Author and commentator Ann Coulter announced Wednesday that she has cancelled a planned speech at the UC Berkeley after Young America’s Foundation withdrew support over threats of violence.
Coulter told the New York Times via email, “It’s a sad day for free speech.”
A lightning rod for controversy, Coulter had been invited to Berkeley for a Thursday speech, but the school cancelled the visit over fears of violent protest. According to Fox News:
“In a Tuesday statement posted to the YAF website and signed by both YAF and the executive board of the college republicans, the groups said Berkeley “failed to meet our demands” to provide a safe environment for the speech.”
YAF filed a lawsuit against the school, and that legal action remains in effect. YAF spokesman Spencer Brown was quoted by Fox stating, “At no time did Berkeley provide a time or place for Coulter to speak, and unconstitutionally violated the first amendment rights of students in preventing YAF’s campus lecture from taking place. We are moving ahead with the lawsuit.”
Earlier, Coulter had promised to be at Berkeley regardless of her speech cancellation, because she had a contract. When the school tried to offer an alternate date, Coulter refused, insisting that her speaking engagement was to be April 27.
The controversy has become fodder for talk radio and cable news hosts.
Coulter’s withdrawal is not without a hint of disappointment. She was quoted by Reuters observing, “I looked over my shoulder and my allies had joined the other team.”
The controversy has raised serious questions about demagoguery from the political Left. When a political movement is able to suppress an alternative viewpoint through violence or even threats of violence, that creates an environment of fear that cuts to the very core of what free speech is all about, Coulter supporters have argued.
Adding to the irony is the fact that the legendary “free speech movement” started at Berkeley a half-century ago.
There has been violence at universities and other locales in recent months as factions from the left and right have clashed. An appearance at the University of Washington in January by Milo Yiannopoulos, described as a “rightwing provocateur” by The Guardian. One man was shot at that event and criminal charges have been filed against the couple who were involved in that confrontation.
In other instances, there have been vandalism and physical confrontations.
The New York Times noted that Coulter has recently garnered support from surprising corners. Sen. Bernie Sanders observed to the Huffington Post, “What are you afraid of, her ideas?”
The newspaper also said Sen. Elizabeth Warren had come to Coulter’s defense.
But Berkeley Police Chief Andrew Greenwood was quoted by the New York Times when he explained: “Intervention requires a major commitment of resources, a significant use of force, and carries with it the strong likelihood of harming those who are not committing a crime.”
The Los Angeles Times quoted UC Berkeley Chancellor Nicholas Dirks, who said in a prepared statement, “This is a university, not a battlefield. 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.”
But there appears to be another reality in play, one in which advocates of one viewpoint can silence their opponents simply by threatening violence.