A free speech report from the University of California, Berkeley, released this week said a “coordinated campaign” to invite controversial right-wing guest speakers on campus in 2017 “caused” “acute distress” among students and staff — and was an attempt to advance a narrative that colleges “are not tolerant of conservative speech,” Politico reported.
Things heated up in February 2017 when riots broke out at UC Berkeley — long associated with the 1960s Free Speech Movement — over a planned speech by “alt-right” figure Milo Yiannopoulos, which led the school to cancel the event. Republican President Donald Trump then threatened to defund the college.
Two months later, conservative pundit Ann Coulter nixed her planned speech on campus. She had previously insisted she would give her lecture despite the school cancelling her appearance and then rescheduling it for a date in May when there were no classes.
Other flare-ups against free speech at Berkeley made headlines last year, including left-wing vandals targeting Berkeley College Republicans and rioting in town that saw protesters beating up pro-Trump demonstrators and ripping up free-speech signs.
What did the UC Berkeley report say?
“Contrary to a currently popular narrative, Berkeley remains a tolerant campus,” the report asserted, according the outlet. The report also noted a survey that found 75 percent of incoming freshmen last fall agree that the school “has the responsibility to provide equal access to safe and secure venues for guest speakers of all viewpoints — even if the ideas are found offensive by some or conflict with the values held by the UC Berkeley community,” Politico said.
The report added that unrest surrounding the Yiannopoulos and Coulter events were sponsored by “very small groups of students working closely with outside organizations,” Politico said.
“Although those speakers had every right to speak and were entitled to protection, they did not need to be on campus to exercise the right of free speech,” the report continued, according to the outlet. “Indeed, at least some of the 2017 events at Berkeley can now be seen to be part of a coordinated campaign to organize appearances on American campuses likely to incite a violent reaction, in order to advance a facile narrative that universities are not tolerant of conservative speech.”
The report also said Yiannopoulos and Coulter “expressed little interest in reasoned discussion of contentious issues or in defending or revising their views through argument,” Politico noted.
More from the UC Berkeley report, according to the outlet:
Many Commission members are skeptical of these speakers’ commitment to anything other than the pursuit of wealth and fame through the instigation of anger, fear, and vengefulness in their hard-right constituency. Speech of this kind is hard to defend, especially in light of the acute distress it caused (and was intended to cause) to staff and students, many of whom felt threatened and targeted by the speakers and by the outside groups financing their appearances.
The report added that many students and staff felt threatened “not just by the message of the speakers, but by the large police presence required to assure everyone’s safety,” Politico said.
And while the report noted that conservative commentator Ben Shapiro spoke at Berkeley in 2016 without controversy, his high-profile appearance on campus last year resulted in protests, nine arrests and the school forking over $600,000 for security, the outlet noted.
Why the difference in reactions on campus?
The report blamed the “rise of ultra-conservative rhetoric, including white supremacist views and protest marches, legitimized by the 2016 presidential election and its aftermath, encouraged far-right and alt-right activists to ‘spike the football’ at Berkeley. This provoked an at-times violent (and condemnable) response from the extreme left, tearing at the campus’s social fabric,” Politico said.
How did Yiannopoulos respond to Berkeley’s report?
Politico said neither Coulter nor the Berkeley College Republicans — which helped organize 2017 events and have sued the school — could be reached for comment.
But Yiannopoulos had plenty to say, calling the commission members who put together the report “Marxist thugs … criticizing people they don’t listen to, books they haven’t read and arguments they don’t understand” and arguing the report “gets Berkeley off the hook, doesn’t it?” the outlet said.
“I get that people find it difficult to imagine that a conservative with big ideas might also be a showman, a provocateur and an Instagram thot, but here I am. Deal with it,” Yiannopoulos wrote in an email to Politico. “As for their lofty dismissal of the obvious reality that conservative speech is relentlessly and systematically suppressed on campuses… actual lol!”
Here’s raw footage from the February 2017 riots. (Content warning: Some rough language, both visual and chanted):
(H/T: Louder With Crowder)