It was supposed to be a day of peaceful protests across 150 US cities organized by anti-Trump supporters demanding to see the president’s tax return on Tax Day. Instead, in at least that bastion of tolerance and liberalism, the protest devolved into outright violence, when according to press reports hundreds of “alt-right” and “anti fa” protesters clashed.
According to Mercury news, nine people have been arrested as fighting broke out and scores of people supporting or opposing President Trump converged on a park in downtown Berkeley Saturday. Police were urging people to avoid the downtown area around Martin Luther King Jr. Civic Center Park, citing a “large number of fights” that have occurred and numerous fireworks thrown in the crowds at the protests. Police said also that there have been numerous reports of pepper spray being used in the crowd.
Trump backers were holding a “free speech” rally at the park, while opponents of the president and his policies headed to the same spot at about 10 a.m. It didn’t take long for hundreds people to gather in and around the park. About half of them were Trump supporters who were gathered to rally in support of the president, while the other half were anti-Trump protesters. Police in riot gear made nine arrests and seized numerous prohibited items from the demonstrators by the early afternoon.
LA Times adds that about 500 pro-Trump demonstrators and counter-protesters faced off Saturday morning at a “Patriots Day” rally in Berkeley, where the two groups have violently clashed on city streets twice in the last three months. About 10 a.m. Pacific Time, dozens of counter-protesters dressed in black and wearing masks tore down a plastic netting that separated the two groups in Martin Luther King Jr. Civic Center Park. The Trump supporters moved forward with American flags and chants against “communists.”
These dudes in Berkeley came to start a fight. Those are not protestors. Those are gangsters pic.twitter.com/qdoEGB053N
— Danny Freisinger (@DannyFreisinger) April 15, 2017
Two counter-demonstrators were led away by police in handcuffs. At one point, a loud explosion could be heard in the park and fist fights broke out among members of both groups. Berkeley police, wearing riot helmets, immediately rushed in and the crowd moved back.
Stewart Rhodes, founder of the citizen militia group known as the Oath Keepers, came from Montana with about 50 people wearing security gear to protect the Trump supporters. They were joined by bikers and others who vowed to fight members of an anti-fascist group if they crossed police barricades. “I don’t mind hitting” the counter-demonstrators, whom he called “neo-Nazis,” Rhodes said. “In fact, I would kind of enjoy it.”
But Rhodes credited Berkeley police for new tactics that kept the two sides apart and “our side chilled and relaxed.”
Giving a speech at a well-secured end of the park, alt-right blogger Laura Southern railed against societal change, Kim Kardashian and the media. She called on members of her movement to “realize Trump is only a foot in the door.”
“We must become like them,” she said referring to her opponents, “subversive.”
— KPIX 5 (@CBSSF) April 15, 2017
The rally, one of many being held across the country, is sponsored by the pro-Trump group Liberty Revival Alliance and was originally scheduled for noon to 4 p.m. in Martin Luther King Jr. Civic Center Park. A regularly scheduled farmer’s market, which is usually held adjacent to the park, was cancelled as a precaution.
A single vendor showed up Saturday to sell organic produce. “Rain or shine or fascism we will be here,” said a young woman operating the cash register.
Berkeley Police Sgt. Andrew Frankel told CBS 5 that police would have extra patrols on duty in case things get out of hand. “We’ve staffed accordingly and are preparing for a number of different contingencies,” he said. About two dozen police officers were at the park early Saturday and set up a narrow entrance to control access. Those entering the park are prohibited from bringing the following items: metal pipes, baseball bats, poles, bricks, mace, knives, rocks, glass bottles, eggs or tasers.
Dave Gottfried, 58, a self-employed Berkeley artist, passed “empathy kisses,” chocolate candy, out to both sides. He had hoped to “show empathy is the beginning of understanding.”
“I feel we are going down the rabbit hole,” he said.
— CBS News (@CBSNews) April 15, 2017
— David Mack (@davidmackau) April 15, 2017
— Brian Krans (@citizenkrans) April 15, 2017