'Free Speech Week' at Berkeley cancelled

The student organization at Berkeley that was planning to host Milo Yiannopoulos's "Free Speech Week" event sent a letter to school administrators informing them that the event had been cancelled.

Berkeley Patriot, a campus student publication, had agreed to host the event but decided on late Friday to pull the plug. "For the last few days, we've been concerned about threats the university had been making and the potential of violence,” Berkeley Patriot President Mike Wright said in a phone interview with the LA Times.

In fact, as the San Jose Mercury News discovered, the event never got off the ground. The student group never reserved space for Free Speech Week speakers and several of the speakers that the group announced would be there say they never received an invitation. 

In an email chain obtained by the Bay Area News Group, Lucian Wintrich, one of the supposed speakers, told UC Berkeley spokesman Dan Mogulof Saturday morning that the event had been merely an attention grab from the start.

“It was known that they didn’t intend to actually go through with it last week, and completely decided on Wednesday,” Wintrich wrote.

“Wait, whoah, hold on a second,” wrote a clearly surprised Mogulof. “What, exactly, are you saying? What were you told by MILO Inc? Was it a set-up from the get-go?”

“Yes,” Wintrich, a writer for the right-wing blog The Gateway Pundit, responded.

When he withdrew his name from the speaker list last week, Wintrich was hit with allegations that he was scared of left-wing “antifa” protesters, he said by phone Saturday afternoon.

“No, no,” Wintrich said. “What’s the point of keeping your name on something that’s set up to fail?”

Mogulof said in an email to the news media Saturday morning: “It is extremely unfortunate that this announcement (about the cancellation of Free Speech Week) was made at the last minute, even as the university was in the process of spending significant sums of money and preparing for substantial disruption of campus life in order to provide the needed security for these events.”

During a late Saturday afternoon news conference that was interrupted by a shouting protester with the group Refuse Fascism, Mogulof said that UC Berkeley was prepared for Yiannopoulos to show up but would not discuss specific security plans.

School officials had said they had expected to spend about $1 million on security and logistics for the event. One reason is that violent demonstrations had rocked the campus the last time Yiannopoulos tried to speak there in February.

It sounds like Berkeley was making an effort to accomodate the conservatives. But the attorney for Berkeley Patriot claimed otherwise.

In a Saturday letter to the school, Melo, the attorney, accused administrators of putting up roadblocks and said the group was “contemplating initiating litigation against the responsible parties and the administration for violation of our clients’ civil rights.”

But Michael Cohen, an American studies professor at UC Berkeley who also attended the march, said, “This has never been about free speech.”

“This is the equivalent of a five-day flat earther conference in front of the physics department,” he said.

Mogulof also hit back at the notion the school wants to restrict conservative speech, saying in an email, “Claims that this is somehow the outcome desired by the campus are without basis in fact. The university was prepared to do whatever was necessary to support the First Amendment rights of the student organization.”

But several high profile speakers who were announced as atttending the event were never even invited.

In recent weeks, Yiannopoulos insisted that a bevy of high-profile speakers would be attending the Berkeley series. But one of the most controversial names on the list — conservative commentator Ann Coulter — told The Times Friday that she was “never” coming.

“My speakers bureau never booked me to speak at Berkeley. No contract for me to speak existed,” she said in an email Friday.

Former White House strategist Stephen K. Bannon was another unconfirmed speaker. He didn’t respond to repeated requests for comment.

Charles Murray, who had been accosted at Middlebury College when he gave a lecture there last year and who was an announced speaker, scoffed at the notion that he would show up at any event connected to Milo:

“The inclusion of my name in the list of speakers was done without my knowledge or permission,” Murray wrote. “I will add that I would never under any circumstances appear at an event that included Milo Yiannopoulos.”

When asked why he would never appear with Yiannopoulos, Murray reportedly told the Chronicle: “Because he is a despicable asshole.”

Milo announced during a livestreamed news conference on Saturday that he would speak in front of the Berkeley administration building on Sunday anyway.

Conservative champions Mike Cernovich and Pamela Gellar will also join Yiannopoulos at Sunday's event. The slate of speakers includes Canadian far-right personality Lauren Southern, Los Angeles street artist SABO, conservative author Lisa De Pasquale, and former UC Irvine College Republicans President Ariana Rowlands.

Berkeley police say Milo is within his rights to speak at the unofficial event, but he has no permit to use "amplified sound," meaning they will probably shut him down before he gets started.

What a mess. The right's most persistent provocateur may have been hoping that the school would cancel the event, giving him a propaganda opening and a chance to haul Berkeley into court. It certainly looks like most of the major speakers were never invited or figured out that the entire event was a sham and backed out. The fact that so little was done to plan for the event, including the most rudimentary checklist items such as securing a venue, and officially confirming the speakers who would participate, suggests strongly that there was never any intention by Milo to go through with it.

Berkeley Patriot was had by a master propagandist. Interestingly, the cancellation means that Antifa will get all dressed up and have no place to go. That may have been part of Milo's plan all along.


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