Milo Yiannopolous and the conservative “Berkeley Patriot” newspaper had noisy plans for a four-day “Free Speech Week” on the campus of UC Berkeley chock-full of speakers like Steve Bannon and Ann Coulter. It ended with a whimper and what a school official is calling “the most expensive photo op in the university’s history.”
The event was advertised as a far-right extravaganza with daily themes like “Feminism Awareness Day” and “Islamic Peace and Tolerance Day,” and had at times named Blackwater founder Erik Prince and anti-Islam activist Pam Geller as featured speakers. It fell apart last week as other listed speakers said they’d never been invited, and the university said the Patriot hadn’t submitted necessary paperwork to secure the venues.
But that didn’t stop conservative provocateur Yiannopoulos, Pam Geller, and conspiracy theorist Mike Cernovich from making a 20-minute appearance on UC Berkeley’s Sproul Plaza Sunday. That appearance, at the historic birthplace of the American Free Speech Movement, ended up costing the university an estimated $800,000 to provide crowd control and security.
The campus chief said the department had assistance from eight to 10 other law enforcement agencies.
Yiannopoulos blamed the university’s security bill on counterprotesters. “Good. It should cost universities money when the violent left shows up,” Yiannopoulos wrote on Facebook. “Maybe then professors and administrators will stop encouraging them.” The campus newspaper “The Daily Californian” estimated about 300 people turned out to protest.
University spokesperson Dan Mogulof said last week that extensive security precautions were needed after Yiannopoulos’ last visit to the campus, in February, when he drew crowds of counterprotesters, including about 150 black-clad antifa. Yiannopoulos had to be escorted away before a scheduled speech, and property damage by protesters cost the university about $100,000.
Yiannopoulos and his supporters also blamed the police for the small crowd size inside Sproul Plaza’s security barriers, which local media estimated to be between 50 and 100 people. Yiannopoulos posted multiple videos on social media of people saying they weren’t allowed through security checkpoints quickly enough to see him speak.
And outside of Berkeley’s campus, Yiannopoulos’ moment was ultimately overshadowed by another, more widely discussed free speech debate fueled by President Donald Trump this weekend. Following Trump’s tweets criticizing NFL players who kneel in protest during the national anthem, Yiannopoulos led his supporters in a rendition of the song and asked them to kneel and pray for players who he said “don’t know what they’re doing.”
Not long after, he was whisked away by security guards, leaving dozens of his supporters and protesters to march through Berkeley and chant at each other for another couple of hours.
What’s left is Yiannopolous’ and the Berkeley Patriot’s claim that UC Berkeley wanted the four-day event to fail, even though the chancellor said the university made extensive plans to accommodate it. “The university was prepared to do whatever was necessary to support the First Amendment rights of the student organization,” Mogulof said.
Lawyers for the Patriot filed a civil rights complaint with the Department of Justice on Tuesday, alleging the university had intentionally suppressed its members’ First Amendment rights.