Free Speech Rally featuring controversial alt-right speakers scheduled for Saturday

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Aslesha Kumar/File

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Members of the Berkeley community are preparing for a Free Speech Rally set to take place in Martin Luther King Jr. Civic Center Park on Saturday that will feature several divisive far-right speakers and has prompted a counter-demonstration supported by Berkeley Antifa.

The rally is organized by Rich Black, who was also behind the “March 4 Trump” rally that took place last month and erupted in violence, resulting in seven people being evaluated for injuries and at least 10 arrests. Berkeley Police Department is aware of both upcoming events and has scheduled to have additional officers in the area, according to BPD spokesperson Sgt. Andrew Frankel.

The Free Speech Rally is set to feature several controversial far-right speakers, including Brittany Pettibone, a contributor to AltRight.com, and Kyle Chapman, who rose to internet fame under the moniker “Based Stick Man” after he was arrested for allegedly hitting a violent counter-protester over the head with a stick at the “March 4 Trump” rally. Many attending the event, however, do not identify as members of the alt-right.

In light of the upcoming rally, the Ecology Center has canceled its Downtown Berkeley Farmers’ Market for Saturday to ensure public safety, according to its Executive Director Martin Bourque.

“We are deeply saddened that political confrontations have escalated this far,” Bourque said in the statement. “In a peace-loving city with such a long nonviolent tradition, it is terrible that the only responsible course of action is to close market this Saturday. It is disturbing, as a lifelong resident of Berkeley, that this confrontation will take place in front of Berkeley’s Peace Wall.”

In February, violent protests resulted in the cancellation of controversial conservative speaker Milo Yiannopoulos’ scheduled appearance on campus and garnered national attention. Chris Tilton, a Sacramento resident planning to attend the Free Speech Rally, said his decision to demonstrate in Berkeley is influenced by the campus’s response to the Yiannopoulos event.

“There have been lots of attempts to shut down or silence people,” Tilton said. “I’m a normal dude that happens to have a different opinion.”

Tilton — who also attended the march last month — said he does not expect the Free Speech Rally to become violent. He said the organizers for the event are better organized this time and have a clearer vision of nonviolence, though they cannot account for the violence they might face from counter-protesters.

The Defend the Bay! Bloc Party & Cookout counter-demonstration is scheduled to take place two hours before the Free Speech Rally in the same location and is billed as a potluck featuring music. The goal of the event, according to its Facebook page, is to shut down the Free Speech Rally before it begins.

Campus student and former Daily Californian columnist Neil Lawrence, who will attend the counter-demonstration, said in an email that he hopes to show through the event that alt-right elements are unwelcome in Berkeley.

“I’m exhausted from looking over my shoulder,” Lawrence said in an email. “They bill themselves as a “free speech rally,” but if the people organizing this event (and those aligned with them) cared about free speech, I wouldn’t have received so many death threats for exercising my first amendment rights and expressing my opinions about Milo in the press.”

Jessica Lynn is the city news editor. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @jessicailynn.