"Free Speech Week" Fizzles at UC-Berkeley; Milo Vows to Return

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September 27, 2017

Article Highlights:

• Milo Yiannopoulos blames failure of his UC-Berkeley “free speech week” on university administrators

• Non-event costs university an estimated $800,000

• Yiannopoulos plans October appearances at Cal State campuses

After weeks of promotion and promises of appearances by bold-faced right-wing speakers from Ann Coulter to Steve Bannon, Milo Yiannopoulos’s “Free Speech Week” at UC Berkeley was reduced to a 30-minute meet-and-greet conducted over police barricades. Yiannopoulos, a professional provocateur and right-wing media personality, organized the would-be event with the Berkeley Patriot, a conservative student group. He promised to return to the campus in April.  

Yiannopoulos is a star within the alt lite, a loosely connected movement of right-wing activists who reject the overtly white supremacist ideology of the alt right, embrace misogyny and xenophobia, and loathe feminism, the left and anything they term “political correctness.” 

Capitalizing on the deepening political divisions exacerbated by the 2016 presidential campaign, the alt lite has adopted “free speech” as their primary cause, and members have taken their provocative and inflammatory rhetoric to the streets – and to college campuses around the country. UC-Berkeley has seen more than its fair share of alt lite posturing – including Yiannopoulos’s scheduled appearance in February, which sparked violent protests and was eventually cancelled.

On Saturday, September 23, a day before the planned kickoff for Free Speech Week, Yiannopoulos, alongside scheduled speakers #Pizzagate promoter Mike Cernovich and anti-Muslim bigot Pamela Geller, held a hastily arranged press conference to announce that the weeklong program would no longer be happening. He placed most of the blame on UC-Berkeley administrators, who he said “bullied and intimidated” organizers, and made unreasonable demands (for payments and paperwork). 

On Sunday, Yiannopoulos, Cernovich and Geller made their way, arms linked, through the tight security surrounding UC Berkeley’s Sproul Plaza, and spoke to a crowd of 30 or 40 people for about 20 minutes. Another few hundred protesters and supporters stood outside the police barricades, some carrying signs which read, “Feminism = Cancer,” “My free speech rights don’t end where your feelings begin. Antifa cucks!” and “Stop Liberal Intolerance.”

Yiannopoulos opened with a derisive comment about that day’s NFL protests, calling the players who chose to kneel during the national anthem, “spoiled brat millionaires…disrespecting the flag.” He led the small crowd in prayer, saying, “Join me on your knees, to pray for the protesters who don’t know what they’re doing, and for the United States of America, the greatest country in the world.”

He went on to say of the cancelled Free Speech Week, “You can thank UC Berkeley for sabotaging their students. It’s so shocking and appalling.” Yiannopoulos vowed to return to Berkeley until the school “treats its conservative students with the same respect and with the fairness that they treat their liberal students.”

“We are going to do this, come hell or high water, no matter what this administration says.” As he was driven away from campus, Yiannopoulos announced to a camera, “Even if there are two of us, we’re going to show up, and we’re going to show up loudly. We don’t crave acceptance and publicity the same way liberals do. We just want to be left alone. And we just want to be allowed to do our thing.”

Yiannopoulos was clearly the main draw for most of attendees, who yelled “I love you!” as he signed hats, “Support Trump” signs and iPhone cases. Geller, who is promoting a book called “Fatwa: Hunted in America,” engaged in a screaming match with a particularly loud protester, while Cernovich remained quiet. 

UC Police Chief Margo Bennett estimated the non-event would cost the University at least $800,000, which prompted UC Berkeley spokesman Dan Mogulof to call Yiannopoulos’s brief appearance “the most expensive photo op in the university’s history.”

Eleven people were arrested, according to media reports.

Yiannopoulos said he plans to make additional appearances on California campuses throughout the fall.