By Natalie Orenstein and Frances Dinkelspiel
Following several days of will-she-won’t-she, Ann Coulter has said she will not appear in Berkeley on Thursday, but the exact reason for her cancellation is still unclear.
Early on Wednesday, she told the New York Times that she would not appear at UC Berkeley “because she faced threats of violence and felt she was left without the support of local law enforcement who have said it cannot guarantee her safety.” Then Fox News cited a Reuters interview where Coulter laid some blame on the Young America’s Foundation, which removed its sponsorship of her speech. “I looked over my shoulder and my allies had joined the other team,” she wrote.
When Coulter finally got around to addressing the situation on Twitter, she blamed UC Berkeley.
The Young America’s Foundation, which pulled its endorsement of the talk Tuesday because of concern about violence, also blamed UC Berkeley.
“It was not YAF who backed out of an event—there was no event because at no time did UC Berkeley offer a venue or time for the YAF lecture to take place,” a group representative wrote in an email.
“This is a matter of the university and the university police obstructing our right to free speech,” said Naweed Tahmas, a spokesman for Berkeley College Republicans. Cal is “feckless. BCR will not cower in the face of university obstructionism.”
Even the ACLU framed it as a Free Speech issue.
The heckler’s veto of Coulter’s Berkeley speech is a loss for the 1st Amendment. We must protect speech on campus, even when hateful.
— ACLU National (@ACLU) April 26, 2017
It’s an argument with which UC Berkeley strongly disagrees. Chancellor Nicholas Dirks put out a statement this morning insisting that Cal never canceled Coulter’s speech, nor prohibited her from coming to campus. The university was not trying to trample on Free Speech. UC, however, had to impose security restrictions on when and where she could talk since numerous groups made it clear they intended to use Coulter’s talk as an excuse to engage violently with one another, he wrote.
“This University has two non-negotiable commitments, one to Free Speech, the other to the safety of our campus community members, their guests, and the public,” Dirks wrote. “In that context, we cannot ignore or deny what is a new reality. Groups and individuals from the extreme ends of the political spectrum have made clear their readiness and intention to utilize violent tactics in support or in protest of certain speakers at UC Berkeley. … “This is a University, not a battlefield.”
Even though Coulter has now confirmed she will not be speaking at UC Berkeley, there will still be a protest.
Lauren Southern and Brittany Pettibone, two right-wing activists who spoke at the April 15 rally in Civic Center Park that devolved into violence, said they are planning to make some remarks on Thursday in Coulter’s stead as a matter of principle, in the name of Free Speech. They will be joined by Gavin McInnes, the co-founder of Vice media, a conservative pundit and the founder of The Proud Boys, a new national organization that deems itself pro-Western, pro-Trump and who believes women should be venerated when they hold conventional domestic roles. Many Proud Boys were involved in the fighting on April 15. No time or place for their speeches was announced “for obvious reasons,” said Southern.
However, Kyle Chapman, who has twice been arrested in Berkeley in connection with violence, tweeted that there would be a rally in Civic Center Park at 2 pm.
UC Berkeley police will make their presence known on campus on Thursday. They intend to approach any rally differently than they did the rally that forced the cancellation of the Yiannopolous talk.
“What I can say is our deployment and staffing is going to be significantly different than Milo,” said UC Police Captain Alex Yao. “If you are on campus tomorrow you will see a large number of law enforcement. We will have very, very low tolerance for any sort of violence on campus.”
The university does not plan to cancel classes although access to some buildings might be restricted said UC Berkeley spokesman Dan Mogulof. Officials will send out alerts through Nixle and Twitter, he said.
Our Fuck Antifa Rally is ON! Let’s show Antifa and UCB that we will not be silenced. 2151 M.L.K. Jr Way, Berkeley, CA 94704 2PM BE THERE! https://t.co/UJJN7fa0gX
— Based Stick Man (@BasedStickMan_) April 26, 2017
A number of far-right activists have said they still plan to show up on Sproul Plaza on Thursday, including one group from southern California.
Regardless if you’re speaking or not, the patriots from LA are coming up to support you! See you there!! #LetAnnSpeak pic.twitter.com/tFEcAKnUUC
— Baked Alaska™ (@bakedalaska) April 26, 2017
A spokesman for By Any Means Necessary said he did not think the group’s members would show up at Cal on Thursday but would instead focus on protesting on May 1. But the cancellation is a “victory,” according to Hoku Jeffrey, who graduated from UC Berkeley in 2005 and is now a Southern California coordinator for BAMN.
“I think it’s great,” said Jeffrey. “It’s a real victory for the forces of freedom and equality. Berkeley is a sanctuary campus and it’s going to remain that way and we made clear we are not going to allow any campus deportations.”
Despite Coulter’s cancellation, there is fallout from the situation.
Young America’s Foundation and the Berkeley College Republicans have filed a federal lawsuit contending that UC Berkeley had suppressed conservative speakers’ freedom of speech and had violated their First Amendment rights. The lawsuit will continue.
“We are announcing a new free speech movement,” said Troy Worden, president of Berkeley College Republicans. “We don’t want to set a precedence where the university can directly collaborate with anti-fascist groups.”
Pranav Jandhyala, co-founder of the non-partisan group, BridgeUSA, which had agreed to pay $3,000 of Coulter’s $20,000 speaking fee, said the group still wants to bring Coulter to campus, but under different circumstances.
“We’re going to withdraw ourselves from any events that take place tomorrow,” he said. “Our whole goal was to facilitate discourse and fix polarization. This event has created more polarization than anything.”
UC Berkeley has repeatedly said that it wants to work to bring Coulter to campus, but in a way that ensures her safety and the safety of bystanders. That was why it initially canceled Coulter’s April 27 appearance, saying short notice from the student groups and threats of violence had prevented the university from securing a safe venue for the talk. The university offered a venue on May 2, but Coulter rejected that date because it fell during Dead Week, when students are busy studying for finals.
Dirks said Tuesday the university will work to clarify its policies for controversial speakers.
“We will work cooperatively with members of our campus community who would sponsor events to ensure that those events can occur and that the campus can actually benefit from the dialogue their invited speakers might generate,” said Dirks. “To this end, we are working to clarify our policies and practices so that all know what is expected and how sponsors can best engage us to facilitate the success of their planned events. We trust that cooperation and good will among the members of our own community can help us jointly defend our campus against the threats to both speech and safety currently being posed by outside groups.”
In an accompanying statement, Mogulof wrote that Coulter’s safety concerns “are the exact reason we want her to come on a day when a protectable venue is available. We have always been concerned for her safety.”
UC police and Berkeley police had been working together to plan for a violent outburst at Coulter’s talk and still plan to be on alert. The Downtown Business Association sent an alert to members warning them to be prepared for possible violence. At the Feb. 1 protest involving Milo Yiannopolous, dozens of Antifa activists swarmed through downtown and smashed windows and ATM machines and looted at least one store. They caused $100,000 in damage at UC Berkeley and hundreds of thousands of dollars of damage downtown.