Anti-Marxism protest returns to Berkeley after last year’s violence, ignites tensions among demonstrators

David Rodriguez/Staff

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Fights, fires and explosives erupted in Downtown Berkeley on Sunday during a protest featuring nearly 700 right- and left-wing demonstrators.

The “No to Marxism in America 2” rally held at Martin Luther King Jr. Civic Center Park was full of chanted slogans and loud arguments with counterprotesters, and there was more violence outside the police-monitored park.

Counterprotesters threw homemade explosives at officers, blocking them from entering the park, but no one was seriously injured, according to Berkeley Police Department spokesperson Officer Byron White.

Protesters also demolished 21 city vehicles by slashing their tires, smashing the cars’ windows and setting one SUV on fire in the parking lot on Berkeley Way, across the street from the fire station.

“The Berkeley Police Department, supported by officers from around the region, used de-escalation strategies throughout the day: separation of rival groups, confiscating weapons and arresting those carrying weapons in prohibited areas,” read a BPD Nixle alert.

Protesters also set three dumpster fires, according to the alert.

White said police returned fire using nonlethal rounds, including rubber bullets, after the homemade explosives were thrown. By the end of the protest, police had arrested 20 individuals.

The number of anti-Marxist protesters was dwarfed by the number of counterprotesters, including some from local socialist groups. A similar rally, called the “No to Marxism in America” rally, was organized and subsequently canceled last year — that rally was also heavily populated by counterprotesters.

“Communists run abroad in this city and they are using intimidation to keep pro Americans out of Berkeley,” said the Facebook page of the event. “We must stand up to this intimidation and expose the corrupt violent communist terrorist groups in Berkeley.”

Before the scheduled noon start time, protesters were already milling around and inside the park, within the police barricade.

On another street, counterprotesters marched east on Hearst Avenue from Ohlone Park, chanting and waving banners. They eventually turned toward Martin Luther King Jr. Civic Center Park and made their way there.

The large crowd of counterprotesters was initially barred from entry into the park by a line of police officers.

Smaller groups were able to go around the line and enter the park, but officers stopped larger groups because they saw contraband and possible weapons, according to White.

“We came out here because we love America,” said Vacaville resident Brandon Stewart, an anti-Marxist protester. “The First Amendment is being trampled on.”

Emily Flato, another protester and a UC Berkeley alumna, said she was tired of both sides stereotyping each other and never cooperating. Flato said she was present to support the right-wing protesters because of her dislike toward Marxist ideology, but noted that she identifies as a Democrat.

San Francisco resident Dennis Jones attended the protest wearing a red “Make America Great Again” hat, and said he was upset about left-wing racial stereotyping of supporters of President Donald Trump. Jones is a Black man.

Later, when more counterprotesters were allowed into the park, people with opposing ideologies began arguing, mostly about President Trump.

“I don’t want my kids to grow up with the same (morals) these libtards have,” said Modesto resident Kristy Moniz, who was at the protest with her husband Henry.

Kristy and Henry Moniz both said they showed up because they believe in “common sense,” and feel that morality is in decline in cities such as Berkeley. Kristy Moniz also said this was only the second protest they had attended.

The counterprotesters were members from different organizations, which despite diverging views on priorities and tactics, had come together in a counterprotest against the right-wing rally, according to Toni Mendicino, a member of the Freedom Socialist Party and a staff member at UC Berkeley School of Law.

Mendicino, who handed out Freedom Socialist Party newspapers to the growing crowd, called it a “multi-issue event.” She condemned the ideals of the protesters on the other side, who she called “fascists,” though she defended their right to protest.

Reiko Redmonde, manager of Revolution Books, had a spread of books in the park overturned and the Revolution Books banner ripped during scuffles between protesters and police.

“(We brought) hundreds of books … “The Communist Manifesto,” Marx, Mao,” Redmonde said, adding that Revolution Books initially planned on selling them and reading them aloud to spread awareness.

Walter Heinecke, an organizer for the counterprotests in Charlottesville, Virginia, was also present. He was in Berkeley for unrelated reasons, and said he heard about the protest by chance.

Heinecke, who labeled himself as a “free radical” unattached to a single organization, planned to support protesters by joining their rally against “white supremacy,” though he said he hoped it would be nonviolent aside from self-defense, “an appropriate response.”

“(When) speech (is) directly tied to violence, it’s not free speech,” Heinecke said. “They’re not getting away with this bullshit.”

Contact Jackson Guilfoil and Anna Ho at [email protected].