Ann Coulter said Wednesday that she is canceling her planned speech at the University of California, Berkeley, because she had lost the backing of conservative groups that had initially sponsored her appearance.
Coulter, in a message to The New York Times, said, “It’s a sad day for free speech.”
Despite insisting that she would go to Berkeley regardless – even after the university said it could not accommodate her on the date and time it had initially scheduled her because of threats of violence – Coulter said she did not see how she could go forward. The school said she could speak only at a later date and an earlier time of day, when there were likely to be fewer students on campus and less of a likelihood for violent outbreaks.
Late Tuesday, the conservative group that was helping Coulter in her legal efforts to force Berkeley to host her, Young America’s Foundation, said it could no longer participate.
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“Young America’s Foundation will not jeopardize the safety of its staff or students,” the group said.
Without any support, Coulter said, she was left with little choice.
“Everyone who should believe in free speech fought against it or ran away,” she said.
Coulter was confronted with the dangerous prospect of setting foot unguarded on a campus that erupted in violence in February after another conservative speaker, Milo Yiannopoulos, planned to appear. The school canceled his event.
The Berkeley College Republicans, the group that invited Coulter and was supposed to sponsor her visit, also backed out and joined Young America’s Foundation in saying the atmosphere had grown too hostile.
Administrators at Berkeley, who say Coulter is welcome on campus when the university has an indoor, “protectable” venue available, offered a day next week when students are no longer in class, a proposal that Coulter rejected.
Berkeley has become a meeting ground for what the city’s chief of police, Andrew Greenwood, has described as politically motivated groups “armed and prepared to fight.”
Outside groups representing the far left and far right have clashed in the city several times over the past few months in a fight club atmosphere that university administrators say they have not seen in many years, if ever. During the most recent clash, on April 15, the police arrested 20 people. But Greenwood warned of the difficulties and dangers of intervening in future clashes.
“Intervention requires a major commitment of resources, a significant use of force, and carries with it the strong likelihood of harming those who are not committing a crime,” Greenwood wrote in a memo to the City Council last week.
The university had prepared to call up hundreds of police officers for Coulter’s visit at a significant cost. The groups that organized her visit sued the university, saying that conservative speakers were being treated differently from left-leaning ones on the famously liberal campus.
It was no accident that Coulter was drawn to speaking at Berkeley, the birthplace of the free speech movement, at a time when the country is consumed by a raging debate over political correctness and the proper place for offensive speech in public, especially on college campuses.
Coulter, who has a knack for provocation, had even said she would speak outside if she had to, insistent on making the point that conservatives like her would not allow their remarks to be censored by liberal academics.
But the issue has split the left, where Coulter found unlikely defenders among people like Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., and Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., who scolded those who tried to block the speech.
“What are you afraid of – her ideas?” Sanders said earlier this week in an interview with The Huffington Post.
On Wednesday, Coulter said she believed she could have prevailed in court had she continued with her case.
“We vindicate constitutional rights in court,” she said. “Even the most lefty, Coulter-hating judge would probably have had to order Berkeley to let me speak.”
Thomas Fuller contributed reporting from San Francisco.