Berkeley officials warned students and residents to “keep a distance from violence” Thursday as police prepared for clashes between supporters and opponents of conservative commentator Ann Coulter, who had been scheduled to speak to two UC Berkeley student groups about immigration policy this week before her appearance was canceled.
“If you are at a demonstration and you see violence, separate yourself. Keep a distance from violence,” Chancellor Nicholas Dirks and Mayor Jesse Arreguín said in a joint statement Thursday morning.
Groups of demonstrators began trickling into Martin Luther King Jr. Civic Center Park in downtown Berkeley on Thursday as police swarmed the city.
Among the activists at the park was Stewart Rhodes, founder of the citizen militia group known as the Oath Keepers. Rhodes and his group had also gathered in Berkeley on April 15, when a planned “Patriots Day” rally erupted in clashes between pro-Trump demonstrators and counter-protesters.
"We are only here for self-defense," Rhodes said. His role, he said, was "to keep the hotheads in check."
Rhodes said his group plans to protect alt-right speakers at a “Free Speech Rally” at 2 p.m. at the park. Speakers plan to take the place of conservative commentator Ann Coulter after she announced a day earlier that she would not speak at UC Berkeley.
Announcements for the afternoon rally invited “all patriots ... for an afternoon of free speech in America. We won’t let the bad guys win.”
The speakers include Gavin McInnes, founder of a far right group Proud Boys, and alt-right activist Kyle Chapman. Chapman was arrested at the April 15 demonstration on a warrant alleging an assault at a violent protest in March. When officers grabbed Chapman from the crowd and cuffed him, alt-right blogger “Baked Alaska” launched a livestream feed denouncing the arrest.