Newly ousted White House chief strategist Stephen Bannon may join a roster of far-right incendiaries invited to speak at UC Berkeley this fall.
UC Berkeley spokesman Dan Mogulof said Wednesday evening that Bannon, who returned to his former position at Breitbart News last week, had been invited by a student group called the Berkeley Patriot, which also invited Ann Coulter and Milo Yiannopoulos to campus between Sept. 24-27. On Thursday morning, Mogulof said he had been told by the student group that Bannon’s appearance was not, in fact, confirmed.
On Thursday afternoon, a representative from the Berkeley Patriot, a conservative campus publication, said he could not confirm whether any of the speakers had been invited, despite the initial statement by Mogulof.
“We’re still in a very early developmental and organizational stage,” said Bryce Kasamoto, bureau chief of the Berkeley Patriot and UC Berkeley senior. “We’re not ready to disclose information.”
Another student group, the Berkeley College Republicans, invited both Coulter and Yiannopoulos to campus last semester, but Yiannopoulos’s February appearance was canceled when anti-fascist protesters descended on the campus, and Coulter canceled her April speech during a tug-of-war over venue and security issues between the student group and the university. Both speakers vowed to return to Berkeley this fall.
The College Republicans have sued Cal for allegedly suppressing freedom of speech by thwarting conservative speaker engagements. This month, UC Berkeley offered another conservative speaker invited by the student group, Ben Shapiro, Zellerbach Hall on Sept. 14.
On Wednesday night, two UC Berkeley faculty members, Leigh Raiford and Michael Mark Cohen of the African American Studies Department, took to social media to blast their employer for entertaining the possibility of the far-right speaker lineup.
Horrified by my place of work. This is *not* free speech. These are discredited ideas meant to incite violence. Refuse false equivalences. https://t.co/xK0GG0xhWJ
— Leigh Raiford (@professoroddjob) August 24, 2017
We will need a massive and effective response to the alt-right invasion of @UCBerkeley, an invasion welcomed by this administration.
— Michael Mark Cohen (@LilBillHaywood) August 23, 2017
Bannon is credited by many, including Shapiro, with reshaping Breitbart into a platform for white supremacy, Islamophobia and anti-Semitism. KKK leader David Duke praised President Donald Trump’s inclusion of Bannon in his administration, saying Bannon was “basically creating the ideological aspects of where we’re going.”
New Cal chancellor calls for ‘free speech year’
On Wednesday, new UC Berkeley Chancellor Carol Christ released a letter emphasizing the university’s commitment to allowing a wide range of views on campus.
“The law is very clear; public institutions like UC Berkeley must permit speakers invited in accordance with campus policies to speak, without discrimination in regard to point of view,” Christ wrote.
She conceded that some of the views in question could be affronts to the university’s values of inclusion and diversity, but told members of the campus community to “call toxic speech out for what it is, don’t shout it down, for in shouting it down, you collude in the narrative that universities are not open to all speech.”
Mogulof said the Berkeley Patriot students have followed a new campus events policy closely in their planning of the speaker series.
“They seem to be quite aware of the impact these guests might have on the campus. The seem interested in working with the campus to address concerns that may arise,” he said.
Christ has declared 2017-18 a “free speech year” at UC Berkeley, announcing that her administration will hold its own speaker events and debates.
Some other universities have changed their approaches to plans for far-right speaker events in the aftermath of a white supremacist march that turned deadly in Charlottesville, VA, earlier this month. At least five campuses have withdrawn invitations to prominent white nationalist Richard Spencer, citing concerns for student safety.
Mogulof said circumstances may be different at other campuses, but that Cal has no legal grounds on which to prevent the set of speakers from coming to Berkeley in September should they be invited.
This story has been updated with new information.