UC Berkeley changes plans, invites Ann Coulter to campus
A day after canceling a scheduled speech by Ann Coulter for security reasons, UC Berkeley Chancellor Nicholas Dirks said Thursday that the right-wing pundit’s insistence on coming anyway persuaded him to rethink her banishment.
“An appropriate, protectable venue” will be made available on campus May 2, he said, adding that he would disclose the location only after plans have been finalized.
By late afternoon Thursday, it was not clear whether Coulter would accept the new date. Neither she nor the Berkeley College Republicans — the student group that invited Coulter to speak next Thursday — nor the national Young America’s Foundation that is paying most of Coulter’s $20,000 speaking fee returned calls for comment.
The new date is “at an awful time. It’s during Dead Week,” said Naweed Tahmas, 20, of the Republican group, referring to a period on campus when students are studying for exams. The last day of instruction is two days later.
Dirks rejected accusations from Coulter, the student Republicans and the national Young America’s Foundation that the university was infringing on their right to free speech by canceling the talk.
“The university has an unwavering commitment to the First Amendment of the Constitution,” Dirks said, adding that student safety is of equal importance.
He said campus police had uncovered “threats that could pose a grave danger to the speaker, attendees and those who may wish to lawfully protest the event.”
But he said Coulter’s announcement that she planned to speak on or off campus on April 27 regardless of security concerns led him to ask his staff to find a “protectable venue.”
The location “is not one we have used for these sorts of events in the past, it can both accommodate a substantial audience and meet the security criteria established by our police department,” Dirks said at a hastily called news conference Thursday.
UC Police Capt. Alex Yao said, “Our approach (to Coulter’s security) will be different than for the Milo (Yiannopoulos) event” on Feb. 1 when masked and violent agitators infiltrated a student protest of Yiannopoulos — another right-wing pundit — breaking windows, setting equipment on fire and shutting down the event.
Declining to offer specifics on security, Yao suggested that more police would be called in. He said the Yiannopoulos protest and others on March 4 and Saturday in Berkeley are causing people to “look at how we staff.”
Meanwhile, if Coulter chooses to come on the original date next week, she is unlikely to find a place to speak — even in Berkeley.
An informal survey of half a dozen event sites in Berkeley yielded not one that would or could have her speak.
“Absolutely not,” said Mirian Wolodarski Lundberg, co-manager of the 200-seat Finnish Lodge on Chestnut Street, when asked if Coulter could speak there on Thursday.
“The Finnish Hall was built in 1932 by immigrants,” Wolodarski Lundberg said. Coulter, who was invited by the student Republicans to speak on immigration, is famously anti-immigrant. She has also labeled herself a “mean-spirited, bigoted conservative.”
“Not only would we not agree with her politics, but we would also be concerned about the kind of crowds that she would attract,” she said.
Nor could Coulter speak at the Freight and Salvage Coffeehouse on Addison Street, which has 490 seats. The Cowboy Junkies, a Canadian country blues band, is playing that night, and “I wouldn’t consider canceling it” for Coulter, said executive director Sharon Dolan.
Besides, Dolan said, the site’s nonprofit status could be in jeopardy if it started hosting partisan speakers.
Other places booked on Thursday: the 550-seat UC Theater, where a Beatles cover show is playing and the Berkeley Repertory Theater, where Hershey Feder is playing Irving Berlin.
As for the 120-seat Berkeley Yacht Club, the Sierra Club has it that night.
And even if it didn’t, there would be a riot problem to consider.
“I would, obviously, have a slight concern about that,” said the Yacht Club’s manager, Mark Fokolov.