An event at a California university featuring controversial so-called "pharma bro" Martin Shkreli and Breitbart editor Milo Yiannopoulos was canceled Friday after a large number of protesters blocked entrance to the event, UC Davis said.
The speakers were invited by the student group Davis College Republicans. UC Davis said in a statement that after protesters blocked the venue "it was determined that it was no longer feasible to continue with the event safely."
"I am deeply disappointed with the events of this evening," Interim Chancellor Ralph J. Hexter said in a statement. "Our community is founded on principles of respect for all views, even those that we personally find repellent."
Shkreli, who came under sharp criticism for raising the price of a drug used to treat a life-threatening parasitic infection by 5,000 percent, told NBC affiliate KCRA that he was there to debate Yiannopoulos and said it was "reasonable" that the event was canceled.
"I'm pro-feminism; I don't think these people know that," Shkreli said as he was surrounded by demonstrators. "I was going to tear Milo to shreds ... he doesn't understand feminism."
Protesters carried signs with slogans like "Fascism, Hate & Bigotry Will Not Be Tolerated" and there were occasional shoving matches, KCRA reported. Shkreli was eventually removed by police after a demonstrator got in his face and blew a whistle at him.
UC Davis said the Davis College Republicans made the decision to cancel the event.
Yiannopoulos, a conservative provocateur who made headlines earlier this year after he was banned from Twitter following online abuse of "Ghostbusters" star Leslie Jones, on Facebook blamed "violence from left-wing protestors" for the canceled event.
The university said that reports of broken windows or property damage were wrong, and that there was no damage. Police arrested one person inside the venue and no other arrests were made, the university said.
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UC Davis embroiled in another free-speech controversy
Five years after the pepper-spraying of peaceful protestors swamped UC Davis with negative publicity, another free-speech controversy thrust the normally quiet campus into the national spotlight this weekend.
On Friday, the Davis College Republicans canceled speeches by a far-right website editor and a notorious former pharmaceutical executive after raucous protestors created an atmosphere that campus administrators and police deemed dangerous.
The editor, Milo Yiannopoulos of Breitbart News, returned to campus Saturday, leading a counter-protest march of sorts and accusing the university on Facebook of forcing Friday’s event to stop before it started.
“UC Davis is lying to the press,” Yiannopoulos wrote. “They keep saying that the College Republicans were the ones to shut down the event last night. Not true. My staff were in meetings with the campus police and university administrators last night and were told by them that the event could not proceed.”
Kimberly Hale, a spokeswoman for UC Davis, said the university did not specifically order the shut down. Instead, she said, police presented the student group with their concerns about how the situation was unfolding, and the group made the decision to cancel the speech.
“They (the College Republicans) were presented with the details of what was happening around the venue that evening,” Hale said. “Protestors were blocking the entrance, so to be able to get the ticketed persons inside the venue, that would have been difficult.”
Moving the protestors aside presented safety concerns, said university police spokesman Andy Fell.
“We advised them that it would not be possible to continue safely,” Fell said. “The protest was becoming increasingly rowdy and antagonistic. We felt it wouldn’t be possible or feasible to get the ticketed attendees into the venue and get their bags checked. ... It couldn’t continue without further escalation.”
University officials took issue with news reports, including on Breitbart, that described the protest as violent. Breitbart’s accounts of the event include “hammers, smashed windows and barricades being torn away,” and Yiannopoulos wrote on Facebook that guests were sprayed with urine and had bags of feces thrown at them, and punches were thrown at officers.
Fell said that while the situation was tense, there was no violence. No weapons were seized and no windows were broken. One protestor was arrested inside of the venue prior to the event, he said.
Experts said that whatever transpired Friday night, it was a sorry night for freedom of speech at UC Davis, with speakers on one or both sides being silenced by the actions of others.
“It sounds like the worst of all worlds happened here. Nobody got to speak,” said David Snyder, executive director of the First Amendment Coalition in San Rafael. “That’s not a good result.”
From the moment it was announced in November, Friday’s event at UC Davis prompted controversy. Initially, only Yiannopoulos, a senior editor for the online magazine Breitbart, was scheduled to speak. Breitbart’s former chairman, Steve Bannon, has been appointed as President-elect Donald Trump's chief strategist, and Yiannopoulos is popular with the “alt right” movement, an offshoot of conservatism that mixes racism, white nationalism and populism.
Yiannopoulos was invited to visit campus Friday as part of his nationwide college tour, which he has used in part to denounce Islam and discuss feminism as a “war on men.” On prior stops of the tour, organizers or campus administrators sometimes have canceled his appearance due to security concerns. A bomb threat arose during his visit to Florida Atlantic University in October.
