Violence broke out and more than a dozen arrests were made in Berkeley Saturday as supporters and opponents of President Trump clashed.
The dueling groups gathered at Martin Luther King Jr. Civic Center Park, where hundreds of people on each side were separated by a makeshift orange barrier. Several fights broke out even before the noon start of the pro-Trump rally and at least one unidentified person fired pepper spray into the crowd.
By early afternoon, Berkeley police said 13 people had been arrested and officers had seized what was described as contraband. Dozens of officers in riot gear monitored the volatile demonstrations.
By noon, most of the anti-Trump protesters emptied onto Allston Way, bordering the park. The pro-Trump demonstrators stayed in the park, where people in the opposing groups threw soda cans at each other. Minutes later, the makeshift barrier dividing the sides snapped, and a huge brawl broke out as both sides began punching and kicking each other.
Soon the barrier was re-established and demonstrators once again shouted at each other from a distance.
“You go back to the ’60s,” shouted one man on the pro-Trump side in a live stream video.
“You go back to the 1400s,” retorted someone on the opposing side.
BART closed the downtown Berkeley station at about 1:20 p.m., citing a “civil disturbance.” It reopened at about 4:30 p.m.
Trump protesters, waving red-and-black anarchy flags, marched around the park, periodically stopping to clash with the Trump supporters.
Fruit, shoes, bottles and what appeared to be fireworks were lobbed back and forth. Injured people, many holding ice packs to their faces, were ushered away from the crowd by activists who identified themselves as being there for medical support.
At one point, hundreds of pro- and anti-Trump activists marched up Center Street toward Shattuck Avenue, leaving bloody and bruised participants in their wake.
As the crowd of protesters spilled farther away from the park toward Shattuck, the fighting intensified. Another group of mainly anti-Trump demonstrators marched down Center Street toward the UC Berkeley campus.
Ben Bergquam of Fresno emerged from the crowd with blood streaming down his face. He held a crumpled “Stop Liberal Intolerance” sign in his hand.
“I got hit in the back of the head with some sticks,” he said as another activist wrapped gauze around his wound. “I don’t agree with everything Trump says, but I don’t agree with violence.” Nearby, others gathered around a man who was lying in the grass, blood flowing from his head.
“He knows his name, he knows what day it is,” a protester said as another called for medical help.
Lincoln Smith, a 45-year-old man who came to show solidarity against Trump, acknowledged that some of the attendees were overly intense, including a woman who had accused him of being a Trump supporter because he was wearing red shoelaces.
“I’m here to support the message that hate speech is not free speech,” Smith said.
Inside the park, the pro-Trump rally continued around a makeshift stage where speakers addressed a crowd of dozens waving American flags and wearing red “Make America Great Again” hats.
The rally follows violent eruptions at other recent conservative or pro-Trump events in Berkeley. In March, 10 people were arrested and many others bloodied and bruised as fistfights broke out between marchers and counterprotesters, including crowds of masked anarchists, at a rally supporting Trump at Civic Center Park. The month before that, a violent protest forced the cancellation of a speech at UC Berkeley by right-wing provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos.
Concern that Saturday’s rally could turn similarly bloody led to the cancellation of the weekly farmers’ market next to Civic Center Park, marking the first non-weather-related shutdown of the popular event in 30 years.
The market’s executive director, Martin Bourque, criticized the rally beforehand as likely to accomplish little more than “shouting matches and bloodshed.”
Tim Mueller, a partner of Riverdog Farm in Yolo County, surveyed the surging crowd from beneath a covered produce stand at Center and Milvia streets.
Although the farmers’ market was canceled, Mueller said he wanted to show up to prove a point.
“I understand that fascism needs to be stood up to,” said Mueller, standing near bins of carrots, butternut squash and cabbage. “But this is a disruption to a lot of people’s businesses.”
The rally, billed as a peaceful, free-speech rally marking Patriots Day, was organized by a loose collective of conservative and pro-Trump groups.
Speakers included Lauren Southern, a Canadian activist who has said rape affects men more than women, and AltRight.com writer Brittany Pettibone, who has said she believes in Pizzagate, a discredited conspiracy theory involving Hillary Clinton.
At the Saturday rally, Southern told Berkeleyside, a local online news site, that people should “stop supporting antifa,” using a slang term for “antifascist.”
“You see them all over the media saying, ‘Should we punch Nazis? Yes, we should punch Nazis,’ when their interpretation of Nazi is anyone to the right of Marx,” she said, adding: “I totally support progressive free speech 100 percent.”
A number of liberal groups organized the counterprotest in the park, promising to shut down the pro-Trump event.
Defend the Bay, a group that advertises itself as against the self-described “alt-right,” suggested protesters bring food to share, along with a mask or other covering to conceal their identity from police.