Black bloc tactics become prevalent in Bay Area protests

[/media-credit] Ernesto Agular (far-right) from Sacramento attended the protest for President Trump supporters in Berkeley, Calif on March 4, 2017 (Xpress/Laila Rashada)

Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated Jesse had engaged in black bloc tactics since the 1990s. They did not become a black bloc participant until Occupy Wall Street, but began fighting against neo-Nazis in the 1990s. The article has since been corrected.

*Note: names have been changed to protect identity.

An American flag attached to a wooden pole swung violently through the air at the “March 4 Trump” rally in Berkeley over the weekend.

“Spick! Beaner!” a rallier shouted.

Jesse*, providing protection for their friend, attempted to grab the pole in self defense. A man wielding a knife in one hand and a club in the other suddenly appeared, they said.

Jesse swung at the hand with the knife, but then recalled another rallier grabbing both of their arms from behind, leaving them exposed and defenseless.

“The only thing going through my head was just, ‘fuck,’” they said.

A comrade quickly intervened and hit the man restraining them, setting Jesse free to fade back into the crowd.

“You find strength in solidarity, knowing that you have people there to support you,” Jesse said.

Jesse, a Jewish member of the LGBTQ+ community, was born to a feminist mom and a dad who volunteered to work with the Black Panthers. Jesse began to stand up against the rise of neo-Nazis in the Bay Area punk rock scene of the 1990s. They later adopted the Antifa mindset and first started to engage in black bloc tactics during the Occupy Wall Street movement.

Black bloc strategies and Antifa are not new-both have been around for decades.

Antifa, a play on the word anti-fascist, is a mindset based in anti-racism and against extreme right-wing politics. Black bloc is a protest strategy, often associated with anarchism. The tactic is rooted in 1980s West Germany where it was used to combat the rise of police crackdowns. The tactics include direct confrontation, defense and vandalizing of property.

“I’ve been to demonstrations where black bloc has played relatively productive roles in their capacity to shut things down and bring attention to targets,” said Ron Hayduk, associate professor at SF State’s Department of Political Science. However, Hayduk believes nonviolent forms of protest are the most effective overall.

[/media-credit] A woman who attended the Pro-Trump protest was hit in the head during the rally in Berkeley,Calif on March 4, 2017 (Xpress/Laila Rashada)

Black bloc methods are often, but not always, used to support Antifa values. But not all Antifa protesters engage in black bloc tactics. There are no leaders that organize Antifa or black bloc protests, as both entities exercise a belief in equality among participants.

Protesters wearing face-concealing gear and head-to-toe black have shown a presence at recent counter-protests in the Bay Area and used black bloc tactics to stand up against what they view as hate speech.

“Yesterday’s objective was to not provide a platform for hate speech,” Jesse said. “Freedom of speech doesn’t mean it’s consequence-free speech.”

Sporadic fighting between the two opposing groups began around 2 p.m., and ended hours later with participants from both parties spilling blood and having milk poured into their eyes to counteract the burning sensation of pepper spray.

The rally’s organizer, Rich Black, said free speech was under attack in February at UC Berkeley when 100 masked protesters damaged campus property and shut down Milo Yiannopoulos’s planned event. President Trump reacted with a Twitter post suggesting the university doesn’t allow free speech and should be stripped of federal funds.

“We have these groups that are redefining what hate speech is,” said Black, a self-proclaimed Libertarian. “If there’s some notion that there are certain words or emotions behind what you say that allow another person to physically assault you, it’s against your rights and it’s against the constitution.” He added that he was not in attendance as a Trump supporter, but rather to defend free speech.

Lecia Brooks, outreach director at the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), believes black bloc tactics can delegitimize otherwise peaceful counter-protests.

“Peaceful protests and counter-protests can be productive,” Brooks said. “But once violence is interjected, it leaves you with a police state feeling. Violent protests will never be successful.”

According to Jesse, black bloc tactics are designed to target specific property in cases like the Yiannopoulos protest.

“There was a Walgreens that was vandalized, but the independent liquor store next door was left alone,” Jesse said. “It’s specifically targeted to draw attention to a cause and to cost the corporations that are financially backing the stripping of rights and supporting the enslavement of Third World countries.”

Some “March 4 Trump” rally participants entered the park on Saturday determined not to engage in violence, but ended up doing so.

“I do not want there to be any violence towards anyone, even if it’s one of us doing something to anyone else, I would not stand for that,” said Tito Mena, a Trump supporter who was born in the U.S. and whose parents were deported to Mexico. He later appeared on video removing his shirt before a counter-protester ran towards him and began a fistfight.

Those engaging in black bloc used the event to stand up against what they view as hate speech. Jesse has friends who say they are non-racist Trump supporters, but believes hate speech specifically should face confrontation.

“This was the far-right trying to create a call to arms, they wanted a violent confrontation,” Jesse said, recalling ralliers wielding weapons and wearing body armor. “There are xenophobic, homophobic and transphobic individuals who are just there because this extreme right-wing movement is providing a platform for their hate.”

[/media-credit] Residents from all over the Bay Area gathered to protest for or against president Trump in Berkeley, Calif on March 4, 2017 (Xpress/ Laila Rashada)

The election of Trump has motivated the alt-right and stirred action from the leftist resistance movement. Berkeley has become Ground Zero for clashes between the two groups. Tense rallies and counter-protests were held across the country on Saturday, but Berkeley’s event gained national attention for its violence and arrests.

“There’s been a rise in white nationalism, and the so-called alt-right, since Trump began campaigning,” Brooks said. “It has continued to grow since the election.”

