BERKELEY, Calif. (AP) — Far-right supporters planned rallies Thursday to denounce what they called an attempt to silence their conservative views after Ann Coulter said she was forced to cancel a speaking event at the University of California, Berkeley amid concerns violence could break out.
The conservative social and political commentator and writer said she still might "swing by to say hello" to her supporters as police and university officials braced for possible trouble whether she shows up or not, citing intelligence and online chatter by groups threatening to instigate violence.
The tension illustrated how Berkeley has emerged as a flashpoint for extreme left and right forces amid the debate over free speech in a place where the 1960s U.S. free speech movement began before it spread to college campuses across the nation.
KCBS reported (http://cbsloc.al/2qiK5yi ) that Gavin McInnes, founder of the pro-Trump "Proud Boys," said he will speak in the afternoon at Civic Center Park and encouraged other groups to help make a large showing at the gathering. Another group called the Orange County Alt Right Group planned a morning rally in the same place.
In emails to The Associated Press on Wednesday, Coulter confirmed that her planned speech on illegal immigration, followed by a question-answer session, was canceled. But she remained coy about what she might do instead.
"I'm not speaking. But I'm going to be near there, so I might swing by to say hello to my supporters who have flown in from all around the country," Coulter said in an email. "I thought I might stroll around the graveyard of the First Amendment."
Officials at UC Berkeley said last week they feared renewed violence on campus if Coulter followed through with plans to speak.
They cited "very specific intelligence" of threats that could endanger Coulter and students, as Berkeley becomes a platform for extremist protesters on both sides of the political spectrum.
Efforts by the university to cancel or delay the Coulter event dealt a blow to Berkeley's image as a bastion of tolerance and free speech.
Chancellor Nicholas B. Dirks sent a letter to the campus Wednesday saying the university is committed to defending free speech but also to protecting its students.
"This is a university, not a battlefield," Dirks said in the letter. "The university has two non-negotiable commitments, one to Free Speech the other to the safety of our campus community."
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