US Officials weigh gang label after Berkeley brawls

23:52  04 september  2017
23:52  04 september  2017 Source:   Tribune News Service

Ann Coulter, Milo Yiannopoulos heading back to Berkeley

  Ann Coulter, Milo Yiannopoulos heading back to Berkeley Only months after speeches by conservative authors Milo Yiannopoulos and Ann Coulter were canceled at the University of California at Berkeley amid security issues, the political provocateurs have been invited back next month for "Free Speech Week." Former White House senior strategist Steve Bannon is also scheduled to appear, The Chronicle of Higher Education reports, although other officials and organizations could not confirm his participation. Only months after speeches by conservative authors Milo Yiannopoulos and Ann Coulter were canceled at the University of California at Berkeley amid security issues, the political provocateurs have been invited back next month for "Free Speech Week.

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Members of the black bloc celebrate as they push into MLK park during a day full of protests in Berkeley, Calif., on Aug. 27, 2017.© (Photo by Marcus Yam/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images) Members of the black bloc celebrate as they push into MLK park during a day full of protests in Berkeley, Calif., on Aug. 27, 2017.

Not long after dozens of black-hooded protesters were filmed pummeling people on his city's streets, Berkeley, Calfi., Mayor Jesse Arreguin made clear his disgust for the self-stylized vigilantes.

"Antifa," he said, is no different than a street gang, and police should start treating protesters in the anti-fascist movement accordingly.

Later that day, legislators in Sacramento advanced resolutions that would treat violent acts committed by the antifa movement's enemies — white nationalists and neo-Nazis — as terrorist acts under state law.

'It doesn't seem safe,' organizer says in canceling San Francisco far-right rally

  'It doesn't seem safe,' organizer says in canceling San Francisco far-right rally SAN FRANCISCO — Organizers said they canceled Saturday's planned right-wing rally in San Francisco because of safety concerns. Joey Gibson, founder of the Patriot Prayer group, said in a Facebook Live post that his group had been working with police and "decided that tomorrow really seems like a set-up.""It doesn't seem safe, a lot of people's lives are going to be in danger tomorrow," he said during an interview with Unite America First. "The rhetoric from Nancy Pelosi, Mayor (Ed) Lee, the media — all these people are saying we are white supremacists and it's bringing in tons of extremists.

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As forces on the extremes of the nation's ever-widening political divide continue to battle with fists and weapons on the streets of California, law enforcement officials and politicians have started debating whether these groups should be classified as street gangs.

Such a designation could give law enforcement new tools to combat the groups. Numerous laws on the books give authorities the power to restrict the movements of gang members and enhance criminal charges against them.

But such a move raises legal issues because, unlike with traditional street gangs, the underlying motive of these extremist groups is political expression rather than criminal enterprise.

Law enforcement experts say the groups that have been warring in the San Francisco Bay Area for months — which include anti-fascists and those using "black bloc" militant tactics, far-right organizations such as the Proud Boys and the Fraternal Order of Alt-Knights, and white nationalist groups such as Identity Evropa — certainly share similarities with a street gang.

At least 7 arrested as clashes break out during Berkeley protests

  At least 7 arrested as clashes break out during Berkeley protests At least seven people were arrested Sunday as protesters and counterprotesters marched through Berkeley to a downtown for a rally. Three of the people detained had violated the no-mask rule. One person was arrested in connection with assault, NBC Bay Area tweeted. Two men were arrested after exchanging blows. The SFGate reported they were quickly swept up by officers inside Civic Center Park. Clashes broke out between right-wing and left-wing groups as hundreds marched from the UC Berkeley campus to the park. Marchers were part of the Bay Area Rally Against Hate. [twitter align='center' id='901882353634512896' username='nbcbayarea']https://twitter.com/nbcbayarea/status/901882353634512896[/twitter] The event is one of several rallies that had been called for Sunday in Berkeley, a day after a controversial freedom rally planned by right-wing groups in San Francisco fizzled amid throngs of counter protesters. [twitter align='center' id='901857659892015105' username='KCRAVicki']https://twitter.com/KCRAVicki/status/901857659892015105[/twitter] In a statement early Sunday, the group said "we fully intend to move forward with (the Rally Against Hate)" on the university campus despite calls by the university police department for people to stay away for safety reasons. A right-wing rally, billed as "No To Marxism in America", was initially called for Sunday afternoon but then canceled over the weekend.

