Conservative pundit Ben Shapiro is likely to escape unscathed from antifa protesters planning to wreak havoc during his speech Thursday at the University of California, Berkeley, but the left may not be so lucky.
The black-clad activists have driven a wedge between Democrats such as House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi who condemned antifa by name in the wake of a violent protest last month in Berkeley, and leftists who have rushed to the defense of the self-styled “anti-fascists.”
Refuse Fascism denounced the “shameful, dangerous, wrong attacks on Antifa,” taking aim at Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguin, who said the activists should be classified as a “gang,” and left-wing icon Noam Chomsky, who described them as a “major gift to the right.”
“To stand against injustice at this moment requires firmly understanding that the attacks against ‘Antifa’ are designed to intimidate, suppress, and divide all opposition to fascism,” Refuse Fascism said in a Saturday statement.
Liberals tried to distance themselves from antifa after the Aug. 27 skirmish, in which 13 were arrested and six injured as black-masked protesters attacked Trump supporters and a photographer. The episodes were caught on video.
“They believe they’re defending themselves and others, but what I saw on Sunday is they were the aggressors,” Mr. Arreguin said of antifa.
David Horowitz, a conservative author and researcher on left-wing movements, said the backlash — in particular the statement by Mrs. Pelosi — represents a turning point for antifa.
“She’s very clever tactically, and she sees that this is a menace to the left,” Mr. Horowitz said.
Fueling the fire were another nine arrests last weekend in Portland and Vancouver, Washington, at a peaceful free speech rally by Patriot Prayer. Two officers suffered minor injuries.
Those mounting the antifa defense have argued that desperate times call for desperate measures. Their rhetoric has drummed up fears of fascism, or the rise of neo-Nazis and white supremacists under the Trump administration.
Refuse Fascism insisted that the spread of fascism “will not stop if militant resistance stops.”
“Rather, the full imposition of the most brutal and terroristic forms of fascism in America will continue to advance unless and until millions come together to drive the fascist Trump/Pence Regime from power,” said the group.
The San Francisco Chronicle ran the headline “We are all antifa” above an op-ed by three officials with the National Lawyers Guild, which provides “legal support for anti-fascist action.”
“This campaign to recast antifa as a violent, leftist suppression of speech is a dangerous effort eerily reminiscent of the left-baiting that accompanied the Nazi rise to power,” said the Sept. 6 op-ed.
Writing in the Nation, two members of the Campus Antifascist Network warned that the public backlash against antifa was being driven by the far right under the guise of protecting free speech.
“If the specter of ‘antifa’ becomes an excuse to justify the use of repression through state or extra judicial means, then no college campus, marginalized community, or organized social movement of the left is safe from attacks from the alt-right and its fake-news machine,” Berkeley graduate student Meleiza Figueroa and Stanford professor David Palumbo-Liu said in the Sept. 8 article.
Rehabilitating antifa’s reputation may become more challenging after Thursday, when thousands of protesters are expected to descend on Berkeley for the Shapiro speech, sponsored by Young America’s Foundation.
Mr. Shapiro will speak seven months after activists forced the cancellation of an appearance at Berkeley by conservative provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos, resulting in an estimated $100,000 in damage to the campus.
Hosting the Thursday protest is Refuse Fascism, a sponsored project of the Alliance for Global Justice, which acts as a conduit to fund left-wing organizations.
Chuck Kaufman, national co-coordinator of the Alliance for Global Justice, said he was unconcerned about Refuse Fascism’s connection to antifa.
“I don’t think they’ve ever initiated the violence,” said Mr. Kaufman, adding that among the 10 principles guiding the alliance is that “we don’t judge the tactics used by targets of oppression.”
As for the repeated efforts to shut down conservative speakers, “That’s part of the give and take of public debate. It doesn’t have anything to do with the First Amendment, which only provides protection of us from our government,” Mr. Kaufman said.
Tax documents posted by the alliance showed Refuse Fascism received more than $105,000 in donations last year.
Refuse Fascism accused Mr. Shapiro of “coming to campus to spread ugly fascist views dressed up in slick-talking ‘intellectual’ garb.”
Mr. Horowitz said Refuse Fascism shares many of antifa’s goals, including shutting down conservative speakers.
Among Refuse Fascism’s leaders is Carl Dix, founding member of the Revolutionary Communist Party USA.
“It’s difficult to talk about Refuse Fascism because they’re in such another plane of reality,” Mr. Horowitz said. “These are violent, vicious people who think that anybody who disagrees with them is worthy of being shut down. They’re part of the antifa assault on the First Amendment, the most basic freedom that Americans have.”
Berkeley officials plan to put up a perimeter around Zellerbach Hall, where Mr. Shapiro is scheduled to speak, and close six nearby buildings and parking lots.
“Our commitment to free speech, as well as to the law, mandates that the students who invited Shapiro be able to host their event for those who wish to hear him speak,” the university said in a statement. “Our commitment to the principles of community mandates that all students, faculty and staff be able to be present on campus, engaging in their regular academic activities without fear.”