UC Berkeley canceled a controversial talk by Breitbart News editor and alt-right provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos when a mass protest on campus turned violent on Wednesday.
Starting at 5 p.m., hundreds of protesters began streaming into Sproul Plaza, partially fortified with layers of metal barricades surrounding Martin Luther King Student Union building where Yiannopoulos was scheduled to talk.
An hour later, the then-peaceful protest turned violent when a group wearing black masks and clothing joined the protest and quickly began shooting fireworks, tearing down the barricades and shattering windows with the barricades. The violent protesters also took down a spotlight generator, which soon caught fire.
By 6:09 p.m., a UC Police Department spokesperson told the crowd that the scheduled 8 p.m. event was canceled. Soon after, UCPD declared the protest an “unlawful assembly” but did not take action to end the protests which left the campus after 8 p.m. to march down Telegraph Avenue.
“We condemn in the strongest possible terms the violence and unlawful behavior that was on display and deeply regret that those tactics will now overshadow the efforts to engage in legitimate and lawful protest against the performer’s presence and perspectives,” UC Berkeley said in a statement.
Yiannopoulos, who came to Berkeley as a part of his national “Dangerous Faggot” university tour at the invitation of the Berkeley College Republicans club, wrote on his Facebook page that he was evacuated from the campus.
“The Left is absolutely terrified of free speech and will do literally anything to shut it down,” Yiannopoulos wrote.
Yiannopoulos, a gay conservative from the United Kingdom, has a large cult following on social media. He is considered one of the leaders of the so-called “alt-right”, an online movement that believe white identity is under threat by political correctness, social justice and mass immigration.
Before his talk at Berkeley, he announced the first-ever opening of his “Privilege Grant”, a university scholarship exclusive for white male students. Yiannopoulos planned to reject the notion of “cultural appropriation” in his Berkeley talk.
The event generated concerns on campus for weeks. After more than 90 UC Berkeley professors signed a letter to Chancellor Nicholas Dirks to cancel the event, Dirks wrote Yiannopoulos’ visit would not be stopped.
“The U.S. Constitution prohibits UC Berkeley, as a public institution, from banning expression based on its content or viewpoints, even when those viewpoints are hateful or discriminatory,” he wrote.
Concerns grew after Yiannopoulos’ events at UC Davis and University of Washington in Seattle both turned violent. At Davis, the event was canceled when protesters blocked access to the venue. In Seattle, a man shot an anti-Yiannopoulos protester in “self-defense” during the protests.
Berkeley co-op students attempted to turn safety concerns into a peaceful “Resistance Dance Party,” with free food. When the protests turned violent, however, the dance ended abruptly and students moved to nearby Memorial Glade.
“I’m partly frustrated by how it turned out,” said senior Hannah Stommel. “As happy as I am of students who came out here, I wish it didn’t happen with all this aggressiveness. But I understand as a lot of people here are angry and scared.”