An unidentified protester ordered freelance production assistant Nathan Hope to stop filming and knocked a phone out of his hands during protests in Berkeley, California, on Aug. 27, 2017.
Hope, who was assisting a production crew that day for a documentary about the alt right, said that it was one of a series of threats and intimidation that the crew experienced that day at the hands of people whom he described as anti-fascist or black bloc protesters.
The black bloc protesters arrived at a largely peaceful protest in Berkeley’s Civic Center Park. The protest was part of a “Rally Against Hate” in response to a much smaller group of right-wing protesters, according to press reports.
Hope told Alex Ellerbeck, a reporter with the Committee to Protect Journalists, that he was filming a group of protesters assaulting an unidentified man at the time that the incident occurred.
Hope said that one protester, wearing a bandana to disguise their identity, ordered him to stop filming and then knocked his phone of his hands. Hope said that the phone was not damaged after being knocked to the ground, but the video was interrupted. He stopped filming shortly afterwards.
Two other journalists working on the documentary project said that they also received threats while filming on that day.
Leighton Woodhouse, an independent documentary filmmaker, said that anti-fascist protesters approached him and told to stop filming.
“The only reason we didn’t get administered a beat down is because when we were ordered (not asked) to point our cameras elsewhere, we only pushed our right to film them so far,” Woodhouse wrote in a blog post on his website L@W.
“Nobody threatened us directly, but there was an implicit threat of violence because as it happened, people were being beaten up,” Woodhouse told Ellerbeck.
He said that fear of violence affected how he reported on the protest and that there were times when they stopped filming or filmed from farther away. He said that there were three or four confrontations in which he was ordered to stop filming and that protesters would block the cameras with shields and would sometimes escort reporters away from the scene.
Armando Aparicio, Woodhouse’s partner on the documentary project, told Ellerbeck that one protester put a shield in his face and followed him everyone that he went. He said that protesters were screaming that they did not want to be in his video. Aparicio said that he put a cap on his lens and stepped back after being threatened.
Both Woodhouse and Aparicio said that the protesters seemed to have a conflicted relationship with the media. The protest took place in a public sphere and banners and signs seemed designed to be captured by the press, but at the same time protesters seemed to be afraid of having their identities captured on camera.
“There is a fear of doxing [having identities publicly revealed] both by the alt right and law enforcement,” said Aparicio.
“We were in a public park,” Woodhouse wrote on his blog. “It was a big news event, where everybody knew there would be media. Activists in the Black Bloc were concealed by sunglasses and ski masks to protect their identity for exactly this reason. They carried flags and banners, to make themselves a spectacle. Yet for their personal security, many of them decided that it was their right to command photographers not to take their pictures, to physically block them from doing so, and if they persisted, to smash their equipment and assault them.”