An “alt-right” (newspeak for “white supremacist”) speaker gets invited by campus republicans (of course it’s republicans) to speak at Berkeley University as part of his – according to the Guardian – “Dangerous Faggot” tour. About 1,500 progressives, predictably, had fallen out to protest. By all accounts the protest was peaceful.
Then, a band of about 150 people – all with faces covered – come in from off campus and pretty much attack without hesitation. No, not the protestors, the building the speech is scheduled for. They set fires and break windows and just generally riot until the event is cancelled.
I suspect agent provocateurs. According to Wikipedia, an “agent provocateur (French for “inciting agent”) is a person who commits, or who acts to entice another person to commit an illegal or rash act or falsely implicate them in partaking in an illegal act. An agent provocateur may be acting out of their own sense of duty or may be employed by the police or other entity to discredit or harm another group (such as a peaceful protest or demonstration) by provoking them to commit a crime, thereby undermining the protest or demonstration as a whole.”
I can’t say for certain, of course. All I can do is look at the situation surrounding the events of that night but what I see is a peaceful protest in full swing. Everything is going according to plan and everything is remaining peaceful. Then a bunch of hidden faces show up and just start rioting with no provocation? No. For me, it just doesn’t pass the “smell test.” Who benefited?
Well, the speech was cancelled. But a speech that might have reached only a small handful of bigots now gets reported on a national and even international scale. The peaceful protestors were made to look bad and the far right was handed just what they want as a propaganda tool. Photos and stories of the violence can be – and will be – used to show that the left isn’t all that inclusive, after all. The action undermined the demonstration – and to a larger extent the anti-Trump movement – as a whole.
I can’t know, for certain, that the violent actors were agent provocateurs. I just know they fit the profile. I could stubbornly insist they were but I can’t really know. The right can’t know, for certain, that the violent actors were not agent provocateurs. I presume they will, nevertheless, stubbornly insist they were not but they can’t really know, either. The rioters showed up on campus with faces covered.
The only way to know for sure would be to identify the rioters. Not the peaceful protestors, mind you, but the mob that showed up from off campus. I can’t really recommend that peaceful protestors suddenly try to restrain the provocateurs for certain identification but that would be the best answer. After all, the rioters came prepared for violence. It’s why they’re there. For sure, peaceful protestors should try to remove the face masks of the rioters and photograph their faces. Let’s find out who these people are…and who they work for.
I’ll tell you this; people are going to be falling out for peaceful protests many times in the next few years. All of those efforts are going to be undermined by agent provocateurs if we can’t find a way to identify the rioters. The result will be that the actual message of whatever is being protested in the moment will be lost, again and again. I could use a little help, here. Any ideas on how peaceful protestors might identify the rioters without getting themselves injured in the process?