BERKELEY, Calif. (KTVU) - The mayor of the city that has long been known as Ground Zero for the Free Speech movement, is urging UC Berkeley to cancel conservatives’ plans for a Free Speech Week next month.
“I don’t want Berkeley being used as a punching bag,” Mayor Jesse Arreguin first told the San Francisco Chronicle, which was later verified by his spokesperson.
Berkeley has hosted several “battles” since the spring, where members of the “alt-right” and anti-fascists have come to blows, including this past weekend, which yielded 13 arrests during a counter protest of a “No to Marxism in America” rally. “I am concerned about these groups using large protests to create mayhem.”
Arreguin added: “I obviously believe in freedom of speech, but there is a line between freedom of speech and then posing a risk to public safety. That is where we have to really be very careful — that while protecting people’s free-speech rights, we are not putting our citizens in a potentially dangerous situation and costing the city hundreds of thousands of dollars fixing the windows of businesses.”
The National Park Service last week granted the Patriot Prayer group a permit, citing the First Amendment mandated they do so. However, Crissy Field in San Francisco is not full of shops and classrooms, like Berkeley.
The mayor wants UC Berkeley ban a conservative campus group, called the Berkeley Patriot, to host right-wing provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos during its scheduled Free Speech Week from Sept. 24-27. The last time Yiannopoulos came to town, his event was canceled because of the violence that erupted, including Molotov cocktails thrown and fires started by members of the “antifa” or anti-fascist movement on the far left.
"We condemn them, we condemn their tactics," said Mayor Arreguin. "Frankly, I think the citizens of Berkeley are tired. As much as we stand for freedom of speech, we're tired of us being the focal point of these extremist groups clashing.... we've facilitated demonstrations for decades, protesting and free speech is part of our DNA but my concern is when, um we know an event could potentially result in violence."
Berkeley Patriot is also trying to invite Breitbart editor and former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon and right-wing commentator Ann Coulter to appear on campus during its Free Speech Week. Ben Shapiro, another former Breitbart News editor, is scheduled to speak Sept. 14 at the 1,900-capacity Zellerbach Hall. His appearance is sponsored by Berkeley College Republicans.
UC Berkeley spokesman Dan Mogulof has said in the past that university is working with the Berkeley Patriot to come up with a time and location for Yiannopoulos’ appearance."
"If the law is broken in the course of the event we will react immediately and appropriately, but we can't, based on a generalized concern, shut down speech before it occurs. The law and the Supreme Court have been absolutely clear on that front," Mogulof said.
He emphasized that UC Berkeley wasn’t the one extending the invitation, but that “we have neither the legal right nor ability to interfere with or cancel invitations based on the perspectives and beliefs of the speakers.”
When Yiannopoulos came to campus in February, he never got the chance to speak, left wing- black masked protesters vandalized the student union, causing $100,000 in damage and another $200,000 in security costs.
"I was actually beaten up at the first Milo riots. I was a journalist just filming what was going on," said Jandhyala, who said the police wouldn't help him because they had a stand-down order.
Preparations for conservative speaker Ann Coulter's event on campus, which was canceled by Coulter at the last minute, cost the University half a million dollars.