The four-day Free Speech Week organized by Milo Yiannopoulos at the University of California at Berkeley is in chaos just hours before it is scheduled to begin, as headliner Ann Coulter canceled and student organizers dropped their reservations for campus buildings.
Coulter told the Associated Press on Friday that she decided to back out of the Sept. 24-27 conservative speakers forum because she heard “the administration was dead set on blocking this event” — an assertion university administrators flatly denied. “I also don’t think Berkeley deserves to hear a brilliant and entertaining Ann Coulter speech,” Coulter told the AP via email.
Yiannopoulos has touted former White House adviser Steve Bannon as a speaker, but the Breitbart News boss has not confirmed his appearance with the university or reached out to plan his security, UC Berkeley spokesman Dan Mogulof told TheWrap on Friday.
Yiannopoulos and Bannon have not responded to TheWrap’s request for comment.
Eleven of the 17 speakers listed by organizers have not confirmed that they will attend, UC Chancellor Carol Christ said in a statement on Friday.
At least four of people listed by organizers as speakers at the event, which is scheduled to begin on Sunday, have said they were never even contacted by Yiannopoulos or student organizers. They include Charles Murray, Heather MacDonald, Michael Malice, and James Damore, the former Google engineer who was fired for his anti-diversity memo, Vanity Fair reported.
Another speaker, Lucian Wintrich, has said Yiannopoulos secretly decided to cancel the event earlier this week. “When I was first invited to Free Speech Week I saw it as an incredible opportunity,” Wintrich told Mediaite. “But then it was made clear to me this week that this event definitely wasn’t happening, and I had to drop out — I saw no reason to lie to the public and mislead people into thinking it was happening.”
The student group organizing the event, the Berkeley Patriot, has not spoken to the University since Sept. 12 and dropped its reservations for two campus buildings, Mogulof said. “They’ve gone dark,” he said of the group, adding that speakers are still free to talk in any open space on campus.
“We continue to prepare for these events next week,” Mogulof said. “We’re in the process of spending close to $1 million in security arrangements.” The university has incurred at least $1.4 million in security costs for previous speaking engagements by conservative speakers this year.
On Thursday, Yiannopoulos insisted to Mediaite that the event “will proceed exactly as planned.” But he also told the Los Angeles Times via text message that he would hold a news conference in San Francisco on Saturday after arriving in a speedboat wearing a $15,000 fur coat.
Mike Wright, a leader with the student group and co-organizer Berkeley Patriot, told the San Francisco Chronicle the group was “concerned about threats and our safety” and undecided on whether to cancel Free Speech Week. But a lawyer for the group said late Friday the event would go forward.
Michael Cernovich, a conservative radio commentator and unconfirmed speaker, tweeted on Friday, “I will be joining Milo at a press conference tomorrow where he will announce developments and future plans regarding Free Speech Week.”
On Monday, Yiannopoulos released a statement blaming the university for using “bureaucratic maneuvers and strategic media leaks to disrupt the event and dissuade headline speakers from attending.”
Mogulof flatly denied the assertion, noting that conservative pundit Ben Shapiro had spoken on the campus earlier this month without incident.
Salon writer Amanda Marcotte suggested in her story that the Free Speech Week “smells like a massive troll.” When she asked Yiannopoulos for information on the event, he replied in an email, “F— off you ginger c—.”
Yiannopoulos was forced to resign as writer for Breitbart News over comments that appeared to endorse pedophilia, and Simon & Schuster backed out of its book deal with him. He wound up self-published the book.