If you were involved last night, thank you. I’ve never felt safer on campus than I did when you walked in! It felt so affirming for someone to stand up against misogyny on a campus that blames rape victims not perpetrators, and protects sexual harassers. If the antifas hadn’t come, Milo would have endangered my undocumented students, so I am so grateful!
– PhD candidate / Graduate Instructor at UC Berkeley (name withheld)
On February 1, Milo Yiannopoulos was invited by the Berkeley College Republicans (BCR) to perform in UC Berkeley’s Pauley Ballroom at 8pm. Since December 2016, hundreds of people participated in a campaign to call and email the UC Berkeley administration urging them to cancel and block this event. They declined to do so, and as a result thousands of people, including myself, gathered on the campus that night with the common intention of protesting and shutting it down, ourselves. I’m sure people had a lot of different motivations for doing so. I can only speak to my own. I showed up not because I am scared of words or ideas, but because I want to create conditions that make it hard for far-Right and fascist groups in the area to organize as they often do at Milo’s tour stops.
This is an account of what I saw and experienced that night as well as a few thoughts regarding the responses to what happened. I’m not affiliated with any group or organization.
What I Saw
Last Wednesday, I marched along with an anti-fascist black bloc towards the UC Berkeley campus a few hours ahead of the Milo Yiannopoulos performance. The university administration failed us and left those of us opposed to the event with no option but direct action. When the marchers made their way to the perimeter of the campus in the vicinity of the Pauley Ballroom a barricade was quickly constructed at the intersection of Dana St and Bancroft Way using materials from a nearby construction site. Traffic on Bancroft Way was completely blocked with no cars or buses getting through.
While demonstrators held down the intersection I could overhear a few of the conversations that spectators on the sidewalk were having amongst themselves. Some were confused or disagreed with this kind of action. Others loved what they saw and joined in. Despite differences of opinion over tactics, it was clear that we all hated Milo. The barricade was lit on fire just before demonstrators moved onto the sidewalk to enter the campus at Telegraph and Bancroft. There, a larger group had already gathered outside of the building Yiannopoulos was to perform in, chanting and holding signs.
I’ve never experienced people cheering and applauding the arrival of a black bloc like that before. It was beautiful.
The bloc made its way into Sproul Plaza chanting “No borders! No nations! Fuck deportations!” I could hear the demonstrators that had shown up earlier than we did cheering as we made our way onto the campus. I’ve never experienced people cheering and applauding the arrival of a black bloc like that before. It was beautiful.
There was little to no police presence on the ground. The cops that were outside on the ground level were insignificant and overwhelmed. Immediately, the police and the Amazon store that’s housed inside the student union building were on the receiving end of a barrage of rocks. It’s hard to remember the exact sequence as a lot of chaos erupted very quickly. The plastic zip ties that tied together the metal barricades around the building were cut. This allowed demonstrators to dismantle the police barrier that surrounded and restricted access to the venue. Loud and angry chants calling to “shut it down” began coming from all around and militants began to make moves on the building. Fireworks were shot up into the sky, at the building, and towards the police. More cheering.
At this time BCR was sheltered inside the building while Milo was escorted off campus in a bulletproof vest and rushed back to his cheap hotel in Fremont.
The cops on the second floor of the student union building outside of the Pauley Ballroom were using a tall mobile light/generator in the center of the plaza to help them see what was going on below. That light was tipped over and eventually caught on fire. Police fences were hurled through the building’s doors and windows; smashed with flags and various other objects. More fire thrown at the building. The fire alarm inside was blaring for several minutes. Smoke was everywhere. In a short time, it was clear there was no way this event was going to be able to continue as planned. There were a few times that UCPD shot down at people from above. I encountered one woman who was not involved in the combat nor dressed in black that had been shot in the arm by cops. At this time BCR was sheltered inside the building while Milo was escorted off campus in a bulletproof vest and rushed back to his cheap hotel in Fremont. His tour bus was vandalized later that night. One last “fuck you” before he left the Bay.
I’ve heard about scuffles with fascists that took place throughout the plaza and in the streets throughout the night but I personally didn’t witness any of it at the time. After the event was cancelled the police began to give dispersal orders and declare us an unlawful assembly. For over an hour, they told us several times that we had 10 minutes to leave or they would force all of us out by hurting us. They were met with “fuck the police” chants every time. We were winning and wanted to celebrate before we left. We danced by the fire as the police pleaded with us. “Milo isn’t here anymore,” they kept repeating. Sproul Plaza was ours.
We danced by the fire as the police pleaded with us. “Milo isn’t here anymore,” they kept repeating.
