Protest Forces Cancellation of Milo Yiannopoulos Event at UC Berkeley

Protesters toppled a mobile spotlight and set it on fire during a demonstration against the scheduled appearance of Milo Yiannopoulos at UC Berkeley on Feb. 1, 2017. The event was canceled after demonstrators removed police barricades and occupied Sproul Plaza. (Bert Johnson/KQED)

Updated Thursday at 1:25 p.m.

A speech on the campus of UC Berkeley by Breitbart News commentator Milo Yiannopoulos was canceled Wednesday, after violent protests erupted on campus, according to UC Berkeley police.

Hundreds of demonstrators rallied at Sproul Plaza, the main square of the campus — protesting the planned 8 p.m. talk by Yiannopoulos, a conservative commentator criticized for his racist, misogynistic, anti-transgender, anti-Muslim and white supremacist statements.

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At about 6 p.m., some protesters threw smoke bombs and flares at the student union building where Yiannopoulos was supposed to speak. The violence was instigated by approximately 150 masked individuals, according to a UC Berkeley release.

At least one member of the Berkeley College Republicans, who invited Yiannopoulos, was hit with a paint-filled pellet.

"It's scary to be on this campus," said Mike Wright, of the campus Republican group. "And the university has done nothing for us."

Many, like 40-year-old Pablo Gonzalez, showed up expressly to shut down the speech by Yiannopoulos.

"There is no room for fascism, there is no room for racism, there is no room for white supremacy. It ends now. It ends today," Gonzalez said.

A protester uses his phone during a demonstration against the scheduled appearance of Milo Yiannopoulos at UC Berkeley on February 1, 2017. Militant protestors set off fireworks, some aimed at police, and used fire extinguishers to create clouds of smoke.
A protester uses his phone during a demonstration against the scheduled appearance of Milo Yiannopoulos at UC Berkeley on Feb. 1, 2017. Militant protesters set off fireworks, some aimed at police, and used fire extinguishers to create clouds of smoke. (Bert Johnson/KQED)

San Jose resident Mario Diaz, who came to see Yiannopolous, says the protesters were shutting down free speech.

"This is not OK," Diaz said. "This is not the America my family immigrated to live in."

UC police announced at about 6:15 p.m. that Yiannopoulos had left the campus. Police then issued an order for protesters to disperse.

Police also asked people to stay away from Sproul Plaza as the protest continued.

Demonstrators continued to gather and rallied around a bonfire lit on Sproul Plaza. The UC Berkeley public affairs office said a generator-powered spotlight was set on fire by a Molotov cocktail. UCPD reported half a dozen treatable injuries among protesters.

A group of marchers left campus after 8 p.m., heading south on Telegraph Avenue and then west on Durant Avenue. They moved north on Shattuck Avenue, where some smashed windows at the Bank of America, Chase Bank and Wells Fargo buildings just west of campus.

UC Berkeley spokesman Dan Mogulof said Thursday that three males were arrested, one Wednesday night for failure to disperse and two more on Thursday morning for attacking members of the Berkeley College Republicans, who were giving a press interview.

Before the scheduled event, demonstrators chanted: "No hate, no fear, immigrants are welcome here."

Some carried signs saying, "solidarity trumps hate" and "nobody's free until everybody is free."

Many faculty came to protest or just observe the demonstration.

"I'm very glad that students and others have not been intimidated by the outcome of the election or the enormous intimidation tactics of the right, right now," said UC Berkeley political science professor Wendy Brown.

Yiannopoulos issued the following statement on Facebook after he was taken away from campus:

I have been evacuated from the UC Berkeley campus after violent left-wing protestors tore down barricades, lit fires, threw rocks and Roman candles at the windows and breached the ground floor of the building. My team and I are safe. But the event has been cancelled. I'll let you know more when the facts become clear. One thing we do know for sure: the Left is absolutely terrified of free speech and will do literally anything to shut it down.

A campus police officer talks on his radio after protesters toppled a mobile spotlight and set it on fire during a demonstration against the scheduled appearance of Milo Yiannopoulos at UC Berkeley on Feb. 1, 2017.
A UC Berkeley police officer talks on his radio after protesters toppled a mobile spotlight and set it on fire during a demonstration against the scheduled appearance of Milo Yiannopoulos at UC Berkeley on Feb. 1, 2017. (Bert Johnson/KQED)

Yiannopoulos, who is openly gay, was on the last leg of his "The Dangerous Faggot Tour," which was supposed to wrap up Thursday at UCLA. But that campus rescinded its invitation.

