Fights, Violence Erupt at Pro-Trump Rally in Berkeley

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A pro-Trump gathering in Berkeley is one of several pro-Donald Trump marches planned across the country Saturday. (Berkeleyside)

Hundreds of supporters of President Donald Trump were met with resistance in Berkeley on Saturday at one of several pro-Trump marches planned across the country.

An estimated 500 protesters gathered at Civic Center Park in downtown Berkeley around 2 p.m. Pro-Trump demonstrators, many from out of town, called for free speech, chanting “put America first.” Video footage of scattered fights show smoke bombs being thrown at a crowd and at least one man pepper-spraying a brawling group.

About 20 police officers arrived around 12:30 p.m. By 2 p.m. many were pulling down their riot visors and moving closer to groups where at least one fight had broken out. At 2:40 p.m. Officer Byron White of BPD said there had not been any arrests.

Demonstrators who oppose the president and his immigration policies were led by the group By Any Means Necessary.

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Several pro-Trump supporters say they got up at 4 a.m. to drive up from Orange County, Pacifica and  Livermore.

Brian Medina from Orange County said he had come to support free speech. Describing himself as a libertarian more than a conservative, he said he had seen what happened at the Milo Yiannopoulos protests in Berkeley on Feb. 1.

"I saw how the violence started and it was awful,” he said.

Medina said he assumed the rioting was started by anarchists, and assumed they were from the far left.

The origin of the pro-Trump protest is unclear, although a group called March For Trump posted it would be holding a demonstration at Civic Center Park in Berkeley at 2 p.m. Saturday.

Similar demonstrations were planned for around the country Saturday, including at the Washington Monument in D.C. The stated purpose: to unite against a “seditious fringe [that] has resolved to sabotage [President Trump’s] restored purpose” of putting “America first.”

The Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action, Integration and Immigrant Rights and Fight for Equality By Any Means Necessary (BAMN) — announced a counter-protest to the pro-Trump demo, stating its purpose is to “confront and defeat the Trump movement” with “no platform for fascists and white supremacists.”

At midday there was a peaceful atmosphere at the park, with the weekly farmers market in full swing and just a few reporters with cameras and notepads waiting to see what, if anything, would transpire.

A representative of the Ecology Center, which runs the farmers markets in Berkeley, said he had not noticed any change in the numbers showing up the market.

At around 12:30 p.m. about 20 police officers arrived and took up positions on the south side of the park and on the elevated section next to the Peace Wall. Armed with batons, as well as at least one video camera, they at first observed from a distance. A handful of officers were stationed at the entrance to Downtown Berkeley BART station from around noon.

Between 1 and 1:30 p.m. pro-Trump supporters began to arrive in small groups or individuals on their own. Some carried flags, mostly the stars and stripes as well as at least one black-and-yellow anarcho-capitalism flag. Some wore red baseball caps and others leather biker-style jackets. A Russian flag could also be seen in the crowd, although it was unclear what type of protester was carrying it.

At first, the BAMN group was congregated on the west side of the park and it kickstarted proceedings with controversial BUSD teacher Yvette Felarca making a speech through a megaphone. [Video below, shot at 1:38 p.m., shows BAMN group chanting in the direction of the Trump supporters who were grouped together about a hundred yards away across the park.]

By around 2 p.m. the groups had drawn closer together, and, as they merged, the odd confrontational conversation had escalated into at least one fight.

Berkeleyside spoke with Timothy Watkins, originally from New Orleans. Watkins has lived in San Francisco for five years but today was the first day he had been to the East Bay. A self-described person of color and homosexual, he said Trump had brought him to Berkeley. He said he had “come out of hiding” to show his support for President Trump and to encourage others like himself to do the same. He said he believed the president had the back of both gay people and people of color.

During the protest, different groups chanted slogans and sang songs. At one point, after the first fight had broken out, a group of pro-Trump supporters were urged by one of their own to “take a knee so that the police can do their job,” which about 12 of them did.