Berkeley Patriot Cancels Free Speech Week, But Milo Yiannopoulos Refuses to Back Down

The student group Berkeley Patriot on Saturday informed UC Berkeley that Free Speech Week has been canceled, but event headliner Milo Yiannopoulos doubled down on his plans to come to the campus.

Yiannopoulos said on Facebook Live that he will join Pamela Geller, Mike Cernovich and other speakers at Sproul Plaza at noon Sunday for a March for Free Speech — with the full backing of the Berkeley Police Department.

"We are going to be hosting an event come hell or high water tomorrow," Yiannopoulos said, vowing to proceed with or without UC Berkeley's or the students' cooperation.

He made his comments from a hotel room after canceling a news conference on San Francisco's Treasure Island.

"It is extremely unfortunate that this announcement was made at the last minute, even as the University was in the process of spending significant sums of money and preparing for substantial disruption of campus life in order to provide the needed security for these events," university spokesman Dan Mogulof said in a statement. 

Berkeley Patriot's decision comes one day before the four-day event kicked off and one day after the group's members and Yiannopoulos denied reports that Free Speech Week had been nixed.

Soon after UC Berkeley's announcement Saturday, British right-wing provocateur Yiannopoulos wrote on Facebook: "I've just been told that student group the Berkeley Patriot, under pressure from the administration, is withdrawing its sponsorship of Free Speech Week. The students may have pulled out of Free Speech Week, but I and my speakers have not."

Yiannopoulos said he was disapppinted by the chaotic turn of events but spurned the idea of backing down. 

He told NBC Bay Area: "They’re kids. I'm disappointed, but I understand. We, however, are not going to be deterred."

UC Berkeley issued a statement Saturday evening indicating that it was aware of Yiannopoulos' plans to speak and that the school was "putting measures in place to ensure the safety of the campus community." The university also advised people in attendance on Sunday to avoid violence.

"Our campus will not tolerate acts of violence or the destruction of property, and the UCPD will dutifully investigate, arrest, and prosecute anyone who commits crimes on our campus," a statement from the university read.

Yiannopoulos also said he plans to give Berkeley Patriot $10,000 because UC Berkeley could benefit from a "strong, populous, free-speech loving conservative publication." Yiannopoulos also encouraged people who booked flights to Berkeley and spent money in any form to attend Free Speech Week to send him their receipts so he can reimburse them.

For its part, Berkeley Patriot members told NBC Bay Area that they were refused access to a Treasure Island venue where they had planned a news conference Saturday. 

"They literally chained the building," Yiannopoulos revealed on Facebook.

In an email, the group accused the venue of a breach of contract because it had paid for the facility's use.

"We have not been able to secure an alternative venue large enough to accommodate the press on short notice, likely due to the Bay Area's commitment to free speech for everyone except Milo," Berkeley Patriot said.

Earlier this week, Berkeley Patriot enlisted the help of the Law Offices of Melo and Sarsfield LLP to push for a Department of Justice investigation into what they call "de facto viewpoint discrimination" on the part of UC Berkeley. 

On Saturday, the group's lawyer Marguerite Melo wrote a letter to the university's Interim Vice Chancellor Stephen Sutton, which said: "Since announcing their intent to host the event, the student group has been subjected to extraordinary pressure and resistance, if not outright hostility, by the UC Berkeley administration and your employees."

Among other things, she accused university officials of failing to communicate with Berkeley Patriot members, enforcing "arbitrary" and impossible to meet deadlines, and implying that the group "would be morally and legally responsible for any acts of violence committed against them, or members of the public."

Mogulof quashed the assertions, saying that "claims that this is somehow the outcome desired" by UC Berkeley are "without basis in fact." Also, accusations that university officials wanted to put the "speakers in harm's way are unfortunate," he wrote.

"The University was prepared to do whatever was necessary to support the First Amendment rights of the student organization," Mogulof stressed. "We're very concerned about verbal and physical assaults and we have gone to extensive efforts to provide them with protection and security."

Mogulof said that Berkeley Patriot had missed a number of deadlines to sign contracts and confirm venues with UC Berkeley. He also highlighted the confusion that had loomed over Free Speech Week's roster — all the way through Friday — with a number of speakers dropping out, while others said they had never planned to attend. 

In fact, UC Berkeley had been planning to pour over $1 million into stepping up security for Free Speech Week, which was scheduled to go from Sept. 24 to Sept. 27, according to Mogulof.

"We want to state unequivocally that campus leadership has complete faith in the UCPD, as well as the extraordinary number of allied law enforcement agencies who agreed to contribute additional officers for these events. We are confident that UCPD would have had the necessary resources in place to provide security for the events," he wrote.

UC Berkeley had also partnered with the Berkeley Police Department and would continue to do so, given the "uncertainty of what's happening tomorrow," Mogulof said.

Earlier this month, UC Berkeley spent $600,000 on ramping up security during a speech by political commentator Ben Shapiro. University officials, police and the community were wary of violence erupting during the former Breitbart News editor's visit.

NBC Bay Area's Christie Smith contributed to this report.

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