Sather Gate at UC Berkeley
Pro-Palestinian protests escalated over the course of the school year. Here, protesters block the main section of UC Berkeley's Sather Gate on April 24, 2024. (Photo/Aaron Levy-Wolins)

Third arson at UC Berkeley coincides with ‘Operation Campus Flood’ protest

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UPDATE at 7:20 p.m.: Law enforcement arrested Casey Robert Goonan, 34, of Oakland in connection with the incident. Read more here.

Pro-Palestinian activists have continued a violent campaign targeting infrastructure at UC Berkeley as part of a six-day protest known as “Operation Campus Flood.”

The Bay Area protest, which began Friday, makes reference to “Operation Al-Aqsa Flood,” the name Hamas used for the Oct. 7 invasion of southern Israel where Hamas members and civilian militants massacred 1,200 people and took another 250 people as hostages, instigating the ongoing war.

So far this month, pro-Palestinian protesters have anonymously claimed responsibility for torching a university police vehicle, setting fire outside a campus biology building and now setting a fire at a campus construction site, which occurred Sunday. Authorities have described all three fires as arson.

The construction site, where workers are refurbishing a campus building called the Dwinelle Annex, will become the home of UC Berkeley’s Disabled Students Program, according to the university. Minimal damage was reported.

Cal Fire, a state agency tasked with investigating arson, is handling all three incidents, a spokesperson said. The agency is also responding to 14 wildfires of at least 10 acres currently burning across the state.

Cal Fire did not respond to a request for comment on the latest incident, which was reported just after 1:30 p.m. Sunday, according to an alert from the university.

The violence has alarmed Jewish organizations, including the Anti-Defamation League and a Santa Cruz-based campus watchdog group that tracks anti-Jewish and anti-Israel bias at U.S. universities. The actions are happening long after Cal’s spring semester ended May 10.

“We are witnessing an ongoing escalation of violence on campuses — even as summer approaches,” Marc Levine, ADL’s regional director at its San Francisco office, wrote to J. in a text message. “These acts of violence demonstrate a pattern of misguided and dangerous behavior with no end in sight.”

Tammi Rossman-Benjamin, who directs campus watchdog group Amcha Initiative, called the protests a “frightening escalation” and blamed college administrators’ approach to campus protests.  

These acts of violence demonstrate a pattern of misguided and dangerous behavior with no end in sight.

Marc Levine, ADL regional director

“The problem is that many universities, including the UC system, have watched this escalation occur in real time and have been slow to enforce their policies, if they have been enforced at all,” she wrote to J. “If the harassment and brazen rule-breaking had targeted any other minority group on campus, we wouldn’t be in this situation today.”

A UC Berkeley administrator, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they are unauthorized to speak publicly about the incidents, said the perpetrators are not believed to be affiliated with the university.

Cal spokesperson Dan Mogulof said the university was instructed by law enforcement not to comment on the arsons. But he confirmed that the state fire marshal, who works under Cal Fire, is investigating the incidents, with support from campus police. 

“In so far as safety on campus is concerned, while we cannot, for obvious reasons, provide any specific information about how our police department (UCPD) is responding, the department is, as always, prioritizing the safety of the campus community, and therefore will not hesitate to change staffing levels and/or security protocols when warranted by events and/or intelligence about possible threats,” his statement said. 

The protesters have used language associated with antifa, which describes decentralized, radical far-left, anti-fascist groups that engage in masked protests and are willing to use violence.

According to an anonymous blog post, Operation Campus Flood is a “call to action to FLOOD the Bay Area university campuses in solidarity with Palestine and all facing genocides perpetuated by the U.$. university systems — and by extension the Amerikkkan and Zionist settler states.” Referring to the U.S. as “Amerikkka” is common among groups that consider the U.S. to be fascist.

The Operation Campus Flood pamphlet, which features an image of flames, described California universities as “colonizer campuses,” called on “not only students to attack, but also (and tbh most importantly) the communities around them who are affected by their colonizer-gentrifying-displacement tactics.” (“Tbh” stands for “to be honest.”)

The extreme acts come after a tumultuous school year at UC Berkeley, culminating in the May 11 graduation ceremonies punctuated by acts of protest and the May 14 voluntary dispersal of its pro-Palestinian tent encampment.

Although the daily drumbeat of controversy surrounding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has diminished at Cal, the violent acts have thrust the university back into the headlines. Cal currently faces a lawsuit and a U.S. Department of Education investigation over its handling of campus antisemitism complaints.

The anonymous extremists claim they are targeting the University of California as retaliation for a crackdown at UC Santa Cruz where police arrested about 80 demonstrators on May 31, for police actions against pro-Palestinian demonstrators at UCLA and “in solidarity with” demonstrators at UC Berkeley. However, activists also called on protesters to attack universities and colleges across the state.

“Autonomy means there is no leadership or no vanguard group leading these actions,” the digital pamphlet states. “Autonomy means that people are free to do whatever they feel is necessary to force the UC system, CSU system, Community College system, and private college campuses to divest from Israeli-Zionist settler entity that is currently genociding our Palestinian siblings.”

The City of Berkeley has responded to extreme forms of protests associated with far-left movements in the recent past. During a midnight raid in January, hundreds of police cleared an encampment at People’s Park, a site beloved by activists on which Cal plans to build a $312 million student housing complex. A June 13 blog post purporting to be from the pro-Palestinian activists tied to the arsons referenced that incident. 

“Just like the displacement of Gaza, the houseless community in People’s Park was removed by the Zionists/Amerikkkans,” the post said. “Fire is quiet. Fire is quick and easy. And it only takes [one] spark.”

Gabe Stutman
Gabe Stutman

Gabe Stutman is the news editor of J. Follow him on Twitter @jnewsgabe.