A noisy demonstration at UC Davis on Friday led organizers to cancel a controversial event featuring Breitbart News editor and “alt-right” favorite Milo Yiannopoulos and Martin Shkreli, the hedge-fund founder and former pharmaceutical executive reviled for raising the price of a potentially life-saving drug by 5,000 percent.
Protestors, who started gathering about two hours before the event’s scheduled 7:30 p.m. start time, chanted “shut it down” and held signs with slogans such as “your facism is showing.”
The event’s sponsor, the UC Davis College Republicans, called off the event shortly before 7 p.m., with someone making the announcement over a bullhorn. The reaction was muted. Ticket holders lined up outside the Sciences Lecture Hall slowly dispersed, while some protestors remained until the outside lights were shut off.
Event organizers announced on social media that a march across the UC Davis campus will begin at 1 p.m. Saturday on the university quad. Yiannopoulos posted on Facebook that he and Shkreli would participate in the march.
“It was the decision of the Davis College Republicans (to cancel Friday night’s event),” not the university, Andrew Mendoza, a first-year student and executive director of the club, said in a phone interview.
Mendoza said club members and police officers were worried about the potential for people to get hurt, including the possibility that demonstrators might use heavy objects to break the glass leading into the lecture hall.
He said the event was important to have because of the lack of conservative university professors and “bringing someone in like Milo begins to crack the ivory tower that the liberal elites have been able to perpetuate.”
“We are not done with this,” Mendoza said, urging supporters to visit the group's Facebook page for updates. “Milo is not done with this.”
After the event was canceled, Yiannopoulos and Shkreli made their way back to the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Sacramento, where Shkreli talked to a group of college Republicans about Ronald Reagan's “silent majority” and offered to buy them drinks. He said the campus protest showed an “underbelly of violence and intolerance that just doesn't speak well for the student body.”
Charged with securities fraud, Shkreli is free on $5 million bail and needed a judge to sign off on his travel outside New York.
The former chief executive of Turing Pharmaceuticals, Shkreli grabbed international headlines after significantly hiking the cost of Daraprim by more than 5,000 percent in 2015. The drug helps prevent a parasitic infection that is particularly harmful to people with HIV.
Yiannopoulos, a Breitbart News editor, was permanently banned from Twitter last year after he appeared to encourage racist comments targeted at “Ghostbusters” remake actress Leslie Jones. He is popular with the “alt right” movement, an offshoot of conservatism that mixes racism, white nationalism and populism.
University officials released a statement late Friday that said, “After consulting with UC Davis Police Department and UC Davis Student Affairs officials, the Davis College Republicans canceled tonight's event… after a large number of protesters blocked access to the venue, and 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 the statement. “Our community is founded on principles of respect for all views, even those that we personally find repellent. 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.”
Earlier reports of violence were unfounded, the university said.
“Despite some reports, there were no broken windows or other property damage during the protest,” the statement said. “Earlier in the evening, one person was arrested inside the venue. No further arrests were made.”
Reaction to the cancellation of the event was divided among those in attendance.
Alan Marling, drove from the Bay Area to the event to promote his website, “Refuse Fascism.”
”I am happy that it’s canceled without people getting hurt,” he said.
Christine Mellon, 23, a student at Sacramento State, said she came because she wants the Davis campus to remain a “safe space and (to) show people this will not be tolerated.”
“Freedom of speech is OK. Everyone has the freedom,” Mellon said. However, she said giving Yiannopoulos and Shkreli a platform at a major, public university should not have happened. “We don't like hate in our lecture halls,” she said.
“I think it would be completely different if it were a private university,” added Laila Haghsheno-Sabet, 32, of Davis. “But this school is supposed to stand for all the people the new (presidential) administration is targeting: gay people, Muslims, immigrants,” she said.
Blair Peterson, a 21-year-old student at UC Davis studying animal biology, said she dropped by the event and was glad to see that the university had initially decided to let Yiannopoulos speak.
“I was curious to see what he said,” Peterson said. “I agree with his support of free speech even when it might not be popular.”
She was disappointed after learning Yiannopoulos wouldn't be appearing.
“It's too bad,” she said. “People have the right to protest, and I fully support that, but when it's just because you don't agree with what someone is saying … I don't know. I just don't like to see free speech shut down by people.”
Ross Sullivan, 25 and a student at Chico State, drove the two hours to Davis to “come and see Milo, who I like because he represents the truth and he doesn't back down.”
Sullivan, wearing a camouflage Make America Great Again hat, said he was a Democrat before the 2016 election. A gay man, Sullivan said he personally identified with Yiannopoulos, whom he described as a “gay Jew.”
“As you can see there was no violence from the right. This is an absolute circus,” Sullivan said. “It's an absolute attack on the freedom of speech. They claim the right is fascist, but then you see something like this happen.”
Bee staff writers Diana Lambert and Sammy Caiola contributed to this report.