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"It is gang behavior with some ideology. But it is also a social entity as well as a political one," said Brian Levin, director of California State University, San Bernardino's Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism.

Arreguin, the mayor, said he believes groups on the left and the right meet this definition. But "it's something I would want to discuss with our enforcement partners before I make that announcement," he said.

"There are violent extremists on both sides, and we need to look at a variety of legal and law enforcement strategies to deal with these groups," he said. "There are organized groups — violent extremist groups — on the left and right that have encouraged people to come to Berkeley and physically confront the antifa or to confront the alt-right."

But some gang experts also expressed concern about linking the far left to street gang activity. Though the groups may share commonalities with gangs, the idea of labeling them as such could be seen as a punishing a political viewpoint, no matter how extreme.

Pelosi condemns 'anitfa' after Berkeley clashes

  Pelosi condemns 'anitfa' after Berkeley clashes House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) on Tuesday condemned the 'antifa' protesters who clashed with President Trump supporters in Berkeley, Calif. Sunday. "Our democracy has no room for inciting violence or endangering the public, no matter the ideology of those who commit such acts," Pelosi said in a statement. "The violent actions of people calling themselves antifa in Berkeley this weekend deserve unequivocal condemnation, and the perpetrators should be arrested and prosecuted."Nancy Pelosi comes out condemning antifa after Sunday's Berkeley rally, saying it was a "sad event" and calling for arrests.

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"There's an argument for it, but there's also a very grave concern because they are exercising their constitutional rights," said San Bernardino County Deputy District Attorney Britt Imes, a nationally renowned expert on gang activity. "Their criminal actions, not their free speech actions, their criminal actions, will determine whether they qualify as a criminal street gang."

Labeling either far-left or far-right groups as street gangs could have serious consequences for those arrested during the inevitable next clash at a counterprotest in California. Under the state's Street Terrorism Enforcement and Prevention Act — a piece of legislation passed at the height of the nation's gang boom — gang enhancements can add two to 15 years to a criminal sentence for people convicted of committing a crime in concert with gang activity.

Identified gang members can also be subject to injunctions, or civil restraining orders, that would prevent them from being in certain areas or congregating with friends and even family. Such tactics have been hailed as successes, and decried as draconian by civil liberties groups, in Los Angeles.

No, they aren't terrorists, but stop appeasing antifa

  No, they aren't terrorists, but stop appeasing antifa The Obama Department of Homeland Security concluded that left-wing "antifa" forces were engaged in "domestic terrorist violence," according to documents obtained by Politico. Who am I to argue with the fine men and women of former President Obama's DHS? In fact, as someone who has been fighting with antifa defenders for a good while, I feel a bit like the defense lawyer in "Miracle on 34th Street" when the U.S. Post Office confirms that his client is actually Santa Claus: Hey, don't take my word for it; "terrorist violence" is the term chosen by professionals working for a Democratic White House.

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A spokeswoman for the Berkeley Police Department said she did not know whether antifa would qualify as a gang under California law.

Any law enforcement agency trying to label antifa protesters as gang members might also run into another problem: Technically, they don't exist.

Joanna Mendelson, a senior investigative researcher for the Anti-Defamation League's Center on Extremism, said "antifa" generally describes a way of thinking, rather than a group.

"The antifa is a loose network of individuals who believe in active, aggressive opposition to far-right movements," she said. "There's not a clear organizational structure. It's a movement."

Antifa does not have a membership, nor does anyone have to claim to be part of the group to embrace its tactics or approach to protests, she added. But some far-left groups that espouse violence have taken on this banner.

