Exposed: The Alt-Right Trump Supporters Who Brought Violence to Berkeley

Media reports described Saturday's events in Berkeley as spontaneous clashes between pro- and anti-Trump demonstrators. But the trail of evidence on social media tells a very different story.

byCaroline O.3 Likes9,351 Views
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  1. As tens of thousands of peaceful protesters participated in Tax Marches across the country on Saturday, disturbing footage of violence in Berkeley, California began to hit the airwaves and spread across social media. Some reports claimed that the violence broke out during a Tax March in Berkeley, while others described the scenes as spontaneous clashes between pro- and anti-Trump demonstrators. But neither of those depictions provide an accurate account of the story, which actually began months ago and culminated in the violence we saw on the streets of Berkeley.
  2. When #Berkeley started trending on Twitter Saturday afternoon, it immediately piqued my interest because it had all the telltale signs of an orchestrated hasthtag campaign: a sudden and rapid rise in the number of tweets; several accounts tweeting and retweeting the hashtag to amplify its reach; and a large number of bots tweeting the exact same image and caption. The hashtag was also being pushed by several suspect accounts that have appeared in nearly all of the orchestrated pro-Trump hashtag campaigns that I’ve tracked in recent months, like the one below.
  3. Once Upon A Hashtag...
  4. Once I started my search, it didn't take long to find the first mentions of #Berkeley, which appeared about 12 hours before the hashtag started trending on Twitter. The account that initiated the hashtag announced at 4:01am E.T. that they would be broadcasting live from Berkeley on their Facebook page. At 12:48pm E.T., before any violence had been reported, the same user sent a tweet that seemed to predict the clashes that would soon occur ("The calm before the storm"). Just 12 minutes later, the user announced "ANTIFA SHOWING UP."
  5. The first user's account led to me to the account of 'Baked Alaska' (Timothy Treadstone), a popular figure among alt-right Trump supporters. The tweets below, posted in the early hours of Saturday morning, document his trip to Berkeley to meet up with other members of his alt-right "fam".
  6. At this point, after viewing some of the tweets coming from these accounts, it started to become apparent that the violence at Berkeley was not spontaneous. It looked orchestrated. Specifically, it looked like an act of provocation - a deliberate attempt to discredit and/or undermine an opponent. Planting a few bad actors to stir up violence in the midst of an otherwise peaceful demonstration is a classic example of provocation, used to to discredit an entire campaign or movement by portraying its members as violent and unruly. (For example: In January, a right-wing group led by provocateur and convicted criminal James O’Keefe was caught trying to incite riots and "hack the media narrative" during Donald Trump's inauguration).
  7. Bot-Pushed Narrative
  8. Online propaganda-hunter @PropOrNot pointed out that the exact same image and text referencing Berkeley were being pushed by a large number of bots, who appeared to be trying to conflate the isolated outbreak of violence with the peaceful Tax Marches taking place in cities across the country.
  9. Bots are often used alongside propaganda campaigns, in an effort to amplify the message(s) by bringing them into the mainstream, where unwitting (and sometimes witting) users pick them up and give them even broader reach. Bot-operations are designed to look organic and to blend in with real users, to the point that many of those involved are not even aware that they are being used as cogs in a propaganda machine.
  10. Pre-Planned Violence
  11. The next series of tweets show the extensive planning that took place in advance of the events in Berkeley. This tweet, from April 5th, shows that the group was making plans to go to Berkeley - and based on the image, it's safe to say that peaceful protesting was not what they had in mind.
  12. Twitter user @REHTAEH1628 pointed me in the direction of this tweet, which appears to provide instructions for making a weapon to get past security at Berkeley. The name of the weapon - 'BasedStick' - also refers to a person (Kyle Chapman) who goes by the nickname 'BasedStickMan' (and uses that name as his twitter handle). As the user below makes clear, Chapman is considered the leader of this so-called "MAGA militia".