Sather Gate on the UC Berkeley campus
Videos of a man punching a right-wing activist on Sproul Plaza at UC Berkeley have gone viral. Photo: Bernt Rostad

Update, Feb. 26, 4:40 p.m. UC Berkeley police are seeking a felony warrant to arrest the person the department suspects is the man caught on camera punching a conservative activist on campus last week.

“The District Attorney will evaluate the case. If the warrant is issued, UCPD will immediately pursue the suspect’s arrest,” said campus spokesman Dan Mogulof in a statement sent late Tuesday afternoon.

Police have not released the name of the suspect.

Original story, Feb. 22, 2:04 p.m. UC Berkeley police have identified a man suspected of punching a right-wing activist on Sproul Plaza on Tuesday but he has not been arrested yet, nor have police released his name.

Videos of the incident went viral this week, after they were shared by conservative groups and figures calling the assault a leftist attack on students’ free speech. UC Berkeley has said, however, that neither the activist or the man suspected of punching him are students, and there is no indication the man is affiliated with any left-wing groups.

The most-viewed video begins in the middle of an altercation between two young men, one of whom was recruiting on Sproul Plaza for Turning Point USA, a national nonprofit that organizes right-wing college students.

In the video, the Turning Point recruiter is holding his phone out, appearing to film the other man. The man walks into the recruiter and swings his sweatshirt at him.

“Put your hands on me again, motherfucker,” he says to the recruiter. “Racist little…bitch.” He then punches the recruiter in the face and walks off, continuing to curse at him.

UCPD Sgt. Bryan Sato said Friday that the department received a report of battery around 3:30 p.m. Tuesday, and is continuing to investigate the incident. UC Berkeley spokesman Dan Mogulof and UCPD sent a statement Friday afternoon announcing a suspect had been identified. His name was not released.

UCPD also sent out an alert Wednesday, saying two men had initially approached the Turning Point table, according to the report police received.

“A physical confrontation ensued when one of the two men slapped the phone out of the victim’s hand,” the alert said. “The suspect then knocked over the table the victim was at and the two men struggled over the phone. During the incident, the suspect punched the victim several times causing injury to the victim’s eye and nose.”

UC Berkeley Chancellor Carol Christ sent a campus-wide statement Thursday about the incident.

“Let there be no mistake, we strongly condemn violence and harassment of any sort, for any reason,” Christ said. “That sort of behavior is intolerable and has no place here. Our commitment to freedom of expression and belief is unwavering.”

The videos have been shared by numerous right-wing accounts and groups, including the Berkeley College Republicans and Ben Shapiro, the conservative writer who spoke amid controversy and heavy security on campus last year. Turning Point’s video tweet has racked up a quarter of a million views, with the organization calling the footage evidence of “LEFTIST VIOLENCE ON CAMPUS!”

“A Leftist Thug Violently Assaulted A Conservative Student,” Turning Point said in its tweet. “This Is How Violent & Intolerant The Left Has Become On Campus!” Numerous other conservative accounts promoted the same idea, resurfacing messages that were spread during frequent and often violent clashes between the far-right and far-left on campus and city streets in 2017 and 2018.

According to the libertarian publication Reason, the Turning Point recruiter is part of the Virginia-based Leadership Institute, a training program for conservative activists and students.

The recruiters had signs on Sproul Plaza that said, “Hate crime hoaxes hurt real victims” and “This is MAGA country,” according to Reason.

Turning Point also provides training, funding and supplies to right-wing students on college campuses, claiming on its website to have a “a stronger, more organized presence than all of the left-wing campus groups combined.” The organization maintains a “Professor Watchlist,” targeting leftist faculty members. Four UC Berkeley professors are on the list.

Natalie Orenstein reports on housing and homelessness for The Oaklandside. Natalie was a Berkeleyside staff reporter from early 2017 to May 2020. She had previously contributed to the site since 2012,...