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Ann Coulter Says UC Berkeley Forced Her to Cancel Speech
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26 Apr 2017 07:16 PM EST

-by Drew Kolar, Editor; Image: Ann Coulter (Image Source: Gage Skidmore via Wikimedia Commons)

Despite reports that Conservative commentator Ann Coulter canceled her planned speech at the University of California at Berkeley this week due to concerns about violent protests, she is saying that the cancellation was not her call.

The Washington Post reported on Wednesday that Coulter said in an email that the Young America's Foundation canceled her scheduled speech, telling her to set foot on the campus. She claimed that the university realized the group "wasn't serious and dropped ongoing negotiations over a room."

"Everyone who should be for free speech has turned tail and run," she wrote.

The university addressed the campus community on Wednesday in the midst of uncertainty over whether or not Coulter would make an appearance. The university originally canceled her speech for Thursday and invited her to speak there following week, but Coulter insisted that she would speak on Thursday regardless. As the university was denying her a venue, campus Republicans brought up the possibly of her appearing on a public plaza, though they did acknowledge that there would be security concerns.

Ultimately, Berkeley Chancellor Nicholas Dirks emphasized in his message that the university has two nonnegotiable commitments: to free speech and to campus safety.

"This is a University, not a battlefield," Dirks noted. "We must make every effort to hold events at a time and location that maximizes the chances that First Amendment rights can be successfully exercised and that community members can be protected. While our commitment to freedom of speech and expression remains absolute, we have an obligation to heed our police department’s assessment of how best to hold safe and successful events."

Coulter made certain to note that she was not the one to cancel the speech.

"NO," she told BuzzFeed News on Wednesday when asked if it was her call. "The university canceled it and YAF acquiesced in the cancelation, against my strong wishes. I did everything I could to make this come off."

"I’m so sorry Berkeley canceled my speech. I’m so sorry YAF acquiesced in the cancelation. And I'm so sorry for free speech crushed by thugs," she also posted on her Facebook page.

Coulter's friend and fellow conservative commentator Milo Yiannopoulos also chimed in in her defense via Facebook.

"Awful to see my friend Ann Coulter forced to cancel her speech," he wrote. "I don't understand why Young America's Foundation would capitulate so close to victory. Ann can hardly be expected to show up without insurance, security or a venue, so I completely understand why she had to cancel. She is Ann Coulter, after all."

Yiannopoulos added that he plans to proceed with his own weeklong series of rallies and events at UC Berkeley this fall, protesting the school's actions.

"My proposed Free Speech Week will proceed as planned later this year," he claimed. "I WILL BRING AN ARMY IF I HAVE TO. We will ensure that Ann and others can speak and we will publicly, ritually humiliate UC Berkeley for its failure to meet its legal obligations until conservative speakers no longer fear violent mobs just for exercising their First Amendment rights."

"Berkeley is going to become the free speech capital of the United States once again. I will make sure of it," he added.

Spencer Brown, a spokesman for Young America's Foundation (YAF), responded to the controversy in an email, noting that they "did not capitulate to the Left or abandon Coulter" when canceling the event.

"UC-Berkeley blocked every effort to provide a venue required to sponsor an educational event with Berkeley students. At no time was there ever a space or lecture time confirmed for Ann to speak," he wrote, adding that event was intended to be a lecture and that the university had six weeks to offer a venue but did not. "If we had a hall, or even a room, we would have proceeded."

" … We didn't run from anything," he added. "We stepped up and sued Berkeley and we paid for Ann to give a lecture, not just give a brief speech among violent protestors."

But the cancellation story is much more complex, as when asked by BuzzFeed if the school was to blame for canceling the April 27 event, Coulter claimed that "the university's position changed every 20 minutes." The university, however, says the event was never officially on their schedule. Additionally, the YAF reportedly did not allow for enough time to secure a safe venue. UC Berkeley spokesman Dan Mogulof noted that the university only became aware of the scheduled date when administrators read about it in the news.

Below, read the full message from Chancellor Nicholas Dirks to the campus regarding the issue:

To the Members of the Berkeley Campus Community,

As I write this, I am aware of the uncertainty surrounding Ann Coulter’s stated intention to come to campus tomorrow afternoon.  We will be sending out a separate message later today with updated information about safety arrangements, as well as our hopes and expectations regarding how members of our campus community should conduct themselves.  For now, I want to share my thoughts about all that has led up to the current situation in which we find ourselves.

