Riot erupts over alt-right speaker at Berkeley, Trump threatens to pull funds

Protesters patricipate in a rally against Breitbart News editor Milo Yiannopoulos in Berkeley, California, USA, 01 February 2017. Source: EPA

After some protestors turned violent and the speech was cancelled, Donald Trump issued his response on Twitter.

President Donald Trump threatened on Thursday to withdraw federal funds from a Californian university after violent campus protests forced the cancellation of a speech by Milo Yiannopoulos, a British firebrand editor at right-wing news site Breitbart.

Berkeley university students were joined by other protestors chanting “shut him down” ahead of a scheduled lecture from the free speech provocateur and self-described internet troll and “dangerous faggot”.

On Wednesday evening protesters smashed windows at the University of California campus, set wooden pallets ablaze and threw fireworks and rocks as police in full riot gear responded with tear gas. 

The university was placed on lockdown as the sold-out appearance was cancelled.

Footage shows hooded figures looting a Starbucks. One man with a bloody forehead told reporters he was attacked by anti-Trump protesters.

The disturbances were a fiery reminder of the university's history as a cradle of the 1960s anti-war movement – and a microcosm of the tensions between America's mostly left-wing student bodies against a far-right minority.

Conservatives have slammed the Berkerly protestors for hypocrisy, citing the riots as evidence that the left is intolerant and won't hesitate to target minorities with right-of-centre opinions.

"I am honestly not surprised that left-wing radicals are rioting - not protesting - but rioting at the thought of someone in America having different views than them," said Colton Buckley, a Texan delegate who cast his vote for Trump at last year's Republican convention.

"What's more dangerous to their movement than a gay conservative?" said Buckley, a self-described "gun toting, God fearing gay man."

Just after 6am the following morning, President Donald Trump issued condemnation of the university on Twitter:

About half of research at Berkeley is funded by the federal government, according to the university website. Berkeley however has been struggling in the past years with budget shortfalls and spending deficits.

Trump's top political adviser Stephen Bannon is the former chairman of Breitbart News.

“I am a gay Jew and he made me into a star,” Yiannopoulos has said of Bannon.

Who is Milo Yiannopoulos?

Yiannopoulos, Breitbart's technology editor, is a flamboyant firebrand reviled by his critics as racist and misogynistic but who casts himself as a gay crusader against political correctness.

He is often portrayed as a leader of the so-called alt-right – a white nationalist extremist fringe that has found a home on Breitbart's pages – although he has sought to distance himself from the movement.

He is, however, a vocal supporter of Trump – nicknaming the billionaire "Daddy" during his election campaign.

The 32-year-old Briton incited a campaign of online abuse against the African-American "Ghostbusters" actress Leslie Jones.

He once posted a poll asking his fans whether they would rather have feminism or cancer. 

Twitter banned him in July.

The Berkeley event was to be the last stop of a college speaking tour that has drawn big crowds and also sparked fistfights, a shooting and at least one other cancellation.

According to an article on Breitbart News, Yiannopoulos was planning to use the event to launch a campaign against so-called sanctuary campuses, which have declared their opposition to Trump's tough stance toward undocumented immigrants.

Yiannopoulos said on Facebook he was evacuated "after violent left-wing protestors tore down barricades, lit fires, threw rocks and Roman candles at the windows and breached the ground floor of the building."

"One thing we do know for sure: the Left is absolutely terrified of free speech and will do literally anything to shut it down."

UC Berkeley, one of the top public universities in the United States, is the home of the 1960s Free Speech Movement that helped launch the era's student protests against the Vietnam War.

Rioters loot and vandalize a Starbucks store during a protest against Breitbart News editor Milo Yiannopoulos in Berkeley, California, USA 01 February 2017.
Rioters loot and vandalize a Starbucks store during a protest against Breitbart News editor Milo Yiannopoulos in Berkeley, 1 February 2017.
EPA/NOAH BERGER

The mayor of Berkeley, one of America's most liberal cities, deplored the violence by a "small minority" of protesters.

They "provided the ultra-nationalist far right exactly the images they want to use to discredit the vast majority of peaceful protesters in Berkeley and across America who are deeply concerned about where the country is heading," said Jesse Arreguin, the mayor. 

Similar protests at the University of California at Davis last month also forced the cancellation of speeches by Yiannopoulos and Martin Shkreli, a former pharmaceuticals boss who became a hate figure after jacking up the price of a life-saving drug.

The events at Davis and Berkeley were organized by conservative student groups. A similar invitation to speak at UCLA was rescinded.

Officials at the three University of California campuses stressed that they did not invite Yiannopoulos or endorse his ideas but were committed to free speech.

More than 100 UC Berkeley faculty members had signed two letters sent last month to the school's chancellor, urging him to cancel the event.

"Although we object strenuously to Yiannopoulos's views – he advocates white supremacy, transphobia and misogyny – it is rather his harmful conduct to which we call attention in asking for the cancellation of this event," read one of the letters.

They cited as one example an incident in December at the University of Milwaukee where Yiannopoulos openly mocked a transgender student, displaying her name and photo on screen.

Source AFP, SBS News

Stay up to date with SBS NEWS

  • App
  • Subscribe
  • Follow
  • Listen
  • Watch