The right-wing provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos was scheduled to wind up a college speaking tour at the University of California at Berkeley on Wednesday night, but as protesters hurled smoke bombs, broke windows, and started fires outside the speaking venue, campus officials canceled the event before it began, citing safety concerns.
Berkeley had anticipated protests against the conservative speaker, according to reports by the Associated Press, The Mercury News, and other news outlets. On Wednesday afternoon campus officials sent a notice to all students that warned of crowds near the Martin Luther King Jr. Student Union Building, where the 500-seat, sold-out event was scheduled. The notice did not discourage protests, but advised those who didn’t wish to participate to avoid the area.
But even with a heavy police presence, the protests turned violent. Fires erupted outside the building, several explosions were heard in the area, and metal barricades were thrown into windows. A Berkeley spokesman said there were no immediate reports of arrests or serious injuries.
In a statement describing its decision to cancel the event, Berkeley said it had placed “paramount importance” on ensuring “the safety and security of those attending the event, the speaker, those who came to engage in lawful protest, as well as members of the public and the Berkeley campus community.”
The Berkeley College Republicans, who had sponsored Mr. Yiannopoulos’s appearance, said in a statement that its “constitutional right to free speech was silenced by criminals and thugs.” The protesters’ success “is a defeat for civilized society and the free exchange of ideas on college campuses across America,” it said.
Mr. Yiannopoulos, a technology editor for Breitbart News and an outspoken supporter of President Trump, is an “alt-right” celebrity who embraces the role of internet troll and whose comments have been criticized as racist, misogynist, anti-Muslim, and white supremacist. Last summer he was permanently banned from Twitter for leading a harassment campaign against the actress Leslie Jones.
Since 2015, Mr. Yiannopoulos, who is gay, has traveled to university campuses as part of a tour he calls “The Dangerous Faggot.” Those events have sparked protests, shouting matches, and occasional violence.
On January 21 a man was shot and wounded during a confrontation between ticket-holders and protesters at a tour stop at the University of Washington.
Earlier last month the College Republicans at the University of California at Davis canceled an appearance there after raucous protesters created an atmosphere that campus administrators and police officials deemed dangerous.
On Wednesday night Mr. Yiannopoulos posted a YouTube video in response to the cancellation of his talk at Berkeley. He described the opposition to his talk as led by leftist groups that are “utterly antithetical to free speech.”
“Something very disturbing happened tonight,” he said, “and it was an expression of political violence in response to a not particularly conservative gay speaker on an American college campus.”