On Sunday, August 27th, a broad and unprecedented coalition of over 100 campus, labor, interfaith, health, service, community justice, socialist and anarchist groups came together at the edge of the UC Berkeley campus to stand united against fascist hatred and white supremacy. Over 3,000 Bay Area students, teachers, and community members denounced with one voice the hatred and bigotry that has inflamed our society; on exhibit most graphically at Charlottesville, but represented broadly in our public life today—from Muslim bans to border walls, illegal detentions and mass incarceration, violence against LGBTQIA+ persons, and police brutality and murder of Black, Brown, and Indigenous youth. Speakers reaffirmed their commitment to the safety and security of all community members, regardless of race, gender, or citizenship status; and that everyone committed to these values must stand up and take action against the murderous, genocidal hate that underlies white supremacist ideology. As comedian and Berkeley resident W. Kamau Bell expressed, “You have to stand up for the black people, for the brown people, for the LGBT people, for the immigrants, for everybody, every day.”
The importance of community coming together in this moment is underscored by the insecurity and lack of trust in our state institutions under the outrageous misleadership of Donald Trump in the Oval office. Aside from gross incompetence and instability, Trump has shown dangerous affinities for fascist and white supremacist groups that form a key part of his core constituency – from frequent dogwhistling in speeches, equivocating Heather Heyer’s horrific murder in Charlottesville as the fault of “both sides,” and most recently, a Presidential pardon for Sheriff Joe Arpaio, a sadistic, criminal “officer of the law” whose actions included detaining undocumented immigrants in detention centers Arpaio himself described as “concentration camps.” These actions demonstrate Trump’s tendency towards autocracy and authoritarian rule, which is the very opposite of democracy – a dangerous assault on the values, sensibilities, and goals of Bay Area communities and a majority of the American people.
Mainstream liberal media accounts have, not surprisingly, focused on the violence that broke out when marchers confronted the right-wing, white supremacist demonstrators who had gathered in MLK Park. The real community solidarity on display was quickly eclipsed by news coverage displaying “antifa” activists fighting with neo-Nazis, white supremacists, and Trump supporters, all joining in with a right-wing chorus placing the blame solely on “antifa” militants. Eyewitness reports, however, presented a very different case in many instances. Videos showed police provocation when police aimed weapons into the crowd, and right-wing demonstrators pepper-spraying innocent bystanders before being physically confronted by antifa. It is clear these provocations were designed to create an image of antifa “terrorism” for the media, by forcing anti-hate demonstrators into a dilemma where they had to choose between allowing people in the crowd to be brutalized, and defending them with physical force by ejecting the instigators.
Media disinformation was key to the historical rise of fascism in Germany in the 1930s, gaining broad support for fascism and complacency to genocide among the general public. Joseph Goebbels famously said, “It would not be impossible to prove with sufficient repetition and a psychological understanding of the people concerned that a square is in fact a circle. They are mere words, and words can be molded until they clothe ideas in disguise.” This is exactly the dynamic we are seeing at work in contemporary discussions of fascist “violence” and “free speech”; and Berkeley has been the canary in the coal mine. Before Charlottesville, right-wing disinformation techniques were successful in isolating and obfuscating the plight of targeted students. In the wake of Charlottesville, their manipulation of the narrative should be made clear to everyone who has eyes to see.
The Campus Antifascist Network (CAN) does not support the use of proactive violence and aggression towards innocent people. However, it must be made clear: the physical engagement of antifascists towards the neo-Nazis and white supremacists in Berkeley is in no way equivalent to the monstrous, murderous aggression on display in Charlottesville. It was clear to the crowd in MLK Park as to who was engaging in violence, and why: the police who were pointing guns at the crowd, white supremacists who were threatening and pepper spraying peaceful protestors, and antifa – who defended the crowd and community from both.
CAN supports the right to speak freely in the interest and spirit of democracy. That said, CAN recognizes – consistent with the ACLU of California’s statement in the wake of Charlottesville – that incitement to white supremacist violence is not in fact protected speech. The kind of speech being weaponized by fascist groups to legitimize their deadly ideology has physical consequences; it obfuscates the systematic intimidation, doxxing, and threats that accompany that speech, and results in a chilling effect that silences dissent. The safety and security of our campus communities must take priority over allowing the danger posed by fascist and white supremacist groups to enter our spaces of work and learning.
CAN members represent campus communities across the country that are also in the crosshairs of fascist terror. CAN has nearly 400 participating faculty, students and staff in its Network; CAN chapters are under development at University of Connecticut, University of Michigan, University of Texas-Austin, Purdue University, and two universities in Canada. CAN was formed in response to the attacks by fascists and the “alt-right” on individual students and faculty, and attempts to infiltrate University campuses. The Anti-Defamation League has documented over 160 incidents of white supremacist flyering and organizing on campuses across the nation. As our network comes together, we are discovering our common experiences. We stand with Berkeley because what’s happening to Berkeley is happening to all of us. If fascist forces are successfully able to get away with brutalizing students and suppressing dissent at Berkeley, then none of us are safe.
The main lesson of the Holocaust – “Never Again” – is challenging us today as we face similar threats; and we salute the Berkeley community for showing its commitment to this in practice. Our best and only antidote to fascist violence is courageous and uncompromising solidarity with all human beings. An injury to one is an injury to all.
Please go to the Campus Antifascist Network to learn more about CAN: http://www.campusantifascistnetwork.com
To join the Network write to [email protected]