After black-clad antifa members violently attacked conservative protesters in Berkeley on Sunday, the city’s mayor asked the University of California at Berkeley to cancel a conservative student group’s plan to host alt-right provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos in September.
The university says it isn’t backing down.
“We have neither the legal right or desire to interfere with or cancel their invitations based on the perspectives and beliefs of the speakers,” said university spokesman Dan Mogulof.
Mayor Jesse Arreguin said bringing Yiannopoulos to campus for “Berkeley Free Speech Week,” which is hosted by a conservative campus newspaper called the Berkeley Patriot, could create the potential for violent protesters “to create mayhem.”
“I don’t want Berkeley being used as a punching bag,” Arreguin told the San Francisco Chronicle.
The Berkeley Patriot also invited former White House chief strategist Stephen K. Bannon and conservative provocateur Ann Coulter to speak during the week, scheduled for Sept. 24-27. Mogulof said the university is not able to confirm the speakers until administrators receive a finalized list from the student group this week.
The university, where the Free Speech Movement began in the 1960s, again became a focal point in national debate about free speech on college campuses in February, when violent protests forced university police to cancel a speech by Yiannopoulos, whom critics call a hatemonger.
In February, police estimated that 150 violent agitators — who were wearing masks and clad in black — smashed windows, set fires and hurled rocks at police, costing $100,000 in damage to the school. The protesters reportedly interrupted much larger peaceful demonstrations.
Following the unrest, President Trump raised the prospect of cutting federal funds to the school, which is a public university.
“If U.C. Berkeley does not allow free speech and practices violence on innocent people with a different point of view — NO FEDERAL FUNDS?” Trump tweeted.
In April, demonstrators again converged on Berkeley to protest a speech by Coulter, which ultimately didn’t happen after a back-and-forth between Coulter and university officials worried they hadn’t been given enough notice to work out security and logistics.
Chancellor Carol Christ promised in a letter to students, faculty and staff last week that this year the university will “invest the necessary resources” to make speeches by Yiannopoulos and conservative columnist Ben Shapiro safe — for both the speakers and the community.
“If you choose to protest, do so peacefully,” Christ wrote. “That is your right, and we will defend it with vigor. We will not tolerate violence, and we will hold anyone accountable who engages in it.”
Arreguin told the Chronicle he “obviously” believes in freedom of speech but that “there is a line between freedom of speech and then posing a risk to public safety.”
“That is where we have to really be very careful — that while protecting people’s free-speech rights, we are not putting our citizens in a potentially dangerous situation and costing the city hundreds of thousands of dollars fixing the windows of businesses,” he said.
Yiannopoulos said Aug. 18 on his website that he hopes the event brings “together liberals, conservatives, and whatever libertarians aren’t too busy mining bitcoin, to celebrate free speech.
“In the not too distant past, that is what every day at American universities was about,” Yiannopoulos said. “Now free speech is shunned, and in some cases violently shut down.”
Shapiro, whose appearance is sponsored by the Berkeley College Republicans, is scheduled to speak Sept. 14. In a Twitter thread on Monday, the editor in chief of the conservative website the DailyWire.com demanded that police “do their jobs and stop violence” if violence breaks out because of his speech.
“The alt-right is repulsive. Antifa is repulsive. We should all stand together against political violence. Join us, Berkeley,” Shapiro tweeted.
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