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Milo Yiannopoulos and Student Group Say Berkeley Is Trying to Derail ‘Free Speech Week’

The controversial speaker Milo Yiannopoulos and a student group accused the University of California at Berkeley on Monday of trying to cancel their plans for “Free Speech Week,” an event slated to feature Mr. Yiannopoulos, Stephen K. Bannon, President Trump’s former chief strategist, and others.

Mr. Yiannopoulos said the event, which is scheduled for September 24 to 27, would go on regardless. In a statement Mr. Yiannopoulos’s group said the university had raised bureaucratic and arbitrary roadblocks for the student group and had sought news coverage to make the event’s success appear uncertain. The statement is the latest clash between Berkeley and Mr. Yiannopoulos, a former editor for Breitbart News who tried to speak at the university earlier this year but was forced to cancel when riots broke out.

Mr. Yiannopoulos said the university had acted as though it supports free speech by hosting another conservative speaker, Ben Shapiro, this month.

“But we represent the frontier of free speech, and when it comes to genuine free expression, UC Berkeley is terrified of leftist violence that the university has either quietly ignored or actively cultivated for years,” the statement read. “Antifa thugs cannot be allowed to censor free expression, so we are going to Berkeley, and Free Speech Week is happening, whether they like it or not.” Antifa refers to loosely organized groups of anti-fascist protesters who have used violent tactics in their activism.

The event is set to feature Mr. Yiannopoulos; Mr. Bannon; Ann Coulter, a speaker with similarly hard-line views on immigration; David Horowitz, a well-known critic of liberalism on campuses; and Pamela Geller, known for her criticism of Islam.

Also in the statement, the student group hosting the event, Berkeley Patriot, said that it had worked for months to secure campus venues and that administrators had ignored its questions. Among other challenges, the group said it had been told at the last minute that it needed multiple applications for security requests rather than just one, as it had been told. The university also informed the group at the last minute, it said, that Berkeley’s insurance would not cover the event, forcing Berkeley Patriot to seek insurance coverage through Mr. Yiannopoulos’s company, MILO.

“At every step of the way they’ve been uncommunicative — not responding to emails, unable to meet, rescheduling meetings, everything they could try to do to throw sticks in the spokes,” said Pranav Jandhyala, a news editor for Berkeley Patriot, in the statement. “We’ve been doing everything possible, and the university has, of course, only thrown obstacles at us in a strategic, bureaucratic, and methodical way.”

On Saturday the university issued a news release that said the student group had missed a deadline to pay a rental fee, and thereby lost access to two indoor venues. The release also indicated the university had been in talks with the student group since July.

Mr. Yiannopoulos’s camp said, according to the Monday statement, that it had been given a contract late Friday and could not transfer the funds immediately after weeks of asking for the contract to include language that would provide a partial refund if the speech were canceled. Mr. Yiannopoulos said on Facebook that the fee, roughly $65,700, has since been sent to the university.

On Monday the university issued another news release that stated the group had lost access to the indoor venues, and that Berkeley had told the students the contracts needed to be signed in August. A university spokesman, Dan Mogulof, said the money was late and the venues would be unavailable to the group.

“Payment was sent this morning, three days late,” Mr. Mogulof said. “We do, of course, remain ready to accommodate him on campus as per the statement. What is so hard to understand is, if access to the large, indoor venues was so important, why didn’t they sign the contract and pay the fees back in August?”

He added that the deadline was important, not arbitrary, to provide enough time for the campus police to coordinate with local law-enforcement agencies.

“We continue to hope that the student organization will meet its obligations and provide the campus and UCPD [University of California Police Department] with the information needed to complete security arrangements,” Mr. Mogulof wrote in an email. “The university cannot defend spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to provide security arrangements for events based on a schedule built on a long list of unconfirmed speakers and/or a press release issued by an external commercial enterprise.”

Correction (9/19/2017, 5:36 p.m.): This post originally misidentified a charge that Berkeley Patriot missed a deadline for paying, according to a university news release. It was a rental fee, not a security fee. The post has been updated accordingly.

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