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The Berkeley Incident
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Why did President Donald Trump fire off an angry and threatening tweet early Thursday morning following the violent protests that had broken out the night before on UC Berkeley campus? Here’s a copy of Trump’s tweet:

“If U.C. Berkeley does not allow free speech and practices violence on innocent people with a different point of view – NO FEDERAL FUNDS?”

Maybe the impulsive President was just angry that a controversial, rightwing speaker like Milo Yiannopoulos was unable to deliver his presentation because masked agitators began to rampage across the campus breaking windows, burning signs and wreaking havoc. That’s certainly one possibility, but there are other more intriguing explanations that seem equally likely.

Consider this: Like most Americans, Trump knows that these anarchist groups show up routinely at peaceful demonstrations with the intention of raising hell and discrediting the groups that peacefully assemble to express their opinion on one issue or another. In this case, the protestors had gathered in opposition to a man who seemingly advocates religious intolerance and Islamophobia. Trump was well aware of this.

He also knew that the UC Berkeley Chancellor and his staff did everything in their power to provide security to both the speaker and the groups that had gathered for the event. Check out this excerpt from an article at Bloomberg:

“Some advocates for universities and education said they were surprised by Trump’s tweet…

“I have never seen anything like this,” said John Walda, president of the National Association of College and Business Officers. “Why would you infer that you want to punish a university” when it was only trying to protect people. The university “did exactly the right thing,” he said…

The university said Chancellor Nicholas Dirks had made clear that Yiannopoulos’ “views, tactics and rhetoric are profoundly contrary to those of the campus,” but that the university is committed to “enabling of free expression across the full spectrum of opinion and perspective” and condemned the violence.

Berkeley seems to have done everything it can to protect students’ First Amendment rights, Cohn said.”

(“Trump Threatens U.C. Berkeley Funding Over Violent Protests“, Bloomberg)

So if the Chancellor had already gone the extra mile to protect free speech, then why did Trump decide to lower the boom on him? Was he genuinely angry with the Chancellor’s performance or did he interject himself for political reasons? In other words, how did Trump stand to benefit from getting involved in this mess?

Isn’t his tweet crafted to win support from his red state base who identify Berkeley with the erratic behavior of the “loony left” that burn flags, spit on veterans, and hate America? Isn’t it designed to discredit the millions of liberal and progressive protestors who have peacefully participated in pro-immigration demonstrations or anti-Trump marches across the country? Isn’t Trump’s interference intended to make him look like a strong, decisive leader willing to defend free speech against hypocritical leftists thugs who violently oppose anyone who doesn’t share their narrow “librul” point of view. Isn’t the action part of a broader plan to reinforce a stereotypical view of liberals as sandal clad, fist pumping, Marxist firebrands who want to burn down the country so they can create their own Soviet Utopia?

Isn’t this really why Trump decided to parachute into the event, to enlarge and polish his own image while exacerbating existing political divisions within the country?

Trump’s reaction to the incident in Berkeley is worth paying attention to if only to grasp that –what we are seeing– is not the random act of an impulsive man, but a governing style that requires an identifiable threat to domestic security, “the left”. A divisive president only prevails when the country is divided, when Americans are at each others throats and split between Sunni and Shia. That’s the goal, driving a wedge between people of differing views, exacerbating historic animosities in order to enhance the authority of the executive and usurp greater control over the levers of state power.

Once again, we’re not excluding the possibility that Trump’s tweet may have been a “one off” by an impulsive man but, by the same token, it might be an indication of something more serious altogether.

Keep in mind, that Trump’s chief political strategist, Steve Bannon, is a man who produced documentary movies on Sarah Palin, Michelle Bachman, and Occupy (Wall Street). According to Salon:

“Bannon does not hide his affinity for propaganda. He has cited as an inspiration Nazi propagandist and filmmaker Leni Riefenstahl. She famously directed “Triumph of the Will,” a film commissioned by Adolf Hitler in 1933 that portrays Germany as a country returning to world power.” (“Three lessons we learned about Steve Bannon from this weekend’s New York Times and Boston Globe profiles “, Salon)

So at best Steve Bannon is a public relations magician and at worst an unapologetic propagandist. But what is so telling about Bannon is his position in the administration. Bannon occupies the seat closest to the throne which shows how much emphasis Trump places on image, public perception and narrative. Bannon is Trump’s most trusted ally, the spinmeister whose job it is to create the Great Leader who is admired and loved by his loyal base but feared and despised by his enemies. All of this fits seamlessly with Trump’s Berkeley tweet.

And it also fits with Trump’s governing style which is geared to deepen divisions, increase social unrest, and create enemies, real or imagined. In this view, Berkeley was just a dry run, an experiment in perception management orchestrated to sharpen Trump’s image as the hair-trigger Biblical father who will intercede whenever necessary and who is always ready to impose justice with an iron fist.

So the masked rioters actually did Trump a favor, didn’t they? They created a justification for presidential intervention backed by the prospect of direct involvement. One can only wonder how many similar experiments will transpire before Trump puts his foot down and bans demonstrations altogether?

