A college campus event hosting Milo Yiannopoulos and Martin Shkreli, two controversial and polarizing figures who have both been banned on Twitter, was canceled because of heated protests Friday night.
Yiannopoulos, editor of the right-wing website Breitbart News, and Shkreli, a former pharmaceutical executive charged with securities fraud, were supposed to speak Friday at the University of California at Davis at an event hosted by the Davis College Republicans, a student-run group. But the university visit, which Breitbart promoted by using #SHKRELOPOULOS, was abruptly canceled after a mass of protesters opposing Yiannopoulos’s appearance on campus showed up outside the building where it was supposed to take place.
University officials said in a statement that the Republican student group canceled it after consulting with campus police and student affairs officials, adding that “it was no longer feasible to continue with the event safely.”
Yiannopoulos, along with members of the student organization, fired back on Saturday by marching on campus as a way to show their dismay over the event’s cancellation. Standing on a bench in front of a large crowd of supporters, a megaphone in one hand and a bouquet of flowers in another, Yiannopoulos criticized what he described as violent and intolerant actions of the protesters — people he referred to as the left.
He said police and campus officials “heavily pressured” the student organizers to cancel his event, telling them they’d be held responsible for any property damage or injuries.
“We will show the university they cannot shut you up because you have a different political opinion,” Yiannopoulos said.
Shkreli, who was on campus Friday night, was not at the march Saturday.
Reports of smashed windows and other property damage from Friday’s protest have surfaced online. But university officials have dismissed those as rumors. University police also said that one student was arrested.
Yiannopoulos, a conservative writer, was supposed to speak at UC Davis as part of his tour of universities across the country, dubbed “The Dangerous Faggot Tour.” He later announced that Shkreli, former chief executive of Turing Pharmaceuticals, will join him as a guest speaker.
To promote the event, Yiannopoulos posted a picture of him and Shkreli side by side, with the title “A Twitter Villain Extravaganza,” on his Instagram page.
Hundreds of students and graduates wrote a public letter condemning the event, saying it “serves as a direct threat toward traditionally marginalized groups on campus” and called Yiannopoulos “a champion of hate speech against people of color and women.”
“The university’s commitment to free speech is not an obligation to provide a formal podium for every form on nonacademic, hateful rhetoric that student groups wish to bring to campus,” according to the letter addressed to campus officials and the Davis College Republicans.
Officials initially declined to cancel the event, saying the university should be open to all ideas.
“As a public university, we remain true to our obligation to uphold everyone’s First Amendment freedoms,” Ralph Hexter, the interim chancellor, said in a statement. “This commitment includes fostering an environment that avoids censorship and allows space for differing points of view.”
On Friday night, police barricaded the venue entrance as protesters and supporters of Yiannopoulos clashed outside.
“There’s a big difference between free speech and giving up platform to someone that’s openly hateful,” Elly Oltersdorf, a protester, told NBC affiliate KCRA.
Zareen Nayyar, a Yiannopoulos supporter, was in tears when she spoke with KCRA.
“I’m being told to leave,” she said. “I have just as much of a right to be here.”
The event was canceled about a half-hour before it was supposed to start. Andrew Mendoza, executive director of the Davis College Republicans, cited security concerns.
“The decision was made initially because the lives of the officers were threatened,” Mendoza told KCRA. “The lives of the students were threatened as well as the property of the school.”
Shkreli later came out of the venue and walked toward the crowd of demonstrators. Footage shows him backing away and walking back to the building.
When asked by a reporter how he feels about the event being canceled, he said, “I think it’s reasonable.”
Yiannopoulos and Shkreli have both been banned on Twitter because of harassment.
Yiannopoulos, who writes for Breitbart Tech, was banned from the social media platform after harassing “Ghostbusters” actress Leslie Jones. A self-proclaimed “free-speech fundamentalist” fighting against political correctness, he has also described himself as “a chronicler of, and occasional fellow traveler with, the alt-right,” a small, far-right movement that seeks a whites-only state.
Shkreli, once named in Forbes’ “30 Under 30 in Finance,” and also known by the nickname “Pharma Bro,” was banned on Twitter after harassing a female journalist. He was notorious for jacking up the price of a critical drug and was arrested in 2015 on securities fraud charges.
In October, Yiannopoulos was supposed to give a speech at the University of Maryland, but the event was canceled because the student group organizing it was unable to raise enough money to cover fees the university required, including more than $2,000 in security.
Yiannopoulos blasted university officials, saying he doesn’t charge for speaking fees and brings his own security.
“This garbage about a fee for security … it’s a con job,” he said. “It’s censorship.”