Planned Speech by Ann Coulter Canceled at UC Berkeley

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Ann Coulter speaks during Politicon in Los Angeles in 2015. (Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images)

Updated 5:45 p.m.

Ann Coulter, the controversial conservative commentator who was invited by a UC Berkeley student group to speak on campus, said Wednesday that her speech had been called off. She blamed the university administration for her cancellation, but the university denied any role in the event being scrapped.

One thing seems clear: Coulter won’t be speaking on Thursday, the day the talk was planned for, at the campus that is home to the Free Speech Movement.

“It’s sickening when a radical thuggish institution like Berkeley can so easily snuff out the cherished American right to free speech,” Coulter said on Twitter. “I’m very sad about Berkeley's cancelation (sic), but my sadness is greater than that. It is a dark day for free speech in America.”

The cancellation of Coulter’s speech came after much back-and-forth between campus officials, the groups sponsoring the event, and the commentator herself.

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The university said last week it was canceling the event, citing safety concerns. On Thursday, campus police Captain Alex Yao said they’d received specific, credible threats related to the talk and were concerned about safety after a series of violent clashes this year on campus and in downtown Berkeley between far-right and far-left protesters -- including a riot at Cal before a scheduled Feb. 1 talk by right-wing provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos, which ended up being canceled.

The university then backtracked and offered an alternate date of May 2 to Coulter and the groups collaborating on the event -- the Berkeley College Republicans, Young America’s Foundation (which describes itself as the principal outreach organization of the Conservative Movement) and BridgeUSA (a nonprofit group that says it wants to provide “open and welcoming forum for frank and rational political discourse” on college campuses).

Coulter and the College Republicans rejected the date change, noting, among other things, that it would be during the week before final exams when students would not be in class.

Berkeley College Republicans President Troy Worden said Wednesday during a press conference that his group had decided to back out of sponsoring the speech. He blamed the university, saying it refused to provide adequate security.

“If we can't have Ms. Coulter speak here without being able to guarantee the safety of the attendees, then that is a move we cannot take,” Worden said. “In effect, our free speech has been stifled because the university has decided not to assist us in making sure the event can occur successfully.”

Late Tuesday, Young America’s Foundation also said the university hadn’t met its demands to ensure the safety of students and those involved.

"Berkeley made it impossible to hold a lecture due to the lack of assurances for protections from foreseeable violence from unrestrained leftist agitators," YAF said in a statement posted to its Facebook page. "Ms. Coulter may still choose to speak in some form on campus, but Young America’s Foundation will not jeopardize the safety of its staff or students."

University officials, however, said they’d done their best to accommodate the talk, noting that they'd only found out in late March about it. Venues are normally booked months in advance for guest speakers, said UC Berkeley spokesman Dan Mogulof.

"We wanted Ms. Coulter to come to this campus. We believe it is important that our students are exposed to a broad diversity of opinion,” he said at a press conference. "Everything we have done to date has been about supporting and facilitating" the event.

He rejected assertions that administration officials weren’t being helpful because of Coulter’s politics: "This is the home of the Free Speech Movement. That legacy would be destroyed if we were to pick and choose.”

Despite the cancellation, Yao said campus police were still preparing for potential protests on Thursday, including what he described as “riot-like” scenarios. He said there would be an increased presence of law enforcement on campus to ensure safety.

Going ahead, though, will be a federal lawsuit filed by the Berkeley College Republicans against the university, saying it was discriminating against conservative speakers and violating students’ rights to free speech.

Their attorney, Harmeet Dhillon, said they wanted to ensure access to free speech and that the university wasn’t applying “unequal rules” to groups or individuals seeking to speak on campus. The lawsuit is "way beyond one speech or one speaker," she added.