Hundreds of people showed up to march on the UC Berkeley campus Saturday in what turned out to be a fake protest organized by a prankster who later identified himself (perhaps falsely) as a Russian national. But the march went on anyway.
A person named Sam Cox listed a march on the Action Network website that was to start at Memorial Glade near Doe Library at UC Berkeley at noon. He also cross-listed the march on the Women’s March Bay Area website, although the listing was later taken down. Berkeleyside got an email Thursday about the march and added it to the already-published story listing activities taking place Saturday in response to the inauguration.
But when hundreds of people showed up to Memorial Glade, there was no organized march. And those who had registered online later got an email in Russian stating:
“Я pranked многих американцев! хахаха / Не удивительно, что люди не имеют столь низкие результаты тестов. и один из вас получили это право, что я русский национальный xaxaxaxa / До свидания!”
Translated, that means: “I pranked many Americans! Hahaha. Not surprising that people [do] don’t have such low test scores and one of you got this right/privilege that I am Russian national. ha ha haha. Goodbye!”
And the name of the organizer of the march was changed on the website from Sam Cox to “Pepe the Frog,” a meme recently appropriated by the racist right. The Anti-Defamation League added the frog meme into its database of symbols in 2016.
“The event page now has a frog giving the finger because the ‘organizer’ assumed we would get there, find no one, and look it up to make sure we were in the correct spot, and get the finger,” Cori Kesler, one of the Berkeley marchers, told Berkeleyside.
Maris Meyerson was one of the hundreds who turned up at Memorial Glade to join the march. By around 11:45 a.m., when no organizer had turned up, she and others began to be suspicious, she said. Other marchers reported that when they clicked on “Memorial Grove,” the website said the location was closed. That led many people to wander around campus, frustrated by not knowing where to go, said Meyerson.
“A bunch of us were RSVPing for a march that was put together by Pepe the Frog,” said Meyerson. “They were trying to draw people away from Oakland to bring the numbers down…. It was clearly someone trying to make you reach a dead end.”
Pepe the Frog, however, must not be familiar with Berkeley protesters. As soon as those gathered realized the march was a fake with no real organizer, they led their own march. Hundreds walked through campus but avoided city streets since they did not have a permit, said Meyerson.
“We overcame the prank,” she said. “We were not deterred.”
“As noon approached at the entrance to Doe Library, a couple of women stood up and spoke to the crowd (without a mike, so not easy to hear), to let them know they were not the organizers, but were stepping up to get things going,” Rachel Bradley wrote Berkeleyside. “Everyone was full of energy and ready to march, so we proceeded along the path described by the self-appointed leaders (through Sather Gate, down Bancroft, along Oxford to the west entrance to UC, they back up to Doe Library), chanting, waving signs, and generally acting like the protesters we all came there to be.”
Another participant told Berkeleyside, “In spite of its dubious origins, I’d estimate that nearly a thousand people showed up for the spur-of-the-moment event, which the speakers admitted was leaderless. In my opinion it was nevertheless fairly uplifting.”
Said Kesler, “We walked through campus and down Hearst and around Oxford and then back to where we began at Memorial Glade. Upon return it was apparent that our group had more than doubled and someone had run home to bring their personal amplifier so we could continue the march with chants, speeches, and song. The man who supplied the amplifier ended our demonstration by singing a gorgeous and rousing rendition of Man of LaMancha’s THE IMPOSSIBLE DREAM.”
Nicole Pagano also described that song to Berkeleyside as “gorgeous,” adding, ” I’ll never forget it.”
Pagano said she too felt the demonstration became, “a beautiful expression of our country’s values…. But there was also a strange drone flying peripatetically around the scene. I couldn’t help but wonder who was commandeering it, and where its footage would appear.”
Some people never found the march, however, and were disappointed.
“We never found the meeting place!” a woman named Shirley wrote on the Shadilay discussion board. “No signs to show us. I feel bad about never locating the March. We encountered a number of others who never found it either. So disappointing.”
Those who called the number listed on the event website were disappointed, too, as the number was fake. It belongs to a San Leandro man who said he has gotten about 60 to 80 calls in the last week asking for details about the UC Berkeley march. The man, who did not want to be identified, told people he could not help them and they had the wrong number.
Shortly after the march began Saturday, those who had registered (the website say 945 people RSVP’d) started to get emails with information supporting President Trump. The prankster, who was clearly monitoring the discussion boards, posted that he had the last laugh because he had captured hundreds of emails.
“Maris dear, I still got the: names, addresses, and email addresses of hundreds of people,” the organizer posted. “So who really got pranked?”
Berkeleyside reached out via twitter to ask for a translation of the Russian message, and many readers responded. All commented that the grammar of the note was strange, leading some to say it was not written by anyone who spoke Russian fluently.
“There are clear grammatical errors here and it seems like this wasn’t written by a native Russian speaker,” Sergey Mann, a Russian native who is now the vice president of communications for the Berkeley Forum, wrote to Berkeleyside. “In fact, it was likely translated into Russian using Google translate.”
Despite the fact the once-fake march was a success, Meyerson said she was disturbed by the incident.
“It’s an unnerving feeling to think someone had ‘gotten’ you,” she said. “It was unsettling and I had an unsettled night. It does not matter if it was a Russian national or an American jerk, it’s not a pleasant feeling.”