Hundreds of protesters began throwing fireworks and pulling down metal barricades police set up to keep people from rushing into the student union building where Yiannopoulos had been scheduled to speak. Windows were smashed and fires were set outside the building on Sproul Plaza as masked protesters stormed it, and at 6 p.m., two hours before his speech was to begin, police decided to evacuate Yiannopoulos for his own safety. The protest later moved on to city streets, where storefront windows were smashed.
Berkeley police said three to four people were injured and some people, including a man who said he had hoped to see Yiannopoulos speak, were seen with their faces bloodied. There were no immediate reports of arrests.
Milo speaks: ‘The Left is absolutely terrified of free speech’
Police said protesters threw bricks and fireworks at police officers. University police locked down all buildings and told people inside them to shelter in place, and later fired rubber pellets into the crowd of protesters who defied orders to leave the area. Police called in support from other law enforcement agencies and warned protesters that they might use tear gas.
As he spoke, someone threw a glass bottle of red paint at him, and it shattered and splattered on his clothing. “It’s sad,” he said.
University officials had earlier rejected requests to cancel Yiannopoulos’ appearance. In a letter to the campus community last week, Chancellor Nicholas Dirks said, “The U.S. Constitution prohibits UC Berkeley, as a public institution, from banning expression based on its content or viewpoints, even when those viewpoints are hateful or discriminatory.”
Protesters argued that what Yiannopoulos specializes in is hate speech, and that it didn’t deserve to be protected.
“It’s not a question of free speech,” a protester said via megaphone, riling up the hundreds of protesters in attendance. “It’s about real human beings.”
Yiannopoulos, a gay conservative, has been making the rounds at college campuses across the country with his “Dangerous Faggot” talks, specializing in remarks meant to insult, offend and disgust liberals who disagree with his ideas. His appearances at some universities have resulted in violent confrontations between protesters and his supporters. Some private universities have barred him, and Twitter banned him in July for repeatedly breaking harassment and abuse policies.
Berkeley College Republicans said all 500 tickets had been sold for Yiannopoulos’ scheduled appearance in Pauley Ballroom in the student union building. Yiannopoulos was expected to use the event to kick off a campaign against “sanctuary campuses” that have vowed to protect undocumented students as President Trump cracks down on illegal immigration.
Campus police had been hoping to avoid a repeat of the chaos at UC Davis on Jan. 13, when protesters overwhelmed their barricades and shut down Yiannopoulos’ speech.
In an interview with Fox News after Wednesday’s cancellation, the 32-year-old Yiannopoulos — a self-described “libertarian, gay, Trump-supporting provocateur” — said college campuses are places where “you should be able to engage with different ideas.”
Those who attend his appearances, he said, include people who “don’t necessarily agree with me but just want to hear the other side. They were prevented from doing so this evening by violence from the left — the left that is terrified of anyone who they think might be persuasive or might be interesting or might take people with them.”
But UC Berkeley sophomore Jonathan Gow, 19, rejected Yiannopoulos’ insistence that free speech took a hit.
“The whole reason we’re here is for free speech,” Gow said. “Milo’s hate speech is not allowed here. When it’s hate speech, our free speech is to shut him down.”
Three lines of zip-tied metal fencing separated the crowd of protesters from campus police officers who had secured the building where Yiannopoulos was supposed to speak. He had arrived earlier, escorted by security and had been waiting inside the student union building when the protests erupted.
The protest turned violent around 6 p.m. when dozens of masked anarchists, dressed in black and wearing backpacks, emerged from the otherwise peaceful crowd.
As “Milo had got to go” chants broke out, they struck: in small groups, at first — knocking down the fences, cutting through to zip ties. Then, they came in droves, as the dozens of university police officers quickly retreated to an inner ring of fencing.
That, too, was breached, as protesters ran toward the student center, where Yiannopoulos was waiting for the event to begin. Police in riot gear retreated inside.
Seizing the opportunity, the masked protesters breached the inner ring of fencing, picking up pieces of it and hurling them into the building’s windows. Glass shattered, but no one went inside.
As some protesters yelled obscenities at police, others toppled a generator and light pole police had set up, spray painting “Milo” with an X through it. Then they lit it on fire. From their backpacks, the protesters hurled dozens of fireworks.
One of the black-dressed anarchists said he had been hit by nonlethal ammunition.
“The cops shot me with pepper balls,” said the 26-year-old man, who called himself Zombie. “It hurt.”
Carrying a thick black shield and wearing a milk-soaked kerchief over his face to protect against potential tear gas, Zombie said, “We’re anarchists.” Fellow protesters unfurled a banner reading, “This is war.”
Police soon declared an unlawful assembly and ordered everyone to leave, but hundreds of protesters stayed, filling the entire upper and lower plaza. “Turn on the dance music,” one masked woman yelled.
UC Berkeley junior Fatima Ibrahim, 20, who clutched a “resist fear” sign with a red fist, said the timing of Yiannopoulos’ scheduled appearance stung.
“As a black Muslim woman, all three of those identities have been targeted throughout (Trump’s) campaign,” Ibrahim said. “To have someone like (Yiannopoulos) come into my campus and affirm those people’s beliefs, it’s very, very hurtful.”
Hours after the event was canceled, the College Republicans issued a statement declaring the Free Speech Movement dead. “It is tragic that the birthplace of the Free Speech Movement is also its final resting place,” the statement said.