Hours after violence and vandalism on campus forced the cancellation of an appearance by Breitbart News commentator Milo Yiannopoulos at UC Berkeley, President Trump weighed in on the events:
If U.C. Berkeley does not allow free speech and practices violence on innocent people with a different point of view – NO FEDERAL FUNDS?
Among the immediate reactions to the president’s tweet-threat, a statement from Rep. Barbara Lee, whose district includes Berkeley:
Pres. Trump doesn’t have a license to blackmail universities. He’s the president, not a dictator, & his empty threats are an abuse of power.
In the 2015-16 academic year, the campus received $370 million in federal funding for research. The campus is a leading center for research on energy, climate, computer and data sciences and economics, among many other fields.
The Berkeley College Republicans booked Yiannopolous, a self-proclaimed gay internet troll who refers to Trump as “daddy” and championed his candidacy. UC Berkeley officials, citing the First Amendment and campus tradition of free speech, allowed the event to go forward despite widespread criticism that Yiannopolous’ commentary is frequently racist, misogynistic and anti-Muslim.
A large crowd gathered in Sproul Plaza well in advance of Yiannopolous’ 8 p.m. appearance at the Martin Luther King Jr. Student Union.
While most of the crowd appeared to be ready to protest in the same loud but peaceful vein seen the past two weekends — for the Women’s Marches in Oakland and San Francisco and the airport demonstrations opposing Trump’s refugee and immigration order — the crowd was also joined by smaller numbers of militants who came to the protest with fireworks, hammers and pepper spray.
In a statement issued after the Yiannopolous event was canceled, UC Berkeley officials blamed the violence on “a group of about 150 masked agitators who came onto campus and interrupted an otherwise non-violent protest”:
Fires that were deliberately set, one outside the campus Amazon outlet; Molotov cocktails that caused generator-powered spotlights to catch fire; commercial-grade fireworks thrown at police officers; barricades pushed into windows and skirmishes within the crowd were among the evening’s violent acts.
The masked agitators came to campus eastbound on Bancroft Way, and fire damage and other destruction to the Stiles Hall construction site, where a new residence hall is planned, was reported. The group entered campus and immediately began throwing rocks at officers. In an effort to avoid injuries to innocent members of the surrounding crowd who might have been caught in the middle, police officers exercised restraint and did not respond with force.
Agitators also attacked some members of the crowd who were rescued by police. UCPD reported no major injuries and about a half dozen minor injuries. Mutual aid officers from the city of Oakland and from Alameda County arrived at Berkeley around 7:45 p.m. to assist UCPD and Berkeley city police.
The news site Berkeleyside reported scattered damage to banks and other businesses near campus and downtown.