Berkeley Rally Organizer Fires Back Upon Being Lumped With White Nationalists - NBC Bay Area
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Berkeley Rally Organizer Fires Back Upon Being Lumped With White Nationalists

'We do not want racists there. We do not want hateful people there. We do not want violent people there,' Amber Cummings said

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    A political face-off broke out in Berkeley on Tuesday as tension continues to rise ahead of a protest scheduled on Sunday. Thom Jensen reports. (Published Tuesday, Aug. 22, 2017)

    The organizer of an upcoming Berkeley rally showed up unexpectedly at a Tuesday news conference and refuted Bay Area leaders' condemnation of her event's alleged ties to white nationalists.  

    Amber Cummings, who identifies as a transgender female, emphasized that white nationalists are not welcome at her anti-Marxism rally Sunday at Martin Luther King Jr. Civic Center Park, which has been the backdrop of bloody protests in the past. 

    Asked to comment on being lumped with hate groups, she responded: "I do not support white supremacy. White supremacy is not allowed at our rally. We do not want racists there. We do not want hateful people there. We do not want violent people there. If anybody is coming with the intent of violence, do not come to my rally."

    Along with a repudiation of hatred and violence, Cummings, who wore sunglasses and covered her face with a bandana, pointed out that Sunday's gathering had been created in June, months before a destructive rally in Charlottesville, Va. drew Klu Klux Klan members, white supremacists and neo-Nazis and led to three deaths.

    At Tuesday's news conference, however, Rep. Barbara Lee, Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguin, Sen. Nancy Skinner, assemblymen Rob Bonta and Tony Thurmond, and Supervisor Keith Carson decried bigotry, racism and intolerance.

    "This is the home of the peace movement," Lee said. "Let us be peaceful. This is one of the most diverse communities in the country. Let us show that strength in our diversity." 

    Despite Cummings' impassioned explanation otherwise, they continued to refer to Sunday's rally as a white nationalist event.

    When asked why, Arreguin replied: "From what we’re seeing, people like Richard Spencer and Kyle Chapman — very sort of 'alt-right leaders' — that have been in Berkeley have said that they intend to come this weekend. We don’t know how many people are going to come, we just have to be prepared as a community and keep our community safe and we’ll do that this weekend."

    According to Cummings, an estimated 300 people plan to rally Sunday.

    However, Suzanne Fraser, who lives a block away from the rally site, issued a plea Tuesday.

    "I would really appreciate you people not showing up because it's terrifying our children and the community that lives here," she said. "We see blood. We see weapons."

    Since President Donald Trump took office in January, at least three protests in Berkeley have led to fights and vandalism in the neighborhood. One such instance was a "Patriots Day" free speech rally on April 15 during which Trump supporters faced off with protesters. More than a dozen people were arrested after fistfights broke out.

    Fraser said she has had enough. 

    "We see ... men, but there are women too, in masks and armor of all different sorts, some with blood all over them, weapons and police in front of our house," she recounted.  

    Although the event isn't permitted by the city, it is expected to go on as planned in the name of the First Amendment. That isn't stopping Berkeley officials from encouraging people to avoid the area due to concerns about outbreaks of violence and destruction, similar to what the city has seen multiple times this year.

    Officials have asked protesters to gather in a park more than two city blocks away from the pro-Trump-cum-Free Speech rally.

    "Then they have no one to incite violence against, so those of us who do not want to see the violence, we will ignore them as they legitimately should be ignored," Skinner said. 

    Some groups, including Antifa and self-proclaimed anti-fascists, have promised to take to the fight to those who attend the rally.

    "Ignoring Nazis will not work, especially when the president amplifies them," said a woman identified only as Reiko.

    Others, however, plan to honor the community's request and stay at a park at University of California, Berkeley.

    Students, meanwhile, are on edge because Milo Yiannopoulos, a controversial "alt-right" speaker, is expected back on campus in September. His scheduled appearance in February was canceled after it led to fiery, destructive protests.

    "There is such a thing as too far left and too far right, so I think it's going to be a little dangerous around campus during that time," student Cindy Kreck said.

    Still, the university says it will allow all speech on campus, even if it's filled with hate.

    "We contest speech that we don't like with more speech, and the best disinfectant is sunlight," university spokesman Dan Mogulof said.

    Mogulof said UC Berkeley officials will do the needful to keep people safe.

    NBC Bay Area's Rhea Mahbubani contributed to this report.

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