University of California, Berkeley – April 2017

Conservative pundit cancels appearance

Berkeley, CA

Ann Coulter cancelled a planned appearance at the University of California, Berkeley, when opposing groups clashed on campus on the day she was planning to speak. The conservative student groups that initially sponsored the event had already pulled their support, due to concern for their members’ safety.

Key Players

Ann Coulter is a conservative political and social commentator, author, and columnist. She has written several books, the most recent of which is titled “In Trump We Trust: E Pluribus Awesome!” During the 2016 election, she was an outspoken advocate of Donald Trump’s candidacy. Coulter has gained notoriety for her controversial statements, including her description of the Democratic Party’s “backbone” as a “typical fat, implacable welfare recipient” and her praise of the late Senator Joseph McCarthy, who stoked the Red Scare of the 1950s, as “one of the greatest patriots in American history.” Salon reported that in 2015 Coulter was not invited to the Conservative Political Action Conference, marking the first time in 17 years she would not appear at the event.

Further Details

The Berkeley College Republicans and the Young America’s Foundation (YAF) invited Coulter to speak on campus on April 27, 2017. The invitation came shortly after a scheduled appearance by Milo Yiannopoulos at Berkeley in February had been cancelled because of violent protests.

University administrators decided to cancel Coulter’s planned visit “on the grounds that specific threats by anarchist groups threatened security on campus,” reported The New York Times. They reversed their decision a day later, offering to push the event back to May 2 in order to give the campus time to arrange for adequate security.

Berkeley’s new plan changed Coulter’s event from the nighttime to the daytime, and moved the venue to a building far from the center of campus. The new date also fell during a study week before final exams, when no students would be in class. The two conservative groups who had invited Coulter rejected Berkeley’s proposed change of date and venue, and filed a federal lawsuit against the university. In the suit, they accused Berkeley of attempting “to restrict conservative speech,” reported The Washington Post. The lawsuit demanded that the College Republicans be permitted to invite whomever they wanted to campus to speak, and argued that the two groups were entitled to “monetary damages arising from the unconstitutional actions” of the administration.

Coulter remained determined to appear at Berkeley on April 27, despite the university’s decision to cancel the event. Since Berkeley had not sanctioned the use of a building on that date, the College Republicans discussed the possibility of having Coulter speak in a public plaza where security would have been difficult.

As the date approached, anarchist, antifascist, and conservative militia groups all announced plans to converge on campus for Coulter’s appearance, reported the Post. But two days before it was to occur, the YAF said it was pulling its support for the event. The organization said it was unwilling to “jeopardize the safety of its staff or students,” and blamed Berkeley for making it “impossible to hold a lecture due to the lack of assurances for protections from foreseeable violence from unrestrained leftist agitators.” The College Republicans also withdrew their support.

On April 27, large groups of demonstrators gathered on Berkeley’s campus, some in riot gear. Both campus and local police arrived at the scene, guarding against a repeat of the violence that had broken out because of Milo Yiannopoulos’ planned appearance earlier in the year. Police arrested visitors on various charges, including illegal possession of a weapon and obstructing a police officer, but there was no violence between the two sides. Lines of police kept them separated as they yelled back and forth.

Outcome

Coulter does not appear at UC Berkeley

Coulter travelled to San Francisco on April 27, 2017. In an email to the Associated Press, she said she was considering visiting the rally, but she was not going to speak. “I thought I might stroll around the graveyard of the First Amendment,” she wrote. Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Bernie Sanders (I-VT) both criticized the protesters and said Coulter should have been permitted to speak.

Though Coulter did not end up coming across the Bay to Berkeley at the time, she did speak to a group of Republicans in Modesto, CA, at an event that drew protests outside, according to The Hollywood Reporter.

Justice Department announces support for lawsuit

In October 2017, a federal judge dismissed the lawsuit that the YAF and the Berkeley College Republicans had filed against the university for moving the location and date of Coulter’s appearance. The two organizations then amended the suit to include complaints about an incident involving protests at an appearance by Ben Shapiro, a conservative political commentator and editor-in-chief for The Daily Wire, at UC Berkeley that had occurred in September. The organizations resubmitted the lawsuit in November.

On January 25, 2018, the U.S. Department of Justice announced that it was supporting the revised lawsuit, reported The Daily Californian. The DOJ’s statement of interest said the “[p]laintiffs’ amended complaint adequately pleads that the University’s speech restrictions violate the First Amendment, and therefore, at least to that extent, the Court should deny Defendants’ motion to dismiss.” The YAF issued a press release welcoming the DOJ’s support and alleging that Berkeley’s administrators “routinely violate the First Amendment freedoms of conservative students.”

External References

Ann Coulter speech at UC Berkeley canceled, again, amid fears for safety, The Washington Post

Ann Coulter, free speech, and UC Berkeley: How a talk became a political bombshell, Los Angeles Times

Conservative Groups Sue Berkeley Over Ann Coulter Cancellation, The New York Times

Ann Coulter Says She Will Pull Out of Speech at Berkeley, The New York Times

Ann Coulter has fallen from grace — and the reason why is terrifying, Salon.com

Statement on Young America’s Foundation’s April 27 Lecture at UC-Berkeley

Berkeley College Republicans, Young America’s Foundation lawsuit against UC Berkeley dismissed, The Daily Californian

There was no Ann Coulter speech. But protesters converged on Berkeley. The Washington Post

Ann Coulter’s Berkeley speech was canceled, but protesters showed up in riot gear anyway, Vice

Hundreds rally at Berkeley to protest Ann Coulter’s canceled appearance, The Hollywood Reporter

US Justice Department backs conservative UC Berkeley students in free speech suit, The Daily Californian

Prepared by Graham Piro ‘18

Uploaded February 8, 2018