Smoke bombs set off during Berkeley protests

Smoke bombs were set off in clashes between Antifa demonstrators and counter-protesters in in Berkeley, California, on Sunday, August 27. The protest started peacefully but turned violent after a group protesters jumped barricades and started figh
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Smoke bombs were set off in clashes between Antifa demonstrators and counter-protesters in in Berkeley, California, on Sunday, August 27. The protest started peacefully but turned violent after a group protesters jumped barricades and started figh
By

Erika D. Smith

Associate editor and editorial writer

Erika D. Smith

California doesn’t need antifa, but the rest of the country sure does

By Erika D. Smith

esmith@sacbee.com

August 29, 2017 05:21 PM

Apparently this is the part when I’m supposed to jump on the anti-antifa bandwagon. The anti-fascists, after all, were the ones who rolled into Berkeley last weekend looking like fancy ninjas, and they were the ones who beat up the white nationalists – not the other way around.

So the anti-fascists are bad, right? They’re all thugs and idiots who wear masks and carry shields, and deserve to be denounced and locked up?

Not so fast.

I certainly don’t agree with every violent tactic employed by antifa. But I also spent years living in a state where far too many people bury guns in their yard, join militias and are stockpiling hollow-point bullets, helmets and bulletproof vests in preparation for “the revolution.” I know these people. I even count some of the non-racist ones as friends – although since Donald Trump got elected, we haven’t been on the best of speaking terms. But that’s another story.

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Point is, I understand why the antifa movement exists and why it must continue to exist, belligerent though it may be. The violent fascism that they rail against is real – and it’s not, as so many Americans would like to believe, a threat that’s just on the fringes.

Where I draw the line, however, is with antifa’s supposed mission of “defending” the good people of California.

Give me a break. Why do we, the lucky residents of the bluest of blue states, need a black-clad army of militants to come to our rescue when every branch of government is dominated by Democrats? And not just any Democrats, but progressive Democrats.

In the two years or so that I’ve lived in Sacramento, I’ve watched elected officials at the local, state and federal levels fall all over themselves to defend every marginalized demographic imaginable. Women. Transgender people. Gay people. Black people. Immigrants. Muslims. Jewish people.

Here in California, we don’t have time for parents who don’t want their kids to learn about people who have “a girl brain but a boy body.” In fact, by law, parents can’t opt their children out of classroom discussions about gender and sexual orientation.

Here, undocumented immigrants are eligible for government-funded health care and we’re on the verge of becoming a sanctuary state. And, here, the head of the state Senate, Kevin de León, has even called for hearings to investigate ways to combat white supremacist groups across the state.

Of course, not everything is perfectly progressive. The criminal justice system is still stacked against people of color, and women still are way too outnumbered on corporate boards and elective offices. And, well, we all know the situation in Silicon Valley.

But come on. Being an anti-fascist here is cosplay. It’s pure theater.

Digging around Twitter, I learned that even West Hollywood has a chapter of antifa. WeHo! I’ll bet they’re the best-dressed antifascistas in California.

Those eager to prove their far-left cred will argue that we have more far-right hate groups here than in any other state. This is true. But we also have far more people than any other state – 39 million.

And it’s not as if white supremacists, nationalists or even garden-variety Trump supporters have it easy here. They’re vastly outnumbered and scared. What happened in the Bay Area over the weekend is proof of that.

Patriot Prayer, the group that was supposed to hold a rally at Crissy Field on Saturday, was so unnerved by the backlash that founder Joey Gibson pulled the plug at the last minute. When he tried to hold a rally at another San Francisco park instead, police and counter-protesters showed up first and scuttled that, too. Patriot Prayer ended up holding a poorly attended press conference almost an hour away in Pacifica.

On Sunday, a puny group of Trump supporters and white nationalists showed up for a rally in Berkeley. Antifa activists took it upon themselves to chase them down, and even glitter bomb and pepper spray them.

Gibson had to hide behind a line of police officers to escape. It didn’t matter that he was backing away with his hands in the air. Another Trump supporter, Arthur Schaper, ended up huddled in a gas station, praying.

For swarming a largely peaceful rally, antifa deserves every slam it has received over the past few days. They acted like bullies, and bullies are inherently cowards.

But antifa adherents swear they’re brave. So be brave. Instead of beating up a handful of “enemies” in a state where most people have already been converted to anti-fascism, fight a fight in a place that matters.

Go to parts of Ohio or Indiana or South Carolina, antifa. Go stand up for people in Alabama and Mississippi. Go to Trump country.

Go to places with small towns that are 95 percent white, and where half the residents have never left the county where they were born and have never met a Muslim or anyone Asian. Places where white people still refer to black people as “colored,” and no one bats an eyelash.

Go to places where residents are terrified to come out as gay, much less transgender, for fear of being beaten up, fired or evicted with no real legal recourse. Places where people proudly fly the Confederate flag and where being a white nationalist is nothing to be ashamed of.

These places exist. And not just in the South.

Towns in these red states could use some big-city attitude to confront the deeply ingrained influence of white supremacy and institutional racism. Because ignoring it clearly isn’t working.

That’s why I can’t completely climb on the anti-antifa bandwagon.

But California? We don’t need antifa. So do us all a favor and just stop.

Erika D. Smith: 916-321-1185, @Erika_D_Smith