Media coverage of last week’s “anti-Marxist” protest and counter-protest in Berkeley was predictably all over the place, the result of no one participant or media organization being able to witness every sign, shove or provocation. Occurring so recently after the tragedy in Charlottesville, the scene was described as comparatively peaceful, though outlets emphasized the violent tactics of Antifa protestors. While the 4,000-strong crowd was described as mostly peaceful and right wing protesters scarce, accounts focused on the behavior of roughly 100 counter-protesters lumped under the Antifa banner.
In a piece of commentary in The New Yorker, Jelani Cobb argued the violence propagated by Antifa helps Trump’s movement. In his telling, the peaceful counter-protest by anti-racists was “fractured the moment that contingents identified as anarchists and Antifa radicals slipped into the crowd and began attacking right-wing protesters who had assembled there under the banner of free speech.”
Cobb goes so far as to argue that the actions of Antifa at the Berkeley protest validate Trump’s now infamous “many sides” comment in reference to Charlottesville. According to the writer:
But the images out of Berkeley—outnumbered right-wing protesters being pepper-sprayed by counter-demonstrators, one person lying on the ground while a black-clad group punched his face and torso—will be held up by many on the right as evidence that Trump was correct about the blame falling on “many sides.”
In their coverage, The Guardian noted the counter-protestors were largely peaceful, but also emphasized that Antifa members chased and pepper sprayed an alt-right organizer. Reporting by Mother Jones included footage of Antifa members jostling reporters. Meanwhile, a headline in the LA Times read “Violence by far-left protesters in Berkeley sparks alarm.” Local blog Berkeleyside placed more attention on the activity of peaceful protestors than other outlets, saying in an aside, “the moments of tension, and some sporadic violent clashes, were largely perpetrated by 100 or so anti-fascists, masked and clad in black, who swept into the park mid-afternoon en masse.”
A group of faith leaders wrote an op-ed in The New York Times criticizing the media for “ignoring the thousands who marched and protested peacefully” in Berkeley and other recent anti-racist actions. The piece suggests that violence should not be dismissed out-of-hand, noting its role in the civil rights movement, thought their claim is hedged behind the framing of self-defense.
8/29 – The Antifa Protests Are Helping Donald Trump (NewYorker): Cobb notes Antifa are not as abhorrent as racists, but nonetheless adds, “there is no escaping the fact that the elements that lashed out in Berkeley were both morally wrong and politically vacuous. ”
8/28 – After melees, Berkeley mayor asks Cal to cancel right-wing Free Speech Week (SFChronicle): Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguin asked the campus to block a series of talks organized by a conservative student group that are set to include Milo Yiannopoulos. Arreguin argues the talks are likely to result in violence.
8/27 – Berkeley pro-Trump rally cancelled but tensions still flare between protesters (The Guardian): The article quotes a protestor who defended the Ohio man who killed a counter-protestor in Charlottesville.
8/28 – Violence by far-left protesters in Berkeley sparks alarm (LATimes): The article includes footage of Antifa members beating protestors.
8/27 – Live Updates: thousands come out against racism; far right a no-show (Berkeleyside): The article provides a sequential series of reports from the scene.
8/28 – In Berkeley, community comes out in force against hate, racism (Berkeleyside): The blog’s day-after summation of the event emphasizes that the vast majority of the 4,000 who gathered were peaceful counter-protestors.
9/1 – Op-Ed: Waiting for a Perfect Protest? (NYT): The authors note, “In spite of extensive training in nonviolent protest and civil disobedience, individuals and factions within the larger movement engaged in violent skirmishes, and many insisted on their right to physically defend themselves even while they proclaimed nonviolence as an ideal….”
9/1 – UC President Janet Napolitano wades into campus free speech debate (SFGate): Napolitano defends Christs’ decision to support the right of controversial speakers to appear on campus.
9/1 – Protest During Poli-Sci Meeting (InsideHigherEd): Silent protestors critiszied an academic presentation by Berkeley’s Emanuel S. Heller Professor of Law John Yoo. The protestors called out Yoo’s defense of torture. In 2003, while a member of the Bush administration, Yoo authored the so-called torture memos, which argued “enhanced interrogation” is legal.
8/29 – California Today: Courting First-Generation Students at U.C. (NYT): The article highlights the UC system’s efforts to support first-generation students. About 42 percent of the system’s undergraduate students are first-generation, though at Berkeley the figure is 28 percent.
8/31 – UC President Janet Napolitano blasts idea of ending DACA (SJMN): Napolitano took a strong defense of DACA, which President Trump has signaled he intends to end following a six-month delay.