Berkeley says 'Free Speech Week' event is canceled

Campus organizers have officially canceled "Free Speech Week," a four-day festival at the University of California, Berkeley, headlined by right-wing provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos.

The conservative student group The Berkeley Patriot, which was organizing the event scheduled to begin Sunday, told the school that it would not be happening, the university confirmed Saturday morning.

Free Speech Week faced mounting logistical issues, and many anticipated the event would ultimately be canceled.

For weeks, headline speakers such as former White House chief strategist Stephen Bannon and conservative commentator Ann Coulter remained unconfirmed. Many others who were initially slated to appear, such as academic Charles Murray, commentator Heather Mac Donald, fired Google engineer James Damore, Blackwater founder Erik Prince and writer Lucian Wintrich, either dropped out or never confirmed their intention to come.

The only speakers remaining on Saturday morning were Mike Cernovich and Pamela Geller. Cernovich, Geller and Yiannopoulos held a news conference Saturday saying that the university had "silenced" them by making them jump through bureaucratic hoops. Yiannopoulos said that he still plans to appear at the college for a rally on Sunday at noon to "exercise his right to free speech as a private citizen."
 
In an interview with The Hill, he also vowed to stage a similar event some time in the future.
 
"We will have our rally, we will say our piece and we will see where we are," he said of tomorrow's march on campus. "If there is appetite for us to stay longer, we will stay longer, and if there isn't then we will schedule all the speakers who were unable to speak because of (lack of) indoor venues here at Berkeley. And we will keep coming back, over and over and over again. I will spend whatever it takes and I will do whatever it takes to make sure that everyone I've had on my speaker list who was confirmed is able to speak here."
 
The school blasted the announcement on Saturday that the event would not be held.
 
“It is extremely unfortunate that this announcement was made at the last minute, even as the university was in the process of spending significant sums of money and preparing for substantial disruption of campus life in order to provide the needed security for these events,” Berkeley spokesman Dan Mogulof said in a statement.
 
But Yiannopoulos said it was the school itself that had put pressure on the student group to cancel the event and that the college had declared the event doomed from the beginning. He said he and the student group, The Berkeley Patriot, were given unfair and unreasonable deadlines to secure indoor venues for the event. He said the bureaucracy was part of a concerted effort to silence free speech on campus. 
 
"Claims that this is somehow the outcome desired by the campus are without basis in fact," Mogulof said. "The University was prepared to do whatever was necessary to support the First Amendment rights of the student organization."

Mogulof said the university was prepared to spend “in excess of $1 million in order make these events safe.”

The university said it spent nearly $600,000 on a speaking event by conservative columnist Ben Shapiro last week, after threats and protests from the student body mandated heightened security for the event. 

A prior appearance by Yiannopoulos at Berkeley sparked violent riots across campus, causing property damage in addition to the $200,000 in security costs. Coulter also reportedly cost the university $600,000 for a speaking appearance that was later canceled. 

"UC-Berkeley hypocritically named this academic year its year of free speech, which is something you'd only do if you had a really serious PR problem, and the PR problem today is going to be worse. The fault for that lies squarely on UC Berkeley and no one else's shoulders," Yiannopoulos said.

He also said he refutes the media's narrative that his organization is a "disorganized mess."

"I understand there were some hiccups with speakers for which I take full responsibility," he said. "Although it was an error with my staff, it's down to me. But the blame for this event's mutated form lies squarely with UC-Berkeley."

To those supporters of his, many who traveled miles from out of state to see him, he said that they should know, "UC-Berkeley did this to you."