By Frances Dinkelspiel and Natalie Orenstein
The violence and confrontations that broke out on the streets of Berkeley on Saturday were predictable. After all, many of the groups that fought one another with fists, M-80s, pepper spray, sticks, and bagels had declared their intentions to engage even before the “Patriots Rally” and counter-rally began at 10 a.m.
“We need mass action to defeat them as a community,” the Bay Area Committee Against Fascism wrote on Indybay on April 6. “These fascists are coming to our backyard in an attempt to scare us off the streets and they hope to build on this success. What we do, or do not do, on Saturday, April 15 will have ramifications across the country.”
Another group posted: “It’s time for us to come together as organizers, as people, and as community members, and shut this down.”
Some on the far right of the political spectrum expressed explicitly violent intentions, although the organizers of the rally had said they intended to demonstrate peacefully. Berkeley police arrested 20 people. (For their names, go to the bottom of the article.) A person tweeting as General Deplorable (@1776RealNews) revealed his thirst to fight the day before the rally: “Tomorrow is April 15th. THE NEXT BATTLE OF BERKELEY make sure your #basedsticks are ready #MAGAMILITIA.” The tweet included visual instructions for making a weapon disguised as a flag.
And on April 2, Bobby E, who goes by the Twitter handle @antifa_sucksass, wrote: “Antifa members are all domestic terrorists. We need to do whatever it takes to make sure this doesn’t end up like that Milo event.” Then he added, “Even if it means killing any rioters dressed in black with lethal force.” Twitter has since suspended the account.
Who were the groups behind the rally and the fighting? Berkeleyside has rounded up some of the major players:
Groups and individuals on the right
Rich Black organized both the March 4 and April 15 rallies, and his standing among conservative and right-wing groups jumped between the two events. His number of Twitter followers has increased from 87 in March to 1,136 today. Black tried to connect the March rally with The Proud Boys, a group formed by Gavin McInnes, a Canadian, the co-founder of Vice News, and conservative media pundit. At first, McInnes disavowed any knowledge of the Berkeley March 4 rally, tweeting, “Important Notice: #ProudBoys never agreed to be part of this march. I’m out.” But after the rally garnered extensive media attention, McInnes invite Black to be on his show on March 14. Black then formed the Liberty Revival Alliance to organize the April 15 rally, which McInnes actively promoted on his online show. McInnes had Black and many of Saturday’s rally speakers on his show Monday. They included Lauren Southern, Kyle Chapman, Based Stickman, Irma Hinojosa, Baked Alaska and others and McInnes asked, “all about their experiences covering, fighting in, and participating in the riot.”
“We came together under one banner, one voice to stand against violent radicalism and domestic terrorism and get our message out,” Black said in a Periscope video posted April 17. “What we did is change history and the turning point is now.”
The Proud Boys is a relatively new group of men who term themselves “Western chauvinists who refuse to apologize for creating the modern world.” Gavin McInnes, 46, (see above) started the group in 2016 and it now has small branches in New York, Los Angeles, North Carolina and in the Bay Area. The group believes women are best suited to stay home and have children, not enter the workplace. The Proud Boys are pro-guns, favor closed borders, and minimal government, among other beliefs.
A number of Proud Boys came to Berkeley to participate in the April 15 protest. The Los Angeles-based street artist Sabo, who calls himself a “rebel artist,” and is known as @unsavoryagents on Twitter, vowed to get violent on a Periscope video. “We hope the Antifa shows up with a lot of sticks and mace. That way we can legally beat the hell out of them. … I hope there is going to be a good fight,” he said.
A number of Proud Boys protected the speaker Lauren Southern when she was at the rally, according to a number of tweets.
Identity Evropa The actions on April 15 of one of the founders of this group, Nathan Damigo, 30 or 31, were caught on video which has been viewed more than 663, 000 times in two days. A freelance conservative videographer, Luke Rudkowski of WeAreChange, captured Damigo punching a woman from the Antifa group in the face. (Various people on the discussion site 4chan then rapidly identified the woman, branded her a “Communist” and spread around personal information about her, an action known as “doxxing.”)
Identity Evropa characterizes itself as “ a generation of awakened Europeans who have discovered that we are part of the great peoples, history, and civilization that flowed from the European continent,” according to its website. In short, the members believe in the supremacy of white culture, and by contrast, the paucity of other cultures. They worry that whites will become an endangered minority. The group has called for creating social unrest to overthrow the system and return it into the hands of whites.“We therefore must smash this system through creating social chaos knowing that the power to destroy something is the power to control it,” reads part of its website. “Only by accelerating the ongoing disorder will a critical junction emerge creating the possibility for an alternative history by which we can we reclaim our destiny as a people with our future in the stars.”
