Misconceptions around Milo Yiannopoulos event and protests

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Update 2/09/2017: This article has been updated to include additional information from TheBlaze and the events surrounding the cancellation of Milo Yiannopoulos’ events at UC Davis, UCLA and UC Santa Barbara. 

Since controversial conservative speaker Milo Yiannopoulos’ visit to campus Feb. 1 and the violent protests that led to the event’s cancellation, various misconceptions have circulated around the campus administration’s ability to cancel the event and the role of students in the protests.

Misconception No. 1: UC Berkeley could have canceled the event

Despite widespread calls for the administration to cancel Yiannopoulos’ event before it was scheduled to start on Feb. 1, the administration could not do so without infringing upon the First Amendment, according to campus spokesperson Dan Mogulof.

“The Constitution of the United States does not permit the university to engage in prior restraint of a speaker, even if there is a legitimate concern that the speaker might engage in hateful verbal attacks against individuals,” Mogulof said.

Mogulof said UC Berkeley is bound by the First Amendment because it is a public institution, whereas private universities have the ability to cancel such an event. This was the case at New York University and DePaul University. The NYU administration canceled Yiannopoulos’ scheduled appearance on its campus, and DePaul administrators declined to allow Yiannopoulos back on campus after an inflammatory event.

According to James Wheaton, founder of the First Amendment Project, public universities are able to cancel the appearance of a speaker only if the reason for the cancellation is unrelated to the content of the event, such as concerns about public safety. At UC Davis, for example, the campus’s Republican student club consulted with UC Davis Police Department officers and determined the event was too unsafe to proceed amid a massive protest.

Yiannopoulos canceled his UCLA appearance because the Bruin Republicans, who were sponsoring the event, could not accommodate his requests, according to the Daily Bruin. The UC Santa Barbara College Republicans canceled their event because of scheduling conflicts with Yiannopoulos’ handlers, according to the Daily Nexus. The respective administrations of UCLA and UC Santa Barbara had no say in calling off the events.

The Yiannopoulos event at UC Berkeley was canceled by UCPD about 6 p.m. on Feb. 1 to ensure public safety as a result of the violent demonstration that broke out.

Misconception No. 2: Hate speech is not protected under the First Amendment

Many have characterized Yiannopoulos’ discourse as hate speech and have suggested that hate speech should have been the grounds for an earlier cancellation of his campus visit. Wheaton, however, confirmed that hate speech is protected under the First Amendment.

“The Supreme Court has struck down laws that try to make some kinds of speech unlawful simply because it is ugly or hateful speech,” Wheaton said. “The only place that it has allowed the hate speech ordinances or statutes to continue is where the speech is incident (of) some other unlawful act, and that speech is directed at a specific individual with the intention of causing them demonstrable fright or fear or discomfort.”

Wheaton added that this did not apply to speech aimed at groups of people.

Of the forms of speech not protected under the First Amendment — which include libel, perjury, fraud, obscenity, fighting words and inciting people to imminent violence — campus media studies lecturer William Turner said that although Yiannopoulos’ speech may appear to some as incitement, his speech more closely resembles advocacy.

“The Supreme Court has drawn a sharp distinction between incitement, which is not protected, and advocacy, which is,” Turner said. “It can be advocacy of terrible ideas and it’s still protected.”

Misconception No. 3: Violence and destruction was largely perpetrated by students

Conservative news personality Tomi Lahren was one of many in the national news media who claimed or implied that UC Berkeley students were committing acts of violence and vandalism throughout the protest on campus.

“Turns out, if you disagree with the left, they will burn down their own campus, including trees, which they claim to love,” Lahren said in her TheBlaze segment, “Final Thoughts.” 

Despite claims that students had engaged in destruction of the campus, no formal reports have confirmed student involvement in the violent actions that occurred, including the throwing of rocks and bricks at the Martin Luther King Jr. Student Union building.

UCPD spokesperson Sgt. Sabrina Reich said in a statement that the protest was declared an unlawful assembly upon the arrival of approximately 150 “black bloc” anarchists — who are not known to be directly affiliated with UC Berkeley — to campus. Before the arrival of the anarchists, students had been engaging in a peaceful protest.

