BERKELEY, Calif. >> Several thousand people converged in Berkeley today for a “Rally Against Hate” in response to a planned right-wing protest that raised concerns of violence and triggered a massive police presence. Several people were arrested for violating rules against covering their faces or carrying items banned by authorities.
Tense but brief skirmishes erupted when several dozen left-wing protesters surrounded and shouted at a handful of right-wing demonstrators. Three of those targeted sought safety by rushing toward officers sand were escorted out of the park. They were put in van that was kicked by yelling left-wing protesters as it drove away.
The left-wing protesters far outnumbered those who showed up for the largely peaceful rally, which police tried to keep safe by setting up barricades around it and checking people who entered to make sure they did not have prohibited items like baseball bats, dogs, skateboards and scarves or bandanas they could use to cover their faces.
Anti-rally protesters chanted slogans “No Trump. No KKK. No fascist USA” and carried signs that said: “Berkeley Stands United Against Hate.”
Berkeley is the city that gave birth to the 1960s Free Speech Movement but authorities refused to issue a permit allowing today’s event. The city and the University of California, Berkeley campus have been the site of political clashes and violence over the past year.
At one point today, an anti-rally protester denounced a Latino man holding a “God Bless Donald Trump” sign.
“You are an immigrant,” said Karla Fonseca. “You should be ashamed of yourself.”
Several other people also yelled at the man, who said he was born in Mexico but supports Trump’s proposal to build a wall along the southern border.
Police pulled one supporter of President Donald Trump out of the park over a wall by his shirt as a crowd of about two dozen counter demonstrators surrounded him and chanted “Nazi go home” and pushed him toward the edge of the park. At least two people were detained by officers for wearing bandannas covering their faces.
Earlier today, a separate counter protest took place on the nearby Berkeley university campus despite calls by university police for demonstrators to stay away. From the campus, the crowd marched to Civic Center Park and merged with the anti-rally protesters who had already gathered there.
The Berkeley rallies happened a day after a rally planned by a right-wing group fizzled amid throngs of counter-protesters in San Francisco. San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee declared victory over a group he branded as inviting hate.
Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguin had urged counter-protesters to stay away.
The organizer of today’s right-wing event was Amber Cummings, a transgender woman and Trump supporter who has repeatedly denounced racism. Cummings said that demonization by mayors in both cities and left-wing extremists made it impossible for people with other views to speak out.
Cummings has said on social media and in media interviews that Marxism is the real evil and that members of the anti-fascist movement are terrorists.
“I’m not safe to walk down the road with an American flag in this country,” she told reporters last week.
Saturday’s event was organized by a group known as Patriot Prayer. Its leader Joey Gibson has also repeatedly disavowed racism.
Student activism was born during the 1960s free-speech movement at Berkeley, when thousands of students at the university mobilized to demand that the school drop its ban on political activism.
However, the deadly confrontation in Charlottesville, Virginia, on Aug. 12 during a rally of white supremacists led San Francisco police and civil leaders to rethink their response to protests.
Associated Press writers Terry Chea and Marcio Sanchez in Berkeley contributed to this report.