Free speech doesn't come so cheap — at least not recently at the University of California, Berkeley.
In order to provide security and an increased police presence, UC Berkeley spent roughly $800,000 on “Free Speech Week,” a four-day, right-wing rally that was abruptly canceled last month. According to a report in the Chronicle of Higher Education, police officers were equipped with nightsticks, with some even carrying rifles, while wearing thick armored vests.
“The Berkeley Patriot,” an online conservative publication, co-organized the event with controversial writer Milo Yiannopoulos. The group failed to book indoor venues on campus and confirm the guest speaker list, resulting in them calling it off the day before it was set to start. Former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon, the chairman of right-wing website Breitbart, and conservative author Ann Coulter were slated to speak at the rally.
Free Speech Week was planned after Berkeley canceled Yiannopoulos’ visit last February amid violent protests.
On Sept. 24, Yiannopoulos gave a 20-minute speech at Berkeley confirming the cancellation of the event. “I was somewhat blindsided by the announcement from the Berkeley Patriot this morning,” he said at a news conference. “We are going to be hosting an event, come hell or high water.”
Dan Mogulof, a Berkeley spokesperson, told The Washington Post that Yiannopolous will not be allowed to speak on campus unless he's backed by a student group or if his event is "academically driven."
Various other schools have similarly spent thousands of dollars on increased security, including the University of Florida. White nationalist Richard Spencer plans to speak on their campus on Oct. 19, even after UF President Kent Fuchs denounced his visit. This will be Spencer’s first major public appearance following the rally he attended in Charlottesville, N.C., which ended in the death of a 32-year-old woman and two Virginia State Troopers.
Security costs for his visit are estimated to be about $600,000, according to The Alligator, UF's student newspaper.
Florida Gov. Rick Scott declared a state of national emergency earlier this week in light of Spencer's planned visit.
“We don’t know what to expect, and we don’t know what kind of crowd numbers to expect,” Alachua County Sheriff Sadie Darnell told the Tampa Bay Times. She added that the order allows for resources to be available more quickly.
In a phone interview with CNN, Spencer said he was “flattered” by the Governor’s declaration, although he called it “overkill.”
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