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November 27

Countering Coulter: On the Recent Blockades & the Spirit of Collective Defense

Report and analysis on a recent mass blockade at UC Berkeley against a speaking event featuring Ann Coulter.

On Wednesday, November 20th, the Berkeley College Republicans hosted far-Right pundit and frequent Breitbart contributor Ann Coulter to present “Adios, America!,” a blatantly white supremacist talk based on her 2015 pro-border wall, pro-family separation, anti-immigrant, anti-POC book, Adios America: The Left’s Plan to Turn Our Country into a Third World Hellhole.

It’s fascinating how many mainstream news outlets quote the Berkeley College Republicans as though they are a credible source, when they have everything to gain by downplaying violence on the part of their base, inflating the number of ticket holders and actual attendees and generally engaging in self-serving assessments of their own event. At the end of the night, the total number of ticket holders who actually made it in to hear Coulter speak was exaggerated to between 350-400 by the UC Berkeley police and a whopping 450 by a BCR spokesman. In fact, their own streamed videos show less than half that many inside Wheeler Auditorium.

The number of protesters was estimated anywhere from 300 to 2,000 with actual numbers being around 600 – 1,000 at various points in the evening. UC Berkeley steadfastly refuses to divulge the number of campus police present that night, but admits they pulled hundreds of their ranks from nine separate campuses, with CHP officers also in attendance. Seven people were arrested during and after the event on various charges, and all but one were released after booking.

Since the start of the Trump campaign, the Berkeley College Republicans has distinguished itself as being far less interested in bipartisan politics and much more concerned with platforming far-Right speakers and creating ties to bigoted, white supremacist organizations such as Identity Europa (now known as the American Identity Movement), the Proud Boys, Generation Identity, Patriot Prayer, and local personalities like Kyle “Based Stickman” Chapman, the former leader of the Proud Boys’ “military division.”

Since the infamous shutdown of Milo Yiannopoulos tour spot in February of 2017, UCB has doubled down on ensuring the ability of BCR to invite far-Right speakers to the school. Despite repeated widespread protests urging to keep students safe and not provide opportunities for fascists to congregate and organize on their campus, UCB administration has instead offered “point – counterpoint panels” and First Amendment “exploration events” while BCR invites hundreds of local and regional fascist organizers and sympathizers to generally run amok in Berkeley.

“At the end of the night, the total number of ticket holders who actually made it in to hear Coulter speak was exaggerated to between 350-400 by the UC Berkeley police and a whopping 450 by a BCR spokesman. In fact, their own streamed videos show less than half that many inside Wheeler Auditorium.”

This was most exemplified during Milo’s failed “Free Speech Week,” where a variety of Alt-Right trolls, from white nationalist livestreamer Lauren Southern to Martin Sellner, the leader of the white nationalist group, Generation Identity, mixed with Unite the Right alumni like Antonio Foreman and local far-Right brawlers Kyle Chapman, were given free range on campus to hold demonstrations and harass students. For a period of several days, far-Right and Alt-Right groups put up posters targeting students, left hateful graffiti messages on campus, and carried out assaults on community members. Despite the event being cancelled before it could even begin, the UC Berkeley administration granted Milo a protected area to hold a demonstration that lasted only for about 15 minutes; an event which cost local taxpayers about $800K and shut down parts of the campus.

Assistant Vice Chancellor Dan Mogulof, who is tasked with being the talking head for all things “rolling out the red carpet for Nazis on the public dime” wouldn’t disclose how much security cost for the Ann Coulter event, but it was most likely approximate to the last event Coulter cancelled in the fall of 2017, which cost $500,000. Mostly, he’s pretty clear that UCB doesn’t want to get sued by a litigious BCR and their moneyed parents and would rather spend the four million dollars the university has dedicated to security measures post-Milo.

Chancellor Carol Christ also claims that she has noble aspirations in regards to “free speech” on campus. In the summer of 2017 she launched “Free Speech Year” in full support of hosting various far-Right blowhards including Ben Shapiro, Dennis Prager, Rick Santorum, Charlie Kirk and Sean Spicer. When criticized, Christ replied that the best response to hate speech is more speech and inner resilience is “the best form of safe space,” insinuating that if only students could toughen up and hone their listening and debate skills, they would be better prepared for a world full of “liberals and conservatives working together.”

Now, one would hope that we could agree that this is not a garden variety difference of opinion – one group actively promotes a worldview (not to mention State policy) that criminalizes, dehumanizes and at times blatantly calls for the torture and genocide of marginalized people. When Coulter says that there’s no way to “distinguish the peaceful Muslims from the fanatical, homicidal Muslims about to murder thousands of our fellow citizens,” or that “the government should be spying on all Arabs, engaging in torture as a televised spectator sport, dropping daisy cutters wantonly throughout the Middle East and sending liberals to Guantanamo,” it’s pretty obvious that she’s not open to engaging in a healthy debate about racialized capitalism and State violence. When she spouts off about “epidemic gang rapes” by Mexicans and asserts that Minnesota now suffers an influx of machete attacks because of Somali immigrants, it’s clear that she doesn’t mind creating alternate worlds to support her view and facts won’t be able to penetrate it.

