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.”

___

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

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O’Reilly forced Out at Fox News

Bill O’Reilly has been forced out of his position as a prime-time host on Fox News, the company said Wednesday, after the disclosure of multiple settlements involving sexual harassment allegations against him. His ouster brings an abrupt and embarrassing end to his two-decade reign as one of the most popular and influential commentators in television.

“After a thorough and careful review of the allegations, the company and Bill O’Reilly have agreed that Bill O’Reilly will not be returning to the Fox News Channel,” 21st Century Fox, Fox News’ parent company, said in a statement.

O’Reilly’s departure comes 2 1/2 weeks after an investigation by The New York Times revealed how Fox News and 21st Century Fox had repeatedly stood by O’Reilly even as sexual harassment allegations piled up against him. The Times found that the company and O’Reilly reached settlements with five women who had complained about sexual harassment or other inappropriate behavior by him. The agreements totaled about $13 million.

Since then, more than 50 advertisers had abandoned his show, and women’s rights groups called for his ouster. Inside the company, women expressed outrage and questioned whether top executives were serious about maintaining a culture based on “trust and respect,” as they had promised last summer when another sexual harassment scandal forced the ouster of Fox News’ chairman, Roger Ailes.

That put pressure on 21st Century Fox and the Murdoch family that controlled it. After the dismissal of Ailes, the company struck two settlements involving sexual harassment complaints against O’Reilly and also extended his contract, even as it was aware of the complaints about his behavior.

Last week, the Murdochs enlisted the law firm Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison to conduct an investigation into O’Reilly’s behavior after one woman, who had detailed her allegations against O’Reilly to The Times, called the company’s hotline to report her complaints. Another complaint was reported Tuesday, according to the lawyer who represents the woman making the allegations.

O’Reilly has denied the allegations against him.

O’Reilly, 67, has been an anchor at Fox News since he started at the network in 1996. He was the top-rated host in cable news, serving up defiant commentary every weekday at 8 p.m., with a message that celebrated patriotism and expressed scorn for political correctness. His departure is a significant blow to Fox News’ prime-time lineup, which in January lost another star, Megyn Kelly, from a lineup that dominated the prime-time cable news ratings.

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