BY HANK REICHMAN
It seems the much-ballyhooed and monstrously misnamed “Free Speech Week,” organized by the infamous bigot-provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos and scheduled to unfold September 24-27 at the University of California at Berkeley (UCB), may not take place after all. And if it does, it will be in a scaled-down version.
The event was to be sponsored by a small student publication, The Berkeley Patriot, but yesterday the university announced that the group had missed three separate deadlines to confirm the two largest venues requested for the series of events. In addition, although Yiannopoulos’s press team announced a full lineup of speakers last week, both the campus and the Berkeley Patriot said that not all have been confirmed and several of the purported speakers said they had no plans to attend.
In a public statement released yesterday, the UCB administration wrote:
The campus administration appreciates that the student organization has attempted to satisfy the essential requirements for those events they proposed to hold in Zellerbach Auditorium on 9/27 and Wheeler Auditorium on 9/24, 2017. In spite of support provided by campus staff and administration to these students, the student organization fell short of what is minimally required by standing policies and standard contracts that apply to every other student organization on the Berkeley campus with regard to their tentative reservations at these two venues.
While Berkeley Patriot did, at the last minute, sign the necessary contracts for these venues late in the day on Friday, 9/15, the student organization failed to fully secure its reservations by submitting the necessary payments by the 5 pm deadline. To be clear, the Berkeley Patriot missed a total of three deadlines to execute these contracts. They were told on 8/11 they needed to sign and execute these contracts by 8/18. They did not. They were told on 8/22 they needed to sign and execute these contracts by 8/25. They did not. They were told, in writing, for the last time, on 9/13 that the contracts must be signed and executed by 9/15 at 5pm. They did not.
As per the standing policy that governs all events hosted and organized by student organizations, Berkeley Patriot was also required to fill out and return to the Special Events Unit of UCPD Police Services Request Forms for each one of their 12 proposed events. The campus will continue in the coming week to work with the student organization to complete these forms and coordinate the security arrangements that UCPD has determined to be necessary for the events. The student organization had an opportunity to appeal UCPD’s security requirements for their remaining 10 events, and did not appeal.
The student organization has also failed to comply with two previous deadlines (9/11 and 9/13) to provide the campus with evidence that speakers are actually confirmed, such as emails, evidence of travel arrangement, or contracts. This failure to confirm, combined with the refusal to provide unqualified speaker lists and schedules has led the campus to question whether Berkeley Patriot actually intends to, and/or is able to, carry out the proposed events. These concerns were heightened after a press release was issued by an external, commercial enterprise—MILO Inc.—that purported to list the speakers who would be coming to the Berkeley campus between 9/24-27. Subsequent to its release, the University has been informed by a number of the identified speakers that they had no intention of participating in these events. The student organization has provided inconsistent information directly to the campus regarding speakers and schedules three separate times in the last eight days.
The University cannot defend spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to provide security arrangements for events based on a press release and inconsistent schedules. The campus will require Berkeley Patriot to confirm the details of its 10 remaining proposed events in the coming days.
The speakers list announced by Yiannopoulos included a veritable “who’s who” of right-wing celebrities. Among them was Charles Murray, whose appearance last spring at Middlebury College attracted extensive publicity after it was disrupted by student demonstrators. However, on Friday Murray posted a tweet saying he had “never heard of the event” at Berkeley. “I was never contacted by the organizers of this event,” Murray added in an email to the Daily Californian. “The inclusion of my name in the list of speakers was done without my knowledge or permission. I will add that I would never under any circumstances appear at an event that included Milo Yiannopoulos.” When asked why he would not appear with Yiannopoulos, Murray replied: “Because he is a despicable asshole.”
Heather MacDonald, whose appearance at Claremont-McKenna College was also disrupted, tweeted that she too had not been contacted about the event. While Steve Bannon reportedly had been confirmed for the now-canceled Zellerbach program, it seems he also has an engagement in Washington the same day. Ann Coulter, another of the purported headliners at Zellerbach, publicly said she was “dubious that this is . . . going to come off.” Dan Mogulof, a UCB spokesperson, told the Daily Californian that only three individuals on Milo’s list had been confirmed by the university, although he declined to name them owing to security concerns.
Pranav Jandhyala, news editor for the Berkeley Patriot, said Yiannopoulos was the primary person organizing the invitations for speakers, so the Berkeley Patriot “had not been in contact with most of the individual speakers.”