On our own terms, we left the campus with the sound system and began marching down Telegraph Ave and then to the downtown area. Corporations and banks were smashed. I could see graffiti and anti-fascist messages everywhere I looked. The Starbucks across from the west entrance of the campus at Center and Oxford was smashed and looted. One man downtown got in my face and yelled at me about law and order during the smashing even though all I was doing was standing there just like many others in the crowd. It seemed like he was trying as hard as he could to get someone to hit him but eventually left when everybody ignored him. We moved back onto the campus and roamed around for a bit until we came across more riot cops near California Hall. Most turned around and headed back in the direction we came from. Back at the west entrance of the school, I left.
Outside agitators—whose university?
“I was there for part of last night, and I know what I saw and those people were not Berkeley students. Those people were outside agitators. I have never seen them before.”
Once again, authorities have attempted to condemn the militant struggle against white supremacy and fascism as being the work of outside agitators. The night of Feb 1, UC Berkeley Police Chief Margo Bennett said that she doesn’t believe students were involved in the vandalism. Standing next to Bennett, university spokesman Dan Mogulof claimed that UC Berkeley was merely a venue rather than an educational institution, and then had the nerve to say those involved in shutting down the event had “no skin in the game.” Keep in mind, many have been victims of hate crimes in Berkeley after the election and a black man was recently murdered in nearby El Sobrante by white supremacists. Chancellor Nicholas Dirks condemned individuals who “invaded the campus.” UC Berkeley professor Robert Reich has even cooked up his own conspiracy theory that the militants were paid by Milo and Breitbart. The concept of “outside agitators” in itself is ridiculous, but within the context of the events of Feb 1, it takes on even greater complexity.
UC Berkeley professor Robert Reich has even cooked up his own conspiracy theory that the militants were paid by Milo and Breitbart.
All of the statements from the officials above couldn’t be any further from the truth. Of course there were students engaging in militant and combative tactics that night. Some of those students were dressed in black, but a lot of them weren’t. Of course one can be an anarchist and a student at UC Berkeley at the same time, regardless of what clothing you’re wearing at any given moment. As far as Robert Reich never having seen these people before? He’s an idiot and he’s full of shit. I myself have taken his class.
The UC Berkeley administration and police are so out of touch that they can’t seem to understand why students would be willing to smash the windows of the student union building on a campus that students are repeatedly reminded “belongs to them.” The reason is because the campus doesn’t belong to the students at all. Would a university attended by and belonging to undocumented students host a white supremacist to come talk about cultural appropriation as he launches a new campaign to end sanctuary campuses? Absolutely not. Would a university belonging to trans students host a speaker who repeatedly bullies the trans community and claims that trans people are mentally ill? No! Students made the university theirs on the night of Feb 1st through their actions. The university finally became theirs when students took it upon themselves to keep Milo off of their campus and out of the city of Berkeley. Not only were the admin and police unwilling to do this, but they in fact attempted to defend Yiannopoulos and his fans with the use of riot gear, rubber bullets, and chemical weapons.
Not only were the admin and police unwilling to do this, but they in fact attempted to defend Yiannopoulos and his fans with the use of riot gear, rubber bullets, and chemical weapons.
It’s clear from the way UC Berkeley handled things on the night of Feb 1st and the months preceding it that student safety is not the priority of the administration or the police. Rather, their concerns are rooted solely in controlling us. When students became ungovernable, they were promptly labeled as outsiders and non-students. As far as the administration and police are concerned, what constitutes a UC Berkeley student is a docile and powerless receptacle for ideas without any agency whatsoever. For Mogulof, a student has skin in the “game,” but as soon as that student understands just what that means and takes their power back from the cops and the administration, Mogulof and the rest become blind to what’s at stake. They will only recognize what they can contain.
Not surprisingly, Milo himself is never referred to as an “outside agitator” by the UC Berkeley admin. At the University of New Mexico on Jan 27th Yiannopoulos displayed a website and phone number behind him and urged his audience to use the information to snitch on undocumented people in an effort to deport them. It’s rumored that he planned to out undocumented students at UC Berkeley during his performance, the same day his campaign against sanctuary campuses was started in partnership with the David Horowitz Freedom Center. On January 20th at the University of Washington a Milo supporter shot a protester and almost killed him. The UW police subsequently let the shooter go free. If anyone must be labeled an outside agitator regarding the events of Feb 1, it should be Milo, who obviously planned to come to Berkeley to do nothing but cause trouble.
White supremacists were free to come and recruit with UCPD protection just like Milo was. Dan Mogulof hasn’t cast a single one of them as outsiders or agitators.
