The Berkeley Patriot, the conservative student political group behind “Free Speech Week,” has decided to cancel the event, mostly for safety reasons, the group’s attorney told Berkeleyside on Saturday morning.
“The university has made it impossible to hold the event,” said Marguerite Melo, a Visalia attorney with the firm Melo and Sarsfield. “A lot of these speakers have withdrawn. To have an empty gesture of ‘Free Speech Week,’ when there are no speakers is impossible. And the university couldn’t guarantee our speakers would be safe.”
“We are very disappointed,” she said. “We are going to cancel. We have made a determination, or our clients have, that it is just not safe. If we had had Zellerbach Hall, that would be a different story. But my clients didn’t want to be responsible, even morally, if something happened.”
The Berkeley Patriot notified UC Berkeley officials in a letter sent by email about 6:13 a.m.
The withdrawal of the group’s support means that Milo Yiannopoulos and the people he has invited to talk cannot come officially to public spaces at UC Berkeley. Non-student events must be “academically-driven” according to the ASUC outdoor space policies. While Lower Sproul can be rented, Sproul Plaza itself cannot.
Yiannopoulos said in a live-streamed statement Saturday that he still intends to carry out a push for “free speech” but in a different form. He will march through Sproul Plaza at noon on Sunday, accompanied by two fellow right-wing writers, Mike Cernovich and Pamela Geller.
University officials stated Saturday that the institution has gone to extreme lengths to help the Berkeley Patriot group put on the event. Officials also disputed claims that it would not provide sufficient security.
“It is extremely unfortunate that this announcement 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,” Dan Mogulof, a university spokesman said in a statement.
“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. Claims made by external parties that the University sought to place the speakers in harm’s way are unfortunate. We want to state unequivocally that campus leadership has complete faith in the UCPD, as well as the extraordinary number of allied law enforcement agencies who agreed to contribute additional officers for these events. We are confident that UCPD would have had the necessary resources in place to provide security for the events. We were in the process of spending what could have amounted to a sum well in excess of one million dollars in order to make these events safe.”
Yiannopoulos dreamed up “Free Speech Week” in the spring after his Feb. 1 talk was canceled because of a riot by antifa protesters.
He is holding a press conference on Treasure Island at 2 p.m. to reveal his plans. Berkeleyside will live stream the event on our Facebook page. (Update: The press conference has been canceled.)
As uncertainty swirled in recent days around “Free Speech Week,” which was slated to run Sept 24-27, a number of speakers and performers said they would not be attending, including Ann Coulter and the group Joy Villa. Steve Bannon of Breitbart News was touted as the main speaker but various news outlets report he is not coming, either. And some of the people listed on an initial list of speakers said they didn’t know anything about the event, including Charles Murray and James Damore, the former Google engineer who was fired for writing a memo that stated that women’s genetic makeup precluded them from being good coders. (Yiannopoulos admitted in a press statement Saturday that Murray never was expected to come.)
One former colleague of Yiannopoulos told Mogulof that Yiannopoulos never really planned for “Free Speech Week” to go forward.
“It was known that they didn’t intend to actually go through with it last week, and completely decided on Wednesday,” Lucian Wintrich, a journalist with the Gateway Pundit, said in an email Mogulof.
“Wait, whoah, hold on a second,” Mogulof wrote back. “What, exactly, are you saying? What were you told by MILO Inc? Was it a set-up from the get-go?”
In the live-streamed statement, Cernovich said those rumors were false. Milo had texted him months ago to participate and wanted the event to proceed, he said.
“A lot of people believe Milo never wanted this event to happen,” said Cernovich. “That is fake.”
UC Berkeley and the Office of the President had estimated that providing security for the week could cost as much as $1 million. The security costs for the Sept. 14 event featuring conservative writer Ben Shapiro cost approximately $600,000. Six buildings and Sproul Plaza were closed off for that event.
Over the last few nights, Yiannopoulos supporters have plastered the bulletin boards in Sproul Plaza, as well as numerous buildings, with posters saying things like “Defund Berkeley” and “Your city is run by commie thugs in black masks.” People with their faces covered then took the posters down. People have also written anti-immigrant, anti-gay and anti-left statements in chalk on the plaza.
UC police are investigating whether posters identifying certain students and professors as “terrorists” can be considered a hate crime. An organization associated with David Horowitz, the once-radical-turned-right wing, has taken credit for those posters.
This article was updated to reflect that the rules for non-student groups using public spaces at Cal calls into question Yiannopoulos’s ability to come to Cal. It was also updated to include information from the Yiannopoulos video statement Saturday.