Milo Yiannopoulos' security cost UC Berkeley $800,000

US university grappling with budget cuts and layoffs spends sum on security for far-right speaker's 15-minute rally.

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    Milo Yiannopoulos is escorted to the University of California, Berkeley campus [Josh Edelson/AFP]
    Milo Yiannopoulos is escorted to the University of California, Berkeley campus [Josh Edelson/AFP]

    After student organisers of the Berkeley "Free Speech Week" cancelled their events, far-right media personality Milo Yiannopoulos vowed to hold a rally of his own. 

    Yiannopoulos' appearance at the steps of the University of California's Sproul Plaza on Sunday was brief.

    After 15 minutes, Yiannopoulos' security guards drove him off, local media reported.

    The university said security precautions for the cancelled Free Speech Week, which involved officers from eight different law enforcement agencies, cost $800,000.

    Along with far-right author Mike Cernovich and anti-Muslim figure Pamela Geller, Yiannopoulos addressed around 150 supporters who had gathered to hear him speak. 

    "It feels like probably the most expensive photo op in the university's history," said UC Berkeley spokesman Dan Mogulof, according to The Mercury News.

    The sum spent on security for Yiannopoulos is likely to anger some members of the UC Berkeley community.

    In August, Carol Christ, chancellor of the university, announced budget cuts to the tune of more than $20m for the 2017-2018 academic year.

    In April 2016, Nicholas Dirks - who was then chancellor - disclosed that at least 500 staff members would be laid off over a two-year period. 

    Yiannopoulos held a free speech rally on Sunday, but he only stayed for around 15 minutes [Noah Berger/Reuters]

    'Last minute' cancellation

    Sunday's small rally was announced a day after Berkeley Patriot, the right-wing student group behind "Free Speech Week", cancelled the larger, four-day event.

    Former White House strategist Steve Bannon, right-wing pundit Ann Coulter and British media personality Katie Hopkins, among others, had earlier been slated to speak.

    The cancellation followed a string of speakers pulling out and accusations by the university that Berkeley Patriot had missed deadlines to secure some of the requested venues. 

    "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," UC Berkeley's Mogulof said in a statement provided to Al Jazeera.

    READ MORE: US anti-fascists hope to 'make racists afraid again'

    Berkeley Patriot's lawyer, Marguerite Melo, has accused the university of "viewpoint discrimination" and provided Al Jazeera with a copy of a letter to the university's interim vice chancellor, Stephen Sutton. 

    In the letter, Melo alleged that "the student group has been subjected to extraordinary pressure and resistance, if not outright hostility, by the UC Berkeley administration and your employees". 

    It also stated that Berkeley Patriot was considering legal action against the university for what it considers a violation of its members' civil rights. 

    Opponents of Free Speech Week had planned to hold several protests against the far-right. 

    'Outrageous' 

    The furore over Free Speech Week comes after months of soaring tensions in Berkeley - now a regular venue for clashes between the far right and their political opponents - and elsewhere in the country.

    In February, anti-fascists and anti-racists rallied outside a UC Berkeley auditorium where Yiannopoulos was scheduled to give a speech. As fires were lit outside and protesters clashed with police, police evacuated Yiannopoulos from the building, and the event was cancelled. 

    Following that incident, US President Donald Trump threatened to strip the university of its federal funding.

    In April, clashes broke out in the streets of Berkeley between anti-fascists and far-right activists. 

    In late August, a far-right rally in Berkeley, which was dubbed "Say no to Marxism", was met with large counter-protests by community members, anti-racists and anti-fascists. Several brawls broke out, and police arrested 13 people.

    Sunsara Taylor, spokesperson for Refuse Fascism, a left-wing activist group, dismissed far-right speakers' claims of coming to UC Berkeley to promote free speech.

    READ MORE: Threats and attacks as white supremacists target campuses

    "It's outrageous, and people are right to raise their voices and protest against [far-right events]," Taylor told Al Jazeera by telephone. 

    "We are living in a time when reprehensible ideas like white supremacy and fascism are being reasserted violently both through the power of the state and through [far-right] mobs." 

    Elsewhere, in August, hundreds of far-right protesters assembled in Charlottesville, Virginia, for the largest white supremacist rally in recent decades.

    By the end of the day, one of the far-right rally's participants had allegedly ploughed his car into a crowd of anti-racist marchers and killed 32-year-old Heather Heyer. The assailant, James Alex Fields, was subsequently charged with second-degree murder and several felonies. 

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera News


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