The scene of violence in Berkeley over the past weekend was one all too familiar for Americans who have frequented the kinds of political rallies we’ve seen across the country since the presidential inauguration of Donald Trump. Thirteen people were arrested in Berkeley following brawls and unrest over what thousands of counter protesters deemed hate speech from event organizer Joey Gibson. He cancelled a “free speech” event as a protective measure stemming from threats he received from left-wing radicals known as anti-fascists or “antifa.”
Despite cancelling the event, Gibson found himself surrounded by groups of people dressed in black with garments concealing their faces in the heart of Berkeley before police were able to prevent any harm to the controversial Trump supporter.
Unlike violence in Charlottesville, Va., where right-wing extremists were feeling stings of ties to White supremacy-aligned groups like neo-Nazis and the KKK, this time it was the anti-fascist network being scrutinized by conservatives that called on prominent progressive figures to condemn the group.
Despite the political spectrum someone falls under, it’s obvious that the country is divided politically, a division which was perhaps unearthed by the election of President Trump, likely the most socially polarizing president in the modern era.
There have been hundreds of events in 2017 geared toward either rejecting or supporting his agenda, and extremists on each side have gravitated toward the political arena resulting in toxic discourse from both sides.
The nation—and world—watched as turmoil unfolded at a “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville that left dozens injured and one dead. Fingers were pointed by each side and President Trump received harsh criticism for what many characterized as a slow response to the violence. More importantly, the president was slow to denounce the White supremacists dawning swastikas as responsible for the mayhem which resulted in the death of Heather Heyer, who was hit by a car while marching in the name of “free speech.”
Police agencies still haven’t shown any signs that indicate they can keep protesters safe, and many Americans are left wondering how we arrived at such a tumultuous political climate..
The election of President Barack Obama reportedly resulted in racism both overt and covert seeping into criticisms about his governance. Racial dialogue once again became significant and concepts like “color-blindness” were regarded as a rejection of identity for minorities in America. It didn’t stop with race, because over the past several years the nation has seen an uptick of discussions about gender identity, islamophobia, and socio-economic ills that millions of Americans face daily.
Despite this trajectory, Trump won the election on an “anti-identity” platform. Classes of people once considered a priority to be shielded from potential harm like undocumented citizens and refugees, were targeted by candidate Trump during his “Make America Great Again” speeches.
The popular vote is proof that Trump’s agenda was something half of the country opposed. People who wanted to see the national policy agenda focus on racial injustice, gender-based discrimination, and wealth inequalities aligned themselves firmly within levels of the Democratic Party and the result was the prominent rise of Sen. Bernie Sanders during the 2016 primary season.
Sanders had a self-professed socialist platform and tabled race-based concerns with the hiring of Symone Sanders as press secretary. Candidate Sanders was popular because he focused on resolving every concern raised by the progressive left.
Sanders, having such a loyal base, would be a problem for eventual Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton. Emails showing the Democratic Party swayed the primary in Clinton’s favor didn’t sit well with Sanders’ most loyal supporters, and the result was harsh for Clinton as many left wingers stayed home on election night in key states.
Despite their disdain for Clinton, the resulting election of Trump didn’t sit well with progressives. Following Trump’s inauguration, hundreds of thousands of women and male allies of feminism took to the streets to protest the new Trump administration and rallied against what many characterized as misogynistic behavior towards women.
Inciting riotous behavior
Last week, the Department of Justice requested information from the website disruptj20.com. The DOJ submitted evidence to the court outlining how it was used for inciting unlawful riotous behavior. The site’s server, DreamHost, fought to keep the information private but Judge Robert Morin of a D.C. federal court ordered they must comply with the DOJ’s data request.
Resistance to the Trump agenda became a rapidly universalized priority for progressives in the aftermath of his victory.
The divisive nature of the political climate has not been limited to just political events. College campuses have again become hot spots for political turmoil.
Students at UC Berkeley caused a riot when controversial blogger and commentator Milo Yiannopoulos was scheduled to speak on campus in February. Cancellation of his appearance angered conservatives. President Trump himself weighed in tweeting, “If U.C. Berkeley does not allow free speech and practices violence on innocent people with a different point of view—NO FEDERAL FUNDS?”
Not everyone thought the protests in Berkeley against Yiannopoulos in February was an intrusion of free speech, but some called it a virtuous display of standing up to hatred. Yiannopoulos is considered controversial because of his alt-right affiliations and commentary he’s made about Muslims, feminists, and Black Lives Matter advocates.
Although the term “alt-right” once drew positive reactions among conservative circles, many people have distanced themselves from affiliation with the term that gained popularity when former White House advisor Steve Bannon declared it was the base of Trump’s movement in 2016. When people think of the alt-right, they may associate the term with the beliefs of White nationalist Richard Spencer or the image of hundreds of men carrying tiki torches to preserve confederate monuments in Charlottesville.
Mike Cernovich, author of “Gorilla Mindset” and a popular alt-right media figure known for breaking major political developments such as the firing of Reince Priebus and tensions within the National Security Council, took strong stances to urge new conservatives to distance themselves from people like Spencer who touted anti-Semitic hate speech and notions of racial superiority among Whites. He’s urges conservatives to start using terms like “alt-lite” or “new right” to refer to conservatives energized by Trump’s movement.
