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Ann Coulter event at UC Berkeley mimics Milo Yiannopoulos

GENISIA TING / AGGIE

Right-wing journalist Ann Coulter cancels appearance at Berkeley, sparks debate similar to Milo Yiannopoulos at Berkeley and Davis

Conservative journalist Ann Coulter was invited to speak at UC Berkeley on April 27. However, after her event was cancelled, rescheduled and cancelled again, Coulter’s lack of presence re-sparked several debates surrounding free speech.

Coulter was invited by the Berkeley College Republicans, the same group who invited former Breitbart editor Milo Yiannopoulos to speak on Berkeley’s campus in February. Yiannopoulus’ presence was met with an intense show of violence by groups like the Black Blocs that left Sproul Plaza partly aflame. Coulter’s visit to Berkeley was expected to end similarly.

Amidst threats of violence against the university to prevent Coulter from speaking, Berkeley proceeded to cancel the event, but was admonished for infringing upon Coulter and her supporters’ free speech.

Coulter was rescheduled to speak again on May 2, but insisted upon speaking on the original date of April 27. She explained that she was concerned about audience turnout during a period so close to final exams, and she even threatened legal action if she was not allowed to speak on the original scheduled date.

A lawsuit was filed on April 24, centered around Coulter’s concerns about her right to speak freely.

“This case arises from efforts by one of California’s leading public universities,” the suit stated, “UC Berkeley — once known as the “birthplace of the Free Speech Movement” — to restrict and stifle the speech of conservative students whose voices fall beyond the campus political orthodoxy.”

The lawsuit utilized the example of Milo Yiannopoulus’ appearance in February in the attempt to cite previous “infringements” UC Berkeley has made on guest speakers. Yiannopoulos’s event was cancelled due to the same violence that threatened Coulter’s.

In response, UC Berkeley Chancellor Nicholas Dirks released a statement affirming Berkeley’s dedication to both free speech and the safety of its students. Coulter’s appearance had sparked enough “discourse” in their community that the goals of her appearance had become questionable.

“Sadly and unfortunately, concern for student safety seems to be in short supply in certain quarters,” Dirks said in the statement. “We believe that once law enforcement professionals determine there are security risks attendant to a particular event, speakers need to focus on what they actually want to achieve.”

UC Berkeley administration insisted upon the cancellation of the event after declaring that the venue to hold Coulter was “inadequately secure” and no other venues were available. Not soon after, conservative groups backing Coulter such as BridgeUSA and Young America’s Foundation pulled their support from the event.

“I’m so sorry Berkeley cancelled my speech,” Coulter tweeted. “And I’m so sorry for free speech crushed by thugs.”

In the wake of the event’s final cancellation, a “free speech rally” was organized the day following what was supposed to be Coulter’s appearance. Supporters of Coulter appeared across Berkeley’s campus and at nearby parks, amidst a high concentration of police forces expecting violence to explode at any moment.

Coulter commented in an email to The Associated Press that she might “swing by to say hello,” which helped to fuel tensions

“I’m not speaking. But I’m going to be near there,” Coulter said in the comment. “I thought I might stroll around the graveyard of the First Amendment.”

Amid heavy police presence the planned “free speech rally” yielded both discussion and violence. Several protesters were arrested for assault and for refusing to remove masks. Students and groups of peaceful protesters gathered to talk to their opposition, calling for “discourse, not force.”

Despite the changing narrative surrounding Berkeley and Coulter, and the even more evolving story around the idea of free speech, UC Berkeley remains adamant about protecting their students and their students’ rights.

“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. “This is a university, not a battlefield.”

Written by: Caitlyn Sampley — city@theaggie.org

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