Far-right to rally in Berkeley after Coulter talk canceled

By JOCELYN GECKER

BERKELEY, Calif.  — Far-right supporters planned rallies Thursday to denounce what they called an attempt to silence their conservative views after Ann Coulter said she was forced to cancel a speaking event at the University of California, Berkeley amid concerns violence could break out.

The conservative social and political commentator and writer said she still might “swing by to say hello” to her supporters as police and university officials braced for possible trouble whether she shows up or not, citing intelligence and online chatter by groups threatening to instigate violence.

The tension illustrated how Berkeley has emerged as a flashpoint for extreme left and right forces amid the debate over free speech in a place where the 1960s U.S. free speech movement began before it spread to college campuses across the nation.

As far-right groups and a leftist group prepared for their protests, university police set up barricades as a precaution for possible use in crowd control on the university campus and city officers patrolled a park where two far-right groups said they would hold their protests.

KCBS reported (http://cbsloc.al/2qiK5yi ) that Gavin McInnes, founder of the pro-Trump “Proud Boys,” said he will speak in the afternoon at Civic Center Park and encouraged other groups to help make a large showing at the gathering.

The group describes itself on its Facebook page calls itself a fraternal organization aimed at “reinstating a spirit of Western chauvinism during an age of globalism and multiculturalism.” It said it support minimal government and is also “anti-political correctness, anti-racial guilt, pro-gun rights, anti-Drug War, closed borders.” Another group called the Orange County Alt Right Group planned a rally in the same place.

The International Socialist Organization said it planned an “Alt Right Delete” rally about a mile (1.6 kilometers) from the right-wing protests and just outside the university campus to show support for free speech and to condemn the views of Coulter and her supporters.

In emails to The Associated Press on Wednesday, Coulter confirmed that her planned speech on illegal immigration, followed by a question-answer session, was canceled. But she remained coy about what she might do instead.

“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 said in an email. “I thought I might stroll around the graveyard of the First Amendment.”

Officials at UC Berkeley said last week they feared renewed violence on campus if Coulter followed through with plans to speak.

They cited “very specific intelligence” of threats that could endanger Coulter and students, as Berkeley becomes a platform for extremist protesters on both sides of the political spectrum.

Efforts by the university to cancel or delay the Coulter event dealt a blow to Berkeley’s image as a bastion of tolerance and free speech.

Chancellor Nicholas B. Dirks sent a letter to the campus Wednesday saying the university is committed to defending free speech but also to protecting its students.

“This is a university, not a battlefield,” Dirks said in the letter. “The university has two non-negotiable commitments, one to Free Speech the other to the safety of our campus community.”

Berkeley’s reputation as one of the country’s most liberal universities, in one of America’s most liberal cities, has made it a flashpoint for the nation’s political divisions in the era of Donald Trump.

Earlier this month, a bloody brawl broke out in downtown Berkeley at a pro-Trump protest that featured speeches by members of the white nationalist right. They clashed with a group of Trump critics who called themselves anti-fascists.

Similar violent clashes also erupted at the same site, a public park, on March 4.

In February, violent protesters forced the cancellation of a speech by right-wing writer Milo Yiannopoulos, who like Coulter was invited by campus Republicans.

The Berkeley College Republicans and the Young America’s Foundation, a conservative group that had helped book Coulter’s campus speaking events, both pulled their support Tuesday citing fears of violence. They blamed the university for failing to ensure protection of conservative speakers.

“Berkeley College Republicans do not want to endanger people’s lives so because of the university’s unwillingness to do their job we are forced to cancel the event,” Troy Worden, president of the campus Republicans, said Wednesday.

Coulter echoed the blame on Twitter: “I’m very sad about Berkeley’s cancellation, but my sadness is greater than that. It’s a dark day for free speech in America.”

Capt. Alex Yao of the Berkley campus police force said police presence will be strong Thursday.

“You will see a high number of highly visible law enforcement. We’re going to have a very, very low tolerance for any violence,” he told a news conference. He said Berkeley police had reached out to local and state police forces “to let them know we might be calling for assistance.”

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Associated Press writer Kristin J. Bender contributed to this report from San Francisco.

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Venture capital investors betting big on cannabis

Silicon Valley investors are known for pouring money into risky bets like flying cars and asteroid mining. Now, a handful are diving into one of the few industries that makes most of their peers squeamish — pot.