“Far from being an attempt to censor speech or find a safe space from words, the protests and clashes that erupted in response to Milo and Ann Coulter are clashes between movements: one on the side of equality among humanity and defending the historical gains made to that end, and the other working to undermine and undo those gains to assert that humans of different colors are fundamentally not equal.”

Also important to consider is the types of human refuse who support and flock to such rhetoric, and why anyone would want to invite hundreds of them to your community. Past BCR sponsored talks at UCB have drawn numerous fascists of various affiliations, including Proud Boys, militia members, and others with blatantly violent ambitions. Multiple accounts of harassment, intimidation and violence have been noted in conjunction with each BCR event. The question of who might attend and what they will feel inspired to do after a full evening of hate-fueled rhetoric doesn’t yield any palatable answers and the outcome cannot be readily controlled.

The biggest long-term threat of the kind of events repeatedly organized by BCR is the opportunity they offer for various flavors of white supremacists to gather and organize, not just with each other but also with those on the right that are not as extreme. This is how the white supremacist movement grows, perfects strategies, and insinuates itself within the wider and more mainstream right. We’ve seen how this dynamic has played out even over just the last three years. BCR went from accepting neo-Nazi Nathan Damigo’s presence at their campus booth in 2017, to being at events where young Republican students were surrounded by neo-Nazi skinheads and militia members fighting alongside each other in the streets, and finally networking with international fascist figures like Martin Sellner, who was found to have connections to the Christchurch, NZ mosque attacker responsible for killing over 50 people.

Far from being an attempt to censor speech or find a safe space from words, the protests and clashes that erupted in response to Milo and Ann Coulter, are clashes between movements: one on the side of equality among humanity and defending the historical gains made to that end, and on the other, one working to undermine and undo those gains to assert that humans of different colors and born fundamentally unequal.

While the student protest and blockade of the Coulter event was a general attack on white supremacist organizing, other smaller and more precise interventions were made outside the event to stop the machine’s gears from turning. Anthony Macias, a well known local neo-Nazi based in San Jose, was stopped right as he tried to recruit a few UCB students he had met days earlier at another right wing event on campus. Macias is committed to the alt-right strategy of using coded and more lowkey rhetoric and references in order to pull in less radical people into the white power movement. Not only was his attempt at outreach and recruitment shut down, Macias was also made to leave the area by anti-fascists. This kind of action makes the Coulter event less successful overall by denying far-right support as well as seriously hampers the efforts of white supremacists to disguise themselves and grow their ranks.

“UCB instituted a ban on masks and expanded and militarized their police force, but this still didn’t stop a thousand people from showing up, linking arms, facing off with known adversaries, risking injury from fascists and campus police and turning hundreds of ticket holders away – for hours.”

Not to be outdone, the crowd also took a special interest in former BCR President Troy Worden, who was surrounded and refused entrance to the event. Students knew exactly who he was and chanted, “Nazi, go home!” at him, eventually collectively pushing him out of the space. Troy’s physical removal was particularly gratifying since he’s one of the main people who pushed BCR so far into the white nationalism camp.

While it’s disappointing that this wasn’t a total shutdown, with a little more planning and some logistics changes, it could be next time – and it does serve as a message. While the student group who issued the call to action and initiated the protest was pressured to issue a last-minute retraction and cancel their demonstration and UCB instituted a ban on masks and also expanded and militarized their police force, this still didn’t stop a thousand people from showing up, linking arms, facing off with known adversaries, risking injury from fascists and campus police and turning hundreds of ticket holders away – for hours. Spotted in the crowd were numerous groups and individuals who were obviously there to attend but didn’t feel like running the gamut. This doesn’t include those who saw the protest on the news and decided it wasn’t worth it or who didn’t even bother to buy a ticket because they didn’t feel like a test of their mettle when they got there.

More importantly, it’s a deterrent to future events. When we create problems for individuals and institutions who provide a platform for the far-Right to organize, we help push back against these movements becoming normalized and having the ability to mobilize their forces. When we put our bodies directly in the way of fascist organizing, we make it difficult, we make it expensive, and we make it formidable. When we prevent them from meeting, we also prevent them from networking, recruiting, sharing best practices, doing outreach and strategizing together. Most importantly, we show a commitment to community self defense – to not allowing white supremacists to roam unchecked where we live, work and study.

In part, the raucous response to Ann Coulter coming to Berkeley was a direct result of the bravery shown on February 1st, 2017, when hundreds of antifascists shut down a presentation that directly targeted students and community members for their immigration status by a corporate and billionaire backed troll who worked to mainstream white nationalism. Our community made hosting another such event a serious liability. This is what a legacy of resistance looks like and this is why we need to remember that militancy works.

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