Police at the University of California, Berkeley are gearing up for possible violence between right-wing activists and counter-protesters on campus, despite conservative commentator Ann Coulter’s cancelled speech at the college.
Officers on campus are maintaining a “highly visible presence” on Thursday, campus police Captain Alex Yao told reporters late Wednesday, referring to continued threats of violent protests.
He added that authorities plan to have a “very, very low tolerance for any violence” on Thursday.
Yao pointed to posts on social media, as well as calls and intelligence gathered by law enforcement partners, as evidence that protests would likely still be taking place.
Those protest threats were also referenced by university spokesman Dan Mogul, who told Reuters that “many of the individuals and organizations which planned to protest Ann Coulter’s appearance or support it still intend to come to campus.”
Coulter had initially planned to speak at Berkeley on Thursday, but that appearance was cancelled by the university over what officials called “security concerns.”
The campus eventually backtracked following criticism, and offered for Coulter to speak the following Tuesday – an invitation which she declined, accusing the school of trying to limit her audience by choosing a day that fell in the study week ahead of final exams.
Instead, the conservative commentator vowed to speak on the original date despite not being given a room. She would potentially speak in a public plaza known for gatherings and demonstrations.
On Wednesday, however, Coulter said she would no longer be speaking on campus, after the student organizations which invited her “joined the other team” by withdrawing their invitation over safety concerns. Coulter did state that she may drop by the campus to visit with her supporters on Thursday.
“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 wrote in an email to AP.
“I thought I might stroll around the graveyard of the First Amendment,” she added.
Coulter is not the only one accusing Berkeley of going against freedom of speech, despite being a center of the Free Speech Movement protests of the 1960s.
Photos circulating on social media showed students protesting for free speech at the university in 1965, with critics stating that they now embrace “censorship” and “suppression” instead.
Students and young people in Berkeley had differing views on the situation.
“The university know very well what they’re doing, they often have these kinds of methods where they try to block conservative or other groups that aren’t politically liberal from having speakers,” one person told RT.
However, another said Coulter would have spoken about illegal immigration “in the way that she does,” thus making Berkeley a “more hostile place for immigrant students and international students.”
Meanwhile, social media has indicated that Coulter’s supporters are still planning to turn up to campus on Thursday, with one person stepping up to take her place.
Right-wing commentator Gavin McInnes wrote on Twitter that he “immediately headed to the airport to do the speech on [Coulter’s] behalf” as soon as he heard she would not be speaking.
Bay Area Alt Right member John Ramondetta will be among those turning up to hear McInnes and make his position known, telling KTVU that “we won’t be shut down, because freedom of speech can’t be shut down. Because if we back down then we have lost.”
The group ‘Make Orange County Great Again’ wrote on Facebook that its members will still be showing up, and encouraged people to bring signs.
“It will be ad-hoc American Revolution style, when the people had enough and gathered in assembly,” the group wrote.
UC Berkeley officials have stated that classes will be held as scheduled on Thursday, despite concerns over violence.