Don't be fooled by the latest stunt from the so-called "Free Speech Movement."
With just a week to go before its scheduled start date, the far-right’s latest stunt in Berkeley is unraveling before it even began.
According to officials at UC Berkeley, the organizers of the so-called “Free Speech Week” have missed three separate deadlines and failed to provide payments and sign contracts necessary to confirm event space on campus. It’s also unclear if they actually booked the speakers they said they did.
Campus spokesperson Dan Mogulof said the organizers behind the event, including the odious Milo Yiannopoulos and Berkeley’s conservative student publication, The Berkeley Patriot, missed the original August 11 deadline, when they were supposed to sign a contract to reserve rooms and security for the scheduled speakers. They also missed an August 18 deadline, when the contract and associated payment were due.
The campus extended the deadline to August 25, but still the organizers failed to respond. When the deadline was again extended to September 15, the organizers finally managed to sign the contract in time, but failed to provide the required payment.
“[If] you want to rent a venue, you have to sign a contract,” Mogulof said. “The university is prepared to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on security arrangements. We can’t provide them with that if we are not sure the event is going to happen.”
He also noted that organizers failed to provide “essential” information required to arrange security for the event.
Yet right-wing provocateur Yiannopoulos, the driving force behind “Free Speech Week,” still released the full speakers list last week. It was a veritable who’s who of right wing extremists and pro-Trump groupies, including Steve Bannon, Ann Coulter, Pamela Geller, Mike Cernovich, Erik Prince, Monica Crowley, and a host of other fringe activists.
Almost immediately after Yiannopoulos released the list, several of the scheduled speakers announced that they had no plans to come to the four-day event. At least one speaker included on the list, Charles Murray, said he never even agreed to speak in the first place.
In an e-mail to The Daily Californian, Murray said, “The inclusion of my name in the list of speakers was done without my knowledge or permission. I will add that I would never under any circumstances appear at an event that included Milo Yiannopoulos.”
As of Friday, only three of the 25 people listed as speakers had actually been confirmed by the university.
“The University cannot defend spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to provide security arrangements for events” based on the press releases of organizers, Mogulof said in a statement, adding that the organizers had failed to provide Berkeley “with evidence that speakers are actually confirmed, such as e-mails, evidence of travel arrangements, or contracts.”
In a post on Facebook, Yiannopoulos claimed that Mogulof was spreading “fake news” about the event, but failed to provide any evidence or documentation supporting his claims.
Pranav Jandhyala, news editor for the Berkeley Patriot, blamed Yiannopoulos for failing to do his part. He told the Daily Californian that Yiannopoulos was responsible for inviting the speakers, and that the conservative student newspaper “had not been in contact with most of the individual speakers.”
“The Berkeley Patriot was under the impression that those speakers were confirmed and it’s seeming like some speakers didn’t know that they were invited,” Jandhyala said.
Given the people involved in organizing the event, there is good reason to be skeptical about whether the event will even happen — or if the organizers actually intended for it to happen in the first place.
In April, Coulter claimed that Berkeley canceled a speech she was scheduled to give on campus. However, it was later revealed that the campus group hosting Coulter, the Berkeley College Republicans, had failed to reserve a space for her to speak.
A month later, Yiannopoulos pulled a similar bait-and-switch, claiming that he had scheduled an appearance at Berkeley and then canceling the event before it ever happened.
After both events, the far-right provocateurs blamed the liberal university for “shutting down free speech” and being intolerant of conservative voices. Neither acknowledged that the university had no role in canceling their speeches.
With less than a week to go, it looks more likely than ever that “Free Speech Week” will turn out to be yet another façade orchestrated by the far-right to gin up controversy and play the victim.
Mogulof says Berkeley will continue to work with event organizers to see if they can still work out the logistics, but added that it may be too little, too late. If that’s the case, “it would be completely wrong to call this a cancellation,” Mogulof said.
As of late Friday, after all, “Nothing has been scheduled. There is nothing to cancel.”