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During what the university described as “an apparently organized violent attack and destruction of property,” students were advised to take shelter and avoid the protests.
Yiannopoulos is an editor at the far-right news site Breitbart and a controversial figure who is best known for espousing “men’s rights” views and leading a targeted harassment campaign against Saturday Night Live star Leslie Jones. (Disclosure: Milo Yiannopoulous was the founder of the Kernel, a publication the Daily Dot acquired in January 2014.)
He is currently on a speaking tour of college campuses, facing vocal protests at each of his events so far. During a protest against his Seattle appearance last week, one of his fans shot a protester who was allegedly attempting to de-escalate a conflict in the crowd.
The UC Berkeley event, which was organized by the Berkeley College Republicans, was canceled two hours in advance after an estimated 1,500 protesters gathered outside the venue.
The crowd was a mixture of peaceful protesters and masked anti-fascist activists, who let off fireworks and used home-made shields as protection against police weapons. They ignored police orders to disperse, and a tree caught fire after a nearby flood light was pushed to the ground.
It didn’t take long for things to turn violent. While most of the protesters were peaceful, a woman in a “Make America Great Again” hat was pepper-sprayed in the middle of an interview at the scene. Later in the evening, a driver in a white sedan plowed through the crowd and carried one protester away on the hood of the car.
As the night wore on, some of the protesters moved on to smash windows at banks and a Starbucks outlet in downtown Berkeley. Meanwhile, others opted to pick up litter and clear the streets after things calmed down.
In a Facebook post, Yiannopoulos assured his followers that he and his team were safe. “One thing we do know for sure: The Left is absolutely terrified of free speech and will do literally anything to shut it down,” he wrote.
UC Berkeley spokesperson Dan Mogulof described the violence as “the actions of a few that tainted the desires of the many to engage in legal and lawful protest.” He added, “This is not a proud night for this campus, the home of the free speech movement.”
President Donald Trump has already commented on the protests, threatening to pull UC Berkeley’s federal funding.
If U.C. Berkeley does not allow free speech and practices violence on innocent people with a different point of view – NO FEDERAL FUNDS?
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 2, 2017
This tweet implies that UC Berkeley itself was responsible for the protests, which was not the case. Yiannopoulos was invited to speak by the Berkeley College Republicans, and the college’s official statement highlights its legacy as “the home of the Free Speech Movement.” The college condemned the violence and explained that the event was canceled for Yiannopoulos’s own safety, with campus police escorting him from the scene.
Gavia Baker-Whitelaw is a staff writer at the Daily Dot, covering geek culture and fandom. Specializing in sci-fi movies and superheroes, she also appears as a film and TV critic on BBC radio. Elsewhere, she co-hosts the pop culture podcast Overinvested. Follow her on Twitter: @Hello_Tailor