Of course, that may very well be the objective.

MIKE WHITNEY lives in Washington state. He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion (AK Press). Hopeless is also available in a Kindle edition. He can be reached at [email protected].

(Republished from Counterpunch by permission of author or representative)
• Category: Ideology • Tags: American Left, Donald Trump 
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  1. Looks like Mikey has turned into another ‘concerner’ along with Fred Reed and others. Trump is not the libertarian many hoped he would be..blame voter ignorance..Trump made it clear he wasn’t. He’s a big government nationalist , with some socialist leanings regarding business. This will drive the Ron Paul folks nuts

  2. Whitney: “…fire off an angry and threatening tweet…the impulsive President was just angry…”

    Da, I hear same diagnosis from headshrinkers at CNN Akademy of Punitive Medicine,[*] tovarisch.

    [*] Podrabinek, Alexander. Punitive Medicine. Karoma Publishers; 1980.

  3. “So the masked rioters actually did Trump a favor, didn’t they? They created a justification for presidential intervention backed by the prospect of direct involvement. One can only wonder how many similar experiments will transpire before Trump puts his foot down and bans demonstrations altogether?”

    Yes, the Democrats are doing us an enormous favor by doubling down on violence and intimidation. Those who the gods would destroy …

    Re the flacid pretense of defense of free speech by Beserkeley authorities – LOL. This crap has been going on since Trump emerged as a front-runner for the Republican nomination. We’ve all seen plenty of blood flowing down the faces of young, hopelessly outnumbered Trump supporters. If these had been Leftists, the CA authorities would have damn well put an end to it in no time.

    Re Trump banning demonstrations, I think you’ll find he’s a genuine strict constructionist. He’ll put an end to masked thugs torching campuses and assaulting students though. Don’t shed too many tears over this Mike.

  4. TheJester says:


    The Berkley police did everything they could? Police Chief Margo Bennett praised her police department for showing restraint during the rioting. In short, the police watched the riot and did nothing about it. Only one rioter was arrested at Berkley, and I understand that occurred after the mayhem was over … an idiot who apparently did not know when to quit.

    From a distance, it looks like Chief Margo Bennett was protecting the right of rioters to riot rather than Milo’s right to speak (even the MSM got it right in this case).

    Crimes were committed. I wonder if Chief Bennett or anyone else in Berkley is interested in who the rioters were and who financed and organized them.

    Peaceful protests grew to a crowd of over 1,500, police estimated, before “more than 100 armed individuals clad in ninja-like uniforms” showed up. They hurled fireworks, Molotov cocktails and rocks at officers, UC Berkeley Police Chief Margo Bennett said.

    She said officers “exercised tremendous restraint” to protect a crowd filled with students. No arrests were made and no major injuries were reported, a change from some high-profile protests at Berkeley decades ago.

    Police did not advance on the crowd as they used barricades to bash windows and set fire to a kerosene generator, sparking a blaze that burned for over an hour.

    A small group later took the chaos into nearby city streets.

    Workers at several banks replaced broken windows Thursday, repaired damaged cash machines and cleaned graffiti from walls. Campus officials estimated the damage at about $100,000.

  5. El Dato says:

    Strong overanalysis.

    Here’s mine. President Trump sounds like a simple expert system from the 80s, really.

    Input to The President:

    > Antifa raising hell on UC campus
    > UC considered (rightly or wrongly) a “leftist” hotbed
    > No muscular response to the hellraising happened


    > Someone must be responsible for letting lefty loonies run wild
    > This someone must be UC management

    Leverage Points that exist:

    > Federal Funds

    Output from The President:

    > Threaten to withdraw funds if the balance in the force is not restored



    • Replies: @dearieme
  6. dearieme says:
    @El Dato

    “Output from The President:

    > Threaten to withdraw funds”

    He evinces a good understanding of university administrators.

  7. johno says:

    The left has been using the club of federal education funding to force through all sorts reforms it happens to like. Everything from how many girl sport teams your need to have, to how you need to accommodate chics with dics. Turn-about is fair play in my mind.

  8. Hundreds of Trump supporters have been beaten, pepper sprayed and otherwise assaulted by the domestic terrorist group Antifascist Action, and Mike Whitney never raised the least objection.

    Instead, he blames the victims for having politically incorrect opinions.

    • Agree: MBlanc46
    • Replies: @Verymuchalive
  9. wsws says: • Website

    Cross posting !

    Please refer to:


    The challenge confronting those seeking to carry out genuine political actions in opposition to the government and the capitalist system it defends is to identify these provocateurs before they can do their dirty work and throw them out.

    The Times, however, seems determined to see them get in.

  10. Anon • Disclaimer says:

    “So if the Chancellor had already gone the extra mile to protect free speech, then why did Trump decide to lower the boom on him?”

    Pure nonsense.

    The cops and security stood by while much of the violence happened.

    Also, it wasn’t only the anarchists who made trouble.

    Plenty of college people did. Why did they act like red guards? University curriculum, professors, and agenda instilled kids with seething hatred of whites since the 60s.

