What the Media Got Wrong About Last Weekend’s Protests in Berkeley
Shane Bauer, Mother Jones, Aug. 29, 2017
The violence I saw was only part of the story.
Over the weekend, thousands of people hit the streets of San Francisco and Berkeley, California, completely overwhelming far-right rallies that were expected to attract white supremacists. The locals were fed up. Back in April, a Berkeley rally consisting of several hundred alt-right activists, including white supremacist groups, had devolved into a bloody all-day brawl. Two weeks ago, some of those same supremacists helped organize the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, where 32-year-old Heather Heyer was killed when a neo-Nazi drove a car into a crowd of counterprotesters. A week later, an attempted far-right rally in Boston drew some 20,000 marchers opposed to white supremacy. Last weekend marked the latest attempt of far-right and white supremacist groups to hold provocative rallies in major American cities—and once again, they were dwarfed by the anti-racist demonstrators.
But that wasn’t the story many Americans heard. Much of the coverage of Sunday’s non-rally gave the impression of violence and chaos, homing in on selected incidents and downplaying the dominant aspects of the day. The Washington Post‘s story, later tweeted by President Donald Trump, was titled “Black-Clad Antifa Members Attack Peaceful Right-Wing Demonstrators in Berkeley.” The San Francisco Chronicle story carried the headline, “Masked Anarchists Violently Rout Right-Wing Demonstrators in Berkeley.” CBS News reported that the “anti-hate” rally was “disrupted” by “scores of anarchists wearing black clothing and masks” who “stormed” the demonstration.
Most of the stories linked to a video I shot of five antifa protesters beating a right-wing activist. Little else from my two days of live-tweeting was picked up by news outlets. The beating I filmed was newsworthy, yes, but it should be viewed in the context of the rest of the day. Sunday’s violence was minimal compared with the extreme violence at April’s white supremacist rally in Berkeley. And while Sunday’s counterprotesters were intolerant of the far-right activists, the overall mood was festive. Organizers later declared the day a “victory against white supremacy.”