Increasingly violent protests at the University of California - Berkeley prompted officials to cancel a speech by conservative writer and activist Milo Yiannopoulous Wednesday night.
More than 1,500 people gathered in front of UC Berkeley's Sproul Hall to protest Yiannopoulous, a self-proclaimed "troll" and editor for the right-wing Breitbart News website who was banned from Twitter for a targeted campaign against Saturday Night Live actress Leslie Jones. Protesters held signs that read "Hate Speech Is Not Free Speech” and pledging to shut down the event.
What began as a peaceful demonstration devolved as the night wore on. Protesters threw smoke bombs, knocked down barriers, set fires and started fights in the south campus area, police said.
Police announced a campus lockdown and ordered the crowd to disperse.
Yiannopoulos posted on Facebook that he had been evacuated from the campus after “violent left-wing protesters” threatened his safety.
In a subsequent Facebook Live video, he said he was safe. He had planned to discuss cultural appropriation — the use of elements of one cultures by members of another — in his speech before the event was canceled.
"It’s not a subject you would imagine would prompt the kind of violent riots you’re seeing now seeing on every major broadcast network in United States, and it’s not something I expected to happen tonight," he said.
He called the protests a sign that progressives have become so "antithetical" to free speech since President Trump's election that universities couldn't even host speakers with divergent opinions.
UC Berkeley joins several colleges where Yiannopoulous' speaking engagements were canceled over protests or security concerns. In January, protesters at UC Davis broke down the barricades and shut down Yiannopoulous' speech.
The protest appears to have been organized by a group called “Berkeley Against Trump” and was supposed to be peaceful, according to the group’s website — and it started off that way.
“We are here to protest the presence of Milo in our campus, which is a public university, and we believe that no hate speech, racism, misogyny and transphobia should be tolerated here,” the group posted.
Hours into the demonstration, the crowds grew rowdy. Video footage a group of people dressed in black throwing smoke bombs and others setting a large bonfire outside the building.
Law enforcement in riot gear was said to be using rubber bullets and tear gas on the crowd of protesters, according to multiple news reports.
“This is what tolerance looks like at UC Berkeley,” Mike Wright, a Berkeley College Republican member, told The San Francisco Chronicle. Someone threw red paint on him.
Berkeley College Republicans, a student group, was warned Tuesday that Yiannopoulos' event could result in the targeting of undocumented students, the Chronicle reported. The event at Berkeley was expected to kick off a campaign against “sanctuary campuses,” universities that promise to protect students who are in the United States illegally amid Trump's immigration crackdown.
In a statement, the university said: “we condemn in the strongest possible terms the violence and unlawful behavior that was on display and deeply regret that those tactics will now overshadow the efforts to engage in legitimate and lawful protest against the performer’s presence and perspectives.”