Former White House chief strategist Stephen K. Bannon, writer Milo Yiannopoulos and other provocative figures are expected to speak at the University of California at Berkeley later this month at a “Free Speech Week” planned by a conservative student group.
The Berkeley Patriot, a student group, invited Yiannopoulos and the others in a bid to ensure that a wide range of viewpoints could be heard after controversial speakers sparked protests and cancellations on campus last semester.
But a university official warned that administrators do not have the information they need to guarantee security for the “Free Speech Week” events planned for Sept. 24-27.
At the same time, administrators were preparing for a speech by political commentator Ben Shapiro on Thursday evening, announcing that they would close buildings nearby hours before the event to establish a secure perimeter around the building where he will speak.
In February, about 150 masked extremists threaded into a large, peaceful protest of a planned speech by Yiannopoulos, smashing windows, starting fires and throwing rocks. University police shut down the event, leading President Trump to lash out at the school on social media. “If U.C. Berkeley does not allow free speech and practices violence on innocent people with a different point of view — NO FEDERAL FUNDS?” he tweeted.
It was a sign of things to come, as protesters from the far right and far left confronted one another at events in Berkeley and on campus and as the university worked to provide security and faced criticism from some that the school was censoring its speakers.
The school, emblematic as both a left-leaning campus and the birthplace of the Free Speech Movement of the 1960s, provides a symbolic and literal backdrop for fights about political correctness, hate speech, academic freedom, the First Amendment and the Trump administration.
A leader with the Berkeley Patriot did not respond to a request for comment.
Assistant Vice Chancellor Dan Mogulof said in a statement Tuesday that both Bannon and Yiannopoulos have announced they will speak but the university does not yet have a complete list of confirmed speakers.
He noted that “some of the proposed events are being planned for indoor venues that have specific security and procedural requirements. We have asked the student group to meet those requirements and have informed them in writing that critical deadlines are fast approaching.
“Simply put, the University cannot provide the security and support the student organization has requested, and the campus wants to provide, if we do not receive the essential information. To date a number of key deadlines have been missed. Not a single speaker has connected with the campus or our police department to discuss security arrangements, as is required. Rental fees for venues have not been paid. Contracts with venues have not been signed.
“While campus officials and venue managers are working diligently to assist the Berkeley Patriot group with its proposed events, the group’s failure to meet important deadlines is making it increasingly difficult to ensure a safe and secure program.”
On YouTube, Yiannopoulos posted a video about Bannon joining the event.
In text messages Tuesday night, he questioned the school. “They listed a partial, unconfirmed speaker list to give domestic terrorists a heads-up,” he wrote, “and now they are trying to undermine the event by pretending we don’t have all our ducks in a row. We do.” He said that according to his booking agent, the event locations are done, the speaker list is turned in to police, and insurance and permits are in place.
“We’re waiting on one last bit of paper from the school and that’s it.”
On Wednesday morning, he posted that the event would be “a fabulous, and peaceful, celebration of free speech including more than 20 speakers from diverse viewpoints.”