From the fertile ground of Occupy Wall Street, the Left now grows into violence…
I don’t pretend to be the world’s quickest study, but I had a hunch that things were about to get sticky as we entered Berkeley’s Martin Luther King Jr. Civic Center Park. The raging mob – a third of whom were cloaked in masks and black ninja pajamas – began screaming at us: “f— off fascists” and “Nazis go home.” Not a warm welcome.
On this late August weekend, I’d tagged along to profile Joey Gibson, a half-Japanese house-flipper from Vancouver, Washington, and his sidekick, Tusitala “Tiny” Toese, a 6’6” 345-lb Samoan strip club bouncer and former youth pastor.
They hailed from the group Patriot Prayer, a conservative-leaning free speech outfit founded by Joey in the wake of Donald Trump supporters getting beaten to pulps outside his 2016 rallies in San Jose.
They came to the Bay Area for what Joey billed as “Liberty Weekend,” but cancelled his rallies at the last second out of safety concerns after the likes of Nancy Pelosi and Berkeley’s mayor had whipped the region into an anti-racism frenzy, calling the group’s members “white supremacists” and worse.
Never mind that they weren’t supremacists. Patriot Prayer was calling for unity and moderation, while espousing that “love and peace [are] the only way to unify this country.” (Racial reconciliation is now considered the third rail of American politics.)
Many of the patriots, Joey and Tiny included, weren’t even white. Their original slate of speakers advertised, “three blacks, two Hispanics, one Asian, one Samoan, one Muslim, two women, and one white male.” It sounds like the set-up to an old joke – you expected them to all walk into a bar or change a light bulb.
But the joke seemed to be that Pelosi, antifa, and company have now fallen so far down the identity politics hole, they can no longer even successfully identify white people to rage against. In their paranoid cosmology, even people of color are white supremacists. Instead of handing out black bandanas and light weaponry, antifa might be better served handing out 23andMe genetic testing kits.
This shoot-first, ask-questions-never approach didn’t pan out on the ground.
Joey, Tiny, and a stars’n’stripes do-rag-wearing political rapper named Pete V, made their free-speech stand at Berkeley’s impromptu and ironically-named “Rally Against Hate,” not far from the park’s Peace Wall.
As they did so, they threw their hands in the air, flashing peace signs, the universal symbol for “please don’t kill us.” But as we smacked into a wall of surly, black-clad antifa, feeling as though we’d just crashed an ISIS sleepover, it was clear that peace wasn’t on the menu.
Pouring over a barrier, crashing into us like a tsunami (I was so worried about antifa crushing my tape recorder, I forgot to reach for the Mace stashed in my sock), antifa rushed past me to give the stick to the patriots. Literally.
Pete caught a two-by-four right in his stars’n’stripes-swaddled head. He went down, temporarily blacking out. Tiny, kitted up in goggles and football shoulder pads, dragged Joey backwards in retreat. And Joey had his hat stolen, got smacked in the head, gouged in his side, and had a flagpole brought down on his dome so hard it left a knot that had Tiny later calling him “The Unicorn.” They were hit with enough bear spray to clear out Yosemite.
The only reason they were probably not beaten to death was that they managed to crash through a line of do-nothing Alameda County police officers, who finally did something when they arrested Joey and Tiny. (“To save them,” one of the cops suggested, though he seemed perplexed when I asked how about arresting the people who nearly killed two men right in front of him. Just a thought.)
After nonchalantly watching another beatdown or two, the cops finally dispersed some of the crowd with smoke grenades.
A long-haired political activist named Bobby ran for cover alongside me, smiling and filming all the while. (The modern quandary at antifa rallies: if you hit someone over the head with your selfie stick, will you jeopardize future Instagram posts?)
When I suggested that Bobby couldn’t possibly find this stuff amusing, he indicated otherwise. “If you like the horseshoe theory of American politics,” Bobby said, still shining his pearly yellows, “the far right and the far left are closer than either believe.”
I got to thinking about this after leaving Berkeley, and decided Bobby didn’t know how correct he was. For while Joey and Tiny were falsely-accused Nazis, I’ve ridden with a real Nazi before – at the Occupy Wall Street demonstrations of 2011. When surrounded by oddballs, a self-respecting reporter picks the oddest ball…
I half admit being nostalgic for that simpler time. Back then, anarchists were more interested in kicking in Starbucks windows than people’s heads. Nobody could say precisely what Occupiers were for – one placard nicely captured the multiple-personality-disorder of it all, demanding to “Close Corporate Tax Loopholes, Tax Religious Groups, End the Wars, Legalize Weed, and Bring Back Arrested Development.” But unlike their spiritual descendants, antifa, they were for more than beating the snot out of people they dislike, then retroactively justifying it as purging the world of fascists. Even if Occupiers had their populist angst and class-warfare impulses appropriated by another radical group (Trump’s Republican Party), they knew they were against the 1%. Which meant, in a begrudging way, that the remaining 99% of us were all in this together – even Sid the Nazi, one of the Occupy protesters I met smack in the middle of Manhattan’s Zuccotti Park.
Unlike Joey and Tiny, Sid was a real Nazi. It said so right in his moniker. And even if it hadn’t, the swastika tattoos were a dead giveaway.
But though Sid loudly complained about the park’s activist stench of crotch-rot and old hummus, nobody batted an eye. They definitely didn’t try to bring a flagpole down on his head. Sid might have been a Nazi, but by God, he was the left’s Nazi. (“The National Socialist German Workers’ Party, that’s what Nazi means,” he reminded me.) He wasn’t some crazy right-wing extremist, he wished me to know. The left was a lot more tolerant of intolerance back then.
As Sid the Nazi demonstrated: “Why am I racist? Cause I’m proud of me and mine, too? I’m German-Scottish and Tuscan/Roman. Italians and Japs were our No. 1 ally.”
I pointed out that I didn’t think the Master Race cared too much for Italians. “Oh no,” Sid disagreed, “that’s just Jewish propaganda.”
But as Sid the Nazi and I marched, sat in on congas in the drum circles, and skipped the big Labor rally so we could drink at a bar near the Tombs (if there were any good outbreaks of violence, we’d catch it on YouTube), Sid seemed to sense where it was all going even back then: to complete nihilistic darkness.
As I informed him that a recent survey of Occupiers showed that 34% thought the U.S. government was no better than Al Qaeda, he rolled his eyes at his fellow protesters. “These people are retarded,” Sid said. Political correctness is not Sid’s bag, him being a Nazi and all. “The country’s political climate is bad, but it ain’t Angola yet. We’ve fallen far, but we have much further to fall.”