On Oct. 31, conservative provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos held a sold-out lecture for over 800 students at California State University, Fullerton (CSUF). He spoke about his support for the First Amendment and free speech in addition to specialized Halloween content.
“Halloween is the only day when 14-year-olds willingly go to Kevin Spacey’s house,” Yiannopoulos joked.
“The law is clear: what some consider hateful speech is, in fact, protected speech,” reads an official statement from the university defending campus free speech and the decision of the school’s College Republicans to invite the controversial figure in September.
Despite this endorsement, the university distanced itself from the event, explicitly stating it was not sponsoring the event and that it would take necessary security precautions.
— 89.3 KPCC (@KPCC) October 31, 2017
Many students and progressive groups on campus felt uncomfortable, and many were offended by the decision to allow the provocateur on campus in the name of free speech, especially considering the fallout from other Yiannopoulos events earlier this year.
The potential danger of protests rippled into the broader CSUF community.
In addition to sparking controversy among students and hefty security costs, Yiannopoulos’ lecture is sparking action from other schools too. Acacia Elementary, a school located a mile away from CSUF’s campus, decided to hold a “minimum (abbreviated) day” to protect students in response to police warnings.
Protesters outside Milo’s talk at Calstate Fullerton pic.twitter.com/7Duoln6L83
— Deepa Bharath (@reporterdeepa) November 1, 2017
The CSUF College Democrats released a statement disagreeing with the university’s decision to allow Yiannopoulos to speak, citing the discriminatory speech and security costs associated with said event.
To add insult to injury to offended liberal organizations on campus, according to the school’s newspaper, Yiannopoulos requested to receive a 60 percent cut of all ticket sales.
Progressives on campus interpreted this as him receiving upwards of $17,000 to give his lecture on Halloween. This is at the expense of student’s tuition money used to cover exorbitant security costs, which were project to be as much as $55,000, judging from past events at similar schools.
“We acknowledge [Yiannopoulos’] First Amendment right to speak and will not interfere with or counter-protest his appearance,” read The College Democrats’ official statement. “Instead, we’re offering an alternative to his message of hate and divisiveness.”
Alternatively, the organization decided to host Brian Levin, director for the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at CSU San Bernardino, the day before the Yiannopoulos speech.
“Brian Levin, who identifies as an Independent, reiterated our beliefs during his lecture when he highlighted the College Republican’s right to invite any speaker of their choice, but condemned their decision to invite someone who offers nothing of academic or intellectual value,” said Andrea Guzman, president of CSUF’s College Democrats, in an interview with MediaFile.
“It is a shame that the College Republicans chose Milo to represent them at the expense of the university … but we recognize their right to allow a bigoted individual to speak for them,” Guzman said.
CSUF’s Students for Quality Education (SQE) planned the Unity Block Party to celebrate diversity on campus in direct contrast to what some would call Yiannopoulos’ hateful rhetoric.
“Considering everything that could have gone wrong yesterday, I would say the event went smoothly,” Allison Thuang, a senior communications major at CSUF who attended the SQE event, said in an interview with MediaFile.
— Ruptly (@Ruptly) November 1, 2017
“I believe the Unity Block Party hosted by SQE went well, and they effectively promoted the importance of diversity,” she said.
Despite peaceful alternatives to more dangerous responses to the controversial speaker, at least eight students were detained Tuesday night protesting Yiannopoulos’ lecture at CSUF.
The university’s security effectively protected the 800 attendees of the event, but they were reported as being overbearing and all-encompassing by many, largely peaceful, protesters.
“The police presence could be felt all around: on top of buildings, marching around in riot gear, blending in with the crowd,” activist and block party attendee Vincent Hennerty told MediaFile. “Shouting matches would occur between some of the far right with those that came in defiance of hate. Antifa was there too, showing in force their lack of fear of both the far right and the police.”
“People told me different reasons for why students and protesters were taken away by the police,” Hennerty said. “The biggest number of people however were those of the spectators. Watching and listening, perhaps waiting to see something happen. Sadly, it seemed like most wanted something to happen.”
Despite efforts to resist the provocateur in peaceful, productive ways, the media latched on to the glimpse of violence and aggression displayed by a few protesters.
Most mainstream coverage of Yiannopoulos’ CSUF event focused on the altercations and the eight detained students, with little to no mention of well-thought-out efforts from other groups to genuinely combat the speech while also honoring the provocateur’s right to speak.
From the media’s perspective, it makes sense. Taking eight protesters — some university students — into custody is newsworthy and interesting to the local community. There was, after all, violence; as the news cliche goes, if it bleeds it leads.
However, it paints the rest of the protesters who intended to peacefully celebrate diversity as radical. It makes College Democrats seem hypocritical if they’re trying to combat hate by committing political violence.