Trump condemns UC Berkeley protests, threatening federal funding cut

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Daniel Kim/Staff

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President Donald Trump published a tweet from his personal Twitter account about 3 a.m. in which he condemned UC Berkeley for the Milo Yiannopoulos protests Wednesday night and threatened to revoke federal funds from the campus.

“If U.C. Berkeley does not allow free speech and practices violence on innocent people with a different point of view — NO FEDERAL FUNDS?” Trump said in his tweet.

The protests began on Sproul Plaza about 5 p.m. and quickly grew to 1,000 attendees. There were about 150 masked agitators in the crowd who escalated the protests to violence, according to a campus statement. UCPD decided it could not ensure Yiannopoulos’ safety and evacuated him from the premises, resulting in the cancellation of the event. But the crowd continued marching to Downtown Berkeley and, later, back through campus.

According to campus spokesperson Dan Mogulof, for the fiscal year of 2015-16, UC Berkeley students received $200 million in federal financial aid, in addition to $400 million for the campus’s research enterprise.

ASUC President Will Morrow was concerned by Trump’s threat, emphasizing that the campus is “an invaluable resource.”

“While the actions last night of a few, especially of those who had no affiliation to the campus, were reprehensible, I think it is important to not punish or even threaten to punish an entire public university system devoted to providing the public good of an equitable education that is beneficial — not only to those who learn across the campus, but those across the country who benefit from the research,” Morrow said.

The White House could not immediately be reached for comment on Trump’s tweet.

Counselor to the President Kellyanne Conway responded to UC Berkeley’s protests in an interview with Fox & Friends.

“I don’t even know if they know what they’re protesting. Is it the free speech?” Conway said. “In the real world, when these kids grow up and go try to find jobs, which they will in the Trump economy — life doesn’t work that way, folks.”

Some California state officials, however, were concerned and displeased by Trump’s tweet.

“I think it’s inappropriate to threaten the funding of one of the premier research institutions in the country that has and is continuing to contribute to the strength of California and the U.S.’s economy,” said California State Sen. Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley. “(One) that is the source of some of the key research on defense policy, on security, on energy, health and technological innovations of all kinds and almost every other field.”

Rep. Barbara Lee took to Twitter about 8:10 a.m., stating that Trump didn’t have the right to threaten the university.

“Pres. Trump doesn’t have a license to blackmail universities,” Lee said in her tweet. “He’s the president, not a dictator, (and) his empty threats are an abuse of power.”

Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom also replied to Trump’s tweet about 7:47 a.m., expressing his shock at Trump’s threat.

“As a UC Regent I’m appalled at your willingness to deprive over 38,000 students access to an education because of the actions of a few,” Newsom said in his tweet.

Chancellor Nicholas Dirks sent a campuswide email about 9:55 a.m. in response to the fallout from the Yiannopoulos event. In it, he condemned the agitators who infiltrated the on-campus protests and used violence.

In the email, Dirks expressed regret for the violence that “undermined the First Amendment rights” of the speaker and the lawful protesters.

“The violence last night was an attack on the fundamental values of the university, which stands for and helps to maintain and nurture open inquiry and an inclusive civil society, the bedrock of a genuinely democratic nation,” Dirks said in his email. “We are now, and will remain in the future, completely committed to Free Speech as essential to our educational mission and a vital component of our identity at UC Berkeley.”

Check back for updates.

Chantelle Lee is an assistant news editor. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @ChantelleHLee.