Unlike most of the nation, the Bay Area’s biggest problem right now is not from right-wing provocateurs, it’s from anarchist hoodlums.
Most people here recognize how despicable and dangerous the ultra-right-wing, white supremacist, neo-Nazi movement is. We deplore President Trump’s false equivalency that those who protest the bigotry are equally culpable.
As we saw in San Francisco and Berkeley, most here who demonstrate against this country’s ugly underbelly can do so peacefully – and effectively.
Unfortunately, as we also saw, there’s a small subset of opponents with a penchant for violence that plays right into the hands of the nationalist extremists. Dressed in black with masks covering their faces, they call themselves “antifa,” or anti-fascists.
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If the political left, and police, don’t find a way to contain them, they will only fuel the bigotry. For the news will continue to revolve around the anarchists’ confrontations with the right.
The national narrative will shift from right-wing bigotry to the Bay Area’s suppression of speech. We must not let that happen.
Across the political spectrum, speech must be protected. The First Amendment doesn’t protect merely speech we agree with, it protects all speech, however distasteful.
And violence must not be condoned or permitted. The time has come for all of us to denounce the antifa tactics. They only serve to hurt the cause of fighting bigotry.
Make no mistake. We understand why people are angry. Sadly, Charlottesville was only a symptom of a national disease, a political cancer that must be stopped before it metastasizes.
Take to the streets. Voice your anger. Show the world that Americans believe in diversity, and abhor racism and religious intolerance. But do so peacefully. Avoid direct confrontations. Violence is not the answer. Don’t condone it.
Consider what happened in Berkeley on Sunday. A small group of right-wing protesters showed up at Martin Luther King Jr. Civic Center Park. Thousands of counter-demonstrators showed up a few blocks away.
The story could have been the massive show of opposition to bigotry. Instead, the counter demonstrators moved toward the park and, predictably, the hundred or so black-clad antifa turned to violence.
They were spoiling for fight, just as we’ve seen before when they turned the Occupy movement into a melee of destruction in downtown Oakland, and last spring’s Cal protests of conservative campus speakers into a bonfire of property destruction.
There are serious questions for Berkeley police about why they weren’t better prepared and stepped away, letting the anarchists overrun the park. But there are equally serious questions about why counter-protest leaders didn’t foresee the trouble and steer the crowd toward a separate, peaceful venue.
The right-wing protesters got what they wanted, a confrontation that maximizes publicity. For the left, there are lessons to be learned. They must denounce and separate themselves from the anarchists. If they don’t, their message of tolerance will continue to be lost.