On March 3, a small team of conservative activists converged on Revolution Books in Berkeley, Calif. live-streaming their actions on Facebook with this description: “Infiltrating Berkeley's Marxist Hive.”
“Fucking Commie scum,” shouted one conservative activist, taunting the bookstore employees who met them at the door. He wore an American flag on his shoulders and a “Make America Great Again” hat. “We’re gonna burn down your bookstore, you know that right? he said.
A neighboring business called the police, but the activists had departed before the officer arrived. This was the first time conservative activists targeted Revolution Books this year, but the bookstore had nine related incidents last year. Following the March 3 confrontation, Revolution Books manager Reiko Redmonde posted a Facebook video of the incident--drawing a wave of community support.
Book Passage owner Bill Petrocelli was one of the booksellers who offered support after viewing the online footage of one male activist screaming at employees. “When I saw the look on his face, I knew we can’t ignore this. You have to stand up to it,” Petrocelli said. “The small profit margins at independent bookstores makes them particularly vulnerable to bullies,” said the Bay Area bookseller. “It’s unrealistic with these small profit margins to hire a 24-hour security guard.”
On March 5, Revolution Books hosted an open house and news conference at the store to raise awareness about the recurring threats. Around 30 community members and some local news media attended. The incident drew the support of hundreds of readers, including social media amplification from local fans like Joyce Carol Oates and City Lights Books. But it also drew more hate, like this Facebook post: “It would probably be cool if it did burn down. I won't be the one doing it. But I wouldn't care much for a store promoting Marxist, anti-capitalist, and anti-white propaganda.”
Marxism is at the heart of the bookstore, founded upon the ideals of Bob Avakian, the chairman of the Revolutionary Communist Party and author of The New Communism. These values make the store a favorite target of conservative activists, and 2017 brought a wave of intimidation and confrontation. Last September, conservative provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos made a brief visit to Berkeley, an event that drew police from around the region. That evening, a band of between 30 and 40 right-wing activists stormed Revolution Books. The attackers also recorded that episode on video, rattling windows and confronting patrons.
Following that initial incident, activists orchestrated eight more visits to the store—posting their exploits in online videos. In one clip, a protester elbows a bookstore supporter in the face, smashing his glasses.
The harassment extends beyond physical confrontations. Right-wing activists also “dox” their targets, sharing opponents’ personal information online. In digital forums, these activists have released contact information for bookstore employees, patrons, and supporters. Revolution Books has received up to 60 calls a day from people mocking or threatening the store.
Despite the March 3 incident, the store has maintained its normal hours. A few volunteers have stepped up to add an extra layer of protection when the store is open and, on social media, numerous patrons have pledged to visit out of solidarity.
Events continue as scheduled as well with a discussion focused on “the oppression and liberation of women” on March 8, and a screening of The Circle, a film by the Iranian director, Jafar Panahi, on March 9.
The bookstore shared a video testimonial from local high school students defending Revolution Books. “This is the only bookstore that actually tells the truth,” said one student. “This is my favorite bookstore on the planet!” said another. “Communism rules, guys. Free the people!”