My View: Media Reports Need to Distinguish between Student Protesters and Anarchist Groups

It was bound to happen – if a planned event from Milo Yiannopoulos was going to be cancelled at UC Davis, we knew things would end up far worse at Berkeley.  And while the official word from UC Davis was that protesters removed a barricade before police could react, the scene in Berkeley turned violent – or at least more violent – as there were firebombs, fireworks and a group of people who smashed a metal barricade at the door.

The media made much out of the protesters shutting down free speech and Milo once again issued a self-serving media announcement blaming the cancellations on “violent left-wing protesters.”

“The Left is absolutely terrified of free speech and will do literally anything to shut it down,” Mr. Yiannopoulos said on Facebook after the Berkeley event was canceled.

The Berkeley College Republicans issued their own statement, “The Free Speech Movement is dead. Today, the Berkeley College Republicans’ constitutional right to free speech was silenced by criminals and thugs seeking to cancel Milo Yiannopoulos’ tour.”

But what is missing from the coverage is perspective.  An understanding that the problems here, as they were in Davis, were instigated for the most part not by students who were protesting and opposed to Milo’s appearance – and not by the “left” as in the mainstream left – but rather by radical anarchists bent on dismantling the system, not just implementing incremental change.

We see evidence of this in the UC Berkeley statement following the incident earlier this week, “The violence was instigated by a group of about 150 masked agitators who came onto campus and interrupted an otherwise non-violent protest.”

Interestingly enough, the alt-right is well aware of that.  There is the January 17 article in Breitbart itself that noted in advance of the inauguration that “there are also darker forces assembling; a gathering of at least 75 anarchist, socialist and communist groups preparing for an event called #DisruptJ20 that has officially called for violent Black Bloc protesters to gather at 10:00 am on Friday, January 20th in Washington D.C. at the Logan Circle and the Francis Scott Key Memorial.”

The group Antifa, short for groups like the Anti-Facist Coalition, is one of the groups associated with the black masks, which includes camouflage, defensive gear, and offensive gear.

The article in Breitbart notes that “the goal of the Black Bloc and its distinctive dress is to allow protesters to break the law.”

An article on the anarchist site Crimethinc notes, “You may have heard of the notorious Black Bloc, a venerable, if not doddering, anarchist tradition in which a mass of direct action enthusiasts gather, all wearing black clothing and masks, and engage in some level of illegal activity.”

They add:  “When everyone in a group looks the same, it is difficult for the police or others to tell who did what. Most criminal activities are better carried off in a less obvious manner, of course, but there are situations in which it is necessary to step outside the limits in public.”

But no one seems to want to distinguish between the student-oriented protest and the tactics of protesters like Antifa, who are looking to cause trouble.

George Washington Professor Jonathan Turley wrote on his blog this week, “Free speech is being rapidly diminished on our campuses as an ever-widening scope of speech has been declared hate speech or part of the ill-defined ‘microaggression.’ Now Berkeley has shown the world exactly what this intolerance looks like as protesters attacked people, burned property, and rioted to stop other people from hearing the views of a conservative speaker.”

He writes, “As on so many campuses, they succeeded. The speech by Milo Yiannopoulos was cancelled. A triumph of anti-speech protesters. Berkeley now must face a defining moment.”

He argued that “it is liberals who should be on the forefront in denouncing these protests and the effort to stop this event.”  And that Berkeley “needs to bring this speaker back.”

Perhaps so – but unless Berkeley has a way to avoid Antifa and their tactics, bringing him back would be a little like Groundhog’s Day.

Besides, as we have argued again and again, this is what Milo wants.  Milo went to Cal Poly, my alma mater, and at a more conservative school was able to speak.  My friend and classmate posted on Facebook, “Milo Yiannopoulos was so boring and all over the place I just left after an hour.”

He did add, “The police presence was ABSURD. About 100 police in uniform, about 20 in full riot gear, armored personnel carriers, dogs.”

The Vanguard has favored the right of Milo to speak.  We also believe that these protests are actually giving Milo a lot more power and notoriety than he deserves.

