One of three men facing felony charges in connection with violence at political rallies in Berkeley this year appeared in court Friday morning for arraignment on a weapons possession charge filed last week in Alameda County. Superior Court Judge Mark A. McCannon set Kyle Chapman’s bail at $135,000, remanded him into custody until he can pay it, and ordered Chapman to stay away from the Berkeley park where several political battles have taken place earlier this year, and an “anti-Marxist” rally is set to take place Sunday.
Daly City resident Chapman, a two-time felon, was charged last week with possession of what police called a leaded cane or “billy,” also described in court papers as a “blackjack, sandbag, sandclub, sap, or slungshot.” Police elsewhere said it was a wooden stick or a wooden dowel.
“If found guilty, with prior enhancements I’m looking [at] a good chunk of time. Regardless, I will be attending the SF and Berekley [sic] rallies. Never surrender,” he wrote on Facebook on Thursday. He estimated he could face 2-4 years, but told his supporters he would know more after Friday’s hearing.
In addition to ordering Chapman to stay at least 300 yards away from Civic Center Park in downtown Berkeley, McCannon said Chapman cannot possess “weapons of any kind.” The prosecutor said that must include tear gas, wooden sticks or knives, noting that police found him with two knives when he was arrested in Berkeley earlier this year. McCannon said Chapman, once released, will be subject to a three-way search clause, which allows law enforcement to search his person, vehicle and any property under his control at any time. The judge said Chapman’s home is excluded from the search, however.
Initially, Chapman’s defense attorney, John Noonan, who was privately retained, said his client would enter a not guilty plea Friday morning. But Noonan later told the judge he will wait until the next court appearance, Sept. 5 in Department 7 at the René C. Davidson Courthouse in Oakland, to enter a plea. Noonan told reporters in attendance after court that “not guilty” would likely be the plea at that time, however. Noonan said his client may be in jail for at least 24 hours.
Judge McCannon said, from the bench, that the narrative presented by police of Chapman’s actions March 4 “do cause me some concern.” Police said the allegations included multiple altercations with numerous people, the swinging of a heavy stick, and using pepper spray on members of the crowd.
“He’s not charged with that,” Noonan replied. McCannon concurred, but indicated the charge was still a serious one.
Before his arraignment, speaking to reporters, Chapman criticized the white supremacists who held a recent rally in Charlottesville that turned deadly: “They weren’t uniting shit,” he said, calling the organizers a “bunch of racists” and neo-Nazis. He said some who attended those events, however, were just “regular patriots who want to preserve their southern heritage.” Chapman said it’s unfortunate that what happened in Virginia — where a woman and two police officers were killed — now gives antifascists “something to point at” to attack their political opponents.
Chapman, 41, said he believes law enforcement must do its job by separating the sides at political demonstrations: keeping them in separate pens, with “defensible space” in between. He said that’s what worked well in Berkeley in late April, when there was “not one instance of violence” despite a crowd of at least 400. “It definitely comes down to police,” he said.
Before his arraignment, Chapman said he expected to be told to stay away from Berkeley’s Civic Center Park where the “anti-Marxist” rally is planned Sunday. Asked if he would respect that order, he told reporters: “We’ll see.”
Chapman has risen to prominence in the “patriot” movement this year after video online showed him swinging his stick at antifascists who showed up to shut down a pro-Trump event. He has traveled around the country to speak at and attend events focused on “free speech.” He posts often on social media to criticize the antifascist movement, as well as the “leftist fake news outlets” he feels are skewing coverage against the so-called freedom movement. Chapman is part of the line-up slated to speak during “Liberty Weekend” events in San Francisco and Berkeley. Also listed to speak are Harim Uziel, Joey Gibson, Will Johnson, Gabe Silva, Amber Cummings, “Tiny” Toese and Lindsay Grathwohl.
Police said in court documents that Chapman was among multiple people “causing violence” during the “March 4 Trump” rally in Berkeley on March 4. Authorities said the event drew pro-Trump demonstrators as well as counter-protesters to Civic Center Park.
According to police, Chapman sprayed “what appeared to be pepper spray” into a crowd of people who disagreed with “his side,” which was identified by police as the “March on Berkeley” event organizers. Police said he swung the stick at multiple people but it wasn’t clear if he hit anyone. Police wrote that he was wearing a black baseball helmet, goggles and a black backpack that day.
