Apr 17, 2017
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Violent Protests Turned Berkeley into a Battleground

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Violent Protests Turned Berkeley into a Battleground

For those who sought blood, the third installment of the “Battle of Berkeley” did not disappoint.

Protesters clashed in the streets and parks of Berkeley, California for a third time Saturday, and the violence between the far-left and the far-right led to more than ten injuries, seven hospitalizations, and over 20 arrests.

The incident began as a “Patriot Day” rally organized by Trump supporters and held in a park near the University of California campus. Soon anti-Trump counter-protesters appeared. Individuals on both sides were wearing helmets and goggles and appeared ready for a fight. Months ago, when the alt-right blogger Milo Yiannopoulos showed up to speak at the university, a similar outbreak of violence resulted; a pro-Trump rally last month also ended in a fight. For those who sought blood, Saturday’s event did not disappoint.

At the start of the rally, according to CNN, police separated the two groups at first with a makeshift barrier of an orange mesh fence, but over time the members broke through the line and fight after fight broke out. From there on the rally became a chaotic mess. In one scene, captured from several angles by numerous news sources, you can see a young Trump supporter get swarmed by a group of black-clad people with their faces covered, an outfit often worn by antifascist “black bloc” protesters; one strikes the the man with a skateboard. Antifa protesters used fireworks and bear spray against Trump supporters, physical fighting between the two groups was common, and some weapons were employed—one of the hospitalized victims had reportedly been stabbed.

“Two people would be involved in a shouting match with people around them staring intimidatingly at each other. They would just start getting closer and closer,” Wold told VICE. “When the initial contact would occur then people would start really throwing fists, I saw some sticks being used, there was some pepper spray.”

“When those bouts of violence would occur most of the people would start running away, but that wasn’t always the case.”

Wold heard from people in the crowd that during several of these moments knives were pulled and, at times, he heard shouts of “knife” and would see a group of people scatter.

Both sides seemed to be attempting to occupy downtown Berkeley. By the end of the fighting the location was full by Trump supporters where they declared victory in “the Battle of Berkeley.”

One lasting image to emerge from the clash is a screenshot from a video of a man—allegedly Nathan Damigo, a self-avowed white supremacist—punching a female Antifa protester in the face. The image has already become a meme on the right, where it’s celebrated, and on the left, where it’s used to showcase the alleged brutality of the right. (Damigo was not among those arrested.)

Several prominent members of the alt-right, like Lauren Southern and Tim “Baked Alaska” Treadstone, made an appearance at the “Patriots Day” rally, where they gave speeches, livestreamed the event, and marched with their fellow Trump backers. A small collection of Trump supporters were pictured sieg heiling and posing with anti-semitic signs at the rally.

Wold explained that, from what he saw, the violence could emerge from either side—primarily from the black bloc on the anti-Trump side, and the people decked out in protective gear on the Trump backer side. According to him it seemed that, for some of the people in the crowd, violence was a forgone conclusion and that’s why they were there.

“I heard some of the pro-Trump people say that they drove eight or nine hours to come beat up some liberal city kids,” said Wold. “I heard the same from black bloc people hiding their identities.”

“Overall I just thought it was unproductive,” he added. “It was definitely the most violent protest event that I’ve ever seen and I didn’t understand what anybody thought the value of [the violent parts] were going to be.”

During and after the clash, police were roundly criticized by both sides for a hands-off approach. According to Berkeley police, 11 people were treated for injuries, and seven had to be be sent to the hospital.

The city had imposed a one-day rule in the park where “anything that could be used as a weapon” was prohibited. “The strategy helped police to confiscate dozens of weapons, including a slew of sticks, wooden dowels and poles,” the Berkeley Police Department said in a statement after the event. “Confiscated items included a stun gun, mace, knives, bear spray, an axe handle, pepper spray and a can filled with concrete.”

Several of those arrested face felony assault charges, including one charged with assault with a deadly weapon. The police added that they will be reviewing footage shot at the event and more charges are likely to come about as a result.

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