This University has two nonnegotiable commitments, one to Free Speech, the other to the safety of our campus community members, their guests, and the public. In that context, we cannot ignore or deny what is a new reality.  Groups and individuals from the extreme ends of the political spectrum have made clear their readiness and intention to utilize violent tactics in support or in protest of certain speakers at UC Berkeley. In early February, a speaker’s presence on campus ignited violent conflict and significant damage to campus property. In March, political violence erupted on the streets of Berkeley.  In April opposing groups again violently clashed on the edge of our campus. While some seem inclined to use these events and circumstances to draw attention to themselves, we remain focused on the needs, rights, and interests of our students and our community. We cannot wish away or pretend that these threats do not exist.

The strategies necessary to address these evolving threats are also evolving, but the simplistic view of some — that our police department can simply step in and stop violent confrontations whenever they occur — ignores reality.  Protecting public safety in these circumstances requires a multifaceted approach.  This approach must take into account the use of “time, place, and manner” guidelines, devised according to the specific threats presented.  Because threats or strategic concerns may differ, so must our approach.  In all cases, however, we only seek to ensure the successful staging of free speech rights; we make no effort to control or restrict the content of expression, regardless of differing political views.

This is a University, not a battlefield. We must make every effort to hold events at a time and location that maximizes the chances that First Amendment rights can be successfully exercised and that community members can be protected. While our commitment to freedom of speech and expression remains absolute, we have an obligation to heed our police department’s assessment of how best to hold safe and successful events.

In relation to the invitation made by a student group for Ann Coulter to speak at Berkeley this week, we have therefore to take seriously the intelligence UCPD has regarding threats of violence that could endanger our students, our community, and perhaps even Ms Coulter herself. It is specific, significant, and real.  Yet, despite those threats we have, and will remain ready, to welcome her to campus, and assume the risks, challenges, and expenses that will attend her visit.  That is demanded by our commitment to Free Speech.  What we will not do is allow our students, other members of the campus community, and the public to be needlessly endangered by permitting an event to be held in a venue that our police force does not believe to be protectable.  If UCPD believes there is a significant security threat attendant to a particular event, we cannot allow it to be held in a venue with a limited number of exits; in a hall that cannot be cordoned off; in an auditorium with floor to ceiling glass; in any space that does not meet basic safety criteria established by UCPD.  This is the sole reason we could not accommodate Ms. Coulter on April 27th, and the very reason we offered her alternative dates in early May and September, when venues that satisfy safety requirements are available.

Contrary to some press reports and circulating narratives, the UC Berkeley administration did not cancel the Coulter event and has never prohibited Ms. Coulter from coming on campus.  Instead, we received a request to provide a venue on one single day, chosen unilaterally by a student group without any prior consultation with campus administration or law enforcement.  After substantial evaluation and planning by our law enforcement professionals, we were forced to inform the group that, in light of specific and serious security threats that UCPD’s intelligence had identified, there was no campus venue available at a time on that date where the event could be held safely and without disruption.  We offered an alternative date for the event (which was rejected) and offered to work with the group to find dates in the future when the event could occur. Throughout this process our effort has been to support our students’ desire to hold their event safely and successfully.

Sadly and unfortunately, concern for student safety seems to be in short supply in certain quarters. We believe that once law enforcement professionals determine there are security risks attendant to a particular event, speakers need to focus on what they actually want to achieve. If it is to speak to a large audience, to make a case for their positions, to engage students in discourse, we stand ready to make that work on any date when a protectable venue is available. If, on the other hand, the objective is stir up conflict and violence without regard for the safety, rights, and interests of others in order to advance personal interests we cannot abandon our commitment to the safety of our community members.

We will work cooperatively with members of our campus community who would sponsor events to ensure that those events can occur and that the campus can actually benefit from the dialogue their invited speakers might generate. To this end, we are working to clarify our policies and practices so that all know what is expected and how sponsors can best engage us to facilitate the success of their planned events. We trust that cooperation and good will among the members of our own community can help us jointly defend our campus against the threats to both speech and safety currently being posed by outside groups.


Nicholas Dirks


UC Berkeley

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