Attorneys for the Berkeley College Republicans and the Young America’s Foundation have asked a federal court for an injunction forcing UC Berkeley to allow the student group to bring controversial speakers to campus without special restrictions, regardless of security concerns. The lawsuit contends that UC Berkeley unconstitutionally canceled and rescheduled Ann Coulter’s visit to campus and previously placed unfair restrictions on David Horowitz’s speaking engagement.
But that is only one of a series of events in recent days that has Berkeley in the crosshairs of a cultural and political civil war.
In other developments:
- Milo Yiannopoulos, whose appearance at UC Berkeley on Feb. 1 set off violent confrontations, announced that he is returning to Berkeley for a “huge multi-day event called ‘Milo’s Free Speech Week.’”
- Breitbart News and a cluster of right-wing activists “outed” Mayor Jesse Arreguín for being friends on Facebook with Yvette Felarca, a field organizer for BAMN. They also found, on his Facebook profile, that he had joined the BAMN group on the popular social media network. Arreguín says people took that out of context, and that it did not mean he was an actual member of the group or supported its tactics.
- And the same extremists on the far right and far left who got into fist fights on April 15 are planning to return to Berkeley on Thursday. At least two right-wing groups have launched fund-raising campaigns to do so.
Harmeet K. Dhillion, the lawyer representing the College Republicans and the Tennessee-based Young America’s Foundation, which is paying the bulk of Coulter’s $20,000 speaking fee, held a press conference Monday to announce details of the federal lawsuit she filed in U.S. District Court against UC President Janet Napolitano, Chancellor Nicholas Dirks, Stephen Sutton, the acting vice-chancellor for student affairs, UC Police Department Chief Margo Bennett, and others.
The suit contends that UC officials canceled Coulter’s planned April 27 speech and then offered her the opportunity to speak May 2, during Dead Week, when no classes are held, “to restrict and stifle the speech of conservative students whose voices fall beyond the campus political orthodoxy. Though UC Berkeley promises its students an environment that promotes free debate and the free exchange of ideas, it had breached this promise through the repressive actions of University administrators and campus police, who have systematically and intentionally suppressed constitutionally-protected expression by Plaintiffs (and the many UC Berkeley students whose political viewpoints align with Plaintiffs), simply because that expression may anger or offend students, UC Berkeley administrators, and/or community members who do not share Plaintiffs’ viewpoints.”
The lawsuit contends that UC Berkeley has set restrictions on conservative speakers that it did not set on liberal speakers, such as insisting they talk in the afternoon and at venues that were a mile away from the main campus.
The lawsuit asks for a jury trial, an injunction against Berkeley officials from “restricting the exercise of political expression on the UC Berkeley campus,” and damages for attorney fees.
At the packed press conference, Dhillon said UC Berkeley employed an unconstitutional unwritten, “secret” and “shadowy” new policy that “allows university administrators unilaterally to declare a speaker ‘high-profile,'” to restrict where and when Coulter could appear on campus.
If UC Berkeley decides to permanently lift this policy, allowing equal conditions for any invited speaker, “I would probably withdraw my lawsuit. But that’s up to my clients,” Dhillon said.
UC officials responded to the news of the lawsuit around 3:30 p.m.
“The University of California welcomes speakers of all political viewpoints and is committed to providing a forum to enable Ann Coulter to speak on the Berkeley campus,” read a statement from the university. “The allegation contained in the complaint filed by Young America’s Foundation that Ms. Coulter is being prohibited from speaking because of her conservative views is untrue. As the complaint itself notes, Young America’s Foundation has sponsored many other speaking events at UC Berkeley in past years, including that of conservative political commentator and author Ben Shapiro, and the organization’s efforts have led many notable conservatives to share their viewpoints with students and the public on campus. UC Berkeley has been working to accommodate a mutually agreeable time for Ms. Coulter’s visit – which has not yet been scheduled – and remains committed to doing so. The campus seeks to ensure that all members of the Berkeley and larger community – including Ms. Coulter herself – remain safe during such an event.”
