BERKELEY (KRON) — Hundreds of protesters have begun to gather Thursday in Berkeley following the cancellation of a speech by conservative commentator Ann Coulter.
Coulter said that she was forced to cancel her speaking event at the University of California, Berkeley amid concerns of violence but might still “swing by to say hello” to all her supporters.
The rally at Martin Luther King Jr. Civic Center Park remained peaceful, particularly in comparison to two recent similar protests at the park in March and earlier this month that led to dozens of arrests and violence between supporters of President Donald Trump and anti-fascist groups.
Police and university officials said they were bracing for possible trouble whether Coulter comes to campus or not, citing intelligence and online chatter by groups threatening to instigate violence.
But while the event did not erupt into violence, there were some heated conflicts between Coulter’s supporters and counter-protesters in their midst.
One man who identified himself only as Rolando repeatedly heckled the speakers before being confronted by a group of angry protesters.
“Everyone loves to talk about free speech, especially on the far right,” Rolando said. “I think it’s hypocritical for them to criticize people coming out to protest them.”
“When you show up to these rallies and it’s just your own people, what does it do other than reinforce what you already believe?” Rolando asked.
Among the speakers at Thursday afternoon’s rally was Kyle Chapman, 41, of San Francisco, also known as “Based Stickman,” who was arrested on suspicion of battery at one of the earlier rallies in Berkeley.
“UC Berkeley tried to shut down free speech, but free speech is going to shut down Berkeley,” Chapman said.
Another man who identified himself only as Kevin brought a bubble-making machine to the event, which another man tried to violently remove from his hands before bystanders stepped in to prevent the incident
“It was unfortunate,” Kevin said, “But I felt a measure of safety from the rest of the crowd.”
Notable right-wing commentator Gavin McInnes, co-founder of Vice Media, arrived late and was the last scheduled speaker to address the crowd.
“If someone has a crazy view, you discuss it,” McInnes said. “Where should this discourse happen? How about a university? That seems like a logical place.”
“We will continue to promote free speech, to speak freely, no matter who is against us because that is what America is about,” McInnes said.
The group Oath Keepers, with supporters of Coulter, is planning to hold a rally at Martin Luther King Jr. Civic Center Park in downtown Berkeley. The rally is scheduled to begin at 2 p.m. and will include conservative speakers.
Another group called the International Socialist Organization is gathering for a news conference to speak out against the “alt-right,” an offshoot of conservatism characterized by white nationalism. They will met Thursday at noon at the corner of Bancroft Way and Telegraph Avenue.
— Chuck Clifford (@chuckclifford) April 27, 2017
— Philippe Djegal (@pdjegal) April 27, 2017
A man who goes by the online moniker Baked Alaska said, “We love Ann Coulter, don’t get me wrong, but this movement was here before Ann Coulter and will be here after.”
The crowd could be heard chanting “America for Americans” and “Donald Trump” at points during the rally.
In a statement issued Wednesday evening, city officials urged the public to be vigilant in the event that protests and mass gatherings occur.
“Mass gatherings of any kind attract a broad variety of people and, inevitably, that means an array of different motives and intentions,” officials said. “If you are at a demonstration and you see violence, separate yourself. Keep a distance from violence. If you can do so safely, report it to police.”
City officials said they will continue to develop strategies to ensure safety for all who attend demonstrations.
“We will work to identify, investigate, arrest and prosecute anyone who commits crimes in our community,” city officials said.
A separate, smaller rally was held earlier Thursday near the UC Berkeley campus by the group International Socialist Organization in opposition to the “alt-right,” an offshoot of conservatism characterized by white nationalism.
At the larger rally at Martin Luther King Jr. Civic Center Park, many police officers were in the area. Berkeley police said as of 3:30 p.m. that only two people had been arrested, one for a weapons violation and the
other for drug possession.
Nearby Berkeley High School dismissed students for the day at 3:30 p.m., and encouraged students via a public address system to avoid going to the park.
Chapman also urged his supporters to leave the area using the opposite side of the park, away from the school.
— Philippe Djegal (@pdjegal) April 27, 2017
Competing groups try to shout each other down at Uc berkeley campus @kron4news
— Dan Kerman (@DanKermanSF) April 27, 2017
Berkeley police dressed in riot gear formed a line along a segment of Allston Way, the roadway separating the park from the school, to discourage interactions between the students and the protesters. Still, departing students joined a number of counter-protesters in front of the campus and the two groups exchanged shouts, chants and a number of impolite gestures across the police line.
Police said that as of 5:15 p.m. that only four people had been arrested. While one of the arrests was on suspicion of a weapons violation and another was on suspicion of drug possession, police did not say what the other two people were arrested for.
Congresswoman Barbara Lee has issued the following statement:
“UC Berkeley has a storied history of dissent and, as an alumna myself, I am proud of the university’s long-standing commitment to providing a forum for free speech. While I stand in firm opposition to the hateful ideology that fuels extremists like Ann Coulter, we must ensure that all parties can peacefully and safely exercise their First Amendment rights.
“We cannot allow outside agitators to undermine the work of nonviolent protestors and students exercising their constitutional rights. Recognizing that the battle of ideas cannot be won with violence, I urge everyone to protest peacefully.”
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