Protesters at Sproul Plaza at UC Berkeley on Feb. 1. protesting the scheduled appearance of far-right provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos. Photo: Dan Lurie

In the days after the protest in Berkeley against Milo Yiannopoulos, so many death threats were levied at Mayor Jesse Arreguín that Berkeley police had to attach a detail to protect him.

Arreguín became a target of the far right after he sent out some tweets last Wednesday, Feb. 1, hours before Yiannopoulos was scheduled to speak at UC Berkeley. Arreguín tweeted: “Bigotry is unacceptable. Hate speech isn’t welcome in our community.”

On Feb. 2, after a group of black-clad rioters protesting again Yiannopoulos had caused approximately $500,000 in damage downtown, and another $100,000 worth of damage to the UC campus, Arreguín put out a statement calling Yiannopoulos “a white nationalist.” Arreguín later retracted that characterization and changed it to “alt-rightist.” He apologized for his use of language.

But Arreguín’s comments so angered some conservatives that he was bombarded with thousands of tweets, Facebook messages, and telephone calls, many calling on him to die.

A sampling of the threatening communications include:

  • “Hope his family gets killed by terrorists one day while we laugh at him”
  • “I hope you drop dead, welcome to White America”
  • “There’s gonna be a civil war, and you’ll be the first to go”
  • “Send him to the firing squad”
  • “We’re coming for ya”
  • “I’ll rip you to shreds”

Arreguín forwarded the threats to Berkeley police, who determined that it was prudent to provide him with some protection, particularly as his home address was circulating on the internet. (The act of placing private information online with the intent to spur malicious acts is known as “doxing.”) One to two officers shadowed Arreguín on Thursday and Friday, according to the mayor’s office. Officers were also stationed at City Hall at 2180 Milvia St.

The threats spooked Arreguín, but he said he would not to be silenced.

“I was alarmed by the tone of the messages, and some of the threats,” Arreguín told Berkeleyside in an email. “I know going into public service and taking strong, principled stances against hatred, bigotry and racism that you are going to be a target. Especially as a person of color. But you don’t know until it happens to you how disturbing it is, and how much you are at risk.

“That being said I am not going to back down from standing up for what I believe in and standing up against hate. I know now after being a target of the alt-right the past week that I am going to be the focus of further attacks and criticism. But that will not stop me from standing up for what is right and for the values of our community.”

Some people have also criticized Arreguín because they believe he told Berkeley police to hold back during the protests and not engage with the violent rioters. Berkeley police did not arrest anyone during the chaos.

Arreguín has said that he did not give any instructions to the police department about how to respond. But he said Tuesday he was proud of how police handled the situation.

“In terms of what happened on February 1st, I think our Police did a good job handling a very difficult situation and by focusing on life safety we were able to make sure that peaceful protesters were not at risk,” Arreguín wrote. “It is a tough call, but I think our Police made the right call.”

In a tweet posted Thursday, Arreguín did condemn the violence of the band of black-clad protesters.

Arreguín said the city will have to get smarter about how to deal with protesters determined to disrupt and destroy property.

“Going forward, we need to coordinate with UC, merchants, and develop strategies to deal with the Black Bloc violent element,” he said. “This will not be the last time Berkeley faces such challenges, but I think we have learned over the years and will be developing strategies to keep our community safe and respect the right of speech and protest.”

Frances Dinkelspiel, Berkeleyside and CItyside co-founder, is a journalist and author. Her first book, Towers of Gold: How One Jewish Immigrant Named Isaias Hellman Created California, published in November...