A speech by alt-right commentator and self-described “engine of chaos” Milo Yiannopoulos at UC Berkeley, organized by the Berkeley College Republicans, was cancelled due to violent protest on Wednesday, February 1. The original protest gathering was coordinated by Oakland-based anti-fascist group By Any Means Necessary (BAMN) and was attended by many student groups, but violence was perpetrated by masked protesters unaffiliated with UC Berkeley.
Yiannopoulos’s proposed event was part of his “Dangerous Faggot Tour,” which has resulted in protests and violence at colleges nationwide, including the shooting of a protester at the University of Washington on Inauguration Day. The UC Berkeley event is one of the many cancelled due to concerns of violence. Yiannopoulos is the editor of conservative news website Breitbart, and his far-right views on political correctness, third-wave feminism, and immigration have drawn much fire from UC Berkeley students and faculty. His potential speech sparked a debate about free speech on campus, and many argue that speech that condones violence against others is not within our First Amendment rights.
“Yiannopoulos is spreading hate speech,” said Haden Modesitt, UC Berkeley Poli-Sci student. “It’s impeding others’ right to free speech and inciting violence.”
Protesters also opposed the administration’s decision to allow the event despite highly vocal opposition from students and faculty.
“Admin isn’t standing for its own students,” said Cassie Davis, a Gender and Women’s Studies major, carrying a sign reading, “No one is free until everyone is free.”
The gathering began at 5 PM, two hours before Yiannopoulos was scheduled to speak. The crowd warmed up with chants of “No hate, no fear, immigrants are welcome here.” Yvette Felarca, BAMN representative, Martin Luther King Jr middle school teacher, and anti-fascist demonstrator, began to speak through a loudspeaker, comparing America to Germany during the rise of Hitler and urging attendees to “shut Milo down” like protesters at UC Davis had.
She said, “We need to let [Yiannopoulos] know: Berkeley is not just peace and love. We will defend ourselves,” and continued, “We are proud to stand as the most militant and left-wing campus in the nation.”
Around sunset at six, about 150 masked, black-clad protesters disrupted the gathering. They knocked over metal barriers and used them to break the windows of the MLK Student Union building where Yiannopoulos was scheduled to speak, lit a bonfire on the plaza, and threw fireworks and rocks. UC Berkeley was forced to cancel the speech and shut down the campus for several hours. Riot police ordered protesters to disperse at around 6:50 PM, at one point firing unidentified non-lethal weapons into the crowd according to Twitter reports. Internet reports also include people hit with antifascist signs and bloodied by militant protesters, though no one was reported to have needed medical attention.
The protest quickly went viral on the internet. Yiannopoulos said in a Facebook post that this protest proved “the Left is absolutely terrified of free speech and will do anything to shut it down.” President Trump tweeted in the same vein: “If UC Berkeley … practices violence on innocent people with a different point of view — NO FEDERAL FUNDS?” UC Berkeley is heavily dependent on federal funding, but it would be difficult to executively restrict its funding given the lack of Congress-passed legislation for such actions.
The campus lockdown was lifted at around 11 PM that evening. Many believe that this protest and its associated violence and controversy are irrefutable evidence of the heating political climate, and that this is not the first, nor will it be the last time that our city becomes a battleground for national issues in the next four years.