Anti-Trump forces — which outnumbered Trump supporters — initially assembled peacefully at the “No to Marxism in America” event held near the Martin Luther King Civic Center, bearing “Avenge Charlottesville” banners. Tensions, bubbled over as the two groups faced-off, according to multiple reports.
At one point, well-known Orange County far-right figure Johnny Benitez was swarmed by a crowd chanting, “Black Lives Matter,” the Los Angeles Times reported.
The clashes came despite widespread calls from activists and elected officials across the Bay Area for peaceful civil disobedience and underscores Berkeley’s growing reputation for violent reaction by the far left. Other protests earlier this year in the city turned ugly, with far-left and far-right forces fighting in the streets.
Some in Berkeley worried that Sunday’s chaos, captured on video and quickly disseminated through social media, would provide unwanted ammunition to Trump and his supporters.
“We can’t keep producing this audio-visual propaganda,” said Andrew Noruk, a counter-protester who denounced the fights. “It is recruiting for the right.”
The incidents came a day after a series of mostly peaceful activities in San Francisco, where demonstrators also marched in response to a planned far-right rally near the Golden Gate Bridge. Counter-protesters there boasted that they had shown that far-right groups, including neo-Nazis and white supremacists, were not welcome. Police reported one arrest, for public intoxication.
In Berkeley, the demonstration of more than 4,000 people pulled heavily from area labor unions, church groups and liberal activists — but also scores of young people clad in all black, some carrying shields and others with bandanas pulled over their faces.
Those activists are sometimes referred to as “antifa,” a name taken by anti-fascist organizations formed to oppose white nationalists. They are known for their “punch a Nazi” bent.
The counter-demonstrators were in the city to protest the “Say No to Marxism in America” rally, police said. Several who were expected to speak at the event have been linked to white nationalist sentiments or violence in the past.
Kyle Chapman, the far-right activist known as “Based Stickman” who gained fame for his role in previous Berkeley brawls, had been listed among speakers for the canceled event, but was not seen. On Friday, during a hearing on a pending felony weapons charge related to a prior rally, a judge ordered Chapman to stay away from Sunday’s demonstration.