The group’s twitter feed has 11,500 followers, more than twice the number it had just six months ago.
In recent weeks, some of Identity Evropa stickers have been found pasted around UC Berkeley. One was even stuck onto the back of a university-owned truck, according to an article and photographs Antifa published on Indy Bay and an article in the Daily Cal. A video on the Identity Evropa website shows that Damigo and Richard Spencer, the president of the National Policy Institute, a white supremacy think tank, convened a gathering on Sproul Plaza in 2016. Damigo told the Modesto Bee that he is very active in visiting college campuses to recruit members for Identity Evropa.
Damigo is both a former Marine and a convicted felon. He served five years in prison for robbing a non-white taxi driver in San Diego in 2007 because he “looked Iraqi,” according to Northern California Anti-Racist Action. On a Periscope video shortly after Trump’s election, Damigo talked about Calexit, the movement for California to secede from the United States. He predicted California would become a failed state because the population would become too diverse. Damigo vowed to leave. “The remaining few of us who are white would white-flight ourselves out of here and join you guys in the rest of the country, and we could do our own thing and California could just pretty much devolve into cannibalism,” said Damigo.
Damigo is a student at Cal State Stanislaus and, after the video of Damigo went viral, the president put out a letter to the campus community promising to investigate his actions.
“The university has zero tolerance for the use of violence and we will take all of the necessary legal and disciplinary measures to ensure that all students and everyone on campus have a safe and secure environment,” President Ellen Junn wrote in a statement.
Oath Keepers About 50 members of the Oath Keepers civilian militia, including its founder, E. Stewart Rhodes, were on the scene Saturday. The large national organization is comprised of active and former military, law enforcement officers and first responders who say it is their duty to “defend the Constitution.” Members often rush, heavily armed, to defend against what they see as overreaches by the federal government, or to correct for what they consider is ineffective policing. The group identifies as non-partisan, and has criticized Democratic and Republican politicians alike, but Oath Keepers traveled to the inauguration of Donald Trump to protect the crowd from infiltrators and “terrorists,” and has collaborated with Trump supporters.
The Oath Keepers claim tens of thousands of members, though the Southern Poverty Law Center says that is likely an exaggeration. One left-wing writer says he was issued a membership card without having to demonstrate that he had been in the army or in law enforcement. Both the SPLC and the Anti-Defamation League consider the organization an extremist group. “The entire organization is based on a set of baseless conspiracy theories about the federal government working to destroy the liberties of Americans,” writes the SPLC in its Extremist Files.
Rhodes, a veteran, disbarred Yale Law School graduate and former Ron Paul staffer, started the Oath Keepers in 2009. Since then he has issued several calls to action, sending Oath Keepers to protect against the government seizure of Cliven Bundy’s illegal ranch in Nevada, to protect businesses from Black Lives Matter protesters in Ferguson, MO, and to protest the police there themselves, and to defend free speech in Berkeley. He came from Montana on Saturday.
The Los Angeles Times quoted Rhodes saying Saturday that he would enjoy “hitting” the counter-demonstrators. Rhodes posted a statement online saying he was referring to the white supremacists, not the left. “I was talking about the actual white nationalists who showed up and tried to co-opt the event,” he wrote. “As for the Anti-fa, we were prepared to use force if necessary to defend the people, but frankly, I dislike the neo-Nazis more than Anti-fa… the white nationalists want to destroy all my family fought to preserve, and are as deadly to this Republic as any communist.”
Kyle Chapman, a 41-year-old Daly City resident, has been arrested three times in Berkeley this year. He earned the nickname “Based Stickman” and “Alt-Knight” after the March 4 protest, where, in makeshift riot gear, he assaulted counter-demonstrators with a wooden signpost. Since then Chapman has become an internet celebrity and meme in far-right nationalist circles. Chapman told the New Republic that he supports Trump and has previously voted Libertarian.
Chapman was arrested March 4 on suspicion of assault with a deadly weapon and was bailed out by crowd-funders. He returned to Berkeley April 10 to promote Saturday’s rally and stroll around downtown carrying a large flag. He filmed himself walking around and saying, “Most of the inhabitants of this city are a bunch of fucking cowards that couldn’t fight their way out of a paper bag.” Chapman was later arrested that day after allegedly getting into a fight with a skateboarder who struck him. Another video from that day shows Chapman arguing with young men. Chapman punches one of the men, and the man’s friend hits him back. Chapman tweeted that he was arrested again on Saturday. Berkeley Police said it was in connection to a warrant relating to the March 4 rally. Chapman, who grew up in San Diego, is a commercial driver in the Bay Area.