Some law enforcement officials believe those groups fit the description of a street gang, even if identifying their followers would be next to impossible.

"I think under state law they could easily be declared a gang," said Wes McBride, president of the California Gang Investigators' Association. "They behave like a gang. They have defined commitment to violence. They have their own gang dress."

No, they aren't terrorists, but stop appeasing antifa

  No, they aren't terrorists, but stop appeasing antifa The Obama Department of Homeland Security concluded that left-wing "antifa" forces were engaged in "domestic terrorist violence," according to documents obtained by Politico. Who am I to argue with the fine men and women of former President Obama's DHS? In fact, as someone who has been fighting with antifa defenders for a good while, I feel a bit like the defense lawyer in "Miracle on 34th Street" when the U.S. Post Office confirms that his client is actually Santa Claus: Hey, don't take my word for it; "terrorist violence" is the term chosen by professionals working for a Democratic White House.

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Imes, who said that he was speaking as an expert and that his comments did not reflect the opinions of the San Bernardino County district attorney's office, added that many black and Hispanic factions defined as gangs under the law also lack structure or formal membership.

Antifa's stated goal may be to defeat white supremacists and neo-Nazis, but if the means by which its followers achieve that mission are violent, they could still be defined as a gang, he said.

"The question is going to become have they engaged in a pattern of criminal activity ... and is that part of their primary purpose for existing? When you talk about a group engaging in civil disobedience, I am very hesitant to label them a street gang," Imes said. "However, if their purpose is to come together to cause havoc, or engage in violence, and this is antifa or the white supremacist side ... they're going to engage in conduct that will eventually fit the definition of what a criminal street gang is."

Those standing across Bay Area battle lines from anti-fascists, including the Proud Boys and the Fraternal Order of Alt-Knights, seem to have more in common with what the average citizen associates with gang lore. The Proud Boys, a national collective of "Western chauvinists" founded by former Vice media executive Gavin McInnes, has a formalized initiation process that includes being beaten by members, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center.

Members have to declare themselves as Proud Boys, follow a dress code that includes polo shirts and engage in violent brawls with anti-fascists as part of their initiation, the SPLC has said. The group has regional chapters, including in the Bay Area and Orange County, and some members refer to themselves as "commanders" of specific sets. After an April rally, the Bay Area Proud Boys claimed Berkeley as its "territory," according to a post pinned atop its Twitter page.

"When they do things like that, and they put things in writing like bylaws ... it makes our job a lot easier," Imes said. "It makes proving the associational organization much easier. When you talk about whether something is a criminal street gang or not, you look to what evidence you have."

Factions on both sides of the political divide also commit a pattern of crimes that are described in the Street Terrorism Enforcement and Prevention Act, experts say. The repeat brawls in the Bay Area and elsewhere could constitute a pattern of assault.

Arson is also listed under the law, Imes said, pointing to fires believed to have been set by anti-fascists during protests in Berkeley earlier this year.

Still, most experts agree that it's easier to label a group a gang when its criminal acts are divorced from political speech. The Golden State Skinheads are a white supremacy group, for example, but its members have also been known to engage in robberies and drug trafficking.

McBride said he's less concerned with labels than he is with stopping the endless series of brawls in the Bay Area before they escalate into something worse.

"These young men see it as an adventure with the excitement of a fight," he said, warning that sooner or later "someone is going to pull a gun."

Berkeley braces for visit by right-wing speaker Ben Shapiro .
BERKELEY, Calif. - The University of California at Berkeley will seal off large parts of its campus like a fortress with a closed perimeter and a “very large” visible police presence Thursday, when the birthplace of America’s free speech movement faces its next potential clashes. City and campus authorities anticipate demonstrations at a speech by conservative commentator Ben Shapiro, a former Breitbart editor, and are preparing for possible violence with a variety of new strategies and tightened security. BERKELEY, Calif.

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