And what of the other outside agitators? Various fascist and white nationalist organizations have recently been active on and around UC Berkeley and the greater Bay Area. The folks at Berkeley Antifa have been mapping where some of this fascist propaganda has been appearing. Last May, Nathan Damigo of Identity Evropa came to UC Berkeley with Richard Spencer for a white nationalist rally on Sproul Plaza. This was before Spencer and his followers got caught doing nazi salutes and shouting “Sieg Heil!” in English; before Spencer got punched in the face twice in Washington DC during the inauguration. At UC Berkeley, these white supremacists were free to come and recruit with UCPD protection just like Milo was. Dan Mogulof hasn’t cast a single one of them as outsiders or agitators. Indeed, Mogulof hasn’t said a word about any of it! He doesn’t care about outside agitators. What Mogulof cares about is maintaining the status quo, and the status quo is white supremacy.
Property damage on campus
There is some confusion about the damage that was done to the Martin Luther King, Jr. Student Union building on campus. I’ve heard disgusting attempts to signal an anti-racist position while also condemning the destructive tactics employed by pointing out that a building named after MLK was attacked on the first day of Black History Month. The implication is that those seeking to combat racism and fascism are some kind of hypocrites. This is meant to frame the actions by those that successfully drove Yiannopoulos out of town as illegitimate. What the people repeating this line don’t mention is the fact that, without the protests, there was to be a sanctioned and protected recruitment gathering for a budding fascist movement inside the MLK building on the first day of Black History Month. Shattered windows were the only things that stopped it. If you are more concerned about the replaceable windows of a building named after MLK than you are about the safety of the students of color on campus when white supremacists want to rally, you have your own hypocrisy to consider.
Moreover, the damage that was done was confined to the Amazon center located inside the student union building. Amazon is a huge corporation that pays millions to Milo’s employer, Breitbart News, for advertising on its website. Even Amazon’s own employees are currently engaged in a struggle to have the company end its relationship with what the former Breitbart editor and now Senior Trump advisor Steve Bannon called a “platform for the Alt-Right.” This means that whether it is Black History Month or not, every day you are contributing to the maintenance of a white nationalist platform when you buy and pick up Amazon orders in UC Berkeley’s MLK Student Union building.
To condemn the smashing of glass on the basis of ostensibly anti-racist politics and at the same time remain silent about these other facts is absurd and disingenuous.
The next morning I woke up to news that Donald Trump publicly tweeted a consideration to withdraw federal funding to UC Berkeley after the militant expulsion of Yiannopoulos and his racist fans. A few days later on Feb 4, Yiannopoulos was on Fox News speaking with Judge Jeanine where he agreed with Trump’s tweet. Yiannopoulos claimed that the administration at UC Berkeley and other public universities that saw more militant responses to his hatred were not doing their duty to protect free speech and expression. Defending his position, Milo downplayed the impact of an act like the withdrawal of UC Berkeley’s federal funds by stating that all of that money just “goes to liberal arts studies that don’t produce real jobs.”
Troy Worden, Berkeley College Republicans
The self-identified organizer of the Berkeley Milo event is Troy Worden of BCR. Ironically, Troy is majoring in English and Philosophy at UC Berkeley and currently enjoys those liberal studies Milo seems to enjoy belittling. If what Yiannopoulos said during this media appearance is true and sincere, then what he did was openly advocate for the dismantling of the educational programs that the organizer of his own performance is enrolled in. This despite the fact that Peter Sittler, Vice President of BCR, publicly stated that UC Berkeley in fact “worked tirelessly to plan [the event] and make sure it went through.” This shows that Yiannopoulos is willing to throw even his most loyal fans under the tour bus in an effort to serve his own narcissistic ends and increase his own celebrity.
This shows that Yiannopoulos is willing to throw even his most loyal fans under the tour bus in an effort to serve his own narcissistic ends and increase his own celebrity.
The message from Trump is that if you oppose this system of capitalism and white supremacy, his regime will attack and defund your education in order to promote hate and silence dissent. A news flash for Milo and his fans: you are not the ones ‘dissenting’ if the President of the United States threatens to use his authority to defend you and punish your opponents.
The demonstration was a huge success. Milo and the pathetic fascists that wanted to come out in the open that night were shut down and clearly shaken. It was a success because in truth there was no divide between the students and the community or between peaceful and “violent” protesters, despite what the school officials and the police say. We won because we did it together. Those of us that showed up against white supremacy and in defiance of police orders to disperse were all anti-fascists. It wasn’t just the demonstrators wearing black. There is room for everyone to participate in this movement at our own comfort levels. Robert Reich and company would like us to think that the militancy merely served to elevate Milo’s right-wing agenda and strengthen the Right. He’s wrong, again! What truly strengthens the Trump regime and emboldens the rising far-Right is shaming those people that showed up and defended the space from fascists. Don’t do this!
Don’t forget also that fascists showed up to this event! We have more work to do in terms of learning who these people are and what groups they may be affiliated with in order to keep ourselves informed and safe.