  11. anonymous • Disclaimer says:

    Hoodlums were bused in and disrupted Trump’s rally last year at Chicago’s UIC Pavilion using violence. So perhaps Trump has had a close-up view of what’s been going on and doesn’t like it along with millions of others. The claim that they did all they could do sounds a little lame at this point. Since Trump has been president less than three weeks it’s a little premature to make claims about his management style. We’ll know more later. Anyway, it’s nice to see a shakeup of the rubbish that’s accumulated over the past twenty-four years.

  12. PapayaSF says:

    There is more wisdom in the comments above than in Mike Whitney’s original piece.

  13. @John Gruskos

    ” The Berkley Incident.” Why didn’t he just call it A Funny Thing Just Happened On The Way To The Campus.

  14. So if the Chancellor had already gone the extra mile to protect free speech, then why did Trump decide to lower the boom on him?

    But the Chancellor – and the campus police, presumably under his command – did exactly nothing to stop the riot. They stood idly by as it went on, as southern sheriffs used to do when the Kluxers lynched some hapless blackamoor. So studied was their dereliction of duty that no arrests were made.

    Now the mayor of Berkeley is using the riot as a justification for refusing to permit future speeches by Yiannopoulos or other conservatives. The hecklers’ veto has been given an official stamp of approval.

  15. anonymous • Disclaimer says:

    Grant that all of the rioters were external. Grant that all of the students were there for a plain old peaceful demonstration. Grant that the administration did what it could do to support free speech. Even with all that there is a boatload of disingenuousness in Whitney’s article.

    Unlike Tea Party protests during the Obama years the gist of left-oriented actions on campus and off has been force. Even if this particular Berkeley administration was fairly scrupulous in defense of free speech the overall pattern on college campuses is that administrations are spineless in defense of the First Amendment. And even if these particular students were only there peacefully, it is undeniable that students nationwide have been militant in their attempt to throttle speech of those they disagree with.

    Perhaps a small injustice has been done here in coming down hard on Berkeley students and administrators. I prefer to think of it as mostly a matter of irony.

    • Replies: @AndrewR
  16. It’s not just riots. Trump needs to tie Federal aid to free speech. No more speech codes or safe zones. If Obama could force them to do the “date rape” inquisition with its presumption of guilt, Trump can support free speech. (BTW, let’s eliminate these insane anti-male biases as well.)

  17. Anonymous [AKA "Dub"] says:

    “……Trump was well aware of this.

    He also knew that the UC Berkeley Chancellor and his staff did everything in their power to provide security to both the speaker and the groups that had gathered for the event.”

    REALLY? If this is true why was there only one arrest by the police while windows were broken, people were beaten and had to be rescued by others while the police watched, and fires were set?! If this the the “new standard” for peaceful demostrations then America is in serious trouble!

    BTW. I thought these types of violent demonstrations were already illegal. Is it possible that Trump recognized that federal tax $ do not need to be used by institutions that allow this type of violence to go unchecked. When “peaceful” demonstrators start assualting people, smashing windows and setting fires wouldn’t it be appropriate to bring out the water cannons to put out the fires AND the people that set them?

  18. And it also fits with Trump’s governing style which is geared to deepen divisions, increase social unrest, and create enemies, real or imagined.

    There’s some truth to that. But Whitney neglects the fact that the Democratic Party also benefits from increasing tribal polarization, which is why they have been ratcheting up tensions to unprecedented levels since the election. The reality is, that the Democrats have nothing of value to offer their base other fear of whitey. They need the ‘Evil Republicans’ as a kind of glue to hold their increasingly shakey coalition of the fringes together. So Trump (‘The new Hitler!!!’) is the perfect foil.

  19. Boris N says:

    One thing still puzzles me. In America one may end up in prison for many years or even for life for minor offenses like shoplifting. Or during the Occupy Wall Street movement when the protesters denied to disperse they were beaten, gassed, paper-sprayed, arrested, sent to the county jail for a night and then charged with loitering and trespassing among others phony accusations.

    Here we see numerous open violent acts of vandalism and rioting across the country for a few weeks, where groups of violent and very aggressive thugs smash thousands worth windows and destroy other valuable property, commit an arson, and overall threaten the life and well-being of other people around.

    Why do the police and the justice system go easy on them? Why wasn’t the riot police called? Why are there no investigations and mass arrests? Why are there no harsh sentences? The police and the judges seem to be hardliners only on the weak, but they fail to persecute the real offenders.

  20. Alden says:

    A UCB employee named Dabney Miller bragged on face book that he beat a person waiting to hear Milo’s talk unconscious

    The university, not Berkely PD is still
    “investigating” if any impropriety was committed.

    It has long been my opinion that every university and college in the country be closed down.

  21. AndrewR says:

    The average Tea Party protester was 56 years old and obese. Not surprising they didn’t have the same taste for meyhem that the scrawny 20 year old antifa do.

  22. AndrewR says:

    Who the fuck is this lying leftist hack Mike Whitney and why does he have a column here?

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