Last Wednesday, there was a peaceful demonstration on a university campus across the bay from San Francisco. At least it started out that way when some 1,500 students gathered at UC Berkeley to protest a scheduled appearance by right wing rabble-rouser, Milo Yiannopoulos. Milo’s speech was cancelled hours prior, but that didn’t stop 150 so-called “black bloc anarchists” from infiltrating the peaceful assembly at Sproul Plaza and running amok. By morning of the next day, more than $100,000 in violent vandalism had been wrought on the 149-year-old campus.
According to the UC Berkeley News, Yiannopoulos’ controversial appearance was cancelled around 6 p.m. on February 1. Shortly thereafter, the non-violent group of student demonstrators was asked to disperse and Yiannopoulos was escorted off campus without incident. Then, at least 10 dozen strangers marched onto campus. Clad in black with faces covered, self-described “black bloc anarchists” threw high-grade firecrackers and other incendiary devices at police, torched a tree, and smashed windows at the Martin Luther King, Jr. student union. Afterward, they spilled onto nearby streets where they used pipes and bats to break windows and smash ATMs at Mechanics Bank, T-Mobile, Chase Bank, and Wells Fargo, and trashed the inside of a Starbucks.
It was not UC Berkeley students who went wild on Wednesday
On February 2, Chancellor Nicholas Dirks released a public statement in which he denounced the “black bloc anarchists” who invaded the peaceful protest and effectively undermined the First Amendment rights of everyone on the Berkeley campus that day.
“The university went to extraordinary lengths to facilitate planning and preparation for this event, working in close concert with the Berkeley College Republicans. Dozens of police officers were brought in from UC campuses across the state. Numerous crowd-control measures were put in place. But, we could not plan for the unprecedented. Last night the Berkeley campus was invaded by more than 100 armed individuals clad all in black who utilized paramilitary tactics to engage in violent, destructive behavior designed to shut the event down. At that point the University of California Police Department concluded that the speaker had to be evacuated from campus for his own safety, thereby bringing the event to an end.”
Who is Milo Yiannopoulos and why didn’t students want him to speak on campus?
Otis R. Taylor, Jr. offered a revealing description of Milo Yiannopoulos in the San Francisco Chronicle on February 3.
“Yiannopoulos is a professional troll who cloaks hate with the First Amendment’s white veil. I believe in freedom of speech, but openly vile, divisive and hate-filled commentary shouldn’t be tolerated. Yiannopoulos isn’t a provocateur. He’s an intolerant insult comic and a bigot, the poster boy for the hate-filled wing of conservatism hellbent on whitewashing America.”
Yiannopoulos told CNN that he feels college campuses are where “bad ideas” are formed.
“I just want to burn it down. I am speaking on college campuses because education is really what matters. It’s a crucible where these bad ideas are formed. Bad ideas like progressive social justice, feminists, Black Lives Matter, that I think is [sic] so cancerous and toxic to free expression.”
UC Berkeley will continue to support free speech
Chancellor Dirks’ statement explained the school’s stance on the First Amendment.
“We are proud of our history and legacy as the home of the Free Speech Movement. While we have made clear our belief that the inflaming rhetoric and provocations of Mr. Yiannopoulos were in marked opposition to the basic values of the university, we respected his right to come to campus and speak once he was invited to do so by a legitimate student group. The violence last night was an attack on the fundamental values of the university, which stands for and helps to maintain and nurture open inquiry and an inclusive civil society, the bedrock of a genuinely democratic nation. We are now, and will remain in the future, completely committed to free speech as essential to our educational mission and a vital component of our identity at UC Berkeley.”
Students cleaned up the mess they didn’t make
William Morrow is president of the Associated Students of the University of California. He was part of a group of student volunteers who wielded brooms and paper bags to clean up the carnage left after black bloc anarchists infiltrated the peaceful campus protest. Noting that the demonstration unfolded in a way that was “not reflective” of the school’s historic tradition of non-violence, Morrow added that the volunteer clean-up crew made “a real statement that the students of this campus care about this campus — about the buildings, the people, about maintaining a campus atmosphere that’s inviting to the rest of the world, so it can engage with it.”
While UC students were busying themselves with cleaning up a mess they did not make, the 45th president of the United States was busy tweeting threats to deny federal funding to the University of California at Berkeley. Whether or not the president has the power to do such a thing remains to be seen.
[Featured Image by Roman Mikhailuk/Shutterstock]