Protesters break into Peter Thiel speaker event in Wheeler Hall

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Kayla Baskevitch/Staff

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A group of about 50 protesters broke into Wheeler Auditorium as entrepreneur Peter Thiel spoke to an audience of UC Berkeley students and community members, cutting the event short.

Protesters had first gathered at the intersection of Telegraph Avenue and Bancroft Way about 7 p.m., after four nights of protests against police brutality and the decisions not to indict in the cases of Michael Brown, an unarmed black man shot by a white officer, and Eric Garner, who died after an officer put him in an apparent chokehold.

Protesters first pounded on locked doors then pushed their way inside the crowded auditorium.

“We honestly didn’t think the protests would interfere,” said Pierre Bourbonnais, president of the Berkeley Forum and former marketing manager at The Daily Californian. “It’s pretty unimaginable and unfortunate. I’m in support of free speech, but this is not the right venue for that. I’m very disappointed.”

Bourbonnais said he had received calls and emails preceding the event that asked if the protests would disrupt the address.

Thiel left with his handlers as the protesters entered the auditorium, according to Bourbonnais. Protesters shouted, “No police state — no NSA!” as they stormed the stage. Bourbonnais described the protesters’ entrance as a “tug-of-war battle” between Berkeley Forum members and protesters.

The doors of the auditorium were initially locked, but a member of the audience shouted an expletive and unlocked them as he was exiting the auditorium, at which point the protesters entered.

“I just walked out of the door — I didn’t know they were out there,” said Cameron Hearne, a UC Berkeley senior. “I was overwhelmed with the commentator and walked out.”

Thiel had already given his keynote address, and the event had moved on to a student-moderated discussion. When protesters broke into the auditorium, Thiel was answering a question about whether political activism was worth risking a decrease in productivity.

“I can’t believe that (the protesters) thought that this was a politically acceptable way (to protest),” said Jacob Bergquist, a UC Berkeley freshman. “It made me very angry, because some of the people (in the audience) came because they’re just trying to make an impact on the the world.”

Thiel is the co-founder of PayPal and was one of the first outside investors of Facebook.

“It’s not that a lot of the people here disagree with their mission statement — it’s that we feel that it was inappropriate for them to come in and disrupt an event,” said Jonathan Lin, a UC Berkeley junior. “It was disrespectful for them to disrupt Mr. Thiel.”

Contact Adrienne Shih at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @adrienneshih.

Correction(s):
A photo caption previously accompanying this article incorrectly identified the photo’s subject as Peter Thiel. In fact, it pictured Haas MBA student Orion Parrott.