Controversial conservative writer Milo Yiannopoulos spoke to a crowd of about 50 people on UC Berkeley’s Sproul Plaza on Sunday before hurriedly leaving campus on what would have been the first day of the now-canceled “Free Speech Week.”
About noon, Yiannopoulos arrived on campus with Infowars host Mike Cernovich and conservative author Pamela Geller, speaking for about 20 minutes.
Yiannopoulos was originally invited to speak at UC Berkeley for Free Speech Week by campus publication the Berkeley Patriot from Sunday to Sept. 27, but the student group announced Saturday that it was pulling its sponsorship for the four-day-long event. Yiannopoulos, however, said Saturday that he still intended to speak on Sproul Plaza on Sunday, along with several other speakers originally planned for Free Speech Week.
A crowd of about 150 protesters started gathering on and around south campus about 10 a.m., with lines of orange barriers and blockades already erected by campus to keep the crowd near the edges of Sproul Plaza.
UCPD put up several checkpoints with metal detectors on Sproul Plaza to screen people as they entered the area near the steps of Sproul Hall. Although the crowd on Sproul Plaza grew to about 300 people by noon, only about 50 people were allowed inside the barricades to listen to Yiannopoulos speak up close.
— Ani Vahradyan (@anivahrad) September 24, 2017
Yvette Felarca, an organizer for activist group By Any Means Necessary, or BAMN, said she and her fellow members planned to “gather as many people” as they could to protest Yiannopoulos’ appearance.
“To protect the community (and make) it a sanctuary campus, that means actively defending it,” Felarca said.
The Berkeley Patriot filed a civil rights complaint through the U.S. Department of Justice on Tuesday, alleging that the UC Berkeley administration had suppressed the student group’s First Amendment rights. On Saturday, the Berkeley Patriot announced that it was canceling the event because it feared alleged retaliation from the campus for the complaint.
“It became a situation that we just had to get out of because of the complications,” said Pranav Jandhyala, news editor for the Berkeley Patriot, who attended Yiannopoulos’ talk on Sproul Plaza.
While many people attending the protest Sunday were students or local community members, some came from outside the Bay Area to attend Yiannopoulos’ unofficial speaking event. Orange County resident Lisa Collins, who came to Berkeley for Free Speech Week, said she was disappointed that the events were canceled and said she believed Yiannopoulos was brave to show up to campus and deliver his speech.
“If Berkeley really believed in free speech, they would have done everything to facilitate speech,” Collins said.
Standing on the steps of Sproul Hall in what was an unofficial event, Yiannopoulos spoke to the crowd sans microphone or speakers because of restrictions placed by the campus. Yiannopoulos asked the crowd to kneel and pray for the protesters who “don’t know what they’re doing.”
As Yiannopoulos knelt in the middle of the crowd, a member of Refuse Fascism chanted “No Trump, no KKK, no fascist USA” and attempted to put flyers in his face as Yiannopolous’ supporters blocked him. The crowd began to sing “We Shall Overcome” as they prayed.
— Elise Ulwelling (@EMarieulwelling) September 24, 2017
Yiannopoulos then spent several minutes autographing signs and hats and taking photographs with members of the crowd. Before he left, he blew kisses to the crowd and led them in singing “The Star-Spangled Banner.”
About 12:30 p.m., Yiannopoulos was escorted out of the area by several of his bodyguards, and his car left campus soon after. The crowds in and outside of Sproul Plaza, however, remained in place.
“(I’m) here to support free speech for all sides, and I wanted to see how crazy it would get,” said Berkeley City College sophomore Tyler Dechance. “I think that the university should allow more free speech from both sides, regardless of how offensive it is.”
After Yiannopoulos left campus, members of BAMN and Refuse Fascism started marching through the south campus area down Telegraph and Durant avenues about 1 p.m. Trump supporters later joined the march, shouting phrases such as “Commies go home!” at the protesters. Berkeley Police Department issued a Nixle alert about 1:20 p.m. announcing that the crowd of marchers had grown to about 50-75 people.
BPD spokesperson Officer Jennifer Coats said Bancroft Way was closed between Bowditch and Dana streets and Telegraph Avenue was closed from Durant Avenue to Bancroft Way because of the large group of protesters marching in the city.
The protesters who marched started to disperse about 2:40 p.m.
Yiannopoulos also announced at the event that he plans to return to UC Berkeley every year with new sponsors. Campus administrators announced in a campuswide email Sunday evening that they had been informed that Yiannopoulos would not be returning for the rest of the week and that Upper Sproul Plaza would be fully reopened by Monday morning.
At a campus press conference held after Yiannopoulos left campus, UCPD Chief Margo Bennett estimated security costs for the event — including personnel and supplies — to be about $800,000. Bennett also confirmed that UCPD had assistance from eight to 10 other law enforcement agencies.
Campus spokesperson Dan Mogulof said during the press conference that UC Berkeley will not be making cuts to student services and programs because of the high security costs of controversial events on campus.
Mogulof also said he was uncertain about similar future conflicts on campus.
“Our crystal ball is broken at the moment,” Mogulof said during the conference. “We need to be prepared for the unexpected. What isn’t going to change is our compliance and unwavering support to the First Amendment and free speech.”
— Ani Vahradyan (@anivahrad) September 24, 2017
BPD and its law enforcement partners — including UCPD, Alameda County Sheriff’s Office, California Highway Patrol, Oakland Police Department and Stanford University Police — arrested 11 people Sunday in connection with demonstrations related to Yiannopoulos’ appearance, according to a Nixle alert released Sunday evening by BPD. Of the 11 people arrested, seven were arrested on suspicion of violating regulations prohibiting various items on city streets and sidewalks.
There were no reported injuries due to violence or any property damage in connection with Sunday’s demonstrations, according to the Nixle alert.
Staff writers Adrianna Buenviaje, Sakura Cannestra, Chantelle Lee, Francesca Munsayac, Malini Ramaiyer, Mark Henry Salupen, Anjali Shrivastava, Harini Shyamsundar, Ani Vahradyan, Elise Ulwelling and Ashley Wong contributed to this report.
Contact The Daily Californian News Staff at [email protected].