After Ann Coulter Backs Out Of Visit, UC Berkeley Braces For Free Speech Rallies

Apr 27, 2017
Originally published on April 28, 2017 8:20 am
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Berkeley, Calif., is bracing for potential violence between detractors and supporters of conservative commentator Ann Coulter. Yesterday Coulter announced she would not make a planned appearance at University of California, Berkeley. That came after the university said it didn't have a venue that could be secured from threats made by off-campus groups.

There are multiple rallies today in response to all of this by those who love Ann Coulter and those who don't. We spoke with NPR's Richard Gonzales earlier from the site of one protest gathering.

RICHARD GONZALES, BYLINE: Well, I'm at the corner of Bancroft Way and Telegraph Avenue in Berkeley, and it's on the edge of the campus. There are - several hundred protesters have gathered here, and they say they wanted to stage this rally to underscore their objection to Ann Coulter's appearance on the campus even though she says she's not going to come. It's billed as the Alt-Right Delete news conference and rally put on by forces calling themselves anti-fascists. There are Cal-Berkeley students. And their point is that they still want to make sure that she knows that she is not welcome here.

CORNISH: I feel like I've been hearing a lot about the back and forth about whether Ann Coulter would actually speak at Berkeley. Give us the background.

GONZALES: Coulter was invited by the College Republicans to appear today, but university officials say that when they learned about that plan, they tried to reschedule it. But Coulter refused, insisting that she would appear today. Then yesterday she changed her mind, said she wasn't coming. And she placed the blame not only on the university but also on the student groups that originally invited her. And then afterwards, one of the groups held a news conference. Troy Worden is president of the Campus Republicans, and he said they had no choice but to cancel the event.

TROY WORDEN: Well, this isn't a matter just about Ann Coulter. This is about the safety of students on campus. And UCPD and the administration told us specifically that they cannot guarantee the safety of students on campus.

CORNISH: Richard, UC Berkeley has this reputation of being a home for dissent, certainly where free speech is valued. At the same time, Ann Coulter isn't the only controversial speaker whose appearance has just been canceled, right?

GONZALES: That's right. And the university has been criticized from the left and the right for cancelling Coulter. And critics say that Berkeley isn't living up to its ideals. And they point to the violence that prevented Milo Yiannopoulos from speaking in February. Campus officials say, well, that violence was perpetrated by outside groups and not students.

Now, the spokesman for the campus, Dan Mogulof, said yesterday that the university has made every effort to host Ann Coulter by offering her a date in May, but she rejected the May date. And he says that even though this story is being portrayed as a free speech issue, it's also about external forces using the campus as a stage.

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DAN MOGULOF: We're in a new reality, and we can't turn a blind eye to it - a reality where groups and individuals across political spectrum see this university as a suitable venue for political conflict and violence.

CORNISH: In the meantime, what are we anticipating in terms of who will come out today?

GONZALES: Well, right now we've got the anti-Coulter rally happening on the edge of the campus. Later today, there's a pro-Coulter and pro-Trump group called the Proud Boys who will stage an event at a nearby park. And that's the same park near downtown Berkeley that has been the site of violent and bloody clashes between the left and the right. Campus police here say they have a very low tolerance for mischief or any kind of violence on campus.

CORNISH: That's NPR's Richard Gonzales speaking to us from Berkeley, Calif. Thanks so much.

GONZALES: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.