Of the dozens of organizations that turned out for Sunday’s mass protest against racism here, one group was impossible to miss.
Its members dressed head to toe in black, with masked faces and some bearing pastel-painted riot shields that read “no hate.” These 100 or so militants billed themselves as a security force for progressive counter-protesters, vowing to protect them from far-right agitators.
But as the protest got underway, some of those in masks would resort to mob violence, attacking a small showing of supporters of President Trump and others they accused, sometimes inaccurately, of being white supremacists or Nazis.
The graphic videos of those attacks have spurred soul-searching within the leftist activist movement in the Bay Area and beyond. Emotions remain raw in the wake of this month’s white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Va., which left one woman dead and dozens injured.
Trump received blistering criticism for equating the behavior of Klansmen and neo-Nazis to the actions of those who opposed them. Some fear that Sunday’s violence would only help advance the idea that the two sides are the same.
“This is food for the adversary,” said sociologist Todd Gitlin, a founder of Students for a Democratic Society, which organized the first national protests against the Vietnam War. He pointed out that violent acts committed by a few will almost always hijack the narrative of the entire protest, and that it is happening now should be no surprise.
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