Cernovich condemned the far right—and far left—by hosting a rally against political violence months before Charlottesville to bring awareness of things to come. Cernovich told Our Weekly: “When police stop doing their jobs, private mobs step in to create violence.” He added that groups like antifa and right-wing militias may engage in violence “to protect fellow members.”
James Buchal, chairman of the Portland, Ore., Republican Party chapter, received harsh criticism when he publicly advocated for the use of right-wing militias to protect Republicans that continue to go out into the “public square” with their beliefs. Buchal made his comments in the aftermath of the cancellation of the “Avenue of the Roses” a parade for those supporting Trump’s agenda. This event was, ironically, scheduled months ago and organized by Gibson, the same organizer of this past weekend’s cancelled Berkeley event that resulted in violence against Trump supporters.
Rallies for Trump continue
Rallies for President Trump and his agenda items were popular among conservatives during the presidential campaign and they haven’t stopped. Events across the United States in the name of the conservative agenda, have been popular over the past year but the emergence of large numbers of counter protesters have sparked violence at such rallies. In March, a pro-Trump organization called Silent California Majority hosted a “Make America Great Again” rally that illuminated to the nation a pretext of violence that surrounds these kinds of events. Brawls, arrests and a spillover onto a heavily traveled roadway was the result but that hasn’t intimidated all rally organizers.
Buchal’s wishes for militia groups to escort Republican marchers seems to have been granted. Unite the Right may have reached the “bottom of the barrel” as far as White supremacist organizations are concerned. Clubs born of “The Daily Stormer” and National Policy Institute were in attendance out to defend conservatives against the thousands of protesters and antifa members among them. The consequence was James Alex Fields committing a monstrous act by driving his Dodge Challenger through a gathering of Charlottesville protesters.
Despite entities like ACT for America—an organization reportedly founded to protect national security interests by stifling what they call “Islamic terrorism”—cancelling 67 of its planned “America First” rallies across 36 states, some organizers deciding to move forward with their events.
Jonny Benitez, organizer of a number of “anti-illegal immigration” events—including one in Laguna Beach that resulted in multiple arrests and required riot police—will move forward with his plan to host his monthly event in the Orange County city. Benitez told Our Weekly that he is not a Nazi sympathizer, nor is he intimidated by “antifa” which he characterizes as having constructed “a very elaborate and fragile narrative” that he will continue to disrupt.
People have heard the term “alt right” being used to describe conservatives with fringe beliefs and ties to White supremacy or ethnocentrism, but in the aftermath of Charlottesville we’ve seen an uptick in information about what many are calling the alt left.
Nationwide, organizations with fragmented leadership like Black Lives Matter and antifa are gaining notoriety for their agitation tactics. Anti-fascist communication networks online have already been banned in countries like Germany following the G20 summit protest that resulted in property damage and raised concern about such networks.
Black Lives Matter garnered international headlines in June when 14 UK police officers were injured in demonstrations that drew sharp criticisms even from the families of the victim that inspired the protest.
In the U.S., most Democrat voters don’t consider themselves Marxists nor do they attend political events with masks, utility belts, and communist wardrobes. But that’s what those who identify as “anti-fascists” may consider as a necessary pillar of resistance to Donald Trump.
Anti-fascists were recently named by President Trump at an Arizona speech as being responsible for causing problems at events. Police had to resort to tear gas to disperse the crowd in the aftermath of Trump’s speech and several arrests were made.
America has seen political violence on display on countless occasions in 2017 and this should really come as no surprise. A hotly contested election was the first indicator that the nation was divided, and there has yet to be any glimpse of unity on the horizon. The violence in Berkeley coming on the heels of chaos in Laguna Beach and Boston merely shows that the worse is yet to come.
It remains unclear whether arrests and public condemnations on either side will have any effect on the infiltration of radicals into political events. President Trump has a critical role in keeping the peace but it remains to be seen if he will play the role of peacekeeper. A petition on whitehouse.gov has reached the appropriate number of signatures for the White House to make a public statement on its merits. The petition reportedly wants to declare anti-fascists domestic terrorists. Labeling anti-fascists or any other extremists group “domestic terrorists” certainly isn’t the kind of response that is required to unify the nation.
More realistic measures could come in the form of police and city officials refusing to authorize events that exist for no other purpose than to attract violence and extreme ideologies. The media also plays a vital role in ensuring they don’t fan the flames further by endorsing violence, or placating the desires of fringe thinkers by giving them attention.
Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi released the following statement this week denouncing the violent protests carried out recently in Berkeley:
“Our democracy has no room for inciting violence or endangering the public, no matter the ideology of those who commit such acts. The violent actions of people calling themselves ‘antifa’ in Berkeley this weekend deserve unequivocal condemnation, and the perpetrators should be arrested and prosecuted.
“In California, as across all of our great nation, we have deep reverence for the Constitutional right to peaceful dissent and free speech. Non-violence is fundamental to that right. Let us use this sad event to reaffirm that we must never fight hate with hate, and to remember the values of peace, openness and justice that represent the best of America.”