Submitted to It’s Going Down

DAVIS, California – The alt-light Breitbart editor Milo Yiannopoulos was scheduled to speak at the campus of UC Davis on Friday the 13th. Similar to other campuses where Yiannopoulos has spoken, he was invited by the campus Republicans. Just days before the event, he announced that in addition to his appearance, the pharmaceutical ex-CEO Martin Shkreli would be joining him. Shkreli made headlines in 2015 for raising the price of Daraprim, an HIV and Cancer drug, by 5000%. They have both been suspended by Twitter for harassment.

Although the event was not scheduled to begin until 7pm, UC police (including UCSF police) and the university security (Aggie Security) placed blue plastic barricades surrounding the lecture hall reserved for the event more than an hour before doors opened. The 350-person lecture hall is a stand-alone building with 4 entrances and a lobby, and was all cordoned off. A line for the event had formed from the front of the hall and extending away from it, with UC affiliates with tickets in the front, and those who had failed to secure one of the fifty tickets behind them. The demonstration was scheduled for 5:30pm, but all three groups were present long before this time.

The last class for the day being held in this lecture hall ended at 6pm. While students were filing out of the classroom and being directed out of the cordoned region, a dozen students remained behind and linked arms across the entrances. Over the preceding fifteen minutes, police dragged the demonstrators out one-by-one, leaving them outside the building in the area between the glass walls of the lobby and the barricades. The police did not arrest these original dozen demonstrators using civil disobedience. The mass of demonstrators outside that initially had been directing their chants at the people in line to see Yiannopoulos then began to notice the commotion coming from the front entrance of the hall and largely relocated themselves to witness the police dragging demonstrators out.

Most of the police had been in the lobby dealing with the civil disobedience, while most of the guard standing behind the barricades had been Aggie Security (composed largely of other students, normally responsible for such things as night-watch in buildings). Those who had been dragged out of the building then engaged the crowd to do chants, directed at both Yiannopoulos and the police. During this fifteen minute period while most of the police were busy with the civil disobedience, demonstrators outside began knocking over barricades where there were gaps in security, and eventually tearing them away. Security was eventually pulled into the lobby and the police replaced them, standing a few feet outside the glass lobby. Demonstrators surrounded the entrance, and a few got through the line of police and linked arms in front of one of the glass lobby doors. During this time, at least one person ran into lecture hall and was arrested.

Over the next hour, demonstrators chanted non-stop, denouncing fascism and demanding the police to disband. The people in line to see Yiannopoulos initially chanted back, “we love you,” and then “U. S. A.,” but would do so sparingly throughout the evening. The bulk of the demonstrators stayed some 30 feet from the front of the event line where Yiannopoulos supporters stood, but a few argued with the people in line. At 7pm, a UC Davis administrator exited the glass lobby and told both crowds on a bullhorn that the event had been cancelled. However, neither crowd dispersed, assuming that if the demonstrators left, the event might be allowed to start late. Both sides stayed resolutely until around 8pm when the lights were shut off, and the Yiannopoulos crowd began to scatter. Ten minutes later, there were some 200 demonstrators and only 20 people in line.

Some Notes

– The bravest and most vociferous of the demonstrators, including those involved in the civil disobedience were queer people of color. There were of course many hetero and white accomplices present, but this seems particularly important to highlight as Milo Yiannopoulos uses his gay identity to attack the trans community, including one event recently at the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee where he targeted a transgender woman who later felt compelled to drop out of the university.

– In this instance, it would appear that the tactic of disrupting the event before it started was more powerful than trying to subvert the event from the inside. The crowd of demonstrators was more easily able to support the initial disruption, and then build upon it. If demonstrators were to disrupt the event from the inside, they would be largely alone (except for fellow disruptors waiting their turn silently). Further, they would likely have been broadcast on Breitbart live, making it even easier to target each and every demonstrator. However, with that said, it should be noted that the initial civil disobedience was not, by itself, successful as a method to delay the event (nor was it expected to be). It was, however, a good distraction and a good catalyst. Both the visibility of this initial disruption to “outside support” and the time it took to remove the civil disobedience (some with their arms linked in corrugated plastic pipes) gave “outside support” enough time to test the security apparatus for flaws.

– The crowd to see Yiannopoulos was never as large as the demonstrators, but were close to the same size. Perhaps 15% of that crowd wore MAGA hats; they were predominantly millennials, but with a surprising number of older people also present; and, as many as 15% were people of color. It was unclear how many people in line were there as demonstrators intending to disrupt the event (likely small), and how many were lulled into simply thinking Yiannopoulos was edgy but innocuous. There were certainly many in the crowd that were not students from UC Davis; evidently there were crews from CSU Sacramento & Chico college Republicans. Whereas, the demonstrators were mostly a composite of Sacramento anti-fascists and UC Davis students, faculty, and staff. Notably a lecturer’s labor union was present in strong numbers to protest Yiannopoulos.

– As for reports of violence at this demonstration, there didn’t appear to be anything worth mentioning. One person threw a cup of coffee at an antagonistic rightwing journalist. Reportedly, someone through dog feces on Martin Shkreli when he briefly tried engaging with the crowd of demonstrators and interviewed with TV News. Demonstrators did not throw police barricades at the police or campus security (possibly because some of them were just unnerved students), and only knocked barricades down where no one was standing guard. As far as this writer is aware, no one threw a single projectile at the police or the people in line to see Yiannopoulos, although the police officer in charge, Sheffield, had directed his subordinate videotaping demonstrators to “watch out for projectiles.” The police, as usual, threw the demonstrators using civil disobedience to the ground, and pushed their knees into their backs, and then dragged them out (some by their feet). These demonstrators sustained some minor injuries through this. Perhaps this is a lesson that any form of confrontational resistance, no matter how tame, will be described as violent by MSM as reports from outlets like the SF Chronicle demonstrate.

The dearth or arrests, the use of campus security as the front line, and the use of light-weight plastic barricades may be an artifact unique to UC Davis due to the public relations nightmare surrounding the pepper spraying incident in 2011. This may not be reproduced at other universities where Yiannopoulos is scheduled to speak.

– Organizers of the demonstration encouraged everyone to shy away from making signs directed at Yiannopoulos as he is a well known narcissist and uses these events to promote himself. Rather, they encouraged signs directed at fascism or transphobia in general. Although some would argue that it would be better to let Yiannopoulos simply speak without fanfare or controversy, and thus starve his ego and media machine, I would discourage this line of thinking. It’s true that Yiannopoulos flourishes in controversy, spinning his opposition as persecutors, but the public narrative is also filled with the story of people who frame Yiannopoulos as a proto-fascist, and the fact that we are powerful enough, large enough, and eloquent enough to illustrate this and shut him down speaks volumes. Ultimately, this is not about Yiannopoulos and contributing to his personal stardom (as frustrating as that may be), but countering neo-fascist rhetoric and fighting neo-fascists visibly for a public that are unclear about the alt-right. Further, this is about making it known to fascists that people of color, women, queers, refugees, and immigrants will show up, will be present, and will shut them down.

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