Conservative commentator Ann Coulter said Friday she assumes the “Free Speech Week” at the University of California at Berkeley has been canceled, because she never got a contract from her agent. She said by email she was told that Berkeley administrators were dead-set on blocking the event “and pulled all the usual tricks.”
The planned four-day event bringing conservative and provocative speakers to the public university campus has been closely watched because of repeated violent clashes in Berkeley this year, with extremists on the left and the right battling over free speech and hate speech.
Coulter said UC-Berkeley administrators “have made perfectly clear that they think leftist ideas are so fragile and indefensible, that they can allow NO OTHER VIEWPOINTS to be heard on campus. I wasn’t especially interested in giving them a second chance to redeem their reputation, but having been given the chance, they failed.”
But Milo Yiannopoulos, the firebrand writer who has been promising to return to campus since he was invited by the student group, said by email that “Free Speech Week” was happening, starting with a rally Sunday. “FSW IS PROCEEDING FOR THE 4 DAYS NO MATTER WHAT,” he wrote.
University spokesman Dan Mogulof said that after many missed deadlines by members of the Berkeley Patriot, the group that invited speakers to the event, they suddenly canceled Tuesday the only indoor venue they had been able to secure. University officials haven’t been able to reach the students since Tuesday, he said. Still, the Bay Area school is continuing with its extensive security planning.
“We’re proceeding as if that schedule is real — we have no choice.
“If in fact any of these speakers actually intend to come, we will be more than ready to provide security,” Mogulof said. “We are in process of spending what will be more than a million dollars. Those actions speak louder than words.”
Students in the Berkeley Patriot, the group that invited speakers to the event, filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Justice claiming the university has engaged in a pattern of First Amendment discrimination.
The school is “failing to take reasonable steps to protect students and others from physical assault or property damage when engaging in protected activities covered under the First Amendment,” the complaint alleges. It also says UC-Berkeley has imposed “arbitrary and irrational bureaucratic hurdles on student groups which seek to exercise their First Amendment rights by holding public debates.”
Bryce Kasamoto, one of the students in the Berkeley Patriot, referred questions to an attorney, Marguerite Melo, who could not immediately be reached Friday.
Last week, Pranav Jandhyala, another Berkeley Patriot member, said their biggest mistake had been trusting the administration, which he felt had been using a systematic, bureaucratic approach to shut down the event.
“We’re spending extraordinary amounts of money to put security in place,” Mogulof said. “That shows our commitment to the First Amendment is unwavering. The university has spent an extraordinary amount of time and energy to support the event next week.”
Yiannopoulos tried to speak on campus in February, but protests turned violent and university police canceled his appearance. That touched off ongoing debate over whether UC-Berkeley, home of the 1960s Free Speech Movement, had become so left-wing that it could not tolerate conservative speakers. Similar controversy followed plans to have Coulter speak there in the spring, and the group that invited her, the Berkeley College Republicans, sued the state flagship school.
Carol Christ, the university’s new chancellor, has vowed to make this “the year of free speech” at Berkeley, calling it a defining value for the school.
Earlier this month, conservative writer Ben Shapiro gave a talk on campus. The university spent about $600,000 on security for his speech, which proceeded successfully while hundreds demonstrated peacefully outside.
University officials have warned that events outdoors pose far greater security risks, because law enforcement officials are not able to secure the area or limit attendance, and screening for weapons is difficult.
Jandhyala said last week that when his group was unable to confirm large indoor venues, some of the headline speakers began to drop out.
A spokeswoman for former White House chief strategist Stephen K. Bannon, who has been mentioned as a possible speaker, did not respond to a message Friday.
Lucian B. Wintrich, a writer for the pro=- Gateway Pundit blog, said Friday he had been invited to speak, but that “Free Speech Week” was not happening. It was in doubt as far back as two weeks ago, he said, and there was a 90 percent chance of it not happening a week ago. Two days ago, he said, organizers knew the event was dead. He said he was sorry for all the people who had been buying tickets to get there.
“I’m incredibly disappointed … In my mind, this really could have been a new, conservative Burning Man type of event,” something that would be more appealing and relevant to young conservatives than the Conservative Political Action Conference. “I feel bad for the school, too,” he said, spending so much money on security.
“Due to the ridiculous mismanagement of this event, everyone involved was sort of screwed over.”
Yiannopoulos continued to promote the event Friday, blasting what he called the university’s suppression of free speech, hostility to right-wing speakers, and fragile students unable to handle views different from their own, with a video of “triggered snowflakes” ripping off his posters, that said things such as “Mean words are still legal words,” and “F— your commie trash.”
Other speakers said Friday they would be attending.
Pamela Geller, president of the American Freedom Defense Initiative and Stop Islamization of America, emailed from her flight to Berkeley. “The university has shown its hostility to free speech yet again,” which she said was part of the left’s “authoritarian agenda to shut down the voices of all dissenters,” because the better ideas would win in a debate.
“No opposing views are allowed — colleges aren’t institutions of higher learning anymore — they’re Antifa recruitment centers,” she wrote, referring to extremist anti-fascist protesters.
“Everyone who speaks the truth about jihad is demonized, vilified, mocked, misrepresented, in an attempt to destroy us,” she said. “The real question isn’t whether free speech is under threat in the United States, but rather, whether it’s irretrievably lost. Can we get it back? ”
Another listed speaker, Mike Cernovich, said on social media he would be there.