Ann Coulter Cancels Speech as Berkeley Becomes Ground Zero in Free Speech Fight

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Conservative pundit Ann Coulter has cancelled her plans to deliver an outdoor address at U.C. Berkeley after losing support from the campus group that had sponsored her speaking engagement.

Coulter had initially been scheduled to address the campus on Thursday on the invitation of college Republicans, but university administrators were forced to cancel her appearance due to security concerns. Administrators later offered to reschedule Coulter’s appearance after facing widespread criticism and a lawsuit for curtailing free speech on campus. But Coulter, undeterred, vowed to appear on the original date anyway.

On Wednesday, however, the Young America’s Foundation, the group supporting her continued fight to appear on campus, said it would no longer be involved in her case due to a “lack of assurances for protections from foreseeable violence,” according to The Daily Californian, the college newspaper. The group’s withdrawal forced Coulter to call off her appearance.

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“They want to destroy and squelch free speech,” Coulter told Sean Hannity during an appearance on Fox News. “All of the people who should have been standing up for the First Amendment here all ran away with their tails between their legs.”

Berkeley has recently become the center of violent clashes between local groups. The university had prepared to call up hundreds of police officers to provide security for Coulter’s appearance, fearing it would be met by an outbreak of violence similar to the riots that occurred during former Breitbart News writer Milo Yiannopoulos’s campus visit in February. As the New York Times reports, “Outside groups representing the far left and far right have clashed in the city several times over the past few months in a fight club atmosphere that university administrators say they have not seen in many years, if ever.”

Berkeley’s historic role as the center of the free speech movement has been widely remarked upon amid the controversy surrounding both Yiannopoulos’s and Coulter’s appearances. Beginning in 1964, students began engaging in peaceful sit-ins and protests to defend free expression on campus, but demonstrations turned violent in the following years as students began protesting the Vietnam War; hundreds of students were arrested during that period. Particularly in light of this history, the university has underscored its responsibility to protect the safety of campus speakers, and administrators cited “very specific intelligence” of threats to both the speaker and students.

“The university has two non-negotiable commitments, one to Free Speech the other to the safety of our campus community,” U.C. Berkeley Chancellor Nicholas Dirks wrote in a letter to the campus.

Dirks defended the university’s position in an op-ed in the New York Times today, writing, “the far right accuses us of indoctrinating students into what they call a mind-set of ‘political correctness.’ The far left accuses us of allowing the promotion of ideas, such as intolerance and exclusion, which are at substantive odds with the inclusive principles of the campus community…Free speech may be the new clarion call of the far right, but the real subtext of those who try to disrupt institutions built on principles of openness and inclusion with violence is only barely disguised. Berkeley’s status as a symbol of free speech and protest makes it a tempting site for the staging of physical confrontations between both sides.”

While Coulter will not be officially speaking at Berkeley on Thursday, she hinted that she may turn up on campus regardless. In an email to the Associated Press, she wrote, “I have my flights, so I thought I might stroll around the graveyard of the First Amendment.”

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