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‘Free Speech Week’ at UC Berkeley cancelled – was it a student stunt?

Milo Berkeley
Right-wing provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos holds rally at US Berkeley. September 25, 2017. Source: @PamelaGeller

Less than 24 hours before it was due to start, organisers of University of California (UC), Berkeley’s controversial “Free Speech Week” have pulled the plug amid accusations that the event may have been a student stunt.

According to The Wall Street Journal, the four-day event was due to start on Sunday and included appearances by right-wing speakers, including provocateur and former Breitbart editor Milo Yiannopoulos. Other listed speakers originally included former White House adviser Steve Bannon and conservative commentator Ann Coulter, however, both denied they planned to attend the event and claimed they had not been invited in the first place.

“Claims that this is somehow the outcome desired by the campus are without basis in fact,” said Dan Mogulof, a spokesman for UC Berkeley. “The university was prepared to do whatever was necessary to support the First Amendment rights of the student organisation.”

According to Mogulof, the school was prepared to spend US$1 million on security to ensure students’ safety.

The university said the group hadn’t been meeting deadlines for submitting the proper paperwork, while the group blamed the school for “bureaucratic stonewalling.”

Despite the event being cancelled, Yiannopoulos still showed up on the campus early Sunday to hold a brief rally for a few dozen supporters. A larger crowd of counter-protestors stood nearby, separated from the crowd by police.

The Berkeley Patriot’s, the campus group that was responsible for the event, hoped the event would make it easier for them to express their conservative views on the famously liberal campus.

Bryce Kasamoto, a Berkeley student and spokesman for the group, told The Wall Street Journal he has been unfairly criticised by other students for his views, including one occasion in class when he said that “all lives matter” in response to the Black Lives Matter movement, and was told by another student to “watch your privilege.”

Berkeley is considered the birthplace of the 1960s Free Speech Movement, a student protest against campus restrictions on political speech. But it has become a magnet for far-right speakers in recent months whose appearances at the university have sparked demonstrations from those hoping to shut down the events.

This latest event by right-wing conservatives spurred more than 60 professors at the school to sign a petition urging students and teachers to boycott campus during the four-day event.

Even those professors who do not support the boycott have expressed concern over the message being absorbed by young conservatives and their attraction to divisive figures such as Yiannopoulos.

Despite Kasamoto’s claims that the group just wants to show they “can engage in healthy political conversation without violence,” he also admits that the group didn’t invite more traditional conservative speakers because they are “not going to draw attention.”

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