Truth in advertising and all that, you know.
Milo Yiannopoulos, desperate to gather together the tattered shreds of his relevance, announced this past summer that there would be a “four day extravaganza” on the Berkeley campus that he called “Free Speech Week”. There was a preliminary list of potential speakers, including Ann Coulter, Charles Murray, James Damore, Mike Cernovich, Stephen Bannon, etc., which indicated that they were planning a total shit-show of horrible people, which certainly would test the limits of free speech. It turned out, though, they hadn’t bothered to ask most of those people, and the prospective speakers were a bit surprised to learn of it. Milo claimed to have $12 million in backing.
But the funny thing is, it doesn’t seem to be happening. It’ll still fill the need to feed the conservative persecution complex if it all falls apart, but it looks like they weren’t even seriously trying.
From the get-go, however, there have been various problems and unanswered questions, starting with the student group that was actually supposed to host “Free Speech Week.” This group, called the Berkeley Patriot, didn’t exist at all before July. Its site has five blog posts, its Facebook page shows no signs of real community and its Twitter account has 16 followers and no tweets. Both the blog and the Facebook page were started on Aug. 25 — shortly after Yiannopoulos announced he was working with this group to stage a major event on the Berkeley campus.
Despite being a tiny organization with no visible history, Berkeley Patriot had a huge ask: It not only wanted to hold events in the usual rooms offered at no charge for student events, but also wanted to rent Zellerbach Hall and Wheeler Auditorium, two of the largest venues on campus. The former of those, for instance, seats around 2,000 people and is mostly used for concerts and major performing arts events. According to the university, Berkeley Patriot was given three deadlines — Aug. 18, Aug. 25 and, finally, Sept. 15 — to sign a contract and pay the $65,000 rental fee for the two auditoriums. The students failed to do that.
Huh. Imagine that.
There is a problem lurking here with the student groups. Students get a real deal on these events: students can book any room on campus, complete with audio-visual gear, seating appropriate for 20 students to 400 students (we’re a small college, so we don’t have those 2000 seat auditoriums) at no charge. What it means is that a conservative with lots of cash can astro-turf a “student group” into existence by finding one or a few compliant students and getting them to host what is essentially a non-student event that is nominally student driven. It’s possible because universities are diverse, and there will always be far right wing students in attendance to provide an entry point. The Morris North Star, the ghastly ultra-right student paper that was here at my university for a couple of years, was a case in point: there was no organic drive to support it, it was managed by just a few students, and it got external money thrown at it…and it fell apart as soon as a few students graduated and the money bags didn’t get delivered anymore.
Milo Yiannopoulos, by the way, is a college dropout who has no connection at all to Berkeley. He’s the very definition of an outside agitator taking advantage of loopholes in college administration.
But it turns out that they — Milo and the students — were either incompetent or had a sneakier plan in mind. They aren’t going to have an official room or rooms or building for this event, so instead, they’re inviting random mobs of the kind of people who want to hear Coulter or Cernovich to show up and march around the campus. He’s nurturing this narrative that they were unjustly denied official space by Berkeley to fuel resentment. His little gang of neo-Nazis will wander around, being nasty, and when Berkeley rightfully cracks down on them, he’ll howl about persecution.
The alt-right thrives on the idea that it is being oppressed by violent leftists, a narrative that was in danger of dying out after a white supremacist killed a peaceful counter-protester and injured many others with a terrorist-style attack in Charlottesville. With his Berkeley event, Yiannopoulos has created and nurtured an atmosphere of right-wing grievance and anger — and now his gathering will happen outside, on the streets, with maximum opportunity for violent clashes between right-wing racists and counter-protesters. You might almost think that was how he designed it.
As if disrupting the work of the university is something Nazis should be allowed to do.