Update 03/29/2017: This article has been updated to reflect additional information from the campus administration and Cal Berkeley Democrats.
The Berkeley College Republicans and BridgeCal have invited conservative author Ann Coulter to speak on campus April 27 to cover the topic of illegal immigration.
Coulter, a self-identified “right-wing polemicist” and 12-time New York Times best-selling author, is known for her controversial books, including “If Democrats Had Any Brains, They’d Be Republicans” and “In Trump We Trust.” BCR spokesperson Naweed Tahmas and BridgeCal founder and Co-president Pranav Jandhyala said BCR approached BridgeCal with the idea of inviting Coulter to campus.
When BCR heard that BridgeCal — a campus club that facilitates discussions among students with contrasting ideologies — planned to host a speaker series on illegal immigration in the coming months, BCR proposed that BridgeCal also invite a conservative speaker to offer an alternative perspective on the issue, according to Jandhyala.
“We do believe that Ms. Coulter is the perfect individual to engage in this debate about illegal immigration,” Tahmas said. “I think there’s definitely a void in conservative thought at UC Berkeley.”
But Caiden Nason, vice president of membership for Cal Berkeley Democrats, said in an email that he thought BCR and BridgeCal “could bring someone better than Ann Coulter.”
“Her claims have been disproven over and over again, and she’s just another conservative sensationalist,” Nason said in his email. “I think this just contributes to the idea that BCR is more interested in headlines than anything else.”
On behalf of BCR, Tahmas drafted a letter to the Young America’s Foundation, a conservative organization that helps college Republicans bring speakers to their campuses, which Jandhyala passed on to Coulter. The invitation was sent a few days ago, and Coulter just recently responded, according to Tahmas. He added that she seemed “very excited” to speak at UC Berkeley.
Coulter will be allotted time to speak on the issue of illegal immigration, followed by a long question-and-answer period that will take up approximately half the event, as per Coulter’s request. Tahmas and Jandhyala explained that the questioning period will give students the opportunity to pose difficult questions to Coulter and engage in meaningful conversation.
“We are very optimistic in that we believe that the facilitation of discourse between Coulter and the students is going to happen,” Jandhyala said. “Students will be able to challenge Coulter and what she believes.”
Jandhyala emphasized that BridgeCal, as a nonpartisan organization, recognized the importance of providing alternative perspectives on important issues, such as illegal immigration. He stated that the liberal speaker who will be Coulter’s counterpart in the speaker series is Maria Echaveste, former presidential adviser to Bill Clinton and a current lecturer at the UC Berkeley School of Law. Although the details of the event are not yet confirmed, Echaveste is scheduled to speak April 17.
Campus spokesperson Dan Mogulof said in an email that he was aware that BCR submitted a room reservation request for the Coulter event Tuesday, although the timing and location of the event have not been finalized. According to Tahmas, BCR and BridgeCal plan to work with the campus administration after spring break to confirm the details of the event.
Coulter is set to visit about three months after BCR attempted to host former Breitbart writer Milo Yiannopoulos on campus Feb. 1. UCPD was forced to cancel Yiannopoulos’ talk that night because of a violent demonstration that erupted on Sproul Plaza in protest of the event.
“These topics are especially relevant in light of the fact that Milo Yiannopoulos … was unable to (speak) because of violent riots,” Tahmas said. “Ms. Coulter’s visit is a crucial second test of whether or not Berkeley really is the home of the Free Speech Movement.”
Although Yiannopoulos announced his intent to revisit the Berkeley campus a couple of days after his scheduled talk was canceled, Tahmas said BCR has not heard back from Yiannopoulos’ team about a return.
The morning after the Yiannopoulos protest, President Donald Trump responded to the protest via Twitter, threatening to cut UC Berkeley’s federal funding. Coulter also took to Twitter on Feb. 2, condemning the campus for halting Yiannopoulos’ talk.
“Berkeley officially declared a Sanctuary City for Violent Criminals,” Coulter said in her tweet.
Tahmas and Jandhyala said they were optimistic about Coulter’s appearance, however, adding that they hoped it would not result in aggressive backlash like the Yiannopoulos event did.
According to Mogulof, BCR is a Registered Student Organization and is “a separate legal entity” from the campus. He said in an email that BCR has the right, like all other student groups, to invite speakers of its choosing, although the campus administration may not endorse that speaker’s opinions.
“The administration wishes to make clear that an invitation of this sort in no way suggests our endorsement of a particular point of view, and we will continue to affirm our commitment to the values of diversity, equality, and tolerance that underlie the greatness of Berkeley and, indeed, of our nation,” Mogulof said in his email. “The University is committed to freedom of expression: we cannot and will not engage in prior restraint of speech based on generalized concern that a speaker’s message may trigger disruptions.”
In his email, Nason said he thought it would be a “good idea” for people who disagreed with Coulter to attend the event. He added that, unlike Yiannopoulos, she discusses policy issues, so students who attend will be able to challenge and question her ideas.
According to Tahmas, BCR and BridgeCal are not yet sure about the cost of security for Coulter’s event, as they have yet to discuss the fees with UCPD and the campus administration. He said, however, that Coulter’s speaking fees are roughly $20,000. He said that the Young America’s Foundation will cover approximately $17,000 and that BCR and BridgeCal will be responsible for the remaining $3,000.
The event is tentatively scheduled for 7:30 to 9 p.m. April 27. Jandhyala said tickets for Coulter’s event — as well as all the other events in the speaker series — will be free.