In the month after Trump’s election, there were 1,094 bias and hate crime incidents in the country tied to his victory, according to SPLC.

Jesse said there has been an increase in people getting involved in Antifa and using black bloc tactics recently as a counter to “a radical mobilization of white supremacist factions.”

“I would say the intensity of sentiment on the left and the right are really important for conversation and public policy debates,” Hayduk said. “They can serve to engage members of different communities, and of course elected officials, on the direction the country should move.”

There were attendees on both sides of the “March 4 Trump” rally who stayed clear of the fighting taking place in the middle of the park, and instead engaged in conversations on the sidelines.

“As much as I don’t like to see the city polarized in this way,” said counter-protester and Berkeley High School student Zev Bennett, who condemned violence used in protests, “I know that it’s important to not just sit at home and let this happen without making a stand.”

Pepper spray and fistfighting continued to break out throughout the afternoon involving both sides, leading to 10 arrests. The Berkeley Police Department said five were charged with battery, four with assault with a deadly weapon and one for resisting arrest.

Upon leaving the rally, Jesse was detained for about 30 minutes with a handful of others participating in black bloc tactics. An anonymous witness confirmed they were walking down the street as police ordered them to get on the ground. All detainees were released with no official charges made against them.

“Because of the nature of the crowd, police are not always able to make immediate arrests without inciting further violence or injuring peaceful bystanders,” said Berkeley Police Department Lt. Andrew Rateaver in an emailed statement. “Police work to document and identify suspects and arrest them at the first available time. Sometimes that’s during the event. Sometimes, that’s in the days that follow.”

Jesse remains confident that they will fall on the right side of history.

“I don’t want a better future for myself,” Jesse said. “I want a better future because we, as human beings, deserve better than what we’ve been given.”

 

Latest comments
  • “In the month after Trump’s election, there were 1,094 bias and hate crime incidents in the country tied to his victory, according to SPLC.”

    The SPLC makes no claims of actual hate crimes in the linked report. They claim they have received 1,100 reports of “hate incidents,” but that is entirely different and the two should not be conflated. The SPLC’s reporting suffers from several methodological flaws, which the company has acknowledged through several subsequent disclaimers.

    1. Except for a handful of incidents reported in the media (a number of which, sadly, have proven to be hoaxes) ALL of the SPLC’s reports have come to them via an anonymous web page on the company’s website where anyone can “report an incident” without providing any verification.

    2. While claiming 1,100 incidents, the SPLC has yet to make the list public to journalists for verification. There is no way to know what was reported or even how many reports were actually made. All we have is the SPLC’s word on it with no proof.

    3. The SPLC didn’t set up its anonymous web page until the day of the election, so there is no way to know if the rate of alleged incidents has increased or decreased in the months before the election. When you start at zero any increase becomes a “spike,” and any claims made after November 8 become “post-election” by default.

    The whole point of the exercise was to somehow tie the alleged incidents to the election in the public’s mind.

    4. On November 15, the SPLC published a disclaimer on the company website where they themselves admit that:

    “These incidents, aside from news reports, are largely anecdotal.”

    https://www.splcenter.org/hatewatch/2016/11/15/update-more-400-incidents-hateful-harassment-and-intimidation-election

    Dec. 16: “The SPLC made every effort to verify each report, but many included in the count remain anecdotal.”

    https://www.splcenter.org/hatewatch/2016/12/16/update-1094-bias-related-incidents-month-following-election

    January 24, 2017, SPLC Intelligence Director Heidi Beirich in a Slate podcast:

    “I would imagine that a share of the incidents we have collected, right, will eventually turn out to be based on nothing, or, a bit of hysteria fueled by the fear people felt after the election. I mean, I think that is a fair point. I’m sure that as we dig in the data that’s exactly what we are going to find out.

    I still think… when all is said and done, that we will find that a lot of this stuff was substantiated. But it remains to be seen, right? It remains to be seen.”

    http://www.slate.com/articles/podcasts/gist/2017/01/southern_poverty_law_center_s_heidi_beirich_on_tracking_hate_incidents.html

    As Dr. Beirich observes, it really does remain to be seen how many of the incidents can be verified. Under the current system, David Duke could urge his followers to make hundreds of anonymous claims against minorities. How would the media handle those reports?

    http://wp.me/pCLYZ-D1

    Big claims require big proof, which the SPLC has yet to provide. Trust, but verify. It’s what used to be called “journalism” in the old days.

    an·ec·do·tal
    adjective: anecdotal

    1. (of an account) not necessarily true or reliable, because based on personal accounts rather than facts or research.

    https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/anecdotal

  • The so-called counter protestors cloak the domestic terrorists that somehow missed your attention.

    I wanted to see for myself if Berkeley has turned fascist (reformatting KKK strategies into Antifa). Instead of white hoods, this rendition uses black and similarly hides its identifies to terrorize at will.

    The PEACEFUL March4Trump residents and visitors were singing patriotic songs while being PELTED with projectiles like D-Cell batteries.

    Antifa and others who hide their identities​ DURING the initial stages promoted VIOLENCE and denied civil rights while the Berkeley police tacitedly approved of civil rights violations against the March4Trump patriots.

    To indicate the Patriots were violent would be like blaming Selma March for Civil Rights for likewise violence against their similar stand for civil rights in the 60’s.

    Today’s March4Trump and associated patriots are yesterday’s college students and Republicans that stood up to Deep-South Democrat racism.

    Back in the 60’s, Berkeley was the spear tip of free speech advocacy.

    Don’t be fooled by the color of Black masks of Antifa.

    It is the denial of CIVIL RIGHTS that Berkeley is known for today.