'Free Speech Week' At Berkeley Is A Mess

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'Free Speech Week' At Berkeley Is A Mess

BERKELEY, Calif. — What a mess.

A spokesman for disgraced right-wing troll Milo Yiannopoulos says the “Free Speech Week” rally he organized this week at University of California, Berkeley, is going ahead as scheduled, even though multiple sources involved in the planning say otherwise.

“No, it’s not cancelled,” Alexander Macris told HuffPost in an email, adding that Yiannopoulos is “looking forward to speaking throughout the 4-day event alongside other defenders of freedom.”

Yiannopoulos organized the rally, scheduled to start Sunday, with The Berkeley Patriot, a conservative student newspaper. It had been set to feature a who’s who of far-right speakers, including Yiannopoulos and former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon, and was expected to draw large counter-protests.

Earlier Friday, Berkeley Patriot editors told local NPR affiliate KQED that the event had been called off. One of the event’s scheduled speakers told HuffPost in an email Friday that the rally wasn’t happening.

Lucian Wintrich, a correspondent for the far-right site Gateway Pundit, who had been involved in organizing “Free Speech Week,” posted a video to Twitter Thursday night saying the rally was a no-go.

Macris, Yiannopoulos’ spokesman, didn’t respond to an email asking to explain this confusion, but Yiannopoulos himself could clarify things Saturday afternoon, when he plans to hold an “eve of battle” press conference in San Francisco. Yiannopoulos also announced he’ll be leading a march through the Berkeley campus on Sunday. 

“Free Speech Week” has been disorganized since its inception over the summer. Many of the high-profile, far-right figures slated to speak at the event — including white nationalist social scientist Charles Murray, the conservative Manhattan Institute’s Heather MacDonald, newly infamous Google memo guy James Damore, and Ann Coulter — have either dropped out or said they were never actually asked to attend.

University officials have claimed that Yiannopoulos and The Berkeley Patriot have missed multiple deadlines to book indoor campus venues and confirm a guest list. The university said it set the deadlines to allow time to set up security.

Yiannopoulos denied missing any deadlines, writing in an Instagram post that the university deliberately stonewalled organizers and engaged in “bureaucratic brinksmanship.”

“They do not want us on campus,” he said this week in a Facebook video.

University spokesman Dan Mogulof, speaking to BuzzFeed News on Friday, called Yiannopoulos’ accusation “utter nonsense.”

The university has given every indication this week that it’s ready for the event. “Despite today’s conflicting media reports about the status of events scheduled for next week ... the university is proceeding with plans to provide security for the campus community and any of the speakers who will appear here,” the school said in a statement on Friday. 

The university said in another statement that it was in the “process of spending close to a million dollars on these security arrangements; if these events take place we want them to be safe and peaceful.”

Earlier this week, Berkeley published a full schedule for “Free Speech Week.”

All of the events appear to be scheduled for Sproul Plaza, an outdoor space on the Berkeley campus that has hosted many a raucous political rally over the decades.

It was here in February, less than a month after President Donald Trump’s inauguration, that some 1,500 people protesting an appearance at the university by Yiannopoulos toppled light poles, started fires and hurled Molotov cocktails. Out of concerns for security, the school canceled Yiannopoulos’ speech.

“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 later.

Yiannopoulos — who the Anti-Defamation League calls a “misogynistic, racist, xenophobic, transphobic troll who is extremely good at getting people to pay attention to him” ― used the episode to play victim and further the claim that liberal-leaning colleges like UC Berkeley stifle the free speech of conservatives.

He appeared to relish the spotlight until a short time later, when a video emerged of him making comments condoning pedophilia. He subsequently lost his job with Breitbart News and was removed from the Conservative Political Action Conference speaking list. He also lost a lucrative book deal with publisher Simon & Schuster.

“Free Speech Week” would give Yiannopoulos a chance to rehabilitate or burnish his image as a far-right firebrand.

But there are many who don’t want to let him.

The anti-Trump group Refuse Fascism is set to protest any and all “Free Speech Week” events, according to its Facebook page. 

Meanwhile, more than 130 Berkeley professors and graduate students have signed an open letter calling for a boycott of classes and other university events during “Free Speech Week.”

“Once more, signs point towards an escalated and uncontrollable confrontation both on and off campus during these four days,” the letter states.

“The history of these events has been chilling,” it continues. “Since Inauguration Day, Alt-Right followers have shot someone at the University of Washington, stabbed two people to death on public transport in Portland, stabbed to death a college senior in Maryland, beaten numerous nonviolent protesters at the University of Virginia, and most recently murdered a peaceful protester with an automobile in Charlottesville.

“Therefore, as faculty committed to the safety of our students and our campus, we are calling for a complete boycott of all classes and campus activities while these Alt-Right events are taking place at the very center of UC Berkeley’s campus.” 

America does not do a good job of tracking incidents of hate and bias. We need your help to create a database of such incidents across the country, so we all know what’s going on. Tell us your story.

 

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