Berkeley largely quiet after Ann Coulter speech cancelation

A man looks on as opposing factions gather over the cancelation of conservative commentator Ann Coulter's speech at the University of California, Berkeley, in Berkeley, California, U.S., April 27, 2017. REUTERS/Stephen Lam

By Ann Saphir

BERKELEY, Calif. (Reuters) – Police at the University of California at Berkeley braced for civil unrest on Thursday in the aftermath of a canceled speech by conservative commentator Ann Coulter, but the campus remained tranquil through the day while hundreds of her supporters rallied nearby.

Some in the pro-Coulter crowd engaged in a brief shouting match with counter-demonstrators who confronted them on the edge of a Berkeley city park several blocks from campus late in the afternoon, but police managed to keep the two sides apart.

Coulter, one of America’s best-known and most provocative pundits on the political right, said on Wednesday that she no longer intended to defy university officials by speaking on campus without their permission.

She left open the possibility of paying a visit to supporters at the school, long a bastion of liberal student activism and the Free Speech Movement protests of the 1960s. But as of late Thursday, Coulter was nowhere to be seen.

Still, a crowd of at least 300 people, some carrying American flags, some wearing helmets or baseball caps emblazoned with President Donald Trump’s campaign slogan, “Make America Great Again,” staged a peaceful rally at Martin Luther King Jr. Civic Center Park in downtown Berkeley.

Tensions mounted as the rally ended and a group of at least 100 anti-Trump demonstrators emerged to confront a roughly equal number of pro-Trump, pro-Coulter protesters in front of Berkeley High School, adjacent to the park.

A line of a few dozen riot police quickly moved into the middle of the street to form a human barrier between the opposing groups, as the two sides shouted at each other.

Earlier, city police officers reported two arrests – one for a weapons violation and another for drug possession.

Several blocks away on campus, several dozen UC Berkeley police and other local law enforcement officers stood by in Sproul Plaza, lined with orange barricades in anticipation of demonstrations that had yet to materialize by late afternoon.

Campus and local authorities said they were taking the potential for lawlessness seriously following several episodes of politically fueled disturbances.

In February, protesters opposed to an appearance by Milo Yiannopoulos, then a senior editor for the conservative Breitbart News website, set fires, broke windows and clashed with police on campus, prompting cancellation of his speech.

And in March and again in April, opposing groups from the far-right and far-left skirmished violently near campus.

UC Berkeley Chancellor Nicholas Dirks cited all three incidents in explaining why the school balked at Coulter’s original plans to speak on campus on Thursday.

University officials said organizers erred by inviting Coulter without notifying campus officials in advance, as is required of all student groups, and by failing to submit to a “security assessment” to determine a suitable venue for the event. UC Berkeley officials denied that Coulter was unwelcome because of her politics.

After initially barring a Coulter speech for Thursday, university officials proposed moving the event to next Tuesday. Coulter said she could not make it then and accused the school of trying to limit her audience by choosing a date that fell in a study week ahead of final exams.

Coulter then insisted she would go through with her speech on Thursday, despite university objections. But she changed her mind after student organizers withdrew their invitation, though they vowed to press ahead with a lawsuit filed on Tuesday accusing UC Berkeley of suppressing freedom of speech.

(Additional reporting by Noel Randewich in San Francisco, Mark Hosenball in Washington and Jonathan Allen in New York; Writing and additional reporting by Steve Gorman in Los Angeles; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore and Bill Rigby)

Ann Coulter rejects Berkeley’s bid to reschedule speech

FILE PHOTO: Commentator Ann Coulter speaks to the Conservative Political Action conference (CPAC) in Washington, February 12, 2011. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

By Dan Whitcomb and Mark Hosenball

(Reuters) – Conservative commentator Ann Coulter said on Thursday she could not speak at the University of California, Berkeley, on a new date chosen by the university and intended to show up for the original event, which was canceled over security fears.

Officials at U.C. Berkeley, who abruptly canceled her planned April 27 speech on Wednesday citing security concerns, reversed course on Thursday and rescheduled the event for May 2.

U.C. Berkeley Chancellor Nicholas Dirks said in a statement the university had canceled the April 27 event based on specific threats “that could pose a grave danger to the speaker.”Dirks said the university, in its commitment to free speech, had found an “appropriate, protectable” venue where Coulter’s speech could go forward in a safe environment on May 2.

However Coulter, who had vowed after the cancellation to show up for her April 27 speech anyway, said she and her security detail could not arrange to be on campus on May 2 ” … and there will be no students there that week!”

“So I’m planning on speaking on the 27th as scheduled. Maybe they will arrest me,” she said in an email to Reuters.

The university’s academic calendar shows that May 1-5 is a “reading/ review/ recitation period” before final exams.

Harmeet Dhillon, an attorney representing two groups organizing Coulter’s speech, also sent a letter to the university on Thursday demanding she be allowed to speak on the original date.

One of the country’s best-known conservative pundits, Coulter had been scheduled to speak to a college Republican club about her 2015 book, “¬°Adios, America!: The Left’s Plan to Turn Our Country Into a Third World Hellhole.”

Berkeley is known as the birthplace of the student-led Free Speech Movement of the 1960s. As with other U.S. colleges and universities, it has tried to find a balance between ideological openness, student safety and student opposition to what some describe as “hate speech.”

Several conservative speakers have been met with disruptive, sometimes violent, protests when invited to speak at U.S. universities with liberal-leaning student bodies in recent months.

In canceling Coulter’s speech on Wednesday, UC Berkeley cited violence that broke out at the campus in February, hours before right-wing media personality Milo Yiannopoulos was scheduled to speak there.

U.S. President Donald Trump, who had taken office just days earlier, threatened to cut off funding to the school after the violence surrounding Yiannopoulos’ planned lecture and U.C. Berkeley’s decision to cancel it.

(Reporting by Jonathan Allen in New York, Mark Hosenball in Washington, D.C., and Dan Whitcomb in Los Angeles; Editing by Frances Kerry, Andrew Hay and Paul Tait)