Ten times in the last six month, Revolution Books, the far left bookstore in the Telegraph Channing Mall, has found itself under attack from far-right activists.
The latest skirmish was Sat. March 4, the one-year anniversary of the pro-Trump rally in Martin Luther King Jr. Park that saw people on the right and Antifa and BAMN activists duking it out for control. A group of people who called themselves “Berkeley Warriors” on a live Facebook feed came from Sacramento and stormed the store.
“Fucking Commie scum,” one demonstrator, Rob Cantrall, said on a video taken by bookstore staff while Reiko Redmonde, a volunteer manager at the store, tried to prevent him and others from entering. “You are commie scum. We are going to burn down your bookstore. You know that, right?”
Cantrall, who has come to rally in Berkeley on at least three other occasions, was wearing an American flag around his shoulders and a red “Make America Great Again,” hat. He talked into his phone as he continued to berate Redmonde and the other volunteers. “Fuck all you anti-American pieces of shit,” he said. Others demonstrating were also live-streaming their actions.
Cantrell, who is from Los Angeles, was joined by his partner of about two weeks, Lauren White, who also goes by the name Lauren Order. “Infiltrating Berkeley’s Marxist Hive w/ Jacob Ku & Rob Cantrall, ” White wrote on Facebook. Alexandra Davis, Jourdin Davis, and James Ian were also there, according to the group’s Livestream and various Facebook pages.
Redmonde said to Cantrell: “Your hat says, ‘Make America Great Again.’ You can tell what it really means is ‘Make America White Again.’”
Berkeley police showed up, but did not make any arrests.
The skirmish by right-wing agitators is the first after a period of four months of relative dormancy. In 2017, Berkeley was the focal point of the partisan divide that erupted in the U.S. after Donald Trump was inaugurated. There were at least 13 rallies and marches in Berkeley last year, starting Feb. 1, 2017, when a group Antifa activists rioted in Sproul Plaza and prompted UC Berkeley to cancel a speech by the then-Breitbart editor Milo Yiannopoulos. Many conservatives, Trump supporters, and white nationalists interpreted those events to mean that Berkeley, the home of the Free Speech Movement, did not respect conservative voices. So they came to Berkeley on numerous occasions to speak up in favor of President Trump and to claim ground in order to promote free speech. On March 4, 2017, and April 15, the fights got violent. Many were injured and arrested. Some people were also injured on Aug. 27.
The rallies brought some of the country’s most conservative activists, as well as many white nationalists who disparage people of color and immigrants and who want to create distinctly white areas or throw people of color out of the country. They were emboldened by Trump’s calling of some Mexicans “rapists” and his attempts to severely curtail Muslim immigration and travel.
The first protests outside Revolution Books, which has its entry in a corridor in the Telegraph Channing mall, came during the so-called “Free Speech Week,” in September put on by the Berkeley Patriot, a UC Berkeley publication, and Yiannopoluos. The event was eventually canceled, although Yiannopoulos made a brief appearance, but supporters rallied anyway. On Sept. 24, one of the protesters was Antonio (Tony) Foreman, a member of the Oathkeepers, a radical anti-government group made up of ex-military men. Foreman attended the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville in August where Heather Heyer was killed.
Kyle Chapman, who became a hero of the far right after he hit an Antifa activist with a stick in Berkeley on March 4, 2017, thereby earning the sobriquet “Based Stickman,” made a point of stopping outside Revolution Books on Sept. 26. Joey Gibson, the leader of Patriot Prayer of Portland, Ore. accompanied him, as did Ashton Whitty, a former member of the Berkeley College Republicans. Small groups have come back numerous times since then, including Saturday, said Redmonde.
“They came to mark the anniversary of the first pro-Trump rally last year in Berkeley,” Redmonde read from a statement at a press conference on Monday. “Fueled and backed by the Trump/Pence regime’s hold over the government and society, including the intensifying attacks on immigrants, Muslims and people of color, and the regime’s flagrant disregard for even a veneer of civil rights, these Brownshirts have repeatedly targeted our bookstore. We said before that these attacks are reminiscent of Nazi book burnings, of Kristallnacht. Now, these fascists are actually threatening to burn the store down!”
The attacks have come so often that the bookstore volunteers have developed a routine on how to respond, said Redmonde. When store staff members learn via Twitter or Facebook that people are on the way to Revolution Books, they send out text messages to their community and ask them to help defend the bookstore, she said. Members of Direct Action Network, an animal rights group with a community center in the mall, have also helped keep the right-wing activists from swarming the bookstore.
Revolution Books heavily promotes the teachings of Bob Avakian, a Berkeley-raised political activist who is the chairman of the Revolutionary Communist Party. He promotes a “new synthesis” of communism. The store also sells many best-selling novels and non-fiction books.
Workers at Revolution Books, as well as many of their supporters from the group, Refuse Fascism, believe Trump is a fascist and are calling for millions of people to hit the streets immediately to overthrow what they characterize as his “regime.” The store’s press conferences are conducted to impart information about the attacks against the store but also include mini-political lessons. Many of the store volunteers have also protested against the conservatives, including Yiannopoulos, who have come to Berkeley.
Many people who are not Communists or Marxists or on the far left are alarmed by the attacks. On Tuesday, City Lights Books in San Francisco sent out a tweet in support of Revolution Books.
Judith Offer, an Oakland poet who had done readings at Revolution Books, was at the press conference to show her concern for what is going on.
“I think something like this store is important,” she said. “They make information available about these issues – violence, fascism. It’s outrageous for some twits to come in and say they are going to burn down the store because of some ideas.”