UC Berkeley’s campus — the historical home of the Free Speech Movement — has become the local site of contentions currently sweeping the country, but as various groups and ideologies enter the community, it’s important to keep in mind the distinctions between various factions and their goals.
Last weekend’s rallies in Downtown Berkeley drew masses of counterprotesters to join against the “No to Marxism in America” protest, which was canceled Friday by organizer Amber Cummings. The protests remained largely peaceful, with instances of violence being attributed to small groups of Antifa and black bloc protesters.
Cummings said in a Facebook post that she opposes the Marxism “being taught at UC Berkeley,” which she perceives as a threat to the government.
Lecia Brooks, outreach director for the Southern Poverty Law Center, or SPLC, said the term anti-Marxist arose to “create some equivalency around anti-fascists,” and that anti-Marxists are not necessarily “well-versed” in different political ideologies.
The SPLC is a U.S. organization that “monitors the activities of domestic hate groups and other extremists,” according to its website.
Antifa, which stands for anti-fascists, has become synonymous with the activists who resist right-wing ideologies at events such as Milo Yiannopoulos’ canceled campus speech and the April 15 “Free Speech Rally.” This umbrella organization for far-left-leaning militant groups is known for employing “black bloc tactics,” which entail dressing all in black and sometimes engaging in property destruction. In March, petitioners sought to declare Antifa a terrorist organization.
“Antifa is a very loose-knit group — there’s no kind of structure to it,” Brooks said. “Though they seem to share a commitment to taking a strong stand against what they see as fascism or the intrusion of fascism on our democracy, that’s about all they share.”
Despite the frequent reference to “black bloc” as an organization, it is actually a tactic used by individuals during marches or protests.
White nationalism vs. “Alt-right”
“White nationalism was a rebranding of the white supremacist title,” Brooks said.
Brooks maintained that despite disparate manifestations of words such as “white nationalist,” “identitarian” and “white supremacist,” their common root was still white supremacy.
“Alt-right,” a term coined in 2008 by prominent white nationalist Richard Spencer, is an effort to rebrand how white supremacists identify, according to Brooks. She considers it a “new term for the digital age” that included the efforts of young white men to be seen as “pseudo-intellectuals” and to create a new persona for the movement.
The Northern California branch of the American Civil Liberties Union declined to comment.