Politics | August 29, 2017 12:25 pm

Leftist Activists Are ‘Soul Searching’ After Antifa Violence in Berkeley

One hundred or so militants showed up to a rally on Sunday.

Antifa members and counter protesters in Berkeley
Antifa members and counter protesters gather during a rightwing No-To-Marxism rally on August 27, 2017 at Martin Luther King Jr. Park in Berkeley, California. / AFP PHOTO / Amy Osborne (Photo credit should read AMY OSBORNE/AFP/Getty Images)

One hundred or so members of Antifa showed up to a white-ring rally in Berkeley on Sunday, dressed head to toe in black, with masked faces and some bearing riot shields that read “no hate.” They billed themselves as a security force for progressive counter-protestors, writes Los Angeles Times“vowing to protect them from far-right agitators.”

However, some of the Antifa members resorted to mob violence over the course of the day, attacking a small showing of President Trump supporters and other people that they accused of being Nazis or white supremacists.

As these graphic videos have been shared on social media and by news organizations, many leftist activists are left questioning activism best practices. Emotions are still raw after a rally in Charlottesville turned deadly.

After Charlottesville, Trump was highly criticized for saying there was “violence on both sides” and for equating the behavior of neo-Nazis to the actions of those who opposed them. But the Los Angeles Times writes that some now fear Sunday’s action would only help advance the idea that the two sides are the same.

Todd Gitlin, a founder of Students for a Democratic Society, which organized the first national protests against the Vietnam War, told The Los Angeles Times, that the violence on Sunday is “food for the adversary. Violent attacks will hijack the narrative of the entire protest, he said.

More than 4,000 people showed up to members of a far-right group who originally wanted to hold an anti-Marxism rally. The rally was canceled, but a small group of right-wingers still showed up. By the end of the day, 13 people were arrested, one on suspicion of assault with a deadly weapon and three on a battery charge, reports the Los Angeles Times. 

At first, Antifa members fell in with the rest of the rally. Participants were told not to record the day on their cell phones and were told to write a legal aid phone number on their arms in case of arrest. The demonstrators marched, eventually lining up in front of a police barricade. But the hooded group mobbed, and in some cases kicked and beat, a handful of far-right supporters, reports the Los Angeles Times. 

Among those appalled by the militant force are radicals from the 1960s peace movement, like Jo Freeman, who was part of the student movement that forced UC Berkeley to permit political speech five decades ago. She said she was “dismayed at the effort that went into silencing opposition,” writes the Los Angeles Times. 

UC Berkeley has a few conservative speakers lined up to speak this fall. They are reviewing the weekend demonstrations as they plan how to handle that series. Campus spokesman Dan Mogulof told The Los Angeles Times that student safety is a priority — “there is nothing more important.”