Coulter’s Berkeley speech canceled, police prep for violence

FILE - In this Feb. 12, 2011 file photo, Ann Coulter waves to the audience after speaking at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Washington. The University of California, Berkeley says it's preparing for possible violence on campus whether Coulter comes to speak or not. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen, File)

BERKELEY, Calif. (AP) — Ann Coulter said Wednesday that she was forced to cancel her speaking event Thursday at the University of California, Berkeley amid concerns of violence, calling it “a dark day for free speech in America.”

Police and university officials said they were still preparing for possible violence and protests whether Coulter comes to campus or not. In an email to The Associated Press, Coulter said that despite the event’s cancellation she might decide to turn up anyway.

“I have my flights, so I thought I might stroll around the graveyard of the First Amendment,” Coulter said in an emailed message when asked if she was still coming to Berkeley.

Officials at UC Berkeley said last week they feared more violence on campus if Coulter followed through with plans to speak. They cited “very specific intelligence” of threats that could endanger Coulter and students, as Berkeley becomes a platform for extremist protesters on both sides of the political spectrum.

Efforts by the university to cancel or delay the event dealt a blow to Berkeley’s image as a bastion of tolerance and free speech.

Chancellor Nicholas B. Dirks sent a letter to the campus Wednesday saying the university is committed to defending free speech but also to protecting its students.

“This is a university, not a battlefield,” Dirks said in the letter. “The university has two non-negotiable commitments, one to Free Speech the other to the safety of our campus community.”

Berkeley’s reputation as one of the country’s most liberal universities, in one of America’s most liberal cities, has made it a flashpoint for the nation’s political divisions in the era of Donald Trump.

Earlier this month, a bloody brawl broke out in downtown Berkeley at a pro-Trump protest that featured speeches by members of the white nationalist right. They clashed with a group of Trump critics who called themselves anti-fascists.

Similar violent clashes also erupted at the same site, a public park, on March 4.

In February, violent protesters forced the cancellation of a speech by right-wing writer Milo Yiannopoulos, who like Coulter was invited by campus Republicans.

The Berkeley College Republicans and the Young America’s Foundation, a conservative group that had helped book Coulter’s campus speaking events, both pulled their support Tuesday citing fears of violence. They blamed the university for failing to ensure protection of conservative speakers.

“Berkeley College Republicans do not want to endanger people’s lives so because of the university’s unwillingness to do their job we are forced to cancel the event,” Troy Warden, president of the campus Republicans, said Wednesday.

Coulter echoed the blame on Twitter: “I’m very sad about Berkeley’s cancellation, but my sadness is greater than that. It’s a dark day for free speech in America.”

Police and university officials said they remained concerned by online chatter and intelligence that groups on the extreme ends of the political spectrum were ready to incite violence.

Capt. Alex Yao of the Berkley campus police force said police presence will be strong Thursday.

“You will see a high number of highly visible law enforcement. We’re going to have a very, very low tolerance for any violence,” he told a news conference. He said Berkeley police had reached out to local and state police forces “to let them know we might be calling for assistance.”

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