This week, CNN did a nine-minute video on Milo, which included interviews and photos from UC Davis.  (Worth watching).

He states his goal is to take on the left-leaning college establishment.

“I just want to burn it down,” Mr. Yiannopoulos said in an interview last month with CNN. “I am speaking on college campuses because education … is really what matters. It’s a crucible where these bad ideas are formed. Bad ideas like … progressive social justice, feminists, Black Lives Matter … that I think is so cancerous and toxic to free expression.”

CNN notes: “His many detractors say he is a hatemonger. But Yiannopoulos believes he offers an important perspective that is missing at universities where liberal ideas typically go unchallenged. And he’s inspiring other far-right speakers to visit college campuses in the hopes of swaying young minds.”

“People are tired of being told how to live, how to speak, what language they can use,” he said. “The strength of feeling in my crowds, the enthusiasm for me from the audiences is the same — the same instinct, the same sort of motivating force (that) put Trump in the White House.”

“[College students] understand that there’s something exciting and dissident and mischievous about this,” he said. “It’s almost cool to be Republican now.”

CNN interviewed UC Davis Law School Dean Kevin Johnson.

“What’s new is Donald Trump. There’s somebody on the national stage who’s … helping to encourage and give enthusiasm to this effort to proselytize and go to campuses and get new recruits for a new conservative movement,” said Kevin Johnson.  “We’re a public university, bound by the US Constitution. And we’re not supposed to be censoring speech so it’s not really up to us to say who can say what on campus.”

UC Berkeley Chancellor Nicholas Dirks stated, “In our view, Mr. Yiannopoulos is a troll and provocateur who uses odious behavior in part to ‘entertain,’ but also to deflect any serious engagement with ideas.”

He added that “we are defending the right to free expression at an historic moment for our nation, when this right is once again of paramount importance. In this context, we cannot afford to undermine those rights, and feel a need to make a spirited defense of the principle of tolerance, even when it means we tolerate that which may appear to us as intolerant.”

Here is the problem expressed by a transgender UC Davis Student: “The fear is with the folks who are gonna see him,” she said. “He leaves. But the folks who are attending (his event) are the folks that I have to sit next to in classrooms.”

But by trying to shut down Milo’s talk, the protesters are actually giving him a lot more power than he actually has.  And it makes his point for him.

The problem is that the media is not distinguishing between peaceful protesters and Antifa.

There is a difference between these guys:

And these guys:

The latter group may have had distasteful signs, but they marched in protest and didn’t provoke or attempt to disrupt Milo’s talk during the Saturday protest.

Antifa not only was responsible for the violent protests in Berkeley, they were the ones who attacked and stabbed white supremacists groups outside of the Capitol in Sacramento last June.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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  1. Keith O

    The latter group may have had distasteful signs, but they marched in protest and didn’t provoke or attempt to disrupt Milo’s talk during the Saturday protest.

    The Saturday protest was peaceful and the way it should’ve come down the night before.  But videos show the violence and hate that was perpetuated by the protesters on that Friday night at UC Davis when free speech was shut down.

    1. Tia Will


      “but videos show the violence and hate….”

      And what you consistently refuse to acknowledge is that there is also documentation on tape of the physical violence perpetrated by MY’s co speaker Skrelli, who deliberately walked into the crowd and pushed a protester. Only one protester arrested at this event.

      Neither side was blameless here, but you will only acknowledge the wrong doing of one side.

  2. Tia Will

    MY said “the same instinct, the same sort of motivating force (that) put Trump in the White House.”

    This is probably the only comment of MY that I have heard with which I agree unconditionally. The same instinct of tribalism, hatred of the other, fear ( despite trivializing the concerns of others) , racism, sexism ( ” Dress like a woman” from POTUS and women should not be in STEM fields from MY) and religious intolerance did indeed serve as the motivating force that put current POTUS in the White House.  And he is proving it again and again with his edicts and appointments. So much for the hopes of those who thought he would be more presidential once in office !

  3. Ron

    I agree that there hasn’t been sufficient distinction made between student, vs. non-student anarchist protestors.  (Not sure that our president understands this, since he mentioned cutting off funding to U.C.)