“The Berkeley Patriot was under the impression that those speakers were confirmed and it’s seeming like some speakers didn’t know that they were invited,” Jandhyala said. “That’s a big issue and we’re going to try to figure this out with Milo and his team.” Jandhyala added that some of the speakers “have been unsettled by the threat of violence,” but that the Berkeley Patriot is working to replace them.
In seeking to avoid the kind of confrontations and bad publicity created when Yiannopoulos’s talk in February was canceled in the face of violent protest and Coulter’s proposed talk in April could not be safely scheduled, the UCB administration has gone to extraordinary lengths to guarantee security and ensure the proposed “Free Speech Week” could take place. These efforts have already resulted in the rescheduling of one legitimate scholarly event, an Anthropology distinguished lecture, and prompted efforts by faculty to initiate a boycott of the campus during the week.
On September 14 right-wing libertarian blogger Ben Shapiro spoke without disruption at Zellerbach Hall. The talk was sponsored by the College Young Republicans, but that organization’s expenses — and Shapiro’s fee — were covered by the Young America’s Foundation. The university, however, reported expenditures of some $600,000 in security, and much of the campus was blockaded starting hours before the talk, with only those bearing tickets admitted. While there were 1,000 tickets issued to the free event, not all the seats were filled in areas of the venue that organizers had described as being sold out. Hundreds of protesters participating in a Refuse Fascism rally were kept off campus just outside the south gate, where there were at least nine arrests, including one woman arrested for carrying a potential weapon, which was simply a cardboard protest sign. There was no violence.
Some students also organized a peaceful sit-in inside Martin Luther King Jr. Student Union to protest the closure of the building for the event. “We are tired of being pushed out of our spaces. We want to be put before the speakers that are coming to our campus,” one of those students told the Daily Californian. “It’s not just the fact that this person says horrible things that do impact communities in different ways. … These events are displacing a lot of students.”
Unlike Yiannopoulos, Shapiro eschews the “alt-Right” label and claims to oppose both racism and President Trump. But that didn’t stop some demonstrators from claiming that his words would be hurtful, hateful, and harmful. However, at least one organizer took a more disturbing approach, arguing that Shapiro and presumably more extreme speakers like Coulter or Yiannopoulos pose a different sort of danger. Xochitl Johnson, 42, of Oakland, one of the Refuse Fascism organizers, said Shapiro and other speakers make students rethink their beliefs — and “tamp down” their activism. “People come out of his speeches and they think he made sense,” Johnson told the Chronicle. “They’re wrapping themselves in the veil of free speech to bludgeon these young people on these campuses with white supremacy, xenophobia, racism and hatred.”
This is probably the most dangerous — not to mention condescending — argument against providing free speech to controversial campus speakers yet advanced: they should be banned because naive young students might think they make sense! Words fail.
Yiannopoulos has said he targeted Berkeley, which he calls the “craziest campus in America,” because of its allegedly intolerant students. But one columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle disagrees. Visiting campus a day before Shapiro’s talk, here’s some of what he found:
I went to campus Wednesday afternoon to see what “crazy” looked like.
Television satellite trucks were already parked on Bancroft, in anticipation of protests for Thursday night’s appearance by conservative speaker Ben Shapiro.
One cameraman filmed students passing through Sather Gate and walking across Sproul Plaza as if they were extras on a studio lot.Some students waved hello or goodbye to friends. Others, heads down, tapped on their phones. Many who were alone had 100-yard stares on their faces, the equivalent of a do-not-disturb hang tag.
They brushed past me and other reporters, because they’ve become inconvenienced spectators.
This isn’t their fight. It’s just happening in their backyard.
“I think everyone is over this campus being a media circus,” Nichole Bloom, a junior, told me. “The imagery has promoted this misconception of what Berkeley is.” . . .
The craziest thing I saw from a student was off campus. When I stopped to talk to Eliot Davis, he said he had just been refused service at the CVS on the corner of Telegraph Avenue and Carleton Street, about six blocks from campus.
He took the rejection in a very, very long stride. It’s because Davis was walking on stilts. The poles were covered in denim, which made it appear as if Davis, 21, was a super tall guy in bell bottom jeans.
The environmental economics and policy major was surprised when I told him about “Free Speech Week.” Still, he knew what to expect on campus.
“These protests arise, and then these small groups within the protest, that aren’t necessarily from Berkeley, create havoc,” Davis said. “And that kind of extrapolates to the way the UC Berkeley campus is viewed.”
He put his earbuds back in and clomped up Telegraph toward campus.
Whether Milo’s “Free Speech Week” happens or not, it should now be crystal clear that he’s little more than a third-rate huckster and scam artist. The over-inflated Milo bubble is bursting — and it’s about time.
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