“Obviously, we cannot for certainty (say) what the identities were of the individuals who were part of the ‘black bloc’ group,” Mogulof said, “though it appeared that a substantial number of them … were unfamiliar with the campus.”

One arrest — of a suspect who is not affiliated with the campus — has been made in connection to the protests. UCPD is still investigating the event and working to identify suspects.

Contact Sydney Fix at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @sydney_fix.

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  • Beard83

    I can accept that the ‘Black Blocs’ are not directly affiliated with the university, but the op-eds under the collection of ‘Violence as a form of self-defense’ make me believe there are supporters, if not members, of this anarchist group on campus.

  • Evil One

    When did I talk about any of those things? When did I say I was right wing?

  • I am about as left as they come; however, I support Milo Y to speak wherever he is welcome; that’s what makes this country great!

  • what milo advocates is not hate speech. saying that illegals should be deported is a plain straightforward reading of the law, not hate speech by any stretch of the imagination

  • asiliveandbreathe

    Technicality nobody likes: The right to free speech under the US Constitution is not extended to foreign visitors using a visa for entry into the US.

    • Alaina Toledo

      LOL. So you’ll argue that a legal resident, on a valid Visa, has no Constitutional Rights, but Illegal Immigrants DO? Is that that you’re arguing?

      Fine. Say you’re right. The Student Group which invited him to speak at UCB are, (presumably), all Citizens. In allowing violent rioters to force the cancellation of the speech on public property, (as all of UCB camps is), the First Amendment Rights of the Students were violated.

  • JK

    All you kids did was break into 3 banks and a starbucks +plus beat people bloody in the street. All in less than an hour. You stopped a “gay man with a black boyfriend from talking” (I only know this about him because of your protest turned riot). Not all of you were wearing mask. Most of you followed the crowd to the crossroads I watched it live on 3 different ustreams and live streams.
    Until the ring leaders made everyone put away their phones. Shame and failure is all you have now. Sadly you are so ignorant of the concept of free speech you somehow envision yourself as the victors in a just starting battle against what you call hate. You attempted to keep me from hearing what someone has to say and failed. Since you hated this Milo so much I took some of my valuable time and watched Three ( 3 ) of his speeches I heard no hate, calls to violence, or claims of superior white people.
    When I was a boy I was put on a bus for a 2 hour ride to the center of Atlanta where 100% of the people there were black It was called “bussing”. During those times I have seen hate I have heard the cries of the oppressors. People lined up with GUNS in front of the school busses. You and your like would have fit right in with them Though I can not imagine you spitting tobacco.
    Thanks for one thing, I now know a story about a legal immigrant who was refused the ability to speak freely. I know this because the hateful outspoken youth at Berkeley have become the thought police. Where views not your own are shouted then beat down if needed and you are proud of it!

  • roccolore

    Democrats are violent fascists who hate free speech.

    • Nunya Beeswax

      That’s ridiculous hyperbole, kind of like claiming that Republicans are atavistic knuckle-draggers who want to put black people in chains.

      • roccolore

        That’s funny because Democrats defend the only people who still practice slavery.

  • Alex M

    “which included throwing rocks and bricks at the Martin Luther King Jr. Student Union building”

    Oh my God the irony!

  • AndreB22

    Good article, cleared up some widespread misconceptions.

    It’s worth noting that violent leftists dressed in black also attacked people merely attending Trump rallies in San Jose on June 2, 2016. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix/wp/2016/06/03/ugly-bloody-scenes-in-san-jose-as-protesters-attack-trump-supporters-outside-rally/?utm_term=.1f53418b297a

    There too, the authorities failed to arrest anyone, and this may have been deliberate toleration of political violence by the mayor and police chief in San Jose. The victims are suing the city alleging a deliberate failure to protect them:


    A combination of leftwing fascists who attack people with bats and left-wing mayors and police who refuse to enforce the law (using various excuses) amounts to the kind of intimidation not seen since the 1930s in Europe (when battles between leftist and rightist extremists eventually ended with Nazis or Communists in power).

    The use of the word ‘protesters’ for these thugs is completely inappropriate. They are attacking people, not protesting.

    There is absolutely nothing similar to this coming from the political right in the US today.

  • ShadrachSmith

    The violence was planned by Janet Napolitano, she is the one who belongs in jail.

    Challenge to protesters, try taking a whiz on a prayer rug.

  • Dadood

    I think it was the Alt right trying to send a message that liberals are violent. We have the same problem in my city. Peaceful protests then these people dressed in black start burning and looting. They need to catch a few of these folks to see who they belong too.

    • Evil One

      If you think they are stooges of the far right I fear you will be disappointed. The left is more than capable of violence and intimidation.

      • Dadood

        Millions of women marched without any issues. It only seems to be when these “hidden” people dressed in black head to toe show up, is there ever any violence. I think they are right wing plants and there is some evidence to support it.

        • Lucius

          “[S]ome evidence to support it.”
          For example? And to set some ground rules, your “instinct,” “intuition,” “feelings,” and/or “theories” do not qualify as “some evidence.” Ok? Now proceed.

          • Dadood

            They did manage to arrest a couple of them so I guess we will know soon enough. I did see the appeals court just killed the POSOTUS ban though. That should make you happy.

          • Lucius

            Got it. So you really can cite to no evidence, i.e., “I guess we will know soon.” And you followed that admission with a pivot to the unrelated travel ban. I expect better from my liberal friends.

          • Dadood

            Alternate facts?

          • Lucius

            Another pivot. Really bad.

          • Dadood

            You people crack me up. You will listen to every lie, fake news article and “alternate fact” that comes out of your coward POSOTUS and swallow it hook, line and sinker as if it came from god himself, but anyone putting up something that may or may not be, you go crazy. I guess your alternate reality must be a SAD place to live. How about that Flynn guy though, what a traitor.

          • Lucius

            Still waiting on your “evidence” that right-wing plants were behind the Berkeley riots. Until you answer that question or just come clean that there really is no evidence, you are just pivoting.

          • Dadood

            You really are as stupid as your title professes.

          • Lucius

            Still pivoting. Why can’t you just say, “hey, look, there is no evidence, I was just mad and threw that out there because the Berkeley riots made all liberals look bad, and those crazies are not representative of liberals.” And I would be say, “okay great.” Then we can pivot to your next subject.

          • Dadood

            You mean like two days ago when there was no evidence Flynn was guilty of treason? Or Kellyanne’s evidence on the Bowling Green Massacre? Or the evidence that the POSOTUS’s Muslim ban was unconstitutional? Time takes time and more will be revealed.

          • Lucius

            The pivots are getting boring.

          • Dadood

            So are you.

        • Evil One

          Women tend to be less violent than men on average and the people on those marches weren’t masked. Only their language was violent as a result. There have been numerous, well documented instances of violence against Trump supporters, or suspected Trump supporters. What evidence do you have that they are right wing plants? Is it so hard for you to imagine that those on the left can be as violent as those on the right, given Mao and Stalin? Why indulge in silly conspiracy theories rather than accept that all ideologies can inspire tribal violence?

          • Dadood

            Because they make the alt right people nuts. They will believe anything. Just look at the liar POSOTUS for a great example of lies, conspiracies and fake news they swallowed hook, line and sinker. These people don’t have both feet in reality anyway.

          • Evil One

            You don’t appear to have either of your feet in reality either.

          • Evil One

            There are idiots on both sides, and you are one of them.

    • ShadrachSmith

      If they were Rs, they would have been arrested.

    • gekkobear

      Yes, the alt-right working with the police so they wouldn’t be arrested, or even identified.
      That makes sense (well not, really, but since we can’t prove anything either way, lets play along).
      Terrible that your chief of police; and mayor, and campus administration would work with the alt-right to let them riot and beat people and smear your side and theirs.

      “They need to catch a few of these folks to see who they belong too.”
      Clearly you should have some words with your leaders to ask them why they’d give a pass to violent lunatics regardless which side they’re on, but especially since you’re sure they were “alt-right” and yet nobody bothered to stop them.
      That is the “they” who need to catch a few of these folks, right? Why didn’t that happen?
      If they can’t manage that task, why do they have the jobs they do?

      How do you feel knowing (as you seem to believe) your local police will let the alt-right riot without limitation and assault people and run free? Does that make you feel safe and cozy?
      Given the left doesn’t seem very upset at anyone who decided to allow this to happen and isn’t protesting or expressing any real anger at a lack of arrests…
      What makes you think anything will change?

  • laura

    The Free Speech Wars Have Begun