    Seems like the latter group may be involved in a lot of violent protests – not just one.  (Wondering if law enforcement is working on identifying and prosecuting them.)  Why is this being allowed to continue (e.g., the violence in Sacramento last year, constantly shutting down freeways, vandalism, etc.)?  Seems like there’s a lack of will to end this. (I guess it makes for some “sensational” news stories, though.)

    I agree with some of what Keith writes, in that universities tend to be more liberal (and somewhat intolerant of conservative views).  I identify as more of a liberal, myself.

    1. Tia Will


      universities tend to be more liberal”

      I think that it is important not to paint with too broad a brush. While this is likely true of the social science departments of public universities in California, it is not universally true and it is not true of professors in other departments. Having come through a STEM program, I had many instructors and colleagues who were far to the right of me, which granted is not hard to be. As a female in a STEM based profession, I find it particularly egregious to hear as part of MY’s promoted ideas that women should have a quota in STEM fields. This is one of the “ideas” that the College Republicans apparently want to hear discussed. I particularly wonder if the young women pictured would promote that statement or even care to consider its implications.

      1. Ron


        I realize that one can’t generalize.  But, without presenting evidence, I still “believe” that university campuses (faculty and students) tend to be more liberal.  (I also believe that this is true in the public school system, at least in more “liberal” locales.)

        I also “believe” that there is an intolerance of conservative views (sometimes to the point of shutting down free speech).  And, in general, a lack of understanding regarding what free speech actually means.

        I also suspect that “denial” of these biases are the underlying reason that conservatives become angry at what they rightfully view as a level of hypocrisy.

        Perhaps the same (but opposite) dynamic occurs in more conservative areas of the country, as well.  But, I’m less familiar with those areas.

        To be honest, I don’t see the reason that MY’s views matter, regarding women in STEM fields, etc.  (At least, not in terms of free speech, violent protests, etc.)

        1. Richard McCann


          First, it’s not surprising that educational institutions appear more “liberal.” Being educated opens up individuals to more points of view and deeper understanding of issues. That leads to a more complex understanding of others and of potential solutions. All of those are the traits of more liberal policies. Too often conservative policies are simplistic cliches e.g., “individualism.” And the current administration is actually reactionary, which has little basis even in conservatism–it simply wants to go back to a mythical time when all was well and the cultural acknowledged that a singular ethnic gender group was supreme (the ultimate in identify politics by the way.)

          Second, you’re confusing “free” speech with “unopposed” speech. While MY has a right to speak, so long as it isn’t inflammatory against individuals in a way that threatens them physically (and he seems to have crossed that line), his opponents ALSO have a right to speak, which may include drowning him out. Where are you going to draw that line for them?  The right to free speech is guaranteed against the interference of government institutions, but not against the speech by other citizens. Those citizens are equally guaranteed their free speech as well.

        2. Ron


          Thanks for the response.  Not disagreeing with anything you wrote here (but I’m sure there’s other points of view, regarding conservatism).

          I don’t think I was arguing against the idea that those opposed to Milo also have a right to free speech.  But, the violent “protests” in Berkeley didn’t seem to have much to do with that.  On campuses, I’m not sure if there’s reasonable/legal rules that can be enforced (for everyone), to keep things from getting out of control.

          Regarding your other post below, I’m not sure that I’d want to help restrain some of those angry/violent protestors.  It really does seem to be a job for law enforcement.  (However, I sometimes wonder if “liberal” support for the underlying message sometimes translates into a reluctance to stop the violence, shutting down freeways, etc.)  For example, I recall interviews with some motorists stuck in traffic at another recent protest, who were seemingly careful to state that they “support the message” of the protestors who (once again) shut down the freeway.  (To which I thought, “so what”?)

