“Free Speech Week” at Berkeley has been canceled by organizers who complain of “roadblocks” put up by the school’s administration.
But in a bizarre twist, it appears that the entire event was never meant to come off. It appears that the man behind Free Speech Week, Milo Yiannopoulos, was putting out news releases announcing the participation of speakers who now say they never intended to participate.
Berkeley Patriot, the conservative organization at Berkeley that was acting as host for the event, sent a letter to the UC Berkeley administration informing them of their decision.
In a Saturday letter to the school, an attorney for Berkeley Patriot, Marguerite Melo, wrote, “On their behalf, you are hereby notified the Berkeley Patriot is canceling all Free Speech Week activities it sponsored.” The letter accused administrators of putting up roadblocks and said the group was “contemplating initiating litigation against the responsible parties and the administration for violation of our clients’ civil rights.”
But the News discovered an email chain that suggests Milo never intended to go through with the event.
But in a separate email chain obtained by this news organization, Lucian Wintrich, one of the supposed speakers, told Mogulof the event had been a set-up from the start. “It was known that they didn’t intend to actually go through with it last week, and completely decided on Wednesday,” Wintrich wrote in an email around 10 a.m. Saturday morning.
“Wait, whoah, hold on a second,” wrote a clearly surprised Mogulof. “What, exactly, are you saying? What were you told by MILO Inc? Was it a set-up from the get-go?” “Yes,” came Wintrich’s one-word response.
It appears that the host, Berkeley Patriot, may have been hoodwinked by Milo, who kept putting out news releases announcing which speakers were going to appear; it was later discovered that they had no intention of showing up.
A source familiar with planning for the event who insisted on anonymity said that supposed key speakers, including former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon, had never intended to participate at all, and that Yiannopoulos was scrambling ahead of Sunday’s supposed start date to get speakers to Berkeley to participate.
Ann Coulter and James Damore also declined invitations to speak.
Lucian Wintrich, a writer for Gateway Pundit, a website that has published conspiracy theories on such topics as Hillary Clinton’s health, was on the university’s list of confirmed speakers released Wednesday. However, Wintrich also pulled out of the event, citing in a blog post the “the seemingly likely chance that something impedes the event.”
Wintrich said in an interview with The Times that he didn’t want college students to “waste their money” coming to the event.
“When it became clear to me this event was being mismanaged on all sides, I really didn’t want people who were flying out and booking hotels to see me to be disappointed,” he said.
Right-wing media personality Mike Cernovich initially was listed by organizers as speaking on Wednesday, but he pulled out this week.
Cernovich said he believed Yiannopoulos “sincerely” wanted to attend, but there was mounting confusion among the proposed speakers.
“After the lineup was announced, speakers began asking me for details,” he said in a text message. “This seemed odd as I wasn’t an organizer. To pull off an event like Free Speech Week would require a huge staff.”
Milo held a defiant streaming event on Facebook, vowing to go forward with Free Speech Week:
But during a hastily scheduled Facebook Live conference, Yiannopoulos insisted the event would move forward without the student group, whose decision to withdraw backing “personally irritated” him.
“We are going to be hosting an event come hell or high water tomorrow,” he said, flanked by anti-Islam writer Pamela Geller and conspiracy theorist Mike Cernovich.
Yiannopoulos promised to rally on campus at Sproul Plaza at noon on Sunday “with or without” the student group, and said he had a “huge surprise” planned for attendees.
“I can’t promise you’re going to be safe,” he added. “It’s not an official event.”
In the days leading up to the supposed start, students and faculty said they were fed up with the time and public resources being spent on accommodating a man who has made a career of trolling people online and spewing racist and sexist vitriol.
“It’s just too much,” said junior Dominick Williams, 20. “We’re just trying to learn.”
Max Wolf-Johnson, a Cal senior, agreed. Professors had preemptively canceled many of his classes, he said. “Actual intellectual discourse is halted.”
Mogulof hit back at the notion the school wants to restrict conservative speech, saying, “Claims that this is somehow the outcome desired by the campus are without basis in fact. The university was prepared to do whatever was necessary to support the First Amendment rights of the student organization.”
Milo Yiannopoulos is a publicity whore, constantly seeking attention, so it isn’t an impossibility that he announced the event in the hopes that Berkeley would cancel. But if he intended to go through with it, why this?
Underscoring the tumultuous nature of the preparations was an email sent by Yiannopoulos’ organization Monday telling scheduled speakers that it would make all their travel arrangements for the planned four-day event but wouldn’t book the flights and hotel rooms until 48 hours before their speaking dates to avoid disruptions.
“We are doing this in order to prevent any more sabotage than we have already faced, especially with the University’s latest behavior,” the email from Yiannopoulos’ event manager reads.
It was unclear what behavior the email was referring to, but Yiannopoulos and student sponsors have created a video complaining of the school’s “bureaucratic mission” to silence them.
Campus spokesman Dan Mogulof said that in order for a speaker to be confirmed, the hosting student organization — in this case, the conservative student publication Berkeley Patriot — must provide evidence that the speaker is actually coming.
That evidence could be an email, a contract, a copy of a plane ticket or even a voicemail, Mogulof said.
“Something other than a press release,” he said
For weeks leading up to the event, the university and Yiannopoulos’ organization, Milo Inc., have been arguing in the press as student organizers missed numerous planning deadlines.
The student group missed the deadline to reserve two of the largest indoor venues on campus for the event last weekend.
Mogulof said Friday that the university had not heard from the student group since Tuesday.
What does this suggest? Incompetence or publicity seeking? That nobody appeared to be doing the scut work necessary to pull off a week-long event involving controversial speakers says to me that Milo was never serious about getting this event off the ground. If that’s the case, why bother?
It appears from their arguments with the administration that they were laying the groundwork for litigation challenging Berkeley’s commitment to free speech. Since the host student organization, Berkeley Patriot, canceled the event on their own, it will be a tough sell.
Now Milo is saying he will show up anyway. Does he want to become a martyr? The thugs will tear him apart. If not, Milo will cement his reputation as the right’s number one provocateur and the left’s favorite punching bag.