Amid the Chaos in Berkeley, a Grinning Face, Covered in Blood
Several fans of the right-wing provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos were injured on Wednesday night in Berkeley, in scuffles with dozens of black-clad anti-fascist activists who managed to shut down a talk by Brietbart’s star writer on the University of California campus.
According to Julia Carrie Wong of the Guardian, about 150 anti-fascists — who call themselves Black Bloc or Antifas and justify the use of violence as pre-emptive self-defense — joined a larger group of perhaps a thousand peaceful protesters and quickly confronted fans of the writer who had arrived early for his talk.
Amid the ensuing mayhem, however — as mace was sprayed, punches were thrown, a generator was set on fire and the talk was called off — one victim of the violence appeared to be enjoying himself, grinning broadly as he approached reporters for Buzzfeed and the Bay Area affiliate of CBS News to display his battered face.
The man, a 30-year-old podcaster who uses the comic-book-inspired pseudonym Eddy Brock online, seemed oddly pleased as he introduced himself to Blake Montgomery, who was streaming live video of the protest for Buzzfeed.
“Yo man,” Brock said, drawing attention to his blood-stained face.
“What happened to you?” Montgomery asked.
“I got punched in the face by anti-fascist fascists,” Brock replied, evenly.
Minutes earlier, Brock had also burst into the local news coverage of the demonstration by walking in on a live shot and grabbing the hand of a CBS reporter, Phil Metier.
“Hey man! How you doing?” he asked the startled reporter. “Hi everybody!” he added, introducing himself to the viewers at home.
Apparently energized by the spotlight, Brock then launched into an explanation of how being battered by the anti-fascists seemed to confirm his argument that they were the real fascists.
“I decided to be for Milo, for freedom of speech,” he said, “and these anti-fascist fascists decided that that was too much, threw rocks at me, broke my phone, and they decided to steal from me and break my face.”
“This is not America,” Brock added, pointing to his injuries. “America is freedom, America is liberty and,” he concluded, with a triumphant thumbs-up, “America is Donald Trump’s!”
Brock’s injuries gave him a measure of viral fame too, as images of his bloody face illustrated reports on the violence by The Los Angeles Times, NBC News and Breitbart — “the platform for the alt-right” that made Yiannopoulos a star and propelled its former chairman, Steve Bannon, to the White House.
While images of Brock’s bloody face, and clips of other Yiannopoulos fans being assaulted with flag poles, bike locks and pepper spray, did ensure that the radical minority of aggressive protesters dominated the news coverage, accounts of his own behavior prior to the attack suggest that Brock might have come to campus looking for trouble.
That seems clear from two video clips of Brock taunting peaceful student protesters early in the evening, recorded by a reporter for the Berkeley student newspaper, Malini Ramaiyer.
The scene, recorded and shared online before the black-clad activists arrived to storm the barricades, shows that Brock got in the faces of the protesters, mocked their chants, and berated them at very close range — in other words, engaged in trolling, in real life.
Brock’s provocative behavior also caught the attention of another reporter, Michael Bodley, who was covering the protest for The San Francisco Chronicle. “I didn’t personally see him get hit,” Bodley wrote in an email to The Intercept, “I was too far away for that, but I did see a group surrounding him.”
“I do know that before, and after, he was provoking protestors, particularly anti-fa, all night — calling them the ‘real fascists,’ that kind of thing,” he added. “So, I was in no way surprised when I heard he got punched.”
Kitty Stryker, a writer and activist who took part in the protest, argued in an account of the night she posted on Medium that Brock appeared from the beginning to be acting as provocateur, “shoving protesters around” outside the student union, and “being very violent and aggressive.” None of those protesters, however, took the bait.
About 20 minutes later, she wrote, after the Yiannopoulos talk was called off and his supporters were being evacuated, Stryker wrote that she caught sight of Brock once again.
The crowd erupted in a cheer, and everyone broke out into a dance party in Sproul Plaza. I saw ‘Eddie’ again around this time, now pushing around the black bloc protesters who were holding perimeter near the fire. From the way he continually tried to start shit it was obvious he wanted to be martyred, and eventually, he was. Seeing him proudly talking about how ‘antifascist fascists’ threw rocks at him pissed me off immensely. He says ‘this is what they wanted’ — no. I was there. I watched him. This is absolutely what he wanted, which is why he ran right up to media, gave a false name, and tried to reframe the story.
Talk about a fucking coward.
Speaking to The Intercept by telephone on Friday, from his home in nearby Vallejo, Brock dismissed an internet conspiracy theory that tried to explain his upbeat demeanor by suggesting he had faked his injuries as part of a plot to discredit the protesters. According to Brock, he managed to get punched in the face by masked activists the old-fashioned way: by trying to obstruct them.
At the time of the attack, he said, he had inserted himself into the middle of a phalanx of Antifas, and was trying to prevent them from pulling apart metal police barriers outside the hall where Yiannopoulos was due to speak.
Video posted online by a fellow Trump supporter seems to confirm this account, showing Brock being punched in the head by a masked activist as the barriers on Sproul Plaza were taken apart.
Minutes later, those barriers were hurled, along with rocks and fireworks, into the glass windows of the Martin Luther King Jr. Student Union, leading to the cancellation of the talk.
Brock agreed that he was oddly happy right after the beating, but chalked that up to a combination of adrenaline, a sense of righteousness and the thoughts that his bloody face would indeed make his political opponents look bad.
“I knew instantly that people were going to watch this, and they’re not going to be angry at Milo,” he told The Intercept. “You know, when you get hit for your speech, or you get hit for your defending of freedom of speech, no matter what happens, you’ve already won,” he said. “You’ve already won the case.”
“More people are going to understand where I’m coming from,” he added, “than all these guys screaming about how they’re trying to stop violence and they’re trying to stop hate, and yet they use violent hate to attack somebody whose just being, you know, off to the side.”
Another video clip, shared with The Intercept by Andrew Beale, a student at the Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism, showed that Brock was punched again later in the evening, after he placed himself in the center of a group of students and protesters outside the student union and berated them at length for stopping Yiannopoulos from speaking.
Looking at Brock’s political activism over the past year also suggests that he has been interested in creating potentially viral video of himself in conflict with those on the left. During that time, his podcast, formerly concerned with rambling discussions of professional wrestling, and bizarre theories about the relationship between race and intelligence, became increasingly pro-Trump.
Last May, Brock attended a rally for Bernie Sanders in Vallejo, waving a “Trump 2016″ sign, with a camerman in tow. That night, he told followers of his podcast’s Facebook page that things had gotten “ugly.” Although he had escaped with “no punches, no black eyes,” he said, he was sure that footage of himself arguing with the senator’s supporters about race, the economy and gender studies, would cause a stir. “I’m sure it’s going to go viral somewhere, I don’t mind going viral,” he said.
That footage, of Brock trolling the Sanders supporters, did not go viral. It wracked up all of 45 views. Despite the fact that the footage began with his cameraman predicting, confidently, “someone’s gonna punch him in the face,” it contained no violence.
In the aftermath of the skirmishes in Berkeley this week that gave Brock the measure of viral fame he sought, there is an active debate on the left about whether or not the aggressive tactics of the anti-fascist activists can ever be justified.
After the violence at Berkeley on Wednesday, some vocal Antifas, like Yvette Falarca, a teacher at the Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School in Berkeley, argued that the use of force was justified by the imminent threat to the safety of some in their community posed by Yiannopoulos.
The day before the event, Breitbart reported that its writer intended to use his speech to “call for the withdrawal of federal grants and the prosecution of university officials,” at UC Berkeley who promised recently that the school and its police force would not help immigration officials hunt down undocumented students.
Through that lens, the forceful dispersal of Yiannopoulos supporters by masked activists was presented as a form of pre-emptive self-defense.
For others on the left, however, the video of Yiannopoulos fans being assaulted for showing up to hear him speak on campus was unsettling. The doctrine of preemptive self-defense invoked by the Antifa activists also echoes the rationale George W. Bush laid out before attacking Iraq. “We must take the battle to the enemy, disrupt his plans, and confront the worst threats before they emerge,” Bush said in 2002.
On the right, though, no one seems at all concerned by the fact that Brock appears to have played an active role in baiting his attackers until they assaulted him.
That’s particularly strange, because, just a few months ago, the default explanation for all violent assaults on protesters at Donald Trump rallies was the conspiracy theory that supporters of Bernie Sanders or Hillary Clinton had been dispatched to those events specifically to incite attacks and drive news coverage. Now that the exact opposite scenario has taken place, Breitbart and Fox News seem uninterested in asking what, exactly, those images of Eddy Brock’s beaming, bloody face tell us about this point in American political history.
This post was updated on Saturday night to add Andrew Beale’s video. It was updated again on Sunday to add details about why anti-fascists activists took the planned speech by Milo Yiannopoulos as an imminent threat to undocumented members of the Berkeley community.