Berkeley, California Mayor Jesse Arreguin and the Berkeley City Council are shitting bricks. During last week’s emergency city council meeting, he said they couldn’t sleep. He’d called the meeting so the council could vote to expand the city manager’s crowd control authority. Charlottesville and the right/left rumbles that Berkeley’s already seen this year have the mayor and the councilors terrified—understandably—that people will get killed or injured at the next one and that everyone will point the blame at them. The immediate cause for concern is a “No Marxism in America Rally” and counter protests coming up on Sunday afternoon, April 27, in Downtown Berkeley’s Martin Luther King Park. The council not only passed the new crowd control measures, but also used its website to plead with its citizens to eschew Downtown Berkeley, stay home, and Tweet:
In recent events, we have seen individuals come armed and armored for violence – and use peaceful protesters as a cover for violent actions. You can help by separating yourself from violence.
Extremists use language to stir up supporters and provoke counter-protesters – generating the conflict that creates publicity for their cause. The best way to deny them the attention they seek is to not engage and avoid such events entirely.
In an age of social media, there are many ways to assert your values and speak to the causes you support. Reaching out to organizations or individuals in need is an alternative to conflict.
Stay away from conflict. There are many alternative ways to respond.
Berkeley activists, however, will not be denied. As of Monday, August 21st, “Bay Area Rally Against Hate,” “Respect Berkeley,” and “Berkeley Antifa” had all announced plans to counter protest. “Respect Berkeley” said they plan to assemble on Martin Luther King Way, across the street from Martin Luther King Park at 10:00 am, an hour before the “No Marxism in America” rally goers arrive. They added that “this is a fluid situation, so please check back and also check social media.”
“Bay Area Rally Against Hate” said they’d gather several blocks away on the UC campus, then decide whether or not to march on MLK park.
Berkeley Antifa created a poster that reads as though they’re preparing for the Siege of Madrid in the Spanish Civil War:
ATTENTION ALL ANTI-RACISTS
NAZIS ARE COMING
“Choose the skin tone” of your target from three available choices: brown, browner and black
Many appeared at Berkeley’s emergency city council meeting to speak out against expanding the city manager’s crowd control authority, particularly because the city manager is known to side with the police in disputes with the citizenry, and to support the Bay Area’s much larger white supremacist hate rally coming up on September 9—11: the Urban Shield War Games and Weapons Expo. Activists have tried and failed to get Berkeley and Oakland to pull their officers out of Urban Shield, but this year they at least managed to get the Alameda County Board of Supervisors to exclude Urban Shield vendor Strategic Operations. Media Alliance Executive Director Tracy Rosenberg argued the case at a Board meeting:
Strategic Operations promises to provide ‘battlefield immersion.’ The Bay Area is not a battlefield. Law enforcement agencies are not at war with Alameda County. The images above [Black people and Muslims] are described as humanoid live action targets and are available in a catalog on Strategic Operations’ website that asks the buyer to ‘choose the skin tone of their target’ from three available choices: brown, browner and black. This kind of blatant racism does not reflect Bay Area values.
National Park Service ups the ante in San Francisco
The San Francisco Mayor and Board of Supervisors are also shitting bricks, and probably for more reason. The National Park Service granted Patriot Prayer a permit to hold a “Free Speech, Unity and Peace San Francisco” rally at Crissy Field on August 26, the day before the “No Marxism in America” rally in Berkeley. We are now in the final month of the 50th anniversary of San Francisco’s Summer of Love, just to heighten the contradictions and make this even more ridiculous. Mayor Ed Lee, City and County Board of Supervisors President London Breed, Police Chief William Scott, San Francisco House Rep. Nancy Pelosi, and California Senator Dianne Feinstein—a San Francisco resident—have all asked the park service to reconsider and pull the permit, but as of August 22, four days before the rally, the park service had not obliged, citing First Amendment obligations.
