Milo Yiannopoulos talking about “Free Speech Week” on a Sept. 18 video.
Milo Yiannopoulos talking about “Free Speech Week” on a Sept. 18 video.

It’s D-Day minus six before Milo Yiannopoulos and his cast of right-wing firebrands is planning to come to UC Berkeley to hold “Free Speech Week.” The unconfirmed list of speakers includes Breitbart editor and former White House advisor Steve Bannon, and conservative commentator Ann Coulter, among others.

But it is unclear whether the major events will take place. UC Berkeley officials have said the Berkeley Patriot, the newspaper group working with Yiannopoulos, lost the ability to rent Zellerbach Auditorium and Wheeler Hall because it did not pay the necessary fees, or complete security forms required by police, by the deadline of 5 p.m. on Sept. 15. So, if Bannon and Coulter want to speak, they will have to do it outdoors in Lower Sproul Plaza, which the student group has reserved for Sept. 26, according to Dan Mogulof, a university spokesman.

But Yiannopoulos released a video Monday morning in which he pledged to hold “Free Speech Week” despite the obstacles. His message, which also featured a number of writers for the Berkeley Patriot, is that the university has been unresponsive, is deliberately twisting the frequency and number of communications the two sides have had, has refused to add protective clauses into the contracts, and did not allow time for Yiannopoulos’s company, Milo, Inc., to transfer payments.

“We are not going to cancel Free Speech Week,” Yiannopoulos said in the video, which had more than 83,000 views by mid-afternoon. “I am not going to allow these sleepy bureaucratic tactics to derail an event we have been planning for months, which is going to cost me almost a quarter of a million dollars.”

Yiannopoulos showed off a photo of a wire transfer for $65,758.76 that he sent to the Associated Students of the University of California the morning of Sept. 18. The fee to rent Zellerbach Auditorium was $40,000 and to rent Wheeler Hall was $20,000.

But the money came in after the drop-dead deadline on Friday and will be returned to Yiannopoulos, even though the Berkeley Patriot group had sent in a signed contract by the deadline, said Mogulof. That was the third deadline the group missed, he said.

“If (renting Zellerbach) was so important why didn’t they sign the contract, why didn’t they make the payment at any time in the last eight weeks?” said Mogulof.

Yiannopoulos said on the video that he was only made aware that he had to send in the full fee after banks on the East Coast closed on Friday. Members of the Berkeley Patriot have said they had been trying to complete all the paperwork but university officials would not add needed clauses to the contract and would not meet with them, despite repeated requests.

Despite the uncertainty surrounding Free Speech Week, a group of about 130 professors, graduate students and lecturers have called for a boycott of classes and university events from Sept. 24 to Sept. 27. The letter points out that many students, faculty and staff will feel unsafe at school because of the anti-immigrant, anti-female, anti-gay rhetoric of many of the speakers. In addition, they fear there may be an “uncontrollable confrontation” during the week.

“The history of these events has been chilling,” the faculty letter reads. “Since Inauguration Day, Alt-Right followers have shot someone at the University of Washington, stabbed two people to death on public transport in Portland, stabbed to death a college senior in Maryland, beaten numerous nonviolent protesters at the University of Virginia, and most recently murdered a peaceful protester with an automobile in Charlottesville. Most immediately troubling, given Trump’s decision to end DACA, is that these forces have publicly expressed their intent to specifically target “sanctuary campuses” and disclose the identity of undocumented students. As concerned faculty members, we cannot remain silent while students, staff, colleagues, and fellow community members are threatened.”

Not all faculty members have agreed to join the boycott. Most of the professors in the sciences are still planning to hold classes, according to the Daily Cal. Those classes are held on the opposite side of the campus from where most of the rallies have taken place.

People on the right, including Yiannopoulos, have argued that the actual threat doesn’t come from the conservatives but from antifa. When Yiannopoulos was last in Berkeley, on Feb. 1, about 150 masked, black-clad protesters stormed Sproul Plaza, tore down metal barricades meant to protect those attending the talk, set a generator on fire, broke windows and threw projectiles at police. The protesters also destroyed stores, banks, and ATM machines downtown, causing about $600,000 in damage.

Counter-protesters are planning actions for “Free Speech Week.” The Facebook account that promoted the counter-demonstration on UC Berkeley’s crescent lawn on Aug. 27 has publicized a “Berkeley Rally Against White Supremacy” at the same location on Sept. 25. On Twitter, Berkeley Antifa promoted it. It has also promoted a “No Hate in the Bay” march on Sept. 23 starting at noon at 63rd and Adeline.

The last time Milo Yiannopolous came to Berkeley, on Feb. 1, antifa rushed into Sproul Plaza and created chaos. In this photo, protesters watch a fire burn at the ASUC building on the Cal campus. Photo: David Yee

The rhetoric swirling around “Free Speech Week” resembles the rhetoric used when Coulter was planning to come to Berkeley in April. The university, now, like then, has said it has certain protocols all student groups must follow in order to ensure that speakers, observers, and bystanders are safe during talks and events. These include providing adequate notification of events, enough time to coordinate with police, evidence such as emails or signed contracts that show the speakers will actually show up, an insurance policy, and deposits for the rented halls, according to various emails by Mogulof.

Yiannopoulos and his supporters dismiss these requirements as bureaucratic niceties and say the overriding issue is free speech. Any roadblock to allowing the speakers is a move against free speech, they claim.

“Once again Berkeley is trying to stop free speech,” Ashton Whitty, a writer for the Berkeley Patriot newspaper and a member of the Berkeley College Republicans, said on the video… “If you truly care about your students you would stop blaming the conservatives and you would start… telling the police to do their job by putting antifa in jail.”

Pranav Jandhyala, who is a member of the Berkeley College Republicans, which invited Yiannopolous in February and is also the news editor of Berkeley Patriot, said all the requirements are a way to stop the week from happening. “They don’t want this event to happen but they can’t cancel it outright. They need for it to look like it was our fault, our own failures, which is not the case.”

Despite the fact that the Berkeley Patriot no longer has contracts to rent Zellerbach and Wheeler during the week, their nine other activities can go on as planned, according to Mogulof. The group is free to add Bannon and Coulter to the outdoor event planned for Sept. 26, he said.  Yiannopoulos said that Sept. 24 would be “Feminism Awareness Day;” Sept. 25 would be “Zuck 2020;” Sept. 26 would be “Islamic Peace and Tolerance Day;” and Sept. 27 would be “Mario Savio is Dead” day.

Here is the list of speakers the Berkeley Patriots provided to UC Berkeley:

Other speakers announced by Yiannopoulos who do not appear on the schedule include Raheem Kassam and Alex Marlow. The Milo organization had also announced that Charles Murray would be speaking, but Murray said on Twitter that was not the case as he had never heard of the event.

UC Berkeley spent about $600,000 on security for the Sept. 14 appearance of conservative commentator Ben Shapiro at Zellerbach. Six buildings on the south side of campus were cordoned off and no one was allowed on Sproul Plaza. Hundreds of police officers from around California assisted in the event.

UC Berkeley Police Chief Margo Bennett needs about ten days to secure muutal aid, which is why the university set a drop-dead deadline to secure Zellerbach of Sept. 15, said Mogulof.

Avatar photo

Frances Dinkelspiel, Berkeleyside and CItyside co-founder, is a journalist and author. Her first book, Towers of Gold: How One Jewish Immigrant Named Isaias Hellman...