Their faces hidden behind black bandannas and hoodies, about a 100 anarchists and antifa — “anti-fascist” — Black-clad – barreled into a protest Sunday afternoon in Berkeley’s Martin Luther King Jr. Civic Center Park.
Jumping over plastic and concrete barriers, the group melted into a larger crowd of around 2,000 that had marched peacefully throughout the sunny afternoon for a “Rally Against Hate” gathering.
Shortly after, violence began to flare: a pepper-spray wielding Trump supporter was smacked to the ground with homemade shields. Another was attacked by five black-clad antifas, each windmilling kicks and punches into a man desperately trying to protect himself. A conservative group leader retreated for safety behind a line of riot police as marchers chucked water bottles, shot off pepper spray, and screamed “fascist go home!”
All told, the Associated Press reported at least five individuals were attacked. Fourteen arrests were made throughout the afternoon, when anti-hate and left-wing protesters largely drowned out the smaller clutch of far-right marchers attending a planned “No to Marxism in America” rally in the park. An AP reporter witnessed the assaults.
Although Berkeley police had kept a strict perimeter around the area in the beginning of the afternoon, including enforcing an emergency city rule outlawing sticks and other potential weapons from the park, the antifa protesters largely routed the security checks.
Berkeley police chief Andrew Greenwood told the AP the decision was strategic — a confrontation was sure to spark more violence between the protesters and police.
“No need for a confrontation over a grass patch,” Greenwood said.
Joey Gibson was among the right-wing activists assaulted on Sunday. Gibson, the leader of the Oregon-based Patriot Prayer group, had planned to hold a “Freedom Rally” at Crissy Field Beach. Gibson previously told the L.A. Timeshis group was not “white supremacist” but “feared that extreme or racist figures might try to co-opt his event.”
But as with other planned right-wing events in the wake of Charlottesville, Saturday’s rally drew controversy in the San Francisco area, with one group stockpiling dog feces to lay at the scene on Saturday.
Last Friday, Gibson cancelled the event due to the mounting pressure. “It doesn’t seem safe, a lot of people’s lives are going to be in danger tomorrow,” he told Unite America First.
Attention shifted to Sunday’s “No to Marxism in America” event. However, last week, that event’s organizer, Amber Cummings, also signaled the event was off due to the growing tensions. “I stress I DO NOT WANT ANYONE COMING and if they do you will be turned away, I’m sorry for this but I want this event to happen peacefully and I do not want to risk anyone getting harmed by terrorists,” Cummings wrote online, according to NBC Bay Area.
On Sunday, Cummings reportedly did not appear for her event, and anti-hate marchers far outnumbered the right-wing element that did make an appearance, the AP reported.
Although Gibson was reportedly seen being taken into custody, on Sunday the Patriot Prayer Facebook account stated “Joey is NOT in jail, and has NOT been arrested. He was cuffed and released after being shoved through the police line.” Gibson did not reply to a Facebook message seeking comment.