There’s a lot of disagreement about just who Patriot Prayer and its chief organizer Joey Gibson are, but no doubt that they attract alt-right, white supremacist militias like the ProudBoys, the Oath Keepers, and the Three Percenters. In Seattle, Gibson invited anyone—including women and Black Lives Matter activists—to come up on his stage and take the microphone, but San Francisco isn’t preparing for a diversity fest.
Crissy Field is federal property, part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, on San Francisco’s northernmost bay shore. It’s a much larger expanse of open space than Berkeley’s MLK Park, and San Francisco is the Bay Area’s urban center, so it could become the site of a much larger confrontation. And, since it’s on federal property, the feds could up the ante by calling in federal law enforcement. Mayor Ed Lee says he thinks they’ll let the San Francisco Police handle it by themselves and promises that they’ll have every single officer in the force on the job. No vacation or comp time absences. He also says that the SF Police will disarm anyone carrying weapons—even though the armed, camo-clad, Oath Keepers have promised to handle security for Patriot Prayer, and despite the fact that it’s been legal to carry weapons, concealed or not, on National Park Service land since 2010. So I wish Mayor Lee luck, even though he’s an asshat. Are the police going to stop every vehicle headed for Crissy Field and search them for weapons? Seal off the streets and make everyone walk to the park service land after a stop and frisk? Ask the Coast Guard to stop and search any boats that anyone is sailing, rowing, paddling, or whatever towards the Crissy Field shoreline? The Berkeley Police say they plan to set up checkpoints and disarm anyone on their way into Martin Luther King Park.
San Francisco’s Bethany United Methodist Church is one of several groups organizing security training for Bay Area Rally Against Hate counter protestors, and the Antifa are no doubt preparing in their own way.
So are we going to see another, larger, bloodier Charlottesville? Of course that’s what has our city governments palpitating, and there seem to be plenty of people on both sides itching for a fight while others preach nonviolence. Stars of the alt-right movement have promised to appear in Berkeley and/or San Francisco, but there’s no central issue like Charlottesville’s Robert E. Lee monument. Both sides are coming to manifest their own existential urgency. Indigenous activists and their supporters have renewed their demand for removal of a statue—part of the “Pioneer Monument” in San Francisco Civic Center—but no one’s organized a militant response to save it yet. The statue depicts a visionary Spanish conqueror, a kindly Spanish padre, and a submissive native at their feet.
Berkeley’s Free Speech Zone
Berkeley’s latest round of civil unrest began in February, when Breitbart columnist Milo Yiannopoulos arrived to speak to the Berkeley College Republicans. University authorities canceled the event because protestors had gathered on campus and threatened to keep Yiannopoulos from entering the designated venue. Before it was over, Antifa ninjas—or provocateurs—had started a few street fires and broken a few windows at the Wells Fargo Bank Building in Downtown Berkeley. Donald Trump tweeted his outrage, and international media castigated UC Berkeley, home to the 1960s Free Speech Movement, for suppressing free speech.
International press more recently denounced KPFA Radio-Berkeley for canceling a talk by scientific atheist Richard Dawkins, after it was revealed that he had made Islamophic statements on his Twitter page and during his current book tour. Bill Maher invited Dawkins on his show and slammed our “Berkeley radio station,” refusing to say “KPFA” because, he said, we didn’t deserve it.
Berkeley thus became one of the alt-right’s prime targets, and free speech became its rallying cry. Yiannopoulos vowed to return in the fall to stage “Milo’s Free Speech Week” in UC-Berkeley’s Sproul Plaza, the center of campus. He said he’d bring an army if he had to and if he could afford one. “We will hold talks and rallies and throw massive parties, all in the name of free expression and the First Amendment,” Yiannopoulos wrote on his Facebook page. “All will be welcome, regardless of political affiliation.”
In April, the university canceled Ann Coulter’s speech to preclude further unrest, after which Yiannopolous threatened to return for a whole month. He said that there’s violence at his rallies “because the left knows it’s losing. It’s losing the political battle and losing the free speech battle. And like a dog being kicked to death, it is lashing out.” Strange way to welcome people of all political affiliation to your rallies.