As the marijuana industry soars, with New Frontier Data predicting legal pot sales will balloon to more than $24 billion by 2025, a handful of venture capitalists are climbing on board — albeit cautiously. Those putting money into the industry say it’s a rare chance to stake an early claim in a lucrative market with little competition from other investors. But they’re keeping one eye on President Donald Trump’s administration, watching for signs of a federal crackdown that could derail the burgeoning industry.

“It’s a completely untapped market with huge opportunity,” said Tusk Ventures Founder and CEO Bradley Tusk, an investor in Eaze, a marijuana delivery company founded by Orange County entrepreneur Keith McCarty.

For Tusk Ventures, a VC firm that specializes in helping startups like Uber and FanDuel navigate complex regulatory landscapes, the controversial marijuana industry seemed like a natural fit. The firm is considering a second investment in the space.

And it’s not alone. DCM Ventures, a 21-year-old VC firm with an office on Sand Hill Road, also invested in Eaze, as did Fresh VC and the Winklevoss twins — the brothers who made headlines by claiming they came up with the idea for Facebook. Other investors dabbling in pot companies include prestigious Mountain View-based startup accelerator Y Combinator, Peter Thiel’s Founders Fund and New York City-based Lerer Hippeau Ventures — which also backs big names like Soylent, which makes meal-replacement drinks and bars popular among Silicon Valley techies, and Venmo, a mobile payments platform.

Industry insiders say there’s been a slow uptick in interest. Investors have poured nearly $30 million into marijuana-tech startups — companies that sell marijuana-related technology or use tech to sell cannabis products — so far this year, according to PitchBook Data. That means 2017 is on track to beat last year’s total of $49 million. But much of that money is coming from niche firms created exclusively to fund cannabis-related businesses, such as Phyto Partners and Poseidon Asset Management.

Despite the marijuana industry’s massive potential, interest from Sand Hill Road has amounted to more of a trickle than a flood. Though California voters approved recreational marijuana use last November, and lawmakers are working on crafting regulations to allow sales to start next year, the plant remains illegal on the federal level. That leaves most VCs unwilling to venture into the industry. Many venture capital firms are forbidden from entering the space by agreements with their limited partners — the pension funds and other institutions that supply the VCs’ investment capital.

“This is a no-go area for traditional venture funds, at least for now,” said Venky Ganesan, chairman of the board of the National Venture Capital Association and managing director of Menlo Ventures.

While mainstream VCs hesitate, a crop of investment firms specializing in marijuana have sprung up to fill the void. Groups like Los Angeles-based Casa Verde Capital, backed by rapper Snoop Dogg; and Gateway, an Oakland-based incubator for cannabis startups, can take much of the credit for keeping the marijuana tech industry afloat.

Pranav Sood, whose Oakland-based startup Trellis sells inventory management software to cannabis growers and distributors, recently turned to the industry’s niche investors after striking out with mainstream VCs.

“It quickly became apparent that more traditional VCs are not really getting into this space,” he said. “That’s when we kind of shifted focus as well. It was a pretty quick lesson learned.”

Trellis is closing its first round of funding, which will bring in $2 million from a group of investors led by Casa Verde. Sood said investor sentiment toward the marijuana industry has been volatile — spiking as support grew for legalized recreational marijuana, dropping with Trump’s arrival in office, and picking back up recently.

“Honestly, it’s been a little bit of a roller coaster,” he said. “On any given day, you don’t know how an investor’s going to feel.”

Brian Sheng, a partner at Fresh VC, said his firm was drawn to Eaze partly because the startup never actually touches marijuana — Eaze only provides the online platform that connects dispensaries with customers. That cuts down on the risk, Sheng said.

Private equity also is expanding into marijuana. MedMen, a Los Angeles-based firm that manages companies in the cannabis space, launched its first marijuana-focused private equity fund last summer, which now controls almost $100 million in assets. The firm also held its first investment conference last month, drawing more than 300 people interested in putting their money into the marijuana industry. So far the cash going into these types of funds has mostly been from wealthy individuals and families, MedMen Co-Chairman Chris Leavy said, but pension funds, endowments, foundations and other institutional investors are starting to show interest.

“Access to capital for this industry is slowly improving,” Leavy said. “Wherever you look, you can see signs that the investor interest is broadening.”

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