of radio newscasting in bed this morning. Berkeley was never mentioned, not once. It confirmed what I’d hoped when I got home late last night: just as I’d predicted last week, the sky had not fallen when Ben Shapiro gave what sounds like a very boring lecture at Zellerbach.

In all modesty, I hereby say I told you so. Shapiro is simply too dull to provoke the kind of extreme reaction just a whiff of Milo can produce.

Riya Bhattacharjee (yes, our former Planet reporter!) captured Ben’s essence in the kind of on-line interview you seldom see on local television.

In this interview he claims, perhaps even truthfully, that he’s only bought into what GHW Bush called the “voodoo economics” part of the conservative canon, not the racism, misogyny and worse that are associated with Milo and Ann Coulter. 

Money quote: 

Riya: Some protesters have come out and called you a white supremacist — what do you have to say to them and to protesters in general? 

Ben: Well you see this thing on my head here, this is called the yarmulke. Not a lot of people who wear yarmulkes are white supremacists. Generally we are their targets. According to the Anti-Defamation League, the number one recipient of white-supremacists and alt-right anti-Semitism among journalists on the internet last year. [Yiddish spelling corrected.] 

See? Just a nice Jewish boy who went to yeshiva. What’s not to like? 

Well, this is why I’m not much of a fan of ethnic stereotypes. This just in: every group has its bad apples, and he’s the one in his barrel. But maybe he’s not a racist. He even denies voting for Trump. 

And even smart boys, even religious boys, can believe (or at least pretend to believe) stupid things. Having been a high school debater myself, I know his type: able to argue any side of any proposition, no matter how silly. 

But economic foolishness just isn’t enough to bring out the boys in black. Nevertheless, I don’t agree with reports in other media that the Antifada were completely absent. I went down to Bancroft between Dana and Telegraph before the lecture, and among the several hundred people milling about I saw plenty of Under-Thirty White Boys in aggressively-sloganed tee shirts and ugly haircuts who seemed to be likely candidates for donning the dark attire and the face masks when they thought it was worth their trouble. 

The protesters in the street when I got there at 6:30 separated into two groups. At the Zellerbach entry path, where the ticket-holder line was forming, there was a crowd of perhaps 200 miscellaneous mostly young folks muttering amongst themselves. 

Some girls got into a screaming match reminiscent of the Mean Girls in Junior High—perhaps they were among those eventually arrested. Occasional slogans of the usual type were chanted. 

Another group hung out at Bancroft and Telegraph, the Sproul Plaza/Sather Gate path entry. Approaching, I ran into an artist friend, a muralist that I knew from The Old Days at the Caffe Med.  

“RCP up there,” he said, and he was right. 

RCP since 1975 has been short in our old-timer political circles for anything masterminded by Bob Avakian, the Berkeley-raised son of “Sparky” Avakian, a respected liberal Democratic judge, and a nice lady who taught my daughters swimming at Willard Junior High. Bob went through the usual 60s trajectory of civil rights, SDS, Weathermen, Black Panthers, and ultimately ended up way out there on the left limb. He had (or perhaps still has) a long period of exile in Paris for jumping bail over some charge or other. 

RCP expands to Revolutionary Communist Party, which explains why a smirkingly punkish young man asked us old folks, patronizingly, “Going up there to see the Communists?” Playing dumb, I asked, “Communists? Where!” But some of my best friends are or were real big C Communists, and I knew full well that this crowd was not them. 

Thanks to the internet, it’s now possible to see interlocking directorates among websites for the RCP, The World Can’t Wait, which has been around for a while, and the newby identity, RefuseFascism.com. They do seem to be several hats on the same head. What they had in common last night was access to a VERY LOUD sound system, unfortunately not intelligible more than 100 paces away. 

I recognized one of the main speakers, a young man who introduces himself as Raphael, who spoke at the Berkeley City Council meeting against the use of pepperspray. He seems not to understand acoustics, since he shouts top volume into all microphones, so I’m not quite sure what else he thinks. 

The commercial press from time to time interviews him and others that I know to be in the RCP orbit, evidently without being aware that they are not exactly The Left, but a special cult that has its own obscure rules, accompanied by what looks to be ample financing from an unknown source since it was founded in the mid-1970s. It’s been called a cult of personality centered around Avakian, and has also been accused of being a front for disruptive provocateurs of various stripes, including disguised rightists. 

One of their handouts last night seemed to be predicting an anti-fascism uprising on November 4.We’ll see what happens. 

The whole event reminded me of a joke. Since I’m a certified cultural WASP despite have attended Catholic school, I can’t tell jokes very well, so I’ll quote this one from the ex-parrot.com website: 

A man boards a train, and finds himself sitting in a compartment opposite another passenger who is reading The Times. Every time the other finishes a page, he tears it from the paper, rolls it into a ball and throws it from the train. Perplexed, the man asks what he is doing. 

``Ah,'' says the man with the newspaper. ``A trick I learned in Africa. Keeps the elephants away, don't you know.'' 

``But there aren't any elephants around here!'' 

``Yes. Works well, doesn't it!'' 

The University of California says it expended $600,000 on their role in this show: police overtime, cement barricades, the works. As a Berkeley taxpayer I don’t even want to think about how much the city spent on its part. And it’s true, no one much showed up to make trouble, in or out of black masks. 

See? We kept away the elephants.  

It’s estimated that the crowd numbered maybe 700 at its peak. If you add another $100,000 (and probably much more) for the COB, the math is easy. Each outside spectator could had been offered what is called a grand in Raymond Chandler novels to just stay home. But that probably wouldn’t have worked with the true believers in the RCP crowd, quite a few of whom undoubtedly don the black masks when the gang’s all here and the target is more compelling than Ben Shapiro. 

After checking out the demonstrations, I dropped by a lovely event at the North Berkeley Senior Center celebrating the 30th anniversary of Berkeley’s Peace and Justice Commission. Many of the most stalwart activists in town were there to pay their respects. The special meeting ended with what they called a Town Hall, a few minutes in which commissioners and audience were encouraged to say what they hoped the commission would do in the future. 

Among the items on various people’s wish lists, the one that struck me was unexpected. P& J Commissioner Mansour Id-Deen, who has also been president of the Berkeley NAACP, expressed his desire to see wearing masks outlawed in Berkeley. Some other speakers doubted the constitutionality and/or the desirability of such a sweeping prohibition, but his request spotlighted how wrong-headed the Antifada’s soldier games have turned out to be. 

They claim they’ve scared away fascists (and also elephants?), but all they’ve actually done is annoy, scare or even terrorize too many Berkeleyans, including the very people of color that they say they support.  

At the last Berkeley City Council meeting the figure of a half-million dollars or so in the cost of policing demonstrations was bruited about. Just think what that could do for the homeless population.  

So what should be done about Milo and Girlfriend if they show up in a couple of weeks? UC’s PR guy hopes optimistically that their putative sponsors (the Patriotic Somethingorother) will drop the ball and won’t be able to follow the rules, so their show would be cancelled. But if not, what should UC and the city do about protests? 

Could we possibly ignore the stupid speakers? We Berkeleyans are doing better at that, but judging by the listed home addresses of those arrested for bad behavior certain out-of-towners haven’t gotten the memo. 

I don’t have the answer, but I’m pretty sure more play-acting by the Boys in Black isn’t part of the solution. All they do is publicize the nasty alt-rightists, not a good thing.