The university had previously referred to the melee surrounding the Feb. 1 Yiannopolous event and two subsequent unruly rallies in Berkeley as evidence that special security would be needed for Coulter.
Dhillon maintained the university could not cancel a speaking event because of violent threats. “That is manifestly not a law,” she said at the press conference.
She said also criticized the actions of the UC Police during the Yiannopolous protests, saying they “behaved like shrinking violets” and that “they should have taken out their batons.”
One constitutional scholar also thinks UC Berkeley’s legal argument is weak. Geoffrey Stone, a professor of law at the University of Chicago, said the Supreme Court has made it clear that public institutions must allow anyone to speak unless it is likely that there may be “grave harm” that they cannot control or prevent. The fact that there were three violent demonstrations in Berkeley since February is not evidence of that. Stone said the violence must be “imminent” and the danger “very likely,” in order to stop a speaker.
Stone said Berkeley and UC police could take measures to stop the anarchists and far-right Trump supporters from engaging in fist fights. As a consequence, that is not enough to prevent Coulter from talking.
“The concern is not just about the moment,” said Stone. “It’s about the precedent it sets. Once you cancel speakers because of threats of violence, you encourage violence.”
At the press conference, Dhillon said she does not represent Coulter — though Coulter has called the suit “our lawsuit” on Twitter — but said, “I understand she’s still planning to come” to Berkeley on Thursday.
In other developments:
Milo Yiannopoulos’ canceled speech at UC Berkeley and the ensuing violence thrust him into the national spotlight and enhanced his profile and marketability. Then his fame crashed down around him when a video was released in which Yiannopoulos said sexual relationships between adult men and youths as young as 13 could be “perfectly consensual.” The ensuing furor over the remarks prompted Yiannopoulos to resign as senior editor of Breitbart News. Simon and Schuster canceled his $250,000 book contract on Feb. 20.
Yiannopoulos has said he refuses to be cowed and pledged to self-publish his book or find another publisher. On April 21, Yiannopoulos revealed plans for what appears as an attempt at a comeback.
“In light of recent controversies, I am planning a huge multi-day event called MILO’S FREE SPEECH WEEK in Berkeley later this year. We will hold talks and rallies and throw massive parties, all in the name of free expression and the First Amendment. All will be welcome, regardless of political affiliation.”
“Free speech has never been more under threat in America — especially at the supposed home of the free speech movement. I will bring activists, writers, artists, politicians, YouTubers, veterans and drag queens from across the ideological spectrum to lecture, march, and party.”
“MILO’S FREE SPEECH WEEK will include events on the UC Berkeley campus. We will stand united against the “progressive” Left. We will loudly reject the venomous hectoring and moral hypocrisy of social justice warriors. Free speech belongs to everyone — not just the spoilt brats of the academy.”
Jesse Arreguín – In a reflection of how rumors start on right-wing Twitter feeds and Facebook, and then make their way into the right-wing establishment media, Berkeley’s mayor is being widely accused of supporting the tactics of the militant anarchist group By Any Means Necessary (BAMN). Someone looked through Arreguín’s Facebook friends (those on the ultra right routinely crawl for information on the web about those they see as antagonists; an action called doxxing) and saw that he was friends with Yvette Felarca, a BAMN organizer, and BUSD middle school teacher. They also scoured Arreguín’s Facebook page, which showed he was an online member of BAMN. That information was put on Twitter on April 21; later that day Breitbart News had a story “Berkeley Mayor Is Member of Antifa Facebook Group that Organized Riots.” Soon other right-wing sites had repeated the information. They used that connection to “explain” why, from their point of view, Berkeley police did not come down aggressively on the Antifa protesters who hurled M80s on April 15 and beat up on right-wing supporters of Trump.
The information is false, according to both BAMN and Arreguín.
Felarca told Berkeleyside in an email: “Jesse Arreguin is not a member of BAMN and never was.”