A man was shot during a protest of a Yiannopoulos event on Jan. 21 at the University of Washington in Seattle. And at UC Davis, the college Republicans group canceled a Yiannopoulos appearance there at the last minute on Jan. 13 after protests erupted on campus.

Yiannopoulos, a self-described internet troll, has been known to single out members in his audience for ridicule. UC Berkeley mathematics Professor Katrin Wehrheim told KQED's Forum on Jan. 26 that Yiannopoulos incites violence and harassment.

"I would like that speaker to be invited to be put on a podium and be forced to express his views without this cruel performance," Wehrheim said.

The Associated Press cited a few of Yiannopoulos' previous controversial appearances and statements:

At the University of Delaware, Yiannopoulos referred to transgender people as "mentally ill" and encouraged his audience to mock them.

He has called Black Lives Matter a form of "black supremacism." Twitter banned him in July, as it cracked down on racist abuse targeting "Ghostbusters" actress Leslie Jones.

At Western Carolina University he called feminism, "a mean, vindictive, spiteful, nasty, man-hating philosophy."

Yiannopoulos rejects accusations he is racist or a white supremacist, saying his boyfriend is black and his humor is taken too literally in today's politically correct culture, according to the AP.

Milo Yiannopoulosholds a press conference in June near the scene of the Pulse Nightclub in Orlando, Florida, where a gunman killed 49 people and wounded 53.
Milo Yiannopoulos holds a press conference in June near the scene of Pulse Nightclub in Orlando, Florida, where a gunman killed 49 people and wounded 53. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

UC Berkeley administrators had received hundreds of letters and emails, and a signed letter from nearly 100 faculty members, to cancel the event.

Citing Berkeley as the home of the Free Speech Movement, Chancellor Nicholas Dirks affirmed Yiannopoulos' right to speak on campus in a letter dated Jan. 26.

While Dirks wrote that Cal was bound by the First Amendment to allow the appearance, his letter also described Yiannopoulos as a "troll and provocateur" who traffics in "extremely hurtful and disturbing" hate speech. From Dirks' letter:

Mr. Yiannopoulos is not the first of his ilk to speak at Berkeley and he will not be the last. In our view, Mr. Yiannopoulos is a troll and provocateur who uses odious behavior in part to “entertain,” but also to deflect any serious engagement with ideas. He has been widely and rightly condemned for engaging in hate speech directed at a wide range of groups and individuals, as well as for disparaging and ridiculing individual audience members, particularly members of the LGBTQ community. Mr. Yiannopoulos’s opinions and behavior can elicit strong reactions and his attacks can be extremely hurtful and disturbing. Although we urge anyone who is concerned about being targeted by Mr. Yiannopoulos to consider whether there is any value in attending this event, we stand ready to provide resources and support to our community members who may be adversely affected by his words and actions on the stage (we will provide more detail about these resources in a subsequent message).

Since the announcement of Mr. Yiannopoulos’s visit, we have received many requests that we ban him from campus and cancel the event. Although we have responded to these requests directly, we would like to explain to the entire campus community why the event will be held as planned. First, from a legal perspective, the U.S. Constitution prohibits UC Berkeley, as a public institution, from banning expression based on its content or viewpoints, even when those viewpoints are hateful or discriminatory. Longstanding campus policy permits registered student organizations to invite speakers to campus and to make free use of meeting space in the Student Union for that purpose. As mentioned, the BCR is the host of this event, and therefore it is only they who have the authority to disinvite Mr. Yiannopoulos. Consistent with the dictates of the First Amendment as uniformly and decisively interpreted by the courts, the university cannot censor or prohibit events, or charge differential fees. Some have asked us whether attacks on individuals are also protected. In fact, critical statements and even the demeaning ridicule of individuals are largely protected by the Constitution; in this case, Yiannopoulos’s past words and deeds do not justify prior restraint on his freedom of expression or the cancellation of the event.

Bert Johnson, Sukey Lewis, Ana Tintocalis and The Associated Press contributed to this report.