President Donald Trump has threatened to pull federal funding from the University of California at Berkeley after students protests forced the school to cancel an appearance by Milo Yiannopoulos, Brietbart News senior editor and prominent figure within the white nationalist movement.
Just hours after the campus erupted in protest Wednesday evening, the commander-in-chief wrote:
If U.C. Berkeley does not allow free speech and practices violence on innocent people with a different point of view - NO FEDERAL FUNDS?
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 2, 2017
In a press statement, Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) blasted Trump's threat as an "abuse of power."
"Berkeley has a proud history of dissent and students were fully within their rights to protest peacefully," Lee wrote. Trump, she continued, "cannot bully our university into silence. Simply put, President Trump's empty threat to cut funding from UC Berkeley is an abuse of power. As a senior member of the education funding subcommittee, I will continue to stand up to President Trump's overreach and defend the rights of our students and faculty."
As the Los Angeles Times reported Thursday, "It's unclear whether Trump was actually threatening to cut funding or making some kind of rhetorical point. The larger UC system, for which Berkeley is the flagship campus, receives billions of dollars from the federal government to fund a variety of programs, notably research, student aide and health care programs."
Roughly 1,500 people turned out to protest Yiannopoulos, who has gained notoriety for inflammatory writings and statements against women, Muslims, and LGBTQ people.
Chanting "No Milo, no Trump, no fascist USA," the crowd formed outside the Martin Luther King, Jr. student union, where the talk was scheduled to be held, before the school announced its cancellation at roughly 6pm PST and evacuated Yiannopoulos from the premises.
According to the East Bay Times, "[m]ost demonstrators cleared the plaza around 8:30pm. and began marching down Telegaph Avenue toward Bancroft Way. A few members of the university's marching band joined the crowd, as they energized protesters celebrating the canceled event. Protesters began marching back to campus around 9:30pm. As of 10:30pm, the crowd of demonstrators dwindled down to about 200."
The local newspaper noted that "a splinter group" of roughly 150 people "wearing all black clothing and clutching shields made out of cardboard launched fireworks at police on a second-floor balcony," who "responded with orders to disperse and fired tear gas into the crowd."
"At one point," the Los Angeles Times added, "some toppled a generator that was powering a flood light, and the machinery caught fire in the plaza outside the student union. The flames made for dramatic images, and TV helicopters captured the on-campus blaze."
Indeed, images of the fire, police in riot gear, and broken bank windows blanketed news reports on Wednesday. While many celebrated the protest as a victory over the rhetoric of the alt-right, others questioned the tactic with some arguing that it goes against the principle of free speech while others suggested that it would only embolden the far-right.
Late Wednesday, Berkeley mayor Jesse Arreguín wrote online, "Using speech to silence marginalized communities and promote bigotry is unacceptable. Hate speech isn't welcome in our community," but added that "[v]iolence and destruction is not the answer."
In an official statement on the protests issued early Thursday, Arreguín expanded on that argument, writing in part:
Destruction and violence are contrary to progressive values and have no place in our community. I support those who peacefully come together in pursuit of a just and inclusive country that stands united with our immigrant population and the many others who are being targeted in this national political climate. Unfortunately, last night, a small minority of the protesters who had assembled in opposition to a speaking engagement featuring a prominent white nationalist engaged in violence and property damage. They also provided the ultra-nationalist far right exactly the images they want to use to try to discredit the vast majority of peaceful protesters in Berkeley and across America who are deeply concerned about where our country is heading.