Exclusive Coverage of Berkeley's Milo Riot
Sproul Plaza, on the Berkeley campus, on fire on Wednesday night. [photo credit: Paul Iorio]
The Berkeley protests against the alt-right's Milo Yiannopoulos -- who offers up a gay version of Ann Coulter on the college lecture circuit -- started out peaceful, but then got violent, scary and volatile on Wednesday night.
From ground zero, where I watched it unfold, it looked like protesters were going to burn down the student center building at the University of California at Berkeley at one point.
That's where Yiannopoulos was planning to speak, at the invitation of the student Republicans, and where he had arrived, amidst loud boos, just before six p.m.
It was around six that the relatively peaceful demonstration -- full of chanting and inventive signs up to that point -- turned violent.
That's when a group of a few dozen, dressed in black, faces covered, stormed the building, dramatically knocking aside metal barricades, smashing windows and lighting fires. The police did very little to stop it, allowing them to blow off steam.
And they started shooting fireworks up at police officers positioned on the second floor balcony of the student union. Fires were set.
At 6:18, after around twenty minutes of violence, there was an announcment by a police officer over a loud speaker or bullhorn: "Attention every one, the event has been shut down."
There were big cheers from the crowd.
"Immediately disperse," said the amplified cop.
"This is an unlawful assembly."
Some demonstrators began to file out of Sproul Plaza. But at 6:26, things took a bad turn. First, there were more extremely loud fireworks that sounded like a bomb, causing people to run in panic and almost trample others.
And then a huge fire lit up Sproul Plaza. (The anarchist contingent burned some sort of lighting equipment.) It truly looked like the building that Yiannopoulos had entered was about to go up in flames.
I asked a police officer whether the fire department was on its way to put out the fire, and he said, "No, it's not safe."
Indeed, it truly wasn't. I've been in protests throughout the world and this was, in many ways, one of the most frightening.
Earlier in the protest, things were peaceful. [photo credit: Paul Iorio]
Sproul, filled with smoke from fires. [photo credit: Paul Iorio]
The crowd grew to around 1,500 people as the protest gained steam. [photo credit: Paul Iorio]