Later, Martin Shkreli was added to the bill. Shkreli is the hedge-fund founder of Turing Pharmaceuticals who made headlines in 2015 for raising the price of the life-saving drug Daraprim by more than 5,000 percent. He has been charged with securities fraud and is free on $5 million bail.
The duo was set to speak at the Sciences Lecture Hall Friday evening. Protestors started gathering two hours before its start with signs alluding to hate speech and fascism. As the evening continued, roughly 150 protestors gathered in front of the hall’s entrance, chanting and picketing as ticket holders waited to be admitted.
The College Republicans called off the event shortly before 7 p.m. Friday and made an announcement on social media, stating that they would “not stand for the regressive left perpetuating violence, censoring speech, and spreading hate.” The group said it made the decision to cancel on advice from the UC Davis Police Department and campus administration.
Andrew Mendoza, president of the UC Davis College Republicans, said the group's hands were tied because administration officials and police told the organizers that hammers had been confiscated from the crowd, and that they were concerned about safety should the event continue.
In two Sacramento Bee interviews Saturday, Fell, the police department spokesman, said that no weapons of any kind were confiscated at the protest, and that the talk of hammers going around was merely rumor.
Yiannopoulos and Shkreli went back the Hyatt Regency Sacramento, across from the state Capitol, where Shkreli talked to campus Republicans about Ronald Reagan’s “silent majority” and offered to buy them drinks.
Saturday at about 2 p.m., he returned to campus, where he stood on a picnic table outside Memorial Union to decry the cancellation of his speech. “They can’t stop us,” he told a crowd of about 150 people, many of them his supporters. “They can’t stop us electing the president we want, wearing the clothes we want, using the language we want.”
Walking through the campus quad, he was quickly tailed by a crowd chanting, “U.S.A. U.S.A.” An hour into the March, Milo called for a reenactment of the UC Davis pepper spray incident with him and other volunteers taking on the “fetal protester position – on the ground, where they belong.” He asked volunteers to spray him with Silly String.
Protestors stood on a picnic table with their own megaphone, periodically interrupting Yiannopoulos with comments about respecting diversity.
Shkreli did not return to campus Saturday.
Ed Costantini, professor emeritus of political science at UC Davis, said Friday night’s events raise an important question about free speech.
“On the one hand, from a free speech perspective, it’s appropriate to have controversial speakers,” he said. “On the other hand, it’s also appropriate to protest those speakers. The rub comes when the protest prevents the speakers from speaking.”
Snyder, with the First Amendment Coalition, said that what happened at UC Davis Friday may have been what’s called “the heckler’s veto.” That’s when someone shouts so loud that a speaker is unable to continue, or when government officials, including police, silence a speaker to prevent anticipated violence. Such actions violate the speaker’s First Amendment rights, courts have ruled.
“It’s like a person standing up at city hall and yelling and causing (the meeting) to stop,” Snyder said. “One speaker doesn’t have right to overshadow others speakers or cause so much commotion that the other person is drowned out.”
“The best solution is to have both of those points of view aired, not for one of those points of view to shout down the other”
Protests at UC Davis lead to canceling of speech by Breitbart's Milo Yiannopoulos, who slams university
Speeches by conservative commentator Milo Yiannopoulos and former pharmaceutical executive Martin Shkreli were canceled after heated protests erupted Friday night at UC Davis.
University police put up barricades as protesters shouting “Shut it down!” grew increasingly rowdy in the hours leading up to the talks. The UC Davis College Republicans, which sponsored the event, chose to cancel.
Yiannopoulos writes for the Breitbart.com website and is permanently banned from Twitter after leading a harassment campaign against “Ghostbusters” actress Leslie Jones. He said on his Facebook page that the event was canceled after “violence from left-wing protesters.”
But campus police said there was no violence or property destruction, and no arrests were made.
The school’s interim chancellor, Ralph Hexter, said he was “deeply disappointed” by the protests and cancellation.
“Our community is founded on principles of respect for all views, even those that we personally find repellent,” Hexter said after the cancellation. “As I have stated repeatedly, a university is at its best when it listens to and critically engages opposing views, especially ones that many of us find upsetting or even offensive.”
Yiannopoulos has been on a college speaking tour and has drawn similar reactions at other universities, and a lucrative book deal he recently signed has caused a similar outcry.
Shkreli stepped down as the head of Turing Pharmaceuticals last year after he was charged with securities fraud. He was heavily criticized in 2015 for raising the price of a lifesaving malaria medication and recently was suspended from Twitter for harassing a journalist.
Yiannopoulos took to Facebook on Saturday, attacking both the university and the protesters.
“Left-wing thugs scared UC Davis into canceling my event last night by damaging property, hurling excrement at guests and starting fights. It was the university and campus PD who told us the event could not go ahead. Why is the university and its police force trying to pretend otherwise? Who are they trying to protect?” he wrote.