Other people involved in the protest included Lauren Southern, 21, who joined Chapman on the speaker lineup Saturday. Southern is a Canadian libertarian and author of the book Barbarians: How Baby Boomers, Immigrants and Islam Screwed My Generation. She has said, “Communists” have “infested” Berkeley. Other speakers included Gilroy resident Brittany Pettibone, a supporter of “traditional values” who has called for the deportation of “illegal aliens” and other immigrants and promoted the fake #Pizzagate child abuse ring; and Vaughn Neville, who lives in Utah and goes by @themanspot on social media. At the rally, Neville said, “When people come here, we shouldn’t conform to them. They need America. We don’t need them, but we’ll take them.”
Groups on the left
Antifa, short for anti-fascism, is an umbrella term including many of the groups involved in the counter-demonstrations at the three Berkeley protests. Many identify as anarchists. Lauren Southern, one of the right-wing speakers at the rally, called them Communists and said the name is a reference to an anti-fascist group the German Communist Party founded in 1932 to confront the rise of the Nazis.
Antifa organizes against what they consider hate speech, attempting to stop the public promotion of far-right ideas, by any means necessary. Ryan Smith, an organizer of the April 15 counter-demonstration said the Defend the Bay Coalition — an Antifa group assembled for the rally — did not come seeking violence but rather “numerical advantage.” But the group was prepared to “hold the space” at the park from the protesters by force in defense, he said. Many Antifa demonstrators physically attacked the protesters at both Berkeley rallies, sometimes initiating violence.
Antifa members believe “fascist white supremacists should not be granted the right to express their views in public,” historian Mark Bray said on WYNC’s On the Media. They maintain that free speech and dialogue did not prevent fascism from spreading in the 1930s, and say neo-fascism has to be squashed more forcefully.
Antifa groups use “black-bloc” tactics, masking their identities with heavy black clothing, masks and sometimes helmets. Black blocs, which originated in Germany in the 1980s, are ad-hoc groups of protesters convened for an individual event. They often engage in targeted property destruction. Protesters using black bloc tactics are overwhelmingly white and male, according to Occupy.com, but the group demonstrating in Berkeley was a bit more diverse.
Antifa resistance — including property destruction and some attacks on supporters — led to the cancellation of Milo Yiannopolous’s speaking event at UC Berkeley in February, prompting the far-right to hold the two “free speech” rallies in Berkeley.
One group that has gone public is the Oak Roots Collective, a newly-formed group from Ventura and Los Angeles counties. One of its members is Louise Rosealma, the woman who Damigo slugged. She recently gave a radio interview to the anarchist news site, It’s Going Down, where she said anarchists need to step up their battle games. “Being armed is vital right now,” said Rosealma. “It should be in the best interest of the left to learn …. military tactics for the street when we’re out here under the threat of the neo-Nazis who were gladiator helmets and shields and full-out riot gear.”
Rosealma said three hours after the video has surfaced, right wingers had uncovered her phone number. They have been calling and harassing her since then and are also calling her family members. She laughed at their attempts to smear her for doing sex work. “They have been using that as a shame tactic. I am unashamed of my body and the sex work I have done.”
By Any Means Necessary Though many Antifa members want to remain anonymous, one of the well-known groups in Berkeley is By Any Means Necessary. Perhaps its best-known member in the Bay Area is Yvette Felarca, a middle-school teacher in Berkeley. BAMN was in the middle of the melee at all three of the recent rallies, including the Feb. 2 Yiannopolous protest. A group of Antifa street medics called the Pastel Bloc were also there Saturday, attending to injured demonstrators.
The rise of social media, particularly Twitter and Facebook, has made it easy for people from these groups to communicate with one another. Right-wing media has assisted, too. Gavin McInnes (see above, in Rich Black segment), for example, has often appeared on Fox News. But these groups also have shows on the internet and YouTube that garner hundreds of thousands of views. Southern, for example, appeared until recently regularly on the Canadian show, The Rebel Media. Another conservative channel is Red Ice TV. There is the Deplorable News Network, too. A popular website for right-wing commentary is AltRight.com Many on the alt-right communicate through 4chan, an imageboard website. For those on the left, IndyBay provides a forum to share information. Another site is It’s Going Down, which describes itself as “media platform for revolutionary anarchist, anti-fascist, and autonomous anti-capitalist and anti-colonial movements.”Tim Pool travels from demonstration to demonstration live streaming for his TimCasts. He was in Berkeley on April 15.
April 15 arrests
Berkeley Police issued a Nixle alert Monday stating that 20 people had been arrested on April 15 for “their roles in violence at Civic Center Park. “Charges include assault with a deadly weapon, battery, and committing a criminal offense while wearing a mask,” according to police.
Note: This article has been updated as more information became available.
June 10, 2022: Berkeleyside took out the names of the people whom police had arrested on more minor charges.