Ash Bhat, a sophomore at the University of California at Berkeley, took to the streets Wednesday night to protest before a scheduled address by Breitbart writer Milo Yiannopoulos. When President Trump responded to the demonstration by threatening to cut Berkeley's federal funding, Bhat and his roommate, Rohan Pai, took out their computers and started writing software code.
Less than 24 hours later, they launched a news app called Presidential Actions to report on Trump.
“Everyone has a different way of fighting back,” said Bhat, 20, who is studying computer science and sociology at Berkeley. “As someone who's been building apps for a while, it's something that comes very natural to me. It's sort of my art form. Where some people are great orators and can lead protests, the way I make my difference is building things.”
The debut version of the app is very simple. It automatically checks the White House website every 10 minutes for new memos, executive orders and news releases, then imports them to users' news feeds. Bhat said he believes users will see value in receiving primary-source documents as supplements to whatever other news coverage they consume.
Ultimately, Bhat and Pai plan to add original content — summaries written by them or perhaps a software upgrade that could distill multi-page documents to a couple essential paragraphs.
Wednesday's protest at Berkeley caught the president's attention after it led to vandalism and the cancellation of Yiannopoulos's talk. University police blamed the unlawful behavior on “a group of agitators who were masked up” and said they “do not believe … students were involved.”
Trump, however, suggested that the school should pay a price.
If U.C. Berkeley does not allow free speech and practices violence on innocent people with a different point of view - NO FEDERAL FUNDS?
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 2, 2017
“The big thing that me and a lot of Berkeley students are pissed off about is this anarchist group came in during the protest, and we're getting blamed for it,” Bhat said. “We wouldn't break our own school down; it doesn't make any sense. We were peacefully protesting, and all these different groups started coming in and taking advantage of the situation.”
Bhat said he thought it was “completely fine” for Yiannopoulos to speak on campus, at the invitation of a Republican student group. He said the purpose of the protest was not to suppress free speech but to voice opposition to the views of Yiannopoulos, who has encouraged the use of gay slurs (despite being gay himself), been banned from Twitter for inciting hate speech and recently launched a college scholarship fund open exclusively to white men.
It's called the Yiannopoulos Privilege Grant.
“Protesting is our right as well,” Bhat said.
But protesting is not Bhat's answer to Trump. Reporting is. If the president actually does move to defund Berkeley, Bhat and Pai's app will make sure people know about it.