Eric Clanton charged with four counts of assault with deadly weapon
By Natalie Orenstein and Emilie Raguso
Eric Clanton, a former East Bay community college philosophy professor linked online to violent assaults with a metal bike lock during a “free speech” rally in Berkeley on April 15, was charged Friday afternoon with four counts of assault with a deadly weapon, a felony, with the special allegation of causing great bodily injury to Sean Stiles. Additionally, the charges include the misdemeanor offense of wearing a mask to evade identification. If convicted, Clanton could be sent to prison.
Clanton, 28, of Oakland appeared alongside his attorney, Dan Siegel, in Alameda County Superior Court before Judge Thomas Nixon in Department 112. Siegel, who has been active for decades in East Bay social justice circles, rose to fame in the 1960s as a student activist at UC Berkeley during clashes with authorities.
Clanton pleaded not guilty to all charges and Judge Nixon set bail at $100,000. The routine hearing lasted only 15 minutes.
Soon after April 15, Clanton was “outed” online, on the website 4chan, as someone who used a bike lock to strike a man in the head. The assault was captured in a video clip (below) that drew widespread attention and anger after it was posted on YouTube. Berkeley police had been widely criticized in far right social media posts for not arresting Clanton until Wednesday.
Just as the demonstrations in April brought two rival camps into conflict, reaction to Clanton’s alleged actions has also split. Some so-called antifa activists have called Clanton a hero for taking the fight against “fascism” and hate speech to the streets. Right-wing, pro-Trump activists have called him a “thug,” using unjustifiable tactics against people who simply want to express their views. Still others have said Clanton gives leftists a bad name and that violence is never the answer.
Berkeley became a focus for action by both far right and far left activists following the violent protests on Feb. 1 that led to UC Berkeley canceling a planned appearance by right-wing provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos. Large protests occurred in downtown Berkeley on March 4 and April 15.
Unlike earlier arrests reported during and after Berkeley protests this year — which have resulted in no criminal charges thus far — the BPD homicide team handled the Clanton investigation because of “the severity of these felonious assaults.” BPD described the assaults as “violent” and said Clanton was shown on video “striking people in the head with a U-shaped bicycle lock causing significant injuries to the victims.”
Police said Wednesday in an exclusive interview with Berkeleyside that Clanton attacked at least three people with a metal U-lock during the April 15 rally in and around Civic Center Park. Court papers reveal, however, that Clanton struck at least seven people in the head, according to authorities. One person received a head laceration that required five staples to fix. Another was uninjured but had a piece of his helmet broken off. A third was struck across the neck and back, police said.
Police said they found evidence Wednesday during a search of Clanton’s home in San Leandro that linked him to “Anti-Fascists and Anarchy political groups,” according to court papers. He was not at that residence, so authorities moved to a second address in West Oakland and said they found flags, patches and pamphlets “associating Clanton” with antifa and anarchist groups. Investigators arrested Clanton there.
Detectives said they “recovered U-locks, sunglasses, a glove, jeans, and facial coverings” consistent with items worn during the April 15 assaults, according to court documents. And a camera found at the San Leandro home contained “selfies” taken by Clanton, police said, “with him wearing black clothing and facial coverings” consistent with April 15.
Police said in court documents that Clanton’s phone records placed him near Civic Center Park during the time of the protest assaults, too.
Police wrote that other photos they found showed Clanton “posing next to Anarchy symbols.” An “Iron Front” tattoo on his bicep, photographed while he was being logged into jail, “is associated with Anti-Fascists,” too, according to court papers.