A Vigorous Voice from The Right — at Berkeley!

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Provocateurs: Staff members and supporters in the Patriot's offices

Ever since Mario Savio climbed atop a police car and jump-started the Free Speech Movement in 1964, the University of California, Berkeley, has been synonymous with liberal causes. So the California Patriot comes as something of a surprise. On the walls of its editorial offices in a small house near the campus, campaign signs for nearly a dozen Republican candidates sit alongside a large American flag and a massive poster of George W. Bush. In its pages, articles argue against abortion and for war with Iraq. "At Berkeley's campus, you can only hear one side of any political or social debate, and it obviously tends to be the liberal side," says Tyler Monroe, 22, who started the monthly with fellow conservative Kelso Barnett, 22, three years ago when they were sophomores. "We felt that without having a loud and powerful conservative voice, we couldn't have an intellectual debate on Berkeley's campus."

Mixing an in-your-face style with right-of-center politics, the Patriot has courted controversy from the start: dubbing Berkeley Congresswoman Barbara Lee a "traitor" for casting the sole vote in the House against authorizing military force in response to the Sept. 11 attacks; calling for the bulldozing of People's Park, a local battleground of civil disobedience; describing the activities of a campus Mexican-American group as "Student Funded Bigotry and Hate." The February edition will celebrate Black History Month with an all-out assault on affirmative action. Says U.C. Berkeley political science professor Bruce Cain: "The right-wing kids come in with a chip on their shoulder. They're aware of being in the minority, and it provides motivation for them."

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The magazine may represent a minority opinion on the Berkeley campus, but a recent survey showed that this generation of students is more conservative than their parents were, and the Patriot is having no trouble finding an audience. "I like reading the Patriot, but I don't agree with everything they say," notes local resident Devora Liss, 21. "They have an impact because there's a very large contingent of students they're appealing to."

Patriot staff members revel in their role as provocateurs. "The average person probably disagrees with some of the content," concedes current editor in chief Steve Sexton. "Hopefully, there's something in there that people are outraged to learn." The magazine seems to be getting its message across. When university planners of a ceremony commemorating the anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks elected not to distribute red-white-and-blue ribbons or display other patriotic symbols because they might alienate foreign students, the Patriot decried the decision. Its vigorous opposition helped bring national attention to the issue, setting in motion a controversy that pushed the administration to eventually reverse its decision. And when the Patriot endorsed a Republican student candidate, he won one of the 20 seats in U.C. Berkeley's student senate — exceptional for a candidate running openly as a Republican. Two more Patriot picks have since been elected to student government.

Because it carries barely any advertising and gives its 4,000-copy print run free to students, the Patriot has relied on donations from wealthy individuals and conservative foundations across the country. Its critics regard such contributions as an attempt by conservatives elsewhere to insinuate themselves into Berkeley politics. But Berkeley's leftist reputation has proved a boon to fund-raising efforts; donors view the Patriot as a beachhead of right-wing thought at a famously liberal university. "In a way, our legacy helps us," says Patriot co-founder Barnett. "People in Alabama may not necessarily be spurred to support a conservative group at Washington State, but Berkeley? They'll send a check."