Video of the Feb. 19 incident shows two men confronting activist Hayden Williams, who was recruiting students for a grass-roots conservative organization. The man police say is Greenberg then pushed Williams repeatedly and punched him in the face. Greenberg could not be reached for comment.
The news comes after a days long campaign by conservative activists both at Berkeley and nationally, who have argued, on social media, right-leaning political websites and Fox News, that because of liberal bias, the attack garnered what they perceive as a delayed response from the police and university and a muted response from the public.
The group Williams was working with on campus, Turning Point USA, was founded in 2012 as a conservative grass-roots network for Americans on college campuses and in high schools. The UC Berkeley chapter had asked for recruiting assistance from Williams, who is not a student there but works as a field representative for another conservative group, the Leadership Institute.
Charlie Kirk, the founder of Turning Point USA, rallied conservatives around the incident. “A conservative is the victim of a vicious attack, and no one is held responsible? Where is the media?” Kirk, who has amassed a large social media following, tweeted Monday: “Hate crime!”
But university spokesman Dan Mogulof said that characterizations that the university and the police department acted with a liberal bias were unfounded.
“We have a police force that is dedicated to one thing and one thing only, and that is enforcing the law and bringing people to justice,” Mogulof said. “They operate independently, and they are professionals.”
Mogulof said public perception of the investigation should not be swayed by “armchair” law enforcement officials.
Williams did not respond to an interview request from The Washington Post, but he did appear on several Fox News and Fox Business TV segments. In one interview, Williams told Fox Business’s Stuart Varney that the men who approached him took issue with a sign displayed by Turning Point USA that claimed hate crime hoaxes harm real victims, a reference to the Jussie Smollett case. The two men began cursing, Williams said, before one became physically aggressive.
“At that moment, I knew this might be a troublesome situation,” Williams told Fox Business, “so I took out my phone and started recording right then.” Nearby, another student began recording, too, capturing on video the escalating violence.
The videos show a man wearing a backpack and black clothes shove Williams repeatedly and then punch him in the face.
Within days, university leaders had condemned the attack, and authorities said they had identified a possible suspect.
But the response time, campus activists argued, was insufficient.
In a Twitter thread two days after the assault, Bradley Devlin, a UC Berkeley student and former president of the campus College Republicans, praised the police for sending an alert and the administration for condemning the violence in media reports. But he critiqued the chancellor for not sending a campuswide letter with the same sentiment.
Soon after, a message was sent to the Berkeley community.
“Let there be no mistake, we strongly condemn violence and harassment of any sort, for any reason,” Chancellor Carol Christ and Vice Chancellor for student affairs Stephen C. Sutton wrote. “That sort of behavior is intolerable and has no place here. Our commitment to freedom of expression and belief is unwavering.”
Devlin believes the statement was a direct response to pressure from conservative activists.
“After several years of violent, liberal intolerance, conservative students and activists wanted the university to commit in practice to the ideals they express in theory,” he said.
The following day, the university police department announced that it had identified a suspect and determined that he was not a student or member of the UC Berkeley staff or faculty.
In the Fox Business interview, Williams’s black eye from the attack was still visible.
“There is a certain culture that is especially hostile on Berkeley’s campus, and across the country, to conservative students,” Williams said. “They’re willing to use violence if they think you’re being too controversial.”
Since President Trump took office, the Berkeley campus has become a national stage for bitter tensions between the far left and the far right. The cancellation of conservative commentator Ann Coulter’s speech on campus in 2017 garnered widespread coverage.
Campus authorities feared riots would break out and safety would be compromised. Coulter said that “everyone who should be for free speech” had “turned tail and run.”