BERKELEY (CBS SF) — After a week of contentious back-and-forth with UC Berkeley officials, conservative firebrand Ann Coulter on Wednesday officially called off her scheduled speech at cal.
But the free speech showdown is far from over.
According to Wednesday’s New York Times, Coulter believes she is putting her safety in jeopardy if she goes ahead with the speech tentatively scheduled for 4 p.m. Thursday on Berkeley’s Sproul Plaza.
Coulter then told the Fox News Channel that she is backing out due to safety concerns.
Though Coulter isn’t coming due to those safety concerns, authorities are ready for riots anyway.
Berkeley campus police said they’re anticipating the type of violence exhibited back in February when conservative pundit Milo Yiannapoulos was prevented from speaking on campus. Police are worried it could happen Thursday, even in Coulter’s absence.
“You’ll see a high presence of law enforcement,” said UCPD Captain Alex Yao.
Berkeley has been the scene of two additional violent clashes between alt right and anti-fascist proponents in the last three months. There have been numerous arrests, thousands of dollars in property damage and injuries.
Coulter sent out a series of tweets in response, with one saying, “I’m very sad about Berkeley’s cancellation, but my sadness is greater than that. It is a dark day for free speech in America.”
In an email to The Associated Press, Coulter said that despite the event’s cancellation she might decide to turn up anyway.
“I have my flights, so I thought I might stroll around the graveyard of the First Amendment,” Coulter said in an emailed message when asked if she was still coming to Berkeley.
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On Wednesday, Berkeley College Republicans held a press conference detailing their lawsuit filed against the university. They claim the university violated their right to free speech by not providing a venue for Coulter.
“We’re taking free speech into our own hands,” said Berkeley College Republicans representative Troy Worden.
University Spokesman Dan Mogulof insisted that UC Berkeley remains committed to ensuring conservative voices are heard on campus, but only when given enough time to ensure student safety.
“We support their right and ability to bring speakers of their choosing to this campus,” said Mogulof. “We know how to do this, but we can’t facilitate the right to do this if they don’t work with us.”
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Late Wednesday, UC Berkeley Chancellor Nicholas Dirks released an updated statement to the community regarding campus safety during the planned protests.
“While Ms. Coulter has now stated that she will not come to Berkeley, the University of California Berkeley Police Department (UCPD) has seen evidence of and continues to plan for potentially violent demonstrations and counter-demonstrations on Sproul Plaza throughout the day,” the statement read.
The Chancellor continued, saying “UCPD is aware that there are individuals and groups unaffiliated with campus who have clearly stated their intention to use violent tactics in support of their respective causes.”
He encouraged students and staff who did not want to participate or be affected by the demonstrations to use different routes that would avoid the Sproul Plaza area.
Pranav Jandhyala is the president of BridgeUSA at Berkeley (formerly known as BridgeCal), a moderate student group that fought to make the Coulter visit happen. He says both Coulter and Berkeley College Republicans are missing the point.
“Both parties are a little bit culpable,” said Jandhyala “It’s become more about headlines. It’s become more about testing the limits of free speech, both on BCR’s part and on Ann Coulter’s part”
Now he worries the Thursday protest will be dangerous; not just for students on campus in person, but for UC Berkeley’s reputation down the line.
“We’re going to look so bad as a campus community,” said Jandhyala. “And I’m very worried for UC Berkeley’s perception in the media more than I already am.”