Arreguín released his own statement to Berkeleyside:
“On social media, following or liking pages does not mean you support what that group is doing, and the folks at Breitbart know that, but they are in the business of misinformation. I am not a member of BAMN, and I do not support the views and the violent actions of that group.
“I follow Donald Trump on Twitter to stay up to date on what he’s saying. Would Breitbart suggest that makes me a Trump supporter? I was following this particular group on Facebook so I could stay up to date on what they are up to. I condemn in the harshest terms the violent actions that BAMN has employed.
“We’re a progressive city, and we do have a rich history of protest. While we cherish freedom of speech, there is no freedom to commit violence. Those who do commit violent acts must be arrested. I am working with the police department ahead of Ann Coulter’s upcoming visit to make sure we keep our city safe. And our police are doing a great job in the face of a tough situation.
“Breitbart did not contact me for comment before they released this inaccurate story. They are not real news so fact checking is not necessary I guess.
“Since this article and in the lead up to Ann Coulter’s visit to Berkeley this week there has been an increase in hate emails, tweets and phone calls to my office. Breitbart and other right-wing blogs have broadcasted out this misinformation, as a means to advance their narrative that Berkeley is hostile to their right to engage in freedom of speech. In fact, the exact opposite is the case. We have gone above and beyond to facilitate the right of people to engage in peaceful assembly and freedom of speech. What we have seen however is groups using “free speech” as an opportunity to engage in violence. I strongly condemn those that wish to use violence rather than debate and exchange of ideas. We will work to keep our community safe and arrest and prosecute those who commit violent acts.”
Arreguín said late Monday that he had un-followed BAMN on Friday, April 21, after the word spread.
“I did ‘unmember” myself. I forgot that I had liked the page, honestly. It didn’t even come to my attention until Breitbart posted the article. Well, (I thought) I will just unlike the page so there is no confusion about whether I support them or not. I don’t support many of their views and I certainly don’t support their tactics.”
The announcement that Ann Coulter will be talking in Berkeley on April 27 (or is going to try to talk) has galvanized far right activists as well as anarchists. People from all around the state and even the country are making plans to come to Berkeley.
At least two right-wing pro-Trump groups from southern California have launched fundraising campaigns to travel to Berkeley.
Kyle Chapman, also known as Based Stickman, said on Facebook that he had formed a new, militant group that is aligned with the Proud Boys, an organization with small chapter across the U.S. formed by conservative media pundit Gavin McInnes.
“I’m proud to announce that my newly created Fraternal Order of Alt-Knights will be partnering with Proud Boys. This is being done with Gavin McInnes full approval…. Our emphasis will be on street activism, preparation, defense and confrontation. We will protect and defend our right wing brethren when the police and government fail to do so. This organization is for those that possess the Warrior Spirit. The weak or timid need not apply.”
There has been a lot of chatter about April 27 and the various weapons people can bring to rumble on 4chan, a place where people gather to talk online:
“One underrated but extremely important piece of equipment is a mouth guard,” wrote one anonymous poster. “Not only will it protect your teeth, it will let you absorb punches much easier.”
From another: “Also I would recommend meeting up with some other people on the way. Bay Area Proud Boys, Stick Man, and Identity Evropa are all going. You should contact some of them.”
And a third: “my brother bought this handsize flashlight thats also a strobelight and a taser. dont know why this isnt a weapon of choice among protesters. it looks like a ordinary flashlight and you could just hang it on your beltloop”
A fourth: “A larger mag light will work. Hits like a ton of bricks when you got it loaded with D-cell batteries. Probably cheaper too.”
Anarchists who come together using black blocs tactic and who are loosely known as Antifa are also preparing to return to Berkeley.
The restrained response of Berkeley police and UC Berkeley police to the three violent protests has provoked some demonstrators to suggest that the police are weak. However, both BPD and UCPD have said they have learned from each protest.
This developing story was updated as new information became available. Natalie Orenstein contributed reporting.