Police later reviewed video and photographic evidence of the March 4 rally and said it became clear Chapman had with him “a piece of wood that had been fashioned and carried as a weapon.” BPD described the wood as “a large stick with two small American flags” on it. That weapon was confiscated March 4 after Chapman was arrested on suspicion of felony assault with a deadly weapon. Police said he hit someone in the head with a similar weapon earlier in the day, but charges for that crime were never filed.
His arrests this year have not been Chapman’s first contact with the criminal justice system. He was convicted of robbery in Texas in 1993, and was sent to prison. In 2001, he was convicted in San Diego County of grand theft, which also sent him to prison, according to charging documents. Chapman was arrested in Berkeley in April in connection with another fight downtown — after reportedly getting into a fight with a skateboarder in downtown Berkeley while filming a promotional video for a rally — but charges do not appear to have been filed in that case.
Chapman describes himself on his Twitter profile using the descriptions “American Nationalist, Renegade, #MAGA, #ProudBoys, #FOAK, #AltKnights, #BritainFirst,” writing, “Leading the fight to destroy Neo-Marxism and Antifa.” Chapman describes antifa and the group By Any Means Necessary as “Domestic terrorist organizations,” and has publicly supported a White House petition to have them classified as such. The petition has been signed nearly 300,000 times.
“I’ve flown all over this country to support patriots and freedom fighters. I’ve repeatedly put my life and freedom on the line. It’s time to return the favor,” he wrote Monday on Facebook. “I need all warriors to suit up and boot up this weekend.”
Two other men are also facing felony charges in connection with the Berkeley demonstrations, though they were arrested after events April 15: Eric Clanton, 28, of Oakland was charged with hitting four men with a bike lock, causing great bodily injury; and 51-year-old Berkeley resident Robert Peete was charged with two felonies, assault with a deadly weapon and possession of a leaded cane. (Berkeleyside is seeking additional details.) Both were also charged with a misdemeanor, wearing a mask to evade identification during the commission of a crime. The men are set to return to court Sept. 28, Clanton for a preliminary hearing and Peete for a pretrial hearing.
According to a post on The Red Elephants website, Peete was “carrying a wooden dowel he confiscated from one of the communist ANTIFA members. A police officer stopped us after we were walking away from where we were victorious after pushing the communists out of Berkeley, and singled Rob out.”
The Red Elephants organization describes itself on Facebook as a “Conservative group trying to get the word out. Sick and tired of seeing the status quo of society posting about petty ‘problems’ while the world is burning.” The group says Peete is one of its members, and that he “has been fighting with us at events since day one. We go into town halls to fight sanctuary cities, to Trump rallies and countless other political events to fight for America, for our freedom of speech, and for our constitution.”
Six other men are facing misdemeanor charges in connection with demonstration-related incidents March 4 and April 10, according to court records. Charges include carrying a concealed knife, assault with force likely to cause great bodily injury, and possession of a leaded cane. About 30 people were arrested in connection with the protests March 4 and April 15, but many did not see charges filed.
The March 4 rally was the first of three to take place in Berkeley’s Civic Center Park this year. In each case, protesters, including supporters of Donald Trump, civilian militia and white nationalists, held demonstrations in the name of freedom of speech and patriotism. Masked antifa counter-demonstrators and others showed up to two of the events, resulting in a number of bloody fights.
Update, Aug. 26: Kyle Chapman made bail Friday before 11 p.m., he wrote on Twitter. In a press conference broadcast live on Twitter on Saturday, alongside Joey Gibson — organizer of the canceled San Francisco demonstration — Chapman said it’s time to reassess the strategy. Both men disavowed racism, and said the violence is coming from the left.
Said Chapman, “None of us have any ties to any type of white supremacism but the media framed us as such and they will continue to do that. So we have to push back against this narrative and at some point figure out how we are going to start winning again.”
Chapman said the cancelation of Saturday’s event in San Francisco was “a perfect example of the systematic oppression people of right-wing ideology and thought have faced within these liberal enclaves throughout the United States.” He said it may be time for conservatives to focus on events where they have more natural support, and better protection from law enforcement. He also said, if more moderate political groups don’t start addressing the “war on whites,” disenfranchised young white men will continue turning to the alt-right. “And I don’t think that’s a good idea,” he said.
Stay tuned to Berkeleyside for continuing coverage.