Hundreds of pro-Trump demonstrators and counter-protesters clashed Saturday at a “Patriots Day” rally in Berkeley, the third time the two groups engaged in violent confrontations on city streets in recent months.
Fist fights broke out among members of both groups on the streets around Martin Luther King Jr. Civic Center Park, where pro-Trump supporters had scheduled a rally. Fireworks and smoke bombs were thrown into the crowd, and a few demonstrators were doused with pepper spray.
At least a dozen people were arrested, according to some media reports.
Stewart Rhodes, founder of the citizen militia group known as the Oath Keepers, said he came from Montana with about 50 others to protect Trump supporters. They were joined by bikers and others who vowed to fight members of an anti-fascist group if they crossed police barricades.
“I don’t mind hitting” the counter-demonstrators, whom he called “neo-Nazis,” Rhodes said. “In fact, I would kind of enjoy it.”
But Rhodes credited Berkeley police for new tactics that mostly kept the two sides apart and “our side chilled and relaxed,” though sporadic fights broke out among both groups throughout the morning and afternoon.
“It’s getting sporty “said Oath Keeper John Karriman, 59, who is from Missouri and was among the group’s security leaders.
AJ Alegria, 31, of Sacramento, said he also came to Berkeley to help defend Trump supporters. He said he pursued a counter-demonstrator down a side street and found himself surrounded by a dozen protesters in black masks who he said attacked him with sticks and pepper spray.
“These people create violence all the time… somebody has to stand up to them,” said Alegria, who was injured in the fight and treated by Trump supporters who bandaged his head, washed off the pepper spray and gave him encouragement, saying, “You’ve earned your stripes bro.”
Alegria wasn’t the only one injured.
“Stand up America! Stand up!” shouted another Trump supporter in the middle of Center Street with a bandage on his head and streaks of blood on a sign that read “Stop Liberal Intolerance.”
Meanwhile, giving a speech at a well-secured end of the park, alt-right blogger Laura Southern railed against societal change, Kim Kardashian and the media. She called on members of her movement to “realize Trump is only a foot in the door.”
“We must become like them,” she said referring to her opponents, “subversive.”
The rally, one of many being held across the country, is sponsored by the pro-Trump group Liberty Revival Alliance and was originally scheduled for noon to 4 p.m. in Martin Luther King Jr. Civic Center Park. A regularly scheduled farmer’s market, which is usually held adjacent to the park, was cancelled as a precaution.
A single vendor showed up Saturday to sell organic produce. “Rain or shine or fascism we will be here,” said a young woman operating the cash register.
Berkeley Police Sgt. Andrew Frankel told CBS 5 that police would have extra patrols on duty in case things get out of hand. “We’ve staffed accordingly and are preparing for a number of different contingencies,” he said.
About two dozen police officers were at the park early Saturday and set up a narrow entrance to control access. Those entering the park are prohibited from bringing the following items: metal pipes, baseball bats, poles, bricks, mace, knives, rocks, glass bottles, eggs or tasers.
Dave Gottfried, 58, a self-employed Berkeley artist, passed “empathy kisses,” chocolate candy, out to both sides. He had hoped to “show empathy is the beginning of understanding.”
“I feel we are going down the rabbit hole,” he said.
Last month, 10 people were arrested and seven others injured at what was supposed to be a pro-Trump rally in the famously liberal community. In February, a scheduled appearance by conservative provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos was cancelled amid a violent protest on the UC Berkeley campus.
The unrest underscores the heightened political tensions that have taken hold since President Trump took office in January.