Berkeley College Republicans alleged 1st Amendment violations before Milo Yiannopoulos event 1 year ago

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In the weeks prior to conservative speaker Milo Yiannopoulos’ contentious visit, Berkeley College Republicans, or BCR, alleged that UC Berkeley had violated its First Amendment rights, spurring a series of email exchanges between campus and the student group.  

Emails recently obtained by The Daily Californian through a public records request reveal that BCR and UC Berkeley administrators debated the $6,372 event security fee leading up to the event in February 2017.   

Yiannopoulos first visited campus on Feb. 1, 2017, and the night erupted into violent protests, resulting in a shattered Martin Luther King Jr. Student Union, large campus fire and canceled event.

Three weeks before this, after a contentious back-and-forth over the security fee, BCR agreed to pay — but UCPD ultimately did not charge the student group, as the event was canceled because of violent protests.

On Jan. 11, 2017, the student group wrote an email addressed to former Chancellor Nicholas Dirks and called the security fee “arbitrary and excessive,” and a violation of the First Amendment.  

“It is apparent that the $6,370-tax is specifically designed to prevent the BCR from successfully bringing Milo Yiannopoulos to the (campus),” the email stated. “There can be no serious argument that a student group, like the BCR, can reasonably be expected to pay such a fee.”

The BCR email elaborated that “protesters seeking to destroy the BCR’s freedom of speech should pay this fee.”

In an email response dated Jan. 12, 2017, then-chief campus counsel Christopher Patti stated that BCR, like any other student group, would have to pay a basic security fee for its event. He stated that the security fee is determined based on “content-neutral factors,” such as the venue, the type of event and the number of anticipated guests. At the time, BCR had already sold 500 tickets for the Yiannopoulos event.

“You have expressed concern about BCR’s ability to pay the basic security charge and asked that the normal security fee charged to all other event sponsors be waived for BCR,” Patti said in the email. “The University is not in a position to treat BCR more favorably than other event sponsors nor to impose on the campus the out of pocket costs incurred by UCPD.”

Despite BCR’s initial protests to the security fee, the group agreed to pay the security fee when an individual — whose identity was withheld — sent an email on behalf of BCR and agreed to pay the security fee in full, according to the documents released to The Daily Californian. The email was addressed to UCPD Captain Alex Yao and was sent Jan. 18, 2017.

“I am pleased that we have dealt with the security request form in its entirety and we can now focus all of our attention on planning for the February 1st Milo event,” stated the email, from the redacted individual. “Know that BCR has every intention of paying the $6372 security fee that we were quoted by UCPD.”

The email goes on to state that the individual wished to meet with Yao in the two weeks before the event and confirm details surrounding the event.

BCR could not be reached for comment as of press time.

Ultimately, Yiannopoulos did not speak on campus, and BCR did not pay the security fee, but in the months following that night, the campus and Berkeley community saw a series of “Free Speech” events in which various conservative speakers were invited to speak on campus.

New details over the back-and-forth dispute over security fees and space allocations come shortly after the campus revealed last month that it spent $4 million on “Free Speech”-related events last year between Aug. 27 and Sept. 27.

“These expenses are so extraordinary, and they’re an enormous burden, certainly on my time and the time of other administrators,” Chancellor Carol Christ previously said at a Graduate Assembly meeting Feb. 1.

Assistant news editor Sakura Cannestra contributed to this report. 

Malini Ramaiyer is the city news editor. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @malinisramaiyer.