BERKELEY, Calif. (AP) — Ann Coulter said Wednesday that she was forced to cancel her speaking event Thursday at the University of California, Berkeley amid concerns of violence but might still “swing by to say hello” to all her supporters.
Police and university officials said they were bracing for possible trouble whether Coulter comes to campus or not, citing intelligence and online chatter by groups threatening to instigate violence.
A group of far-right supporters plans to hold a rally Thursday at a Berkeley park to denounce what they claim is an attempt to silence their conservative views.
KCBS reports (http://cbsloc.al/2qiK5yi ) that Gavin McInnes, founder of the pro-Trump “Proud Boys,” says he will speak at 2 p.m. at Civic Center Park and is encouraging other alt-right groups to make a large showing at the gathering.
In emails to The Associated Press on Wednesday, Coulter confirmed that her planned speech on illegal immigration, followed by a question-answer session, was canceled. But she remained coy about what she might do instead.
“I’m not speaking. But I’m going to be near there, so I might swing by to say hello to my supporters who have flown in from all around the country,” Coulter said in an email. “I thought I might stroll around the graveyard of the First Amendment.”
Officials at UC Berkeley said last week they feared renewed violence on campus if Coulter followed through with plans to speak. They cited “very specific intelligence” of threats that could endanger Coulter and students, as Berkeley becomes a platform for extremist protesters on both sides of the political spectrum.
Efforts by the university to cancel or delay the Coulter event dealt a blow to Berkeley’s image as a bastion of tolerance and free speech.
Chancellor Nicholas B. Dirks sent a letter to the campus Wednesday saying the university is committed to defending free speech but also to protecting its students.
“This is a university, not a battlefield,” Dirks said in the letter. “The university has two non-negotiable commitments, one to Free Speech the other to the safety of our campus community.”
Berkeley’s reputation as one of the country’s most liberal universities, in one of America’s most liberal cities, has made it a flashpoint for the nation’s political divisions in the era of Donald Trump.
Earlier this month, a bloody brawl broke out in downtown Berkeley at a pro-Trump protest that featured speeches by members of the white nationalist right. They clashed with a group of Trump critics who called themselves anti-fascists.
Similar violent clashes also erupted at the same site, a public park, on March 4.
In February, violent protesters forced the cancellation of a speech by right-wing writer Milo Yiannopoulos, who like Coulter was invited by campus Republicans.
The Berkeley College Republicans and the Young America’s Foundation, a conservative group that had helped book Coulter’s campus speaking events, both pulled their support Tuesday citing fears of violence. They blamed the university for failing to ensure protection of conservative speakers.
“Berkeley College Republicans do not want to endanger people’s lives so because of the university’s unwillingness to do their job we are forced to cancel the event,” Troy Worden, president of the campus Republicans, said Wednesday.
Coulter echoed the blame on Twitter: “I’m very sad about Berkeley’s cancellation, but my sadness is greater than that. It’s a dark day for free speech in America.”
Capt. Alex Yao of the Berkley campus police force said police presence will be strong Thursday.
“You will see a high number of highly visible law enforcement. We’re going to have a very, very low tolerance for any violence,” he told a news conference. He said Berkeley police had reached out to local and state police forces “to let them know we might be calling for assistance.”