At the last two rumbles, police formed a line between left and right and the two sides shouted at each other across the divide. I showed up to watch and wondered whether the two sides might agree about getting out of NATO, Syria, and the Koreas and shutting down the empire of bases, though I couldn’t imagine what they’d do with such congruence if it somehow emerged. Ann Coulter lambasted Trump for bombing Syria in April and said that he should concentrate on building that wall.
The Bay Area’s biggest white supremacist rally will be here in October
It’s called Fleet Week and the Blue Angels Air Show and it’s always organized to include Columbus Day in San Francisco. This year the Navy will be here October 2-9. Festivities include a Columbus Day Parade, which had to be renamed the “Italian American Heritage Day Parade” for appearance’s sake. Nevertheless, a member of the Italian American community is always selected for the honor of playing Columbus-for-a-Day and riding through North Beach in the Santa Maria float. Across the Bay in Berkeley, native people hold an Indigenous People’s Day Pow Wow.
Fighter bomber jets perform airborne acrobatics for a whole week, and U.S. Navy destroyers, nuclear subs, and nuclear aircraft carriers host public “tours of the ships,” all to glorify and justify white supremacy, American exceptionalism, endless war, and mind-numbing military expense. The Navy’s fans gather at Crissy Field, the site of next Saturday’s Patriot Prayer Rally, but there’s no effort to disarm them. Admiral Chester Nimitz created the Blue Angels Air Show in 1946, at the end of WWII, to help the Navy generate public and political support for a larger allocation of the shrinking defense budget, and he was very successful. The Navy also uses Fleet Week to recruit.
Code Pink usually manages a minor presence on the waterfront during Fleet Week, but only KPFA Radio-Berkeley and the San Francisco Bay View Newspaper are usually the only outlets that cover it. Last year Veteran for Peace Vice President Gerry Conlon braved his way out into the Bay with the Navy in a sailboat called the Golden Rule that displayed a 6-foot-wide peace symbol on one of its sails. Pacifists tried to sail the Golden Rule into the Marshall Islands in 1958 to protest U.S. atmospheric testing of large nuclear bombs.
The only other protest last year arose after Blue Angels fighter bomber jets roared over the Oakland Coliseum to give Oakland Raiders fans a thrill just as Raiders quarterback Derek Carr was throwing a critical pass. Chris Harris Jr. intercepted and made a 74-yard touchdown that gave the Denver Broncos a 16-7 lead with less than seven minutes to play.
On Wednesday afternoon, August 23, the Golden Gate National Recreation Area (GGNRA), a division of the National Park Service, issued the final permit for the August 26, 2:00 pm Patriot Prayer rally at Crissy Field in San Francisco. GGNRA Superintendent Cicely Muldoon said that park officials had decided protestors will show up at Crissy Field with or without a permit, and that issuing a permit will make it easier for them to maintain order. They prohibited a list of items in the permitted area: guns, weapons of any kind, explosives, toy guns, helmets, drones, mace, pepper spray, and selfie sticks.
People with California concealed weapons permits will still be allowed to bring guns onto National Park Service property outside the permitted areas. Chief Bill Scott said, “We can’t rewrite the Constitution.”
It’s been legal to open carry firearms on National Park Service land since 2010, but at the states’ discretion. In 2013 California banned open carry on NPS land within its borders. On Wednesday the GGNRA settled questions about open carry by saying that they will comply with state law.
San Francisco officials and NPS officials are arguing over whose officers will be at the top of the chain of command on Saturday. Both say that the Coast Guard will also be deployed, although NPS federal property extends a quarter mile out into the Bay from the Crissy Field shore.
Activists have urged opponents of the rally to “fight bullshit with dogshit” by walking their dogs at Crissy Field on the evening of August 25, the day before the rally; 700 people have signed up to attend on a Facebook event page, and 4000 more have said they’re “interested.” No one yet knows whether the GGNRA will feel obliged to clean up the mess before 2 pm Saturday, but Mayor Ed Lee wrote them an angry letter saying, “We need full assurances that your organization is taking every possible measure to prepare for this rally.”