      2. Howard P

        Yeah Tia, the problem is in the ‘social sciences’ (perhaps a misnomer on several levels)… never had an engineering prof express ANY political view… which I’m grateful for…

  4. Sharla C.

    These protests only served to advertise Milo. It prompted me to search the internet and read some of the transcripts of his speeches.  While I thought that many of his ideas were ridiculous and some actually offensive, I still think that he should have been allowed to speak with little fanfare.  Milo is big news now and marketable.  Way to go. I went to a meeting organized by the Chancellor for international students who are being impacted by Trump’s recent exective order.  Some students took over the meeting briefly to criticize the University for not protecting them from Milo.  One asked “Were you aware that students put their lives on the line?”  Hexter responded, but they did not seem satisfied with the response.  When the meeting focus shifted back to students who feared deportation, separation from family, etc., the Milo students got up noisely and left.

  5. Ron


    I was wondering why you haven’t dedicated more coverage to the unprecedented “women’s” protest, a couple of weeks ago.  I’ve never seen anything like it.  (20,000 in Sacramento, alone?)

    It wasn’t the usual “anarchists” – it appeared to be quite peaceful.

      1. Ron

        It seemed like that protest flew “under the radar”, until it actually happened.  (In other words, the size of it was a complete surprise.)

        It was a big deal – much more so than Milo. (How many protestors, worldwide?)

        Can’t help but think that because it was organized largely by women, some male-oriented media organizations did not see it coming!  (Perhaps this is an inaccurate “sexist” comment?)  🙂 Or, maybe nobody knew, due to the online nature of organizing these days.

        I wonder if there will be more of these protests. In any case, I found it inspiring.

  6. Tia Will

    Hi Ron,

    As a participant in the 20,000 member “Women’s March” in Sacramento, many of us with men at our sides, I can verify the unexpected size of the march. The most frequent comment I heard was “I didn’t think there would be this many here.” Many people were also pulling up demonstrations from around the country and world on their phones.

    It wasn’t just the male press that was taken by surprise. It was all of us.



  7. Tia Will


    Perhaps the same (but opposite) dynamic occurs in more conservative areas of the country, as well.  But, I’m less familiar with those areas.”

    Having grown up in a conservative rural area, I can vouch for that. I would also disagree that there is a liberal influence at least at the elementary and junior high level where there is still a lot of patriotic indoctrination with flag salutes at assemblies and the like although not daily as when I was in school. Also, almost everyone in our culture gets a heavy dose of  we are # 1 as witnessed by the incorrect assessment of most people that our medical system is “the best” despite the fact that we do less well statistically than most other developed countries, that our judicial system is “the best” despite the fact that we have one of the world’s highest rates of incarceration, and that we are more upwardly mobile than other countries which is also not true. I know it has become popular to believe that our universities “brainwash” our youth with liberal thought. My experiences have led me to believe that they merely provide a counterbalance to the conservative upbringing that almost everyone who is not in an extremely liberal part of the country is subjected to. Besides California, I have lived in rural Washington, New Mexico and Arizona. All have strong conservative tendencies.

    1. Howard P

      California has strong conservative tendencies?   Am thinking, “not”… if that were true, would seriously think about exiting…

      Besides California, I have lived in rural Washington, New Mexico and Arizona. All have strong conservative tendencies.

  8. Ron


    You and Howard are probably right, regarding “liberal bias” primarily being in social studies at local universities.  (It seems to me that STEM studies are so intense and challenging that there’s no time to discuss political views.  Plus, STEM studies don’t deal with societal issues, in general.)

    I do have a have a question for Tia, which I don’t think she’s addressed:

    Should someone like Milo (who I believe you’ve said is advocating for limits for women in STEM studies, among other things), be “allowed” to speak (on campus, or elsewhere)?  Also, does he need to “disavow” what some of his followers are stating, before he’s allowed to speak?

    Also, what about the KKK, or groups like that?

    And, as a side question, how should violent protests (in response to controversial speakers) be handled, in general?


  9. Richard McCann

    I read the article on the “black bloc” in the SF Chronicle this weekend. We need to develop an internal strategy to oppose and control this force without relying entirely on law enforcement to solve the problem. If we can control these hooligans ourselves, that will show our sincerity to those outside. We may need to identify people of concern in the larger demonstration, and be prepared to isolate or restrain them so that law enforcement can detain them.

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