Hours after the cancellation of an event where Breitbart technology editor Milo Yiannopoulos planned to target undocumented students at UC Berkeley, community members gathered to clean up shattered remains of the night’s chaos — largely the work of outside anarchist groups.
Yiannopoulos, per usual, played the victim. After he fled protesters to the safe space of his hotel, he ranted on Facebook Live and whined to Tucker Carlson on Fox News. He and members of the Berkeley College Republicans mourned the “death of free speech.”
What they fail to realize, however, is that freedom of speech is not a pick-and-choose endeavor. The protest was a grand display of the same freedom of speech Yiannopoulos uses to justify his incendiary, useless harassment.
It wasn’t the way we had hoped the night would unravel. His opponents could have defeated him without sabotaging the protest and blemishing rational liberal resistance. But one way or another, his supporters would have twisted the narrative to fit their agenda.
Yiannopoulos said the protest was proof that liberals fear conservative ideas, but he was never going to accomplish ideological conversion with derogatory rhetoric. If his past speaking engagements are any indication, he was planning to hand out the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement hotline number to audience members and encourage them to report fellow students whom they suspected of undocumented status.
The campus administration faced a lose-lose situation. Had they canceled the event, they would have neglected UC Berkeley’s commitment to free speech. But by reaffirming Yiannopoulos’ right to speak, they invited chaos. They should have seen this coming — there’s no way Berkeley would let itself be one-upped by UC Davis.
There were still steps the administration could have taken, however, to avoid the violence. It could have scheduled the event for earlier in the day, for instance, when anarchists could not shroud themselves in darkness.
At the end of the day, Yiannopoulos and his repulsive demeanor never belonged here. He isn’t a productive member of society, and he certainly doesn’t reflect the type of respectful and educated discourse UC Berkeley promotes.
But students found a way to make the best of a losing situation. They gathered in droves on Sproul Plaza. They played YG and Rihanna. Trumpets blared. Although harmful outside groups co-opted the media narrative, the majority remained peaceful. At the end of the night, campus police made only one arrest, and the individual was not associated with our campus.
BCR had advertised the event as an opportunity for the campus to learn more about Yiannopoulos and what he stood for. But this was a teaching moment for Yiannopoulos as well. Had he paid any attention, he would have seen that free speech at UC Berkeley is still very much alive.