Alan Yuhas, The Guardian, April 21, 2017
The University of California, Berkeley, has announced it has found a new “protectable venue” for the controversial rightwing speaker Ann Coulter, after initially canceling the event over security fears.
At a press conference on Thursday afternoon, the university’s chancellor, Nicholas Dirks, said that the school could host Coulter in May at the “protectable venue”.
A university spokesman, Dan Mogulof, said the venue would be on campus, though Dirks said the university would disclose the exact location at a later point. The university had drawn criticism from prominent figures on both the right and left for the cancellation, which was described as an abridgment of free speech.
“The concern is really around student safety and security,” said Dirks, “regardless of the political views of the speakers.”
Dirks added that police have “very specific intelligence regarding threats that could pose a grave danger to the speaker”, her audience and protesters. He urged Coulter to come speak at a later date, suggesting 2 May, and said that the school has “an unwavering commitment” to free speech rights.
“We also have an unwavering commitment to providing for the safety and well-being of speakers who come to campus, our students and other members of our campus and surrounding communities,” he added. “While there may at times be a tension between these two paired commitments, we cannot compromise on either.”
Coulter had originally planned to speak at the school on 27 April, but on Tuesday the vice-chancellor, Scott Biddy, sent a letter to the university’s College Republicans saying that police could not ensure her safety, nor that of audience members, protesters or students.
On Wednesday, Coulter vowed to speak in Berkeley regardless of the university’s decision, telling Fox News: “What are they going to do? Arrest me? I’m definitely giving the speech.”
The town of Berkeley, famous for its liberal history, has become the center of repeated clashes between far-right figures and leftwing protesters in the last few months. In February, a speech by the former Breitbart writer and provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos was canceled after protesters stormed campus, setting fires and vandalizing a few nearby banks. In March, violence broke out between protesters and supporters of Donald Trump, and police eventually arrested 10 people involved.
Last Saturday, more than 20 people were arrested after hours of clashes and brawls between anti-Trump protesters and Trump supporters, who had planned a “free speech rally” in the center of Berkeley. Celebrities of the so-called “alt-right” spoke at the rally, including several who had encouraged supporters to defend themselves.
At each of the clashes, members of militant groups of diverse political stripes, including the anti-government Oathkeepers, the anarchist Black Bloc, and the far-right Proud Boys, have come prepared with bats, pepper spray, fireworks and other armaments. Town police largely stood away from the scuffles last weekend, drawing criticism, but the department said that it had taken extensive photos and video and was using that material to find suspects.
“Our job is to stabilize the situation,” said Capt Alex Yao of the university police department on Thursday, “and to minimize chaos, and not contribute to it”.