BERKELEY, Calif. — It was 30 minutes before Milo Yiannopoulos's planned Sunday rally at the University of California at Berkeley, and already the south side of campus was buzzing with the crosscurrents of mutually directed rage.
"We're standing up today to push these Nazis off our campus!" a woman was yelling through a bullhorn, as a cluster of men wearing American flags as capes tried to drown her out with chants of "U.S.A.! U.S.A.!"
Yiannopoulos, the former Breitbart editor and self-described "troll" best known for railing against women and minorities online, had announced months earlier that he would sponsor a "Free Speech Week" on this campus known for its leftist activism.
He had tried to speak here before but had been thwarted; he said it was a product of this town's virulently liberal opposition, but campus officials said it was because he was bad at organizing.
And here it was on Sunday: the same thing all over again. A long-planned four days of speeches to criticize Muslims, feminists, leftists and liberals called off barely a day before it was to begin. Yiannopoulos said the university again was standing in the way of free speech, and the university said Yiannopoulos and his student group counterparts had failed to fill out the necessary paperwork.
Sunday's gathering happened because Yiannopoulos vowed to hold an unofficial rally anyway, and because his opponents were already so angry that they probably would have protested regardless.
Some observers said it was also never really about a clash of ideas so much as a clash of extremes, anyway. No one on Sunday seemed to be debating or conversing, and most appeared more concerned with who was allowed into the plaza where Yiannopoulos planned to speak, and who wasn't.
"It was a showdown of different, competing powers and who physically controls a given space," said Amanda Jo Goldstein, a Berkeley English professor, who came to peacefully protest what she views as Yiannopoulos's exclusionary politics. "There's an illusion that the ability to express ideas occurs in a vacuum of physical power."
The police were there, their visors tipped up and batons ready.
Berkeley, with its history of protest and argument and politics, has become a central battlefield for the extremes, a place were the alt-right has chosen to poke at the liberals, and where some liberals have tried to silence them, in turn. The militants on both sides have chosen to rumble here before, making it a magnet for Antifa adherents and neo-Nazis. And campus police estimated they had spent around $80,000 for the extra security.
The contest started, as police had anticipated, before Yiannopoulos even arrived. A few dozen people stood shouting in each other's faces, waving signs as a seemingly larger crowd of bystanders with cameras filmed them, and an even larger crowd of helmeted police clutched their riot gear and lurched into new phalanxes with each new shift of the crowd.
"Trump! Trump! Trump!" shouted the American flag-draped group. "No Trump! No KKK! No fascist U.S.A.!" shouted their rivals.
"They're just yelling at each other," a young woman remarked to her friend, as they stood off to the side.
Hundreds of UC-Berkeley police, with help from other local departments, had erected large orange barriers to surround Sproul Plaza, where Yiannopoulos planned to speak. They formed a narrow corridor, through which fans and protesters jostled in an effort to gain entry. Police officers manning a metal detector there turned most of them away.
There were no weapons allowed — no knives, no sticks, no bats. But also no helmets. No cameras. No backpacks, purses, snacks or water bottles.
"Regardless of what side they were on, we just wanted to make sure that everybody was being safe," said Sabrina Reich, a spokeswoman for the UC-Berkeley campus police department.
When Yiannopoulos finally did appear, on the steps of Sproul Hall, wearing an American flag hoodie and a denim jacket, he had no microphone — police wouldn't allow it — and only a small handful of listeners in a largely empty plaza. Some were chanting.
He said later that "hundreds of people were waiting to get in" and that "the press wasn't showing the lines." The police, he said, were "nuking" phone signals; he wasn't able to give the speech he had prepared; he'll "keep coming" back.
"Rich, famous celebrities are on their knees disrespecting your flag," came one of his only audible comments, a reference to the dust-up over President Trump and the NFL and the national anthem, a drama that played out coast to coast on Sunday.
Most of what Yiannopoulos said was drowned out by chants, even after he climbed onto a concrete wall, flanked by the anti-Muslim blogger Pamela Geller, right-wing commentator Mike Cernovich, known for railing against feminists, and another man wearing a T-shirt that read: "Hillary Clinton killed my friends."
"Our ideas are better!" came Geller's hoarse voice above the shouts and laughter. "That is why they must silence us!"
Both sides appeared to include fewer students than they did middle-aged adults.
"Let's get a selfie!" Yiannopoulos declared, leaning toward a few fans. Someone else asked for an autograph. He beamed.
And then, in less time than it had taken police to set up the barricades, he was done.
"It's not about the numbers. It's about making sure that we're here," Yiannopoulos said to a reporter as he and his entourage quickly began moving across the grass toward a barricade, trailed by fans and protesters, shouts and chants. He was never expecting a big crowd at Berkeley, he added.
The group hoisted themselves, one by one, over the orange blocks, joined on the other side by more supporters and more protesters, more TV cameras and reporters, and more police. Then he was in a car that was waiting. The door closed. The police told the crowd to move back.
And then he was gone.
"Wait," a woman protester said, lowering her sign as a brief silence took hold. "Did he just leave?"
A few hours later, Yiannopoulos sent a statement via text: "I didn't get to say much. But I'll be back." He'll keep coming "until the university starts treating its conservative students fairly," he said. "Look forward to two decades of MILO talks and rallies at UC Berkeley."