Controversial Ann Coulter Speech at UC Berkeley Draws Protesters, Six Arrested

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Groups of students and other members of the public came to protest Ann Coulter speaking at Wheeler Hall at UC Berkeley on Wednesday Nov. 20, 2019.  (Lindsey Moore/KQED)

Updated 1:25 a.m. Thursday

UC Berkeley Police confirmed six arrests and one injury outside conservative firebrand Ann Coulter’s speaking engagement on campus Wednesday night.

Police in riot gear barricaded the entrance to the venue as thousands of people gathered outside Wheeler Hall. Some protesters tried to block attendees from entering by linking arms and forming a human chain.

More than two years after her first scheduled appearance on campus was abruptly cancelled, Coulter spoke Wednesday about what she considers the danger of mass immigration as part of "Adios, America," a talk titled after her 2015 book of the same name.

“When they decided to have her come speak, instead of creating a safe space for LatinX people like me, [UC Berkeley Chancellor] Carol Christ sent a message to us saying that if we feel unsafe, we shouldn’t be on campus,” said second-year student Erika Gutierrez. “So what’s the point of me paying tuition to come here if I don’t feel safe on my own campus?”

Police lined the outside of Wheeler Hall as students and other members of the public protested Ann Coulter speaking at UC Berkeley on Wednesday Nov. 20, 2019. (Lindsey Moore/KQED)

Berkeley officials said approximately 400 people attended the event.

"I understand that many people feel very strongly about hate speech that's connected with Ann Coulter ... but I want to hear for myself what she has to say," said Michael Wang, a student who bought a ticket for the event, but identifies as a Democrat.

Groups of students and other members of the public came to protest Ann Coulter speaking at Wheeler Hall at UC Berkeley on Wednesday Nov. 20, 2019. (Lindsey Moore/KQED)

Video on social media showed a protester inside the event being escorted out by police.


Original post, last updated 6:04 p.m. Wednesday

Here we go again.

Conservative firebrand Ann Coulter is expected to speak at UC Berkeley on Wednesday evening, more than two years after her first scheduled speaking engagement on campus was abruptly cancelled.

Coulter, a right-wing syndicated columnist known for her hardline views on U.S. immigration and border security, plans to address what she considers the danger of mass immigration as part of "Adios, America," a talk titled after her 2015 book of the same name.

The far-right provocateur has long advocated for a dramatic reduction in the number of immigrants allowed to enter the U.S., often blaming America’s woes on refugees and other groups of newcomers from poor nations.

The event, at 9 p.m. at Wheeler Hall, is likely to draw scores of protesters to the famously liberal campus, spurring the university to deploy what it says will be a significant security operation in an effort to thwart violent clashes and vandalism.

"We believe [Coulter] has been extremely impactful on shaping the Republican Party's position on immigration," said Rudra Reddy, vice president of the Berkeley College Republicans, the student group hosting the event. And while not every member of his group agrees with all of Coulter's positions, he added, she is someone who "should be listened to" given the current national political context.

Coulter was initially scheduled to speak on campus in April 2017, but later abruptly cancelled her appearance after school administrators called off the event, citing safety concerns, and then offered an alternative date the following month.

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

At the time, university police said they had received specific, credible threats related to Coulter's planned appearance. The cancellation of the event came after a series of violent clashes between far-right and far-left protesters, including a riot on campus before a scheduled Feb. 1 talk by right-wing provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos.

The university said it spent roughly $800,000 on security in preparation for the Coulter event, even though it never actually happened.

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The Berkeley College Republicans, along with the Tennessee-based Young America's Foundation, a conservative group, later filed suit against UC Berkeley in federal court in San Francisco, accusing the school of violating the First Amendment by discriminating against speakers with conservative views.

In a Dec. 2018 settlement with both groups, Cal agreed to modify its procedures for handling "major events" and to no longer charge "security" fees for certain activities, including lectures and speeches. The university also paid $70,000 to cover the groups' legal costs.

"We just hope that Ms. Coulter is able to speak, unlike what happened two years ago," Reddy said. He said the Berkeley College Republicans worked closely with campus police and Cal Performances in preparation for this event. All attendees will be required to pass through metal detectors and will only be allowed to take certain items inside, he said. Police also plan to set up barricades outside the event.

"We believe these policies will help the event go smoother than some others in the past,” Reddy added, noting that his group has already received some threats. "A disruption would be very unfavorable to our interests."

A number of leftist groups, comprised of both students and off-campus activists, remain hell-bent on shutting the event down.

"We're calling on people from all around the Bay Area to come to Berkeley tomorrow to shut down Ann Coulter and the College Republicans speaking event," said Hoku Jeffrey, an organizer for the group By Any Means Necessary.

"The Coulter event is simply an invitation for white supremacist violence to happen on the Berkeley campus and in the surrounding community, and we don't we don't accept that at all."

The school is much better prepared to accommodate controversial events like this than it used to be, said UC Berkeley spokesman Dan Mogulof, noting that more than 15 high-profile conservative speakers have come to campus over the last two years, without major disruption or incident.

"That's largely because student organizations are now following to the letter and the spirit of the campus event policy," including extensive security assessments before each event, he said.

"We have two priorities, two commitments, and we have an unwavering commitment to both," he added. “One is to support the First Amendment rights of our students regardless of their perspectives. And two is to provide for the safety and security of the members of the campus community, our guests and the public at large."

Nonetheless, the administration is not taking anything for granted, Mogulof added.

"We're not complacent. You know, we do believe that we have the necessary preparations in place. But you never know. And so, we'll see what happens."

Mogulof declined to comment on how much UC Berkeley planned to spend on security for the Coulter event, or on how many officers would be deployed.

KQED’s Peter Jon Shuler contributed reporting to this article.

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