After sticking the University of California at Berkeley with an estimated $800,000 security tab for a non-event, right-wing activist Milo Yiannopoulos is reportedly set to appear at San Diego State University in late October, according to the Daily Aztec. I’m suspicious about this announcement by the State College Republicans, who are promising an event at Montezuma Hall even though they have not completed the steps needed to be recognized as a student organization.
Multiple media outlets are reporting the canceled-at-the-last-minute ‘Free Speech Week’ was orchestrated by the alt-right firebrand to defame UC Berkeley and, in fact, doomed from the start.
During a Facebook Live stream following the cancellation of the Berkeley event, Yiannopoulos announced three future California appearances as part of his “Troll Academy” tour: on Oct. 25 at Cal State Bakersfield, Oct. 29 at San Diego State and Oct. 31 at Cal State Fullerton.
A look back at what happened -or didn’t- at UC Berkeley can give some insight into what the future holds for San Diego.
An eleven-member volunteer student group called Berkeley Patriot announced plans for a week of appearances by big-name conservative/alt-right speakers. Similar events earlier in the year at UC Berkeley led to street violence and cancellations due to security concerns.
Even without the security considerations needed when staging a controversial program, the logistics of housing, transportation, and other contractually mandated requirements for celebrity types were clearly beyond this organization’s capabilities.
It didn’t take long for the student group to realize they were in over their heads, as this snip from KQED demonstrates:
But almost immediately after the invitation, Yiannopoulos and his organization attempted to take control of the event, even going so far as to issue press releases that were not authorized by the Berkeley Patriot. Yiannopoulos also paid the fees for the event, which totaled more than $70,000.
Jandhyala told KQED that at one point, the Berkeley Patriot asked the UC Berkeley administration to help find a way to rescind the invitation to Yiannopoulos without canceling the entire week of events.
Emails obtained by KQED suggest the event billed as “Free Speech Week” was driven, in large part, by Yiannopoulos. In one email that was written by Lucian Wintrich, one of the advertised speakers at the event, Milo is said to want to “set up” UC Berkeley. In the same email chain, Wintrich told a UC Berkeley administration official that the Berkeley Patriot and Yiannopoulos decided last week that they “didn’t intend to actually go through with it.”
Some of the speakers announced for Free Speech Week apparently found out about the gig thru news accounts.
From the Guardian:
Since Donald Trump’s victory in the 2016 presidential election, Berkeley has become a centre of far-right demonstrations and counter-protests. Some face-offs have become violent. Mogulof said the Berkeley Patriot, the group behind Free Speech Week, had not offered a reason for the cancellation.
Other promised speakers included author David Horowitz, activist Lisa De Pasquale and Breitbart contributor Ariana Rowlands. Several announced speakers, among them Ann Coulter and former White House strategist Steve Bannon, have said they never planned to appear or had no knowledge of an invitation.
“I never planned to speak,” Coulter said in an email to the Los Angeles Times on Friday. “My speakers bureau never booked me to speak at Berkeley. No contract for me to speak existed.”
Smell a rat yet? The event at Berkeley certainly seemed hinky. It would appear the plan was to create enough insecurity so the university would cancel Free Speech Week. Instead, the institution spent tons of (taxpayer–where is the outrage?) money to insure safety for all the participants.
With his bluff called, Milos had to find a way out. Speaking from a dimly lit hotel room, alongside anti-Muslim activist Pamela Geller and Pizzagate conspiracist Mike Cernovich, he accused the university of doing everything in its power to “crush” the event and announced an impromptu speech for Sunday.
The university was quick to respond to those claims:
“Claims that this is somehow the outcome desired by the campus are without basis in fact,” Dan Mogulof, spokesman for UC Berkeley, said in a statement Saturday. “The University was prepared to do whatever was necessary to support the First Amendment rights of the student organization.”
In the weeks leading up to the “Free Speech Week” rally, Yiannopoulos and the Berkeley Patriot missed multiple deadlines to secure campus venues and to confirm a guest list, the university said. Despite these alleged missteps, UC Berkeley had said as late as Friday that it was still preparing for the rally. On Wednesday, the university published a full “Free Speech Week” schedule, complete with times and locations.
The whole point here was to pick a fight, any fight. In this manner Yiannopoulos and his cohorts hoped to gain media attention for their causes and undermine the standing of a liberal college institution.
Yiannopoulis did appear at Sproul Plaza on Sunday. He left after 30 minutes when it became clear the mostly non-violent response wouldn’t give him the headlines he craved.
From the Huffington Post:
Yiannopoulos — who the Anti-Defamation League calls a “misogynistic, racist, xenophobic, transphobic troll who is extremely good at getting people to pay attention to him” ― used the episode to play victim and claim that liberal-leaning colleges like UC Berkeley fight against free speech. He did so again during Saturday’s presser, and some critics say that he only organizes these events to declare himself a martyr when platforms and venues refuse to host him or when counterprotesters appear.
He knows his trolling draws out only people who are ready for battle. Anti-fascist groups like Refuse Fascism were waiting in the wings to mobilize at any event Yiannopoulos threw, and mobilize they did.
More troubling, in an email chain obtained by the Bay Area News Group, right-wing blogger Lucian Wintrich for The Gateway Pundit, who was scheduled to speak, told UC Berkeley spokesman Dan Mogulof that organizers from the event knew they wouldn’t go through with it from the start.
Getting back to the right-wing provocateur’s promised San Diego State appearance, the SDSU Republican club spokesperson advanced told the Daily Aztec:
“I think it’s going to be great to have a conservative speaker like him come to campus,” he said. “I think he’s going to talk about the political environment on college campuses and the fight for free speech.”
So in my mind, the question isn’t whether the SDSU Republicans have the right to bring Milo Yiannopoulos to speak. Of course they do.
The question really is: “Are they trying to pick a fight?”
Is this the on-campus version of yelling “Fire!” in a crowded theater? The past performance of this group doesn’t offer much encouragement.
From the Daily Aztec:
This is not the first time the College Republicans have invited a controversial speaker to campus. In May 2016, the club brought David Horowitz to speak at SDSU. Horowitz’s organization had posted flyers around campus in the weeks prior naming specific students as terrorists for their support of Palestine, and his visit sparked protests.
Having thrown down the gauntlet, it didn’t surprise me when the SDSU Young Democratic Socialists of America responded with a tweet promising “heavy resistance.” And it also didn’t surprise me when the campus GOP group immediately put on their martyr hats.
The real question was whether SDSU resources are being used in an appropriate manner, according to one of commenters on the Daily Aztec article:
…make no mistake, that space is ours to contest how it is used. As students whose tuition goes toward the construction, maintenance, and use of speaking facilities on this campus, whose tuition and fees pay to employ the faculty here that who make SDSU a place to visit, who we permit to access that platform communicates attributes about us By allowing him to speak here, would be to communicate support for or complacency to the rhetorical violence Milo represents. More importantly, it tells students of color and transgender students that their safety is less important than some club republicans wanting to hear a known agitator speak. And yes, he is an agitator, not because he’s controversial but because he goes out of his way to verbally attack anyone whom he finds displeasing. And yes, those students may be at risk because everywhere he goes he draws white supremacist and violent members of the alt-right to leaflet campuses with their hate speech.
The SDSU Republican’s Club, may service an invitation but the rest of us have a right to say that we want no part in it and we want it off our campus. If it is so important for the club to host him, they can shell out their own money to rent a venue elsewhere in town. That is also what it means to live in a free society.
I personally don’t think Milos deserves any attention. I’m sure others will disagree.
Finally, as far as the Free Speech argument is concerned, where were the SDSU Republicans when the American Conservative Union pulled the plug on this character earlier this year?
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