UC Berkeley says that “Free Speech Week” isn’t happening. University officials announced late Friday that the student-run event, which planned to feature conservative firebrand Milo Yiannopoulos as its headline speaker, has been canceled just one day before it was set to begin.
Yiannopoulos faced protests from left-wing activists and members of the extremist movement, antifa, when he visited the campus in February. Rioters set fires, smashed windows, and vandalized numerous businesses in downtown Berkeley. Several attendees of Milo’s speaking engagement were assaulted on camera.
The violence prompted police to shut down the event and even elicited comment from President Trump, who suggested that the school be stripped of public funding.
Following the shutdown of his February event, Yiannopoulos vowed to return to Berkeley, which has faced criticism for suppressing free speech by allowing student activists to effectively perform a “heckler’s veto” against speakers like Yiannopoulos and political commentator and author Ann Coulter, whose event was also canceled in April.
Yiannopoulos posted the development on Instagram and Facebook on Saturday. He stated that the student organizers of Free Speech Week, Berkeley Patriot, made a last-minute decision to stop sponsoring the event. The organization ran into bureaucratic problems with the school.
“I’ve just been told that student group the Berkeley Patriot, under pressure from the administration, is withdrawing its sponsorship of Free Speech Week,” he wrote Saturday morning. The students may have pulled out of Free Speech Week but I and my speakers have not.”
Despite the pullout of Berkeley Patriot, the right-wing provocateur and “Dangerous” author redoubled his plans to visit the campus. He announced that he and other speakers, including Mike Cernovich and Pamela Geller, will speak at Sproul Plaza, the site of the historic Free Speech Movement protests in the 1960s that gave UC Berkeley its landmark status as the birthplace of free speech in the United States.
Yiannopoulos said that he has the full support of the Berkeley Police Department to ensure security. “We have been let down by the student organizers, but I will not back down,” he said. “We have reached a deal with the police.”
Meanwhile, lawyers for Berkeley Patriot sent a letter to UC Berkeley denouncing the university for suppressing their ability to run the event unhindered. The group alleged that it had been “subjected to extraordinary pressure and resistance, if not outright hostility, by the UC Berkeley administration” and employees, along a host of other accusations.
The group also filed a complaint with the US Department of Justice earlier this week alleging that the university “engaged in a pattern and practice of systemic suppression” of its First and Fourteenth Amendment rights.
UC Berkeley spokesman Dan Mogulof disputes claims that the university didn’t make any attempt to suppress the event.
“It is extremely unfortunate that this announcement was made at the last minute, even as the University was in the process of spending significant sums of money and preparing for substantial disruption of campus life to provide the needed security for these events,” he said, per Washington Post. “Claims that this is somehow the outcome desired by the campus are without basis in fact. The University was prepared to do whatever was necessary to support the First Amendment rights of the student organization.”
He added that Yiannopoulos’ plans to hold his event at Sproul Plaza, including inviting speakers who were not previously vetted and invited by Berkeley Patriot, would not meet the university’s standard of “academically driven” events.
In response, Yiannopoulos posted an emergency press release Saturday to state that because of the university’s requirement that all events have a student sponsor, he will instead be hosting an unofficial event.
“My security team confirmed to me this morning that the police department will be out in force on Sproul Plaza tomorrow at noon,” he said. “We will not be deterred. We will proceed no matter what, in whatever format we can, to realise the promise of Free Speech Week and send a message that conservatives will not be bowed by pressure from academics, the media or anyone else.”