BERKELEY (CBS SF) – University of California at Berkeley Chancellor Nicholas Dirks affirmed Thursday that controversial far-right writer Milo Yiannopoulos will be speaking at the university next week, potentially drawing thousands of protesters to the campus.
“In our view, Mr. Yiannopoulos is a troll and provocateur who uses odious behavior in part to ‘entertain,’ but also to deflect any serious engagement with ideas,” Dirks wrote in an open letter to the campus community Thursday.
“He has been widely and rightly condemned for engaging in hate speech directed at a wide range of groups and individuals, as well as for disparaging and ridiculing individual audience members, particularly members of the LGBTQ community,” Dirks said.
But, despite protests from students, Dirks said Berkeley College Republicans have a Constitutional right to invite him to speak.
The sold-out event will be held at the Pauley Ballroom of the MLK Student Union at 7 p.m. on Wednesday.
“While working as a journalist for Breitbart, Milo has earned a reputation for his vocal criticisms of feminism, Islam, political correctness, and social justice,” organizers wrote. “To his supporters, he is a cultural whirlwind, to his critics, he is a bigoted rabble-rouser, but to everyone, he is nothing short of amusing and provocative.”
More than 1,000 people have responded on Facebook that they intend to protest the event.
“The election of Donald Trump has emboldened the far right—racists, Islamophobes and misogynists are attempting to come out into the light and gain a foothold across the country,” protest organizers said. “We have to show them that we won’t tolerate any rise in far right activity.”
Yiannopoulos’s other recent campus appearances have led to tense protests, including a joint appearance with pharmaceutical executive Martin Shkreli at UC Davis, where protesters blocked the entrances and the event was cancelled before either took the stage.
Another planned event for Feb. 2 at UCLA, the day after the Berkeley event, was cancelled this week because organizers with the Bruin Republicans at UCLA said they were unable to accommodate the list of requirements from Yiannopoulos’s team.
In a response to the UCLA cancellation posted on Facebook, Yiannopoulos said, “I travel with bodyguards twenty-four hours a day, and (the tour) is a multimillion-dollar operation with logistical and security requirements like any other celebrity or professional musical tour. We understand some college organisers invite me unaware of this complexity, so we work hard to help them through the process.”
Yiannopoulos also complained on Facebook that UC Berkeley was requiring campus Republicans to pay a security fee for the event. But Dirks said the university typically requires event organizers to reimburse the university for basic security.
The costs of security for protests will be covered by the campus and will exceed whatever costs were paid by the campus Republicans, Dirks said.
Dirks also said he told the Berkeley Republicans that while they have a right to host him, Yiannopoulos’s rhetoric and actions are at odds with the values of the university and they have a moral responsibility not to engage in behavior or invite guests that would threaten their fellow students.
“Nothing we have done to plan for this event should be mistaken as an endorsement of Yiannopoulos’s views or tactics,” Dirks said. “Indeed, we are saddened that anyone would use degrading stunts or verbal assaults on marginalized members of our society to promote a political platform.”
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