Signs for “Free Speech Week” hang on a bulletin board at Sproul Plaza on Thursday. Organizers have denied rumors that the event is canceled. Photo: David Yee ©2017
Signs for “Free Speech Week” hang on a bulletin board at Sproul Plaza on Thursday. Organizers have denied rumors that the event is canceled. Photo: David Yee ©2017

Less than 48 hours before “Free Speech Week” is set to kick off, reports that the whole shebang will be called off abound — but a source connected to the organizers says they are false.

“They have not cancelled,” said John Sarsfield, a lawyer for the Berkeley Patriot, in an email to Berkeleyside on Friday around 2 p.m. “A rumor got started, we don’t know from whom.  But it’s still on.”

The Berkeley Patriot is the conservative student group putting on the event with Milo Yiannopoulos. The students did not respond to Berkeleyside’s multiple requests for confirmation earlier Friday, although NPR reported in the early afternoon that they had said the events would be canceled.

Yiannopoulos also denied the cancelation rumors in a Facebook post Friday.

“Contrary to press reports, Free Speech Week is not cancelled. We will announce our full plans for the week at a press conference tomorrow,” Yiannopoulos wrote in a post around 11 a.m.

The confusion around the potential cancelation mirrors the uncertainty that has surrounded “Free Speech Week” from the start. According to UC Berkeley, the student organizers failed to book venues on time. A number of speakers included on events lists have said they never agreed to participate. Some have posited that the whole ordeal is a ruse.

Ann Coulter, the conservative commentator, told the Associated Press on Friday that she won’t be coming to Berkeley.

Coulter said that she heard “the administration was dead set on blocking this event,” which factored into her decision not to come, according to an article in the Las Vegas Sun.

“I also don’t think Berkeley deserves to hear a brilliant and entertaining Ann Coulter speech,” Coulter told the AP in an email, according to the article.

Nevertheless, UC Berkeley is still preparing for all the events included on an allegedly final schedule put out Wednesday, said campus spokesman Dan Mogulof on Friday. Mogulof told Berkeleyside that the security costs for the whole week could total $1 million. The UC system has agreed to contribute $300,000, to help with the security costs for the four days, an unusual step, and also chipped in $300,000 toward the Sept. 14 event featuring Ben Shapiro.

Meanwhile, the Berkeley Patriot has filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Justice alleging that the students “have been subjected to a pattern and practice of suppression of their First Amendment rights.”

The complaint states that the UC Berkeley administration engaged in “de facto viewpoint discrimination” by presenting hurdles to conservative speaking events. Represented by Marguerite Melo of the Law Offices of Melo and Sarsfield LLP, the student group is calling for an investigation into the university’s actions.

A student with the Berkeley Patriot said earlier this week that the ACLU was prepared to go to court on the students’ behalf. The ACLU has denied his claim.

The Berkeley Patriot is a revitalization of an old conservative campus publication, the California Patriot. The staff plans to release and promote its first issue during “Free Speech Week.” With the Department of Justice complaint, the students are following in the footsteps of the Berkeley College Republicans, another conservative group that sued Cal for allegedly suppressing their freedom of speech last spring.

Frances Dinkelspiel contributed reporting.

Natalie Orenstein reports on housing and homelessness for The Oaklandside. Natalie was a Berkeleyside staff reporter from early 2017 to May 